Sexist or Feminist??

The tiresome canard about how “sex(ism) sells” has been approached by many different people in many different ways with no concrete correlation between sexist or sexual content and marketplace success. I will look at two examples from opposite ends of the spectrum and attempt to understand the extent to which gender roles play a part in their success.

Although an extreme example, the highly popular, open world franchise, Grand Theft Auto is famous for its controversial adult and violent themes. The name along with the rating gives the player an idea that this will not be an innocent, light-hearted bit of fun, but rather a window into an expansive criminal underground (actually not so underground) in an urban gang setting and a corrupt society.

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It should come as no surprise that the résumé of Rockstar Games along with racism and adhering to strict stereotypes also includes sexism. GTA V has little room for women except to portray them as strippers, prostitutes, long-suffering wives, humorless girlfriends and goofy, new-age feminists we’re meant to laugh at. The only upside to Rockstar’s treatment of women is that there isn’t a female protagonist for them to butcher.

At the other end we have the 2013 series reboot of Tomb Raider. The character Lara Croft was first introduced in 1996 as a hyper-sexualised female Indiana Jones. At the time the video gaming culture, in terms of both industry and consumers, was male-dominated therefore Lara designed by and for men, acting the way men liked (like exploring and shooting) and looked the way men liked (consider that Angelina Jolie had to wear a padded bra in the films to faithfully recreate the bust of her virtual counterpart).

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The 2013 video game has made significant improvements in the representation of women. It is set before the events of the previous games, when Lara is not some kiss-ass tomb raider, but rather a young woman with everything to prove. Throughout her journey she shows she is strong, intelligent as well as street smart, independent, resourceful, disciplined, compassionate, vulnerable, raw, but most importantly real.

The success of such a franchise illustrates that the industry, as well as the consumers, have the potential to treat female protagonists (and female characters in general) with the respect they deserve, ushering a new era of gender roles in video games.

 

References:

Behm-Morawitz, E & Mastro, D 2009, “The Effects of Sexualisation of Female Video Game Characters on Gender Stereotyping and Female Self-Concept”, Sex Roles, Vol. 61, pp. 808 − 823, Springer Science and Business Media.

Everett, A & Watkins, S. C 2008,  “The Power of Play: The Portrayal and Performance of Race in Video Games,” The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp.141-164.

Koda, T et al 2009,  “Avatar Culture: Cross-Cultural Evaluations of Avatar Facial Expressions,” AI and Society 24.3: 237-50.

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Popular Culture and Political Discourse

In a society where film stars become political leaders and politicians appear in television sitcoms, politics and popular culture have become inextricably linked. In order to understand this ever-evolving relationship, we must first understand that each is a form of the other. Popular culture involves the organizing of our pleasure, and therefore our values, interests and identities. At the same time, our pleasure depends on a series of political decisions and processes, which in turn define our socio-moral standards and, therefore, society as a whole.

Popular culture has increasing played a part in the political campaigns of many countries worldwide and politicians who can skillfully navigate the use of pop culture references have a direct connection through which to influence their voters. This form of campaigning has sparked debate between those who see the political nature of popular culture as a form of manipulation and those who see it as populist self-expression. This debate begs the question how does pop culture influence the development of ideologies outside of politicians and how does popular culture create feelings of compassion, empathy, or affinity?

I believe that popular culture, perpetuated by social media, is a pivotal factor when dealing with modern politics and this gift of interconnectedness is mostly squandered by the use of small strings of sentences explaining our current mood or activity. We are wasting the infinite potential to change our society, our reality. The general populace now has a more influential voice than ever when it comes to political affairs and the future of our nations, but we use it to share simple joys rather than telling our needs and expectations to those who could use this information. Despite its primary motivation of mass communication, social media sites encourage self-promotion and a narcissistic mentality, by manipulating how they are represented to others. The problem with this aspect of social networking is that nearly everyone presents an unrealistic portrayal of themselves. Although this is not always the case, the misrepresentation of politicians can be misleading and therefore damaging to not only their political agenda but also the voters. If these uses continue and, more importantly, increase I wonder where our society is heading: too proud to admit our failures, too entrenched in ego to even see them, or too corrupt to care?

To Skim, or not to Skim

Here’s a challenge: can you read this whole post without getting distracted?  Can you resist the urge to skim each paragraph for the “gist of it”?

Chances are this will take some effort (or a lot of effort): as a Uni student who has grown up in the technological age I am accustomed to reading on the web, and therefore am a participant in the online reading style known as the “F-shaped pattern“. This style refers to the quick skimming from left to right across the top, and then scanning the middle until the bottom, absorbing a few main ideas but not truly engaging with any of them.

Jane Dorner in her 1993 articles entitled “When readers become end-users : intercourse without seduction”, talks about how readers have now become users, simply scanning written works to obtain the major points, providing an overview and sense of comprehension. But how much are we really absorbing? That’s not to say that this technique is always problematic. When users are websurfing, reading for entertainment, or perusing blogs, it doesn’t matter so much if you’re just skimming, but as the internet is increasingly becoming the source for all our content – news, research, and entertainment – we must ask the question: how is the internet changing the way we read, and the depth with which we take in information and what are the implications for society if the deep, reflective thinking associated with reading is replaced by the “web-page graze”?

After becoming accustomed to reading quick bits of information online, it has become harder to stay focused on long reading assignments that require sustained focus. If people, and in particular, students, are reading less thoroughly and getting more “summarized content”, how will this affect the type of thinking they engage in?  What will be the impact of online reading on the depth with which people immerse themselves in the subjects they are reading about?

 

References:

Cover, R 2006, “Audience Inter/Active: Interactive Media, Narrative Control and Reconceiving Audience History”, New Media and Soceity, Vol. 8, p.p. 139 − 158, Sage Publications.

Dorner, J 1993, “When Readers Become End-Users: Intercourse without Seduction”, Logos,Vol. 4, No. 1, p.p. 6 − 11.