Essay Research: Studying Cultural Texts

As part of  the course for the first year of my Drawing & Print Degree, I have been given the task of writing a 1,200 word essay entitled ‘Write a Detailed Critical Analysis of a Cultural Text of Your Choice’. Over the Christmas break, the lecturers set us the task of identifying two cultural texts of our choice, and thinking about how we could write about each one. I have constructed a rationale for each of my cultural texts, applying ideas and theories discussed during the Visual Culture lectures I have attended since September as part of the degree programme. I found reading Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’, particularly the chapter on nudity and the male gaze, very engaging. I felt interested and passionate about the subject, so have decided to apply aspects of Berger’s theory to my chosen texts.

The iPhone

screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-15-27-35An iPhone is a contemporary cultural symbol, embodying everything I associate with modern life; constant social connectivity, instant entertainment, and the ability to edit how we present our lives to the world. Berger’s writing discussed the hypothesis that women were created to be looked at, and men were created to do the looking. The iPhone enables this more than ever. Whereas during the Renaissance era, one would have to go to a gallery or even commission a painting in order to see these traditional images of the female nude, revealing imagery is now a mere tap away. The internet in itself permitted the easy distribution of pornographic content, but it is smartphone devices such as the iPhone that act as constant portals. In theory, one can look at porn anywhere at anytime thanks to the phone’s ability to connect to the internet, as well as display images and play videos – of 38 million who visit Pornhub each day, nearly half use mobile devices. As a society, we like to claim that we have progressed, that sexism doesn’t exist anymore, yet, ironically, we have made it even easier to view explicit media. We see an epidemic number of young boys visiting porn sites, which would appear to have lead to a rise in porn addiction, and possibly violent sexual crimes. The question is, is it truly the iPhone’s fault, or could it be argued that it is in human nature, and the iPhone is merely an enabler?

The SCS Sofa Advert 2016

screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-15-24-00The SCS television adverts are notoriously loud and corny, featuring a typically attractive, glamorous young woman beaming and lounging on sofas as she describes the various price reductions one can expect to find in store. She is often seen wearing a form fitting dress and high heels, adorned in hairspray and lipgloss. For the men watching, she acts as eye candy. For women, she is an aspirational figure, epitomising allure and youth. To me, she echoes the image of the traditional 1950s female; elegant and smiling as she drifts around the home, making it more appealing as she waits for the man of the house to return. She appeals to the male fantasy of having a pretty housewife honour and serve him. Here, Berger’s theory of the male gaze is particularly evident; it is a clear example of the female being flaunted for male attention, as I have even managed to find internet forum threads discussing how appealing this young actress is. And the message of the advert is shallow and clear; for the women, “buy this sofa and you too can be glamorous and perfect”; for the men, “buy this sofa because I’m a pretty girl and I said so”. The advert seems to truly harp back to dated gender roles. For all that we are living in 2016 and like to think of ourselves as terribly post-modern and sophisticated, the SCS advert would not have been out of place in a 50s ad break, proving that although we like to think we have evolved in our thinking, people are people and nothing ever really changes.

I am not yet sure which text I will choose to research for my final essay, as I am fascinated by both concepts. I think that discussing both ideas with my peers and tutors will help to shed light on this decision.


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