Monday, July 13, 2009

Blog Assignment #1

“Media images help shape our view of the world and our deepest values: what we consider good or bad, positive or negative, moral or evil.” – Douglas Keller1

For this blog assignment, I have decided to critically analyze the music video of Everlast’s song “What it’s Like” from a gender roles perspective. The music video contains three main characters and a counterpoint. The first character is a homeless man who we see begging for money. The second character is a young woman named Mary, who tries to get an abortion after her boyfriend Tom leaves her after getting her pregnant. The third character is Max, a man who has fallen in with the wrong crowd with dire consequences for him and his family. The counterpoint is a happy middle class family that only appears in the visuals. The music video makes extensive use of portrayal to tell us what we should think of these people and who they interact with. While both Hegemonic and Counter Hegemonic positions are pushed, the hegemonic positions, to quote Lull, “require that ideological assertions become self evident cultural assumptions”.2

The homeless man is portrayed as a victim of circumstance, lacking in charisma, being dirty and unkempt, making it unlikely for him to be accepted for a job. When he asked for money the response he gets, “Get a job you fucking slob.”, is portrayed in a negative light, being the first use of a swear word in the song, such a portrayal rejects the hegemonic position that the poor are poor because they don’t want to work, even though the words themselves are supportive of said position. However, the homeless man begging “with shame in his eyes” reinforces the hegemonic position that men should be able to support themselves.

Most of the reinforcement of hegemonic gender roles comes from Mary’s segment. Mary’s ex-boyfriend is portrayed as the villain. This reinforces the normative position that a man should keep his commitments and support his children. Additionally, the visuals imply Mary ultimately deciding not to get the abortion, reinforcing the hegemonic position of motherhood being an important part of the female experience. However, there is at least one counter hegemony gender position in Mary’s section. Mary’s vow to castrate Tom if she sees him again is portrayed as a moment of justified anger, rejecting the docile part of the hegemonic female stereotype.

Next comes Max. Max is portrayed the most unsympathetically of all the main characters; this portrayal pushes both Hegemonic and Counter Hegemonic positions. The Hegemonic position is that Max, as the man, should support his family instead of hanging out with thugs. The Counter Hegemonic position is the rejection of the “tough guy” stereotype. However, even that can be interpreted as a hegemonic message. As Keller says, “Media spectacles demonstrate who has power and who is powerless, who is allowed to exercise force and violence, and who is not.”1 Max is clearly presented as not a legitimate user of violence.

Finally, as a counterpoint to these people, comes the middle class family. Appearing only in visuals, this happy family is presented as an ideal to strive for, which helps create, to quote Lull, “an impression that even society’s roughest edges must conform to the conventional contours of dominant ideologies”.2 However, they are also presented as completely oblivious to the circumstances and misfortunes of the other characters. As the happy middle class family represents society, this is a counter hegemonic position, saying that the people normally looked down upon may be in more complex situations than they at first appear.

To sum up, most of the underlying messages come more from the portrayal of the characters than the characters themselves. The characters are portrayed as victims of circumstance or misfortune. Some of the visuals could imply the homeless man lost his home in a natural disaster, while Mary’s boyfriend was presented as a liar who didn’t follow through on his commitments. Max is presented in the worst light of the three, but his wife and kids are treated sympathetically. The middle class family, on the other hand, is put on a pedestal with all the unhappy people looking on as they laugh together over a meal. We are clearly supposed to feel sympathetic toward the homeless man, Mary, and Max’s family. The people who look down upon them, saying it’s their own fault, we are urged, through wording and tone, to disagree with. And while the Middle Class Family is presented as an ideal, their obliviousness is a message that we should give the homeless man some change, not be so quick to judge those getting an abortion, and realize that a mourning family is not at fault for the death of their loved one.

Works Cited

1Kellner, Douglas. (2003) “Cultural Studies, Multiculturalism, and Media Culture,” pp. 9-20 in Gender, Race, and Class in Media, edited by Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications

2Lull, James. (2003) “Hegemony,” pp. 61-66 in Gender, Race, and Class in Media, edited by Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications