Group meeting n°6 – First potential presentation outline

Our goal for this week was to put all of our individual research and reading into a somewhat comprehensive outline of what we would each like to present.

Shivani looked into a philosophical definition of community and how this can be applied to Hollywood:

  • Two important notions in Aristotle’s definition of community: hierarchy and justice; every form of community is characterised and maintained by specific hierarchical relationships and the forms of justice they create
  • As applied to Hollywood, important to interrogate what these hierarchies and justice “systems are and how they shape motivations or understandings within Hollywood: i.e. Why has X female actress agreed to do so, and why she was she picked for the role?
  • “A man uses his community for common and individual ends”
  • Important to note that these hierarchies are not only implicit but hidden – and this is where the problems start to arise; the implicit character of these structures means that there is liability and recourse for those victimised by the community
  • Different forms of hierarchy: age, knowledge, socio-eco status… In the context of Hollywood, we look at male vs female in several aspects i.e. pay, representation…
  • Do we need to begin by breaking down these hierarchies – in order to break down some of the tropes we see existing? What kind of a community do we want it to be?
  • Implicit forms of rules are being challenged – overturning forms of domination
  • In coherence with Aristotle’s view, Hollywood is a community, but does it function as one and should it be functioning as one?

Julia focused on a political understanding of Hollywood as a community. She explored that question through a “on-screen” perspective which tackles the topics of conception and representation of female identities in cinema.

  • Hegel’s definition of a community (majority of political theories are based on this theory of community): every person in order to be a good person has to follow virtuous rule that are designed for a stable community
  • Essential to recognise that Hollywood is part of the wider “community” of the US state/nation: it will therefore reflect its rules, its way of life and its normative contexts i.e. Interesting parallels between Reagan era and films – actors in front of the camera and behind the camera were reflecting policies
  • From toxic masculinity to super diverse casts: post-feminism on screen means that empowered women are being displayed and represented / very positive that we’re able to see this but how did we reach that state and how do we maintain it?
  • Masculinity is still quite present – even if you are a strong character, you will fall into men’s arms and you will still be in lov

I wanted to get some wider historical context for our question and to analyse to what extent the toxic attitude towards women is a structural issue in Hollywood.

  • Started looking into Hollywood and the American dream and how they’re connected: very strong role of images and clichés in the construction of the American dream / adding to that, as Julia found, cinema often reflects the values/morals/codes of the era in which it is produced.
  • 1920s cinema = the advent of the figure of the New woman / very much connected to the era of the Roaring 20’s especially with the flapper/burlesque dancer/working woman. Female bodies are liberated and displayed but in an empowering way rather than through an objectifying male gaze.
  • 1930’s: tendance is reversed with apparition of Classical Cinema; women are “put back in their place”. The figure of the dedicated housewife takes over; majority of adventurous/empowered female characters are depicted as selfish, cruel, unreasonable or will experience some kind of downfall/repent at some point.
  • 1960’s – 70s: second wave feminist cinema arrives with a bang and renews female empowerment on screen; more female directors, more female protagonists, more female screenwriters, more women in the audience…
  • 1980s: the women-in-danger genre appears; characterised by female characters who are being stalked/attacked/murdered by male characters (reclaims elements from Film Noir which was itself characterised by important misogynist patterns) / same time, new popularity of adventure movies w/ very male identity.
  • Pattern emerges = women gain independence on screen and are then rapidly shut down/taken over by strong masculinity –> one step forward, two steps back kind of movement
  • raises question of what’s next now? If we’re experiencing era of challenging men and empowering women, does that mean we’re going to regress in the next few years? Is the pattern still going on?

Sanjana looked at the politics of gender off-screen in Hollywood. While Julia focused on the representation of women in movies, Sanjana explored the political/legal framework which is in place behind-the-scenes and sustains or prevents toxic attitudes towards women in the industry.

  • Legal cases and precedents: concretely what is the legislation in place to protect women in the cinema industry? is it different from other fields of work?
  • Celluloid ceiling = Glass ceiling specific to cinema industry / relies on data regarding the proportion of female directors, female actors, female screenwriters in Hollywood.
  • Question of public paradoxes -> women in cinema are simultaneously publicly exposed and harassed in their intimacy; what are the systems which allow for this contradiction to occur?
  • Wishes to see historical nuances, evolution
  • Equal employment opportunity commission, federal commission = examining discrimination across industries -> behind the camera perspective since three years, many cases filed
  • How has gender affected your career? Numerous interviews on that topic; recent example: Julianne Moore laughing in face of (male) interviewer asking if she’s ever experienced harassment/abusive behaviours
  • Sociology + politics + hollywood  – what does the production and creation of hollywood films reflect about the politics of gender at the time and the ideas of justice?

Exposing our ideas this clearly helped us decide of a broad outline for our presentation. We’re thinking of starting with Shivani’s theoretical definition and to complete/contrast it with my historical context which we think would provide a more practical definition of our question and main themes. Then we would go on with Julia’s part which adresses the current state of female representation in Hollywood which we felt would tie on nicely with the end of my analysis. Sanjana would then close the presentation by showing us the current political/judicial/social structures which allow for this overly-masculine culture to be maintained and possibly determine if the outcry we’ve seen recently has the potential to produce lasting results. We don’t want it to be 4 distinct presentations so we will be working together to really connect/intertwine our different parts.

Possible research question: Hollywood as a community which is both creative and repressive

The starting point of our conversation about using Hollywood as a case study was an article which addressed the striking difference in attitude of men and women of the film industry at the 2018 Golden Globes (1). The article highlighted that while most women who spoke on the red carpet and on stage brought up the topics of sexual assault, the sexist culture of Hollywood and the Time’s Up movement, none of the men chose to discuss these questions. This silence was particularly disappointing when it came from directors and actors who were nominated for films or TV series which treat of sexual assault, domestic abuse and gender inequalities; for example Alexander Skarsgard who was nominated for his role as an abusive husband and rapist in the show Big Little Lies and yet failed to discuss how relevant to real-life events his role was. 

We thought there was an interesting paradox between the fact that Hollywood could be such a public or “loud” community and yet still be characterised by this idea of oppressive silence, a silence which allowed Harvey Weinstein to thrive as a producer despite his abusive treatment of women. Starting from there, we realised that this tension between noise and silence could be found in many aspects of Hollywood’s darker sides. For example, we wondered to what extent the online character of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements had allowed them to be “louder? Sanjana also brought up the notion of “whisper networks” which exist among the women of the film industry (and other professional worlds) and aim to protect women from abusive men of said industry. Comparatively, similar “whisper networks” probably allow the same abusive men to protect themselves from being exposed.

We felt that this noise/silence dynamic came along with several other paradoxes. Ideas of public vs private, male vs female, and individual vs collective were all frameworks we thought could be useful in our analysis of the Hollywood community. Another tension that we felt was relevant to this topic was the constant interaction of fiction vs reality in Hollywood. For most of the 20th century, the film industry has contributed to the construction of a certain idea of masculinity. Confidence on the verge of arrogance, emotional distance and a sense of superiority are all characteristics of the masculinity that actors like Clark Gable, Alain Delon and Sean Connery cultivated. This observation made us wonder to what extent this idea of a man who can get away with anything especially when it comes to women had transferred to real-world interactions in Hollywood.

These are some of the questions and key-words that came up while we were brainstorming to develop a more focused research question:

  • How does it build as part of a community? Is it layered across different industries?
  • Do you have to have these experiences to consider yourself part of a movement?
  • All women have been subjugated to the cruelty of men? Universally, to the same extent, continually?
  • Nuanced – does this community actually do much legally / practically?
  • Private discussions that become public domain  – how do these conversations, feelings and thoughts become used? What do they do practically, or how can they be used legally?
  • Would these campaigns (Time’s Up, #metoo) have the same impact if they weren’t started/supported by famous women?
  • Time’s Up & #MeToo
  • The inclusiveness of these movements / white-feminism
  • Toxic masculinity cultivated by movies / how masculinity is performed in Hollywood
  • Bechdel test
  • Roman Polanski / Woody Allen

References:

(1) https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/01/what-the-men-didnt-say/549914/

(2) https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-whisper-network-after-harvey-weinstein-and-shitty-media-men