Sunday, August 9, 2009

GPC Final Project: "Hatchet"

Roles: Screenwriting, Acting

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Paradox of Men's Underwear: Who Are They Really Selling To?

Perhaps more than any other clothing designer or retailer in business today, Calvin Klein has built a reputation for provocative advertisements, many of which do not even include the item that is being marketed (for example, a CK jeans print advertisement that does not depict the young, buff man in jeans, but rather in something akin to a loincloth). Thus, it comes as no surprise that CK underwear advertisements are just as, if not more, provocative. Unlike the aforementioned CK jeans advertisement, the products being marketed in the CK underwear ads are actually pictured in the ads; but the manner in which the products are depicted begs the question of towards whom, exactly, the ads are directed. Are the in-your-face, bulge-grabbing wet-bodied, sexily positioned men pictured in the advertisements meant to appeal to the average man looking to buy new underwear? It would seem that while Calvin Klein certainly employs the notion of "sex sells" in its underwear advertisements, it is somewhat paradoxical to think that such ads will appeal to their target consumer.

Calvin Klein underwear advertisements are not your everday, run-of-the-mill underwear ads. They are not the kind that you might expect to find in the circular in the Sunday paper. They are, for all intensive purposes, soft-core pornography. Take, for instance, what has become perhaps the most famous CK underwear ad: Mark Wahlberg defiantly grabbing his genital region through a pair of CK boxer briefs. The message is obvious: "Don't f**k with me." But what about a man in white boxer briefs grabbing his crotch is appealing to the average consumer of CK men's underwear? One might assume that the answer to that question is not much. Moreover, the advertisements may evoke a somewhat homoerotic response, something that advertisers have consistently tried to avoid when it comes to attracting straight men. Esquire magazine has long faced a similar issue, having to quell suspicions of the magazine's content being targeted at homosexuals. "From the moment of its inception, Esquire's founders were fearful that their magazine's interest in apparel, food, decor, and so on might make it appear to be targeted at homosexuals" (Breazeale 235). While Esquire strived to depict the female body in attractive ways in order to please its male audience and market its advertisers' products, CK underwear ads seem to take the opposite approach: picturing buff men in often skimpy underwear in order to sell those types of underwear.

It has long been documented that men and women are depicted in advertisements -- particularly print advertisements -- in startlingly different ways. Men are typically shown in very dominant roles, whereas women are shown in passive, submissive roles (Killing Us Softly 3). Calvin Klein underwear advertisements seem to fall into this generalization, as well. All of the men depicted in the ads are posed in dominant positions -- whether grabbing their crotches, participating in athletic or other masculine activities, or crossing their arms across their chests. Perhaps this message conveys the notion of male dominance and superiority that is more attractive to the typical CK men's underwear consumer than, say, the crotch-grabbing aspect. The advertisements say "You can show everyone who's boss, so long as you're doing it wearing Calvin Klein underwear."

Works Cited

Breazeale, Kenon. "Esquire Magazine and the Construction of the Male Consumer." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003. 230-243.

Killing Us Softly 3: Advertising's Image of Women. Dir. Sut Jhally. Perf. Jean Kilbourne. 2000. DVD. Media Education Foundation, 2000.

Photo Credits

Friday, July 17, 2009

Doctors, Be Warned: Don't Mess with Hawthorne

Since its inception, the role of the nurse has been considered ideal for women. It is a position that is always inherently subordinate to male supervision, and it requires a gentle, caring personality and an innate desire to nurture, characteristics which are at the helm of society’s expectations for a good woman and would be inappropriate for any man to possess (Newman 54). Given the feminization of the nursing profession, one might expect a television drama whose protagonists are nurses to solidly reinforce hegemonic representations of femininity. However, TNT’s new medical drama Hawthorne does not live up to its expectations in this particular area. Instead, it depicts a majority of its female protagonists – mostly nurses, but also a female physician – as strong, capable leaders who not only refuse to tolerate subjugation by male superiors, but outwardly stand up to it and defend themselves. The show further illustrates a counter-hegemonic representation of masculinity in its depiction of one character in particular—a male nurse, who is chastised and viewed by many as less manly because of his choice of career. Despite the depiction of the nurse protagonists as strong-willed women who are not afraid to stand up for themselves and what they believe to be right and just, the underlying hegemony is unavoidable: the majority of women are still just nurses, subordinates on the occupational hierarchy and at the mercy of their male superiors because they assume the role that, as women, is deemed to be the most appropriate for them to fill.

Because Hawthorne is a show barely into its first season, I chose to view the pilot episode for the purpose of this analysis. We are immediately introduced to the show's main character (and namesake), Christina Hawthorne, the Chief Nursing Officer at Richmond Trinity Hospital. At the pilot's outset, Hawthorne is marking the one-year anniversary of her husband's death (the circumstances of which remain unclear). Over the course of the episode, we learn that Hawthorne is struggling to raise a free-spirited teenage daughter and cope with a disapproving mother-in-law, neither of whom seem to understand the importance (or stress) of her job. The show's first few minutes follow Hawthorne as she races from home at 5 a.m. to come to the aid of a terminally ill cancer patient -- who we later find out is the best friend of her late husband -- who wishes to commit suicide by jumping from the hospital roof. By the time the show's title sequence begins, Hawthorne has already bolted through a hospital security checkpoint, assaulted a security guard, tended to the critically injured patient who jumped from the roof, and been arrested in front of her entire nursing staff for the aforementioned assault, leaving no doubt in any viewers' minds that Christina Hawthorne is not your typical nurse.

This counter-hegemonic portrayal of the show's main character is perhaps best evidenced in her interactions with her superiors. Female nurses are expected to conform to doctors' orders without question, but Hawthorne does not always adhere to this code, described by Lull as a system of "dominance and subordination in the field of relations structured by power" (61). She fields complaints from several of her nurses about maltreatment by male physicians and vows to confront the accused doctors about it. This is not what society would typically expect from a nurse, regardless of any administrative status she may hold.

This counter-hegemonic portrayal of femininity is juxtaposed with the underlying hegemonic situation, which is the basic premise of the show: Hawthorne and her staff are still nurses, which means, at the end of the day, they are still subordinate to and at the mercy of their male superiors. In addition, despite Hawthorne's supervisory role as Chief Nursing Officer, she is only a supervisor to those who share her same role: other nurses. She does not supervise any other employees of the hospital but her own, and they share the common experience of being outranked and mistreated by their superiors.

Also contributing to the hegemonic depiction of female nurses is Candy Sullivan, a strikingly attractive blonde nurse with a Barbie-like figure and a name to match. Candy is, not surprisingly, depicted as a nurse who will, shall we say, go the extra mile to make her patients feel their best. (In Candy's own words, all she provides is "a little extra T-L-C.") Our first exposure to Candy's character is at the bedside of a young Navy SEAL who was wounded in a heroic covert military operation and for whom she performs sexual favors as part of her "extra T-L-C." Candy is depicted as the type of nurse that every man fantasizes about: attractive, sensual, and willing to administer "alternative" treatment options when no one else is looking. The stereotype is clear, and while the writers of the show may have only wished to include it for humoristic value, it was manifested in a much more derogatory manner.

Lusting for Nurse Candy's attention is Ray Stein, a male nurse who provides the show's counter-hegemonic depiction of masculinity. Ray is clearly unhappy with his career, but it is unclear what is the greater source of his unhappiness: having to take orders from physicians or being demasculinized simply because of the stigma associated with his particular vocation. Ray is not shy when it comes to sharing that the only reason he is a nurse is because he bombed the MCAT (twice) and was unable to gain admission to medical school. He is clearly bothered by his subordinate position, particularly when it involves a female physician, Dr. Marshall. A primary plot line of this episode consists of Ray's decision to follow Dr. Marshall's orders, even though he knew they were incorrect and potentially harmful to the patient. "Nurses follow doctors' orders," he reassured himself. "And I'm a nurse." When the patient's condition worsened to the point of near-death, Dr. Marshall calls Ray "stupid" and highlights the fact that he was obviously not intelligent enough to be a physician. Ray is keenly aware of the fact that he failed to meet society's expectations for him as a man: achieve the highest possible position in your chosen field. As a nurse, Ray failed to reach that goal, and thus is something less of a real man in the eyes of society.

Dr. Marshall further accentuates this counter-hegemonic portrayal of femininity in a board meeting with the hospital's executive officers, a group of which Christina Hawthorne is a part. When Christina stands up for Ray's actions as simply following the orders of the attending physician, Dr. Marshall storms out of the meeting, proclaiming that she will "not be lectured to by a nurse." This is a role that has traditionally been filled by male physicians, yet Dr. Marshall is stepping across normative gender lines in her role as a physician. This situation demonstrates the reality that gender lines can be blurred when it comes to occupational stratification and, as it was in this case, one's spot on the occupational ladder can outweigh allegiance or loyalty based solely on gender (as one might expect).

The characters of Hawthorne depict several counter-hegemonic representations of masculinity and femininity: strong-willed women nurses willing to stand up for themselves in the face of dominating male superiors; a less-than-manly male nurse who is all too aware of his failure to live up to society's standards of masculinity; and a ruthless female physician who takes pleasure in demeaning her male subordinate. Given the extent to which the protagonists' gender roles were able to be analyzed based only on the first episode, it is clear that Hawthorne is an element of popular culture worth examining as its characters and plot lines continue to unfold in the weeks and months ahead.

Works Cited

Lull, James. "Hegemony." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003. 61-66.

Newman, David M. Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005.

"Pilot." Hawthorne. Writ. John Masius. Dir. Mikael Salomon. TNT. 16 June 2009. Sony Pictures Television.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Assignment #1 - Link Hunt

Letterman's Palin Joke and the Liberal Bubble
by "Harrison"
Just Politics

How Far Have We Evolved When It Comes to Gender Roles?
by Jenny Brown
Twenty by Jenny

New York Times Frames Sex Selection As "Culturally Asian"
by Lisa

Today Show Segment on Gender Roles
by Laura Rowley
Money & Happiness Blog

And Now, For Something Completely Different
by "Snapper"
Super-Hero Lunchbox