Thursday, October 2, 2014

Catching Up

I missed posting about quite a few of the articles I've read. Just to have everything in one place, here are the annotations on the rest of the sources I've read.

Dark Desires: Male Masochism in the Horror Film
By Barbara Creed
Creed suggests that in horror films monstrous male bodies often take on female characteristics. Freud lists three types of masochism: erotogenic, moral, and feminine, in which the “feminine position” is adopted. This, in addition to the femininity of male monsters, may reveal a repressed desire of man to become woman. She also mentions Kristeva’s theories of abjection, citing the corpse and the ultimate abjection. The abject body is one aligned with the natural, such as the way the maternal body changes and expels. Creed suggests this is also Freud’s masochistic, feminine body. The desire for man to give birth appears in several horror films, within which man can only give birth to a monster.

Creed provides a useful overview of masochism, both within horror films and in relation to those viewing them. The concept of the abject is important as well, in that what is abject becomes monstrous. Therefore, for fathers to become monstrous they must also somehow become an abjection. In particular I would be interested in extending the idea of the maternal body as abject by comparing it to the paternal. This perhaps sets the paternal body as normative; in which case the monstrous paternal may no longer be normatively masculine

Friday, September 26, 2014

Peberdy's "Performing Paternity"

Performing Paternity: Clinton, Nostalgia, and the Racial Politics of Fatherhood
By Donna Peberdy
Peberdy begins by providing an historical context for societal expectations of masculinity in the late 1990's and early 2000's. In particular she cites Bill Clinton's assertion that fatherlessness was "the single biggest social problem in our society." Fatherhood was no longer seen as a fundamental part of masculinity, but an identity to be proved and performed. Clinton shifted emphasis from the "traditional" father to the "responsible" father, and "family values" increasingly became a political tool, although what exactly those values were was not always clear. Bad fathering was considered a national issue rather than a private one. In addition, the idea of "breadwinning" has become central to the identity of the father, which is only possible when one has a family to govern.

Peberdy explores these concepts by looking at nostalgia of the 1950's nuclear family in Pleasantville and Far From Heaven. In both of these films, the performance of wives affect their husband's performance of normative masculinity. This emphasizes the general per formative aspects of the traditional family. She also looks into the role of race in fatherhood, using The Pursuit of Happyness and John Q. to show that traditional fatherhood roles, such as breadwinner, are reserved for white men. She concludes by saying that "fatherhood is not a given or essential right but something to be proved and acted out."

This is one chapter in Peberdy's book "Masculinity and Film Performance: Male Angst in Contemporary American Cinema." This source provides a particularly interesting viewpoint because it is the most recently published of the research I have done so far. Since the films I plan to focus on are contemporary, it is good to have a more recent exploration of fatherhood, and in particular how this is represented in film. One concept that I think will be important for my paper is the breadwinner requiring a family to govern. In many of the films I have considered for this paper, the father-monster is threatened by another potential father figure, who could take away their family and destroy their identity as father.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Sobchack's "Bringing It All Back Home"

Bringing It All Back Home: Family Economy and Generic Exchange
By Vivian Sobchack
Sobchack explores the figure of the child in films, using it to compare the genres of horror, science fiction, and family melodrama. She looks in particular at the child in Rosemary's Baby and the starchild at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. She argues that the nuclear family is no longer a place of protection from social upheavals but the site of them. All three genres she examines test the limits of the family in patriarchal culture.Children in horror films are often Others, not their fathers' children. This can lead to fathers becoming monstrous when they are forced to deal with their monstrous children. She suggests the repressed in the horror film is no longer the one with too much power, knowledge, or sexual desire, but the repressed patriarchal hatred, fear, and self-loathing. As patriarchy is increasingly challenged, patriarchal rage increases. The only resolution patriarchy has in any of these films is denial of the future of patriarchy or death.

One thing I'm not sure of in this article (and this is something that has been mentioned in other articles as well) is the idea that trouble in the nuclear family is relatively new (keeping in mind that most of the articles I've blogged about have been written between around the 1980's). I would think that familial upheaval has always been an issue. This may require further research. In any case, this article is interesting in that it looks at the topic of patriarchal rage as being caused by children, and in particular "monstrous" children.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Gunn's "Father Trouble"

Father Trouble: Staging Sovereignty in Spielberg's War of the Worlds
By Joshua Gunn
Gunn discusses Steven Spielberg's 2005 adaptation of War of the Worlds as a representation of the events of 9/11. In particular he explores Ray, the film's protagonist, as a "paternal sovereign," saying that the film teaches us that in states of emergency we look to a political father figure to lead us. Both Hollywood films and philosophers suggest that without government (a "state of nature"), we would naturally pick a leader to follow. In War of the Worlds, the inability of the State is emphasized, making it clear that they need Ray to lead them. However, Ray's own children question his proficiency as a father. According to Jaques Lacan, there are three versions of a father figure: the symbolic (there is no higher authority), the imaginary (the ideal of father we have early in life), and the real (the actual person who is the father). The father is most symbolic when dead. When Ray protects his children by being closer to death, he becomes more symbolic. He also says that the father functions to intervene in the connection between mother an infant, introducing the child to the social world by saying "No."

Lacan also argued that the father has to fill two contradictory positions as both protector, who must sometimes break the law, and the maker of law. The role of sovereign is similarly contradictory in that they set the laws but must also break them when necessary. Sovereignty is defined during states of emergency, since this is when certain laws might be broken for the greater protection of the people (Gunn later cites the Bush II administration post 9/11 as a specific example of this). Ray, for example, commits a murder in order to protect his daughter. Gunn then raises the question of the non-benevolent paternal sovereign, saying people love him because the transgressions and exceptions he allows. Violence and scopophilia bring up this love for Ray in The War of the Worlds. 

This article was useful for getting more background knowledge about the nature of fatherhood. Lacan's theories may be a good thing to look into further. I have decided to focus primarily on the father figure as monster in horror films (rather than simply fathers that are present in them). I think this concept of the paternal sovereign will be key in moving forward and developing a specific thesis. The contradictory roles of both father and sovereign may help in particular in exploring the dual personalities of Nathan and Nix in Repo and Raising Cain (if these are the two films I choose to focus on).

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Shor's "Father Knows Beast"

"Father Knows Beast: Patriarchal Rage and the Horror of Personality Film"
By Francis Shor
This is one of the first sources I found, and it's turned out to be very useful. (Also gotta love that title). It discusses a sub-genre of horror, the "horror of personality" film, which "explores the social and psychological conditions of regressive behavior." In particular, Shor uses the examples of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (which I have seen) and Brian DePalma's Raising Cain (which I have not, though I plan to), both films in which the "monster" is a father figure who has been led to psychological distress. Shor seeks to find the relationship between American society and the patriarchal rage in horror films.

In The Shining, Jack, haunted by the ghosts at the Overlook Hotel as well as by his own failure, turns his anger on his wife on son. Jack's violence against them, Shor suggests, is his attempt to redeem his paternal privileges. We also see in the film that Jack has hurt his son in the past. Jack sees his family as obstacles to his success, and yet they are necessary for him to be successful in his role as father. Shor explains this conflict as a result of the "consequences of a narcissistic wounding and ontological despair confronting masculinity in America….there is also the intimation that the reciprocal relationships, which human beings must engage in and which engender empathy, require a sense of equality, respect, and openness foreign to patriarchy.”

Raising Cain focuses on the multiple personalities of Carter Nix, including Cain, who performs experiments on his own child as well as others he kidnaps. Shor suggests these experiments are a result of Cain's desire to maintain patriarchal control. Cain is triggered by Carter's repressed fears, representing the "patriarchal past." Carter ends up rescuing his child through his persona Margo, a maternal figure (one of several connections Shor points out between Raising Cain and Psycho). Shor raises the question, though, of which of his personalities is triumphant in the film.

Shor notes a lack of resolution of the charater's patriarchal rage in both films. While Raising Cain offers the possibility of a post-patriarchal future, it does not seem to support it. Shor also brings up both films as being post-Vietnam and in an era of right-wing politics, placing them in a certain historical context for masculinity in America and even equating Carter Nix with Richard Nixon.

This article is very much relevant to the concepts of fatherhood and patriarchy in Repo. Based on the brief plot overview in this article, Raising Cain may be a great film to use in comparison, since both films focus on a man who is both father and monster, but not always both at once. They are two separate sides of the same person; conflicting roles they fill. However, I don't want to just repeat what Shor says about Raising Cain. I think from here I need to spend some time looking into theories of fatherhood and monstrosity separately, and then see how they play together in horror films more generally.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Rieser's "Masculinity and Monstrosity"

At this point I'm fairly certain that I will be writing about fatherhood in horror/slasher films. What exactly I have to say about it, I'm not yet sure. Still, settling on this topic has allowed me to start looking for sources, and I've found quite a lot so far.

"Masculinity and Monstrosity: Characterization and Identification in the Slasher Film" 
by Klaus Rieser
This ended up being a very good article to start with since Rieser summarizes the views of a few other theorists, Linda Williams, Barbara Creed, and Carol Clover, and then expands upon (and primarily disagrees) with them. It is important to note that Rieser uses Clover's definition of slasher films as more modern, specifically "post-Psycho," and separate from the mainstream. Each of these the three theorists respond to Laura Mulvey's theory of voyeurism and active male gaze/passive female receiver of the gaze, applying this to the genre of horror films. Williams suggests that woman and monster are similar because their power is derived from a threat to men. Creed sees the maternal figure as the most horrific element in horror films, but men usually defeat the evil thereby restoring the patriarchy. In response to Mulvey, she also notes horror as a cinema of scopophilic displeasure, in that it's gore makes the viewer want to look away. Clover's thesis surrounds the archetypal "Final Girl;" the last one standing left to kill the monster. She suggests that slasher films do not equate male/female with masculine/feminine, as Mulvey does. The killer or monster, usually biologically male, represents a non-normative masculinity, while the Final Girl is more masculine (heroic) or androgynous. Viewer identification shifts from the attacker to the attacked, and by the end viewers are left with no one but the Final Girl to identify with.

The beginning of this article was very useful in providing me with three other theorists to look into. I've already popped over to the library to grab Carol Clover's book "Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film."

After explaining the positions of these three theorists, Rieser goes on to disagree with their shared agreement that gender and identification in slasher films functions differently from mainstream Hollywood, saying that these films do, in fact, support the "hegemonic mold." However, the basis of his argument comes from the assumption that (presumably heterosexual) adolescent males are the primary viewers of these films. Whether or not this is true (he provides no statistical evidence), Rieser also does not provide any suggestion of how these films function differently for any other viewers. Still, there are several points that Rieser makes that may become relevant for my paper.

Rieser mentions the Final Girl's use of phallic weaponry, often reluctantly, to combat a monster that threatens hegemony. She is stuck into the male mold of a hero, rather than a heroine. One of Rieser's more interesting arguments in regards to fatherhood is that the Final Girl's fluidity of gender is not between feminine/masculine but between girl/woman, in which in Rieser's terms woman is almost synonymous with motherhood. She exhibits motherly instincts in the way she protects herself. (This is interesting in that fatherhood cannot be fully discussed without the concept of motherhood. Perhaps in the Final Girl is maternal, the monster is paternal? How does this fit in with  Rieser's conept of the monster as non-normative masculine?) Rieser also mentions the "uncanny closeness" of the monster and the Final Girl; how they will always manage to find each other.

I think that exploring this relationship between the Final Girl (as mother? or perhaps daughter?) and the monster (as father?) will be useful as I move forward in discovering my thesis.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Few Ideas

So here goes: 15 page film paper due in a little over two months, and the time to start is now. And I will be writing about...I don't know. Since becoming a film major I've always wanted to write about my favorite film, Repo! The Genetic Opera. (Okay, it's not the best but I still love it). My first idea was to write about cult films and masculinity, but I think this had been done before, particularly in the case of Rocky Horror (which I actually wrote about for a class while abroad). I'm not throwing this idea out yet, but I would need to come up with a very original thesis.

Idea number two: I'm interested in the relationship between masculinity and monstrosity present in many films, like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, and so on. (It's also no coincidence that each of these began as novels and have been adapted on film again and again). Certainly this topic could be examined in Repo! as well; there is after all a song titled "Let the Monster Rise." But like my first idea, I think masculinity and monstrosity has been well covered by other theorists. So here is my addition to the topic: What is the relationship between monstrosity, masculinity, and fatherhood as presented in films? In Repo!, the protagonist (or antagonist?) Nathan is conflicted by his role as father and his occupation as repo man, which makes him a monster, particularly in the view of his daughter. I think there's an essay here, but maybe not a CUE paper. If I decide to write about monstrosity/masculinity/fatherhood, I think I will need to expand and explore this relationship in other films as well, perhaps cult films in particular.

So I start with a Google search of "monstronsity, masculinity, and fatherhood," just to get a vague idea of what's been written on the topic. Interestingly, without adding "in film" much of what comes up  One of the first things I find is an article titled "The Projected Man: The B-Movie and the Monstrous-Masculine" by E. Anna Claydon. There's also "Father Knows Beast: Patriarchal Rage and the Horror of Personality Film" by Francis Shor. Perhaps not bad places to start.

Finally, there's one other potential topic I've been thinking of. Father figures appear very often in film and television as the "stupid dad" (shows like The Simpsons in particular but also sitcoms like Everybody Loves Raymond or comedies like the National Lampoon films). This comes up so often in popular media that I think there's a lot to discover in it.

Or, maybe I'll wake up tomorrow with a brilliant, brand new thesis that doesn't have anything to do with what I've thought about so far. In the mean time, I'm going to focus on beginning research for the monster/man/father topic.