Made you look, huh? I put “boobs” in the title, knowing that it would draw attention and to make a postmodern point. Not that I really need to make one, after ‘Mr. Family Guy’, the Academy Awards host, made it for me.
The response to the “We Saw Your Boobs” sequence--the actresses fake disgust during the show, the actual feminist outrage afterwards--made for good discussion fodder in my Romance and Melodrama film class this week. This class (which I love!) covers the history of “women’s films”—the weepie, romantic comedies, even horror films--from the 1930s forward. Any film that generates a strong, emotional response from loud musical scores, scenes of domestic drama, sexual desire or screaming monsters falls into a “body genre,” as film scholar Linda Williams has called them. These genres of embodiment connect with female audiences and feature women at the center of the action.
My students, mostly women in this class, understand the whole postmodern trap all too well. We laugh about it frequently, but, similar to the films we are watching, laughter can quickly turn to tears. The meanness that underlies so much of this kind of stupid Hollywood humor is only funny some of the time. As Lindy West points out in the popular blog, Jezebel, when 9-year-old girls become the butt of jokes about hooking up with George Clooney on one of the most watched TV shows in the world, the humor dissipates quickly.
The history of both Hollywood sexism and feminist film criticism are topics of my class, but so is meanness. As a society we are finally addressing teen bullying and other forms of negative social behavior more seriously. “Mean girls” and female aggressiveness are important parts of this inquiry. Margaret Talbot’s New York Times article on “Girls Just Want to Be Mean” references several new books and programs devoted specifically to research on relational aggression and girls. Lee Bessette’s IHE column adds in race and queerness to the equation.
As postmodern feminists, my students acknowledge that they put on make-up or shave their legs only when they feel like it. These girls understand that having a negative body image—as my daughter describes her own—comes largely from media influence and should be ignored or made fun of as much as possible. As Lena Dunham shows us (quite literally) in most episodes of “Girls”—a large body size does not prevent one from being desired or having sex frequently, at least not on HBO.
What interests me in this po-mo discussion, however, are the arguments that have a few holes in them, moments where the buck seems to stop. The buck, of course, is all about power and money. Boobs draw eyes and eyes mean dollars. Dollars mean power.
Can we intervene in this flow chart differently?