Friday, July 07, 2006

What my brain and I are up to this Friday night

My dissertation proposal’s in full swing, and part of the process means I've been sifting through acres of reading (luckily for me the weather’s been so beautiful lately I've been able to lounge in the park soaking up both sun and theory – often more of the former). A few days ago I read an article that’s made me re-think the way I've been pulling the pieces together so far: Carol Stabile's “Resistance, Recuperation, and Reflexivity: The Limits of a Paradigm.” I stumbled across it during a more general search for stuff written on Roseanne, since both the series and its eponymous actor figure prominently in discussions of “unruly women” (e.g. Kathleen Rowe; in one of my favourite articles – yes, I have favourite articles – Patricia Mellencamp takes a similar approach to Lucille Ball and Gracie Allen. I first read that piece years ago, and since then have been determined to one day get two dogs so I can name them Gracie and Lucy. Until then, I've settled with naming my laptop Gracie, and maintaining the theme by dubbing my new little iPod shuffle Desi. But I digress. A lot). Anyway, so part of what Stabile argues against is this prevalent and popular textual analysis that positions a character or narrative as ‘unruly,’ progressive, transgressive, laughing in the face of social norms, etcetera. Taking Roseanne as her example, she points to how such an interpretation highlights the difference between, say, Roseanne Connor and June Cleaver, but in Roseanne’s own socio-historical context, the program doesn’t live up to such hype. What these sorts of academic arguments do, Stabile says, is reiterate and reinforce how such texts are lauded elsewhere, like in popular press reviews. The most provocative part of Stabile’s work for me was the parallel she pointed out between the industrial and academic investment in difference-in-repetition, how both sitcoms and academic critics rely upon these traces of distinction for capital (be it economic or cultural, another tenuous distinction since academics trade on their cultural capital for economic capital in the form of tenure, research grants, and so forth). Stabile is concerned with how this homology can preclude economic and political analyses that would show just how implicated both media and academia are in reproducing existing – and for women, oppressive – social conditions. As she says, “Within the field of media production, Roseanne reassures middle-class women that their everyday experiences are neither alienation nor unique, but normal, natural, and entirely surmountable. Within the imbricated fields of media and academic production, Roseanne’s ‘resistance’ deflects attention from the wider economic field in which so many of the world’s women confront dire material conditions” (416).
So what does this mean for me? I'm not entirely sure yet, but I know it means something. Feminist media criticism frequently produces these kinds of readings; the notion of resistance is an attractive one, since it lets us think about our audience/ourselves as actively working against images of women we find problematic. The rub, though, is that our default setting for these images – of women as passive, docile, happy homemakers lovingly serving the nuclear family – are no longer the norm. What we see as resistance in Roseanne Stabile says is better described as recuperation; the traditional nuclear family is not the economic force it once was and so does not need buttressing, unlike working women. Like, oh, say, the chick dick, a.k.a. my object of study. Stabile puts forth Pierre Bourdieu’s reflexive sociology as a corrective for this tendency toward resistance, as a strategy for recognizing that much of what we mean by that is indeed more accurately thought of as recuperation. Bourdieu’s schtick (one of them, at least) is the notion of ‘fields,’ spheres of social and cultural organization in which power struggles are constantly being waged. By thinking across fields, then, any object of study becomes more contextualized, seen in its relation to a myriad of other processes that influence it. This is something I'm already trying to do, by looking at the chick dick in popular fiction and television. Fiction and television each have their own economic and generic logics, and now their own ways of perpetuating postfeminist ideas and images. I'm reconsidering how I want to frame these logics – so far I've been thinking of the chick dick as a similarly unruly character, and I still believe that, particularly as a way to account for her absence from film (Janet Evanovich’s bestselling books have reportedly been optioned, but have yet to appear). “Unruly in comparison to what?” now becomes the question. I have some ideas. I always have some ideas. They need some fleshing-out, however, before they appear here as answers. Stay tuned…


Anonymous We used to be friends-JK said...

hey-first, so glad you're back. We were discussing this yesterday and it is an interesting idea. now what are you going to do with it? How far can you push your work and theories to maintain revelations of your own truths and yet still be considered "bankable"? And I'm actually surprised that this idea of the "unruly" character specifically with Roseanne, being in fact the complete norm when examined in the context of the times,-I'm surprised this hasn't crossed your mind before. That this has and will continue to happen to feminist studies-will we ever be progressive enough?? as far as academics? it must have crossed your mind before! hahahah MUST HAVE.
cheers talk to you later!!

8:39 AM  
Blogger andrea said...

Such is the rub with television studies - due to its legacy of textual analysis it often takes a synchronic approach, i.e. comparing texts to each other to determine progression. Part of what made Roseanne so 'transgressive' was that it came on the heels of 80s displays of conspicuous consumption, so in comparison to something like Dynasty or Dallas, of course it seems radically different and 'real.' Like everything, though, tv studies evolves: these studies of unruly women all came out in the early to mid-90s, and feminist television criticism has changed significantly since then - now paying a lot more attention to the political and economic processes at play in its representations of women. Always an uphill battle, though - just look at shows like Wife Swap. Miles to go before critics can sleep...

12:45 PM  

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