narrative cinema

A week later, we were sitting in our film-theory class, discussing ‘female presentation in Hollywood cinema’. Our teacher, a renowned professor named Dai Jinghua, showed us some clips of Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe. We were admiring the pneumatic breasts and plunging necklines, the shimmering wavy hair, and the sculptured legs polished like porcelain on high heels. But then Professor Dai introduced us to the British feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey’s essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’. She muted the Rita Hayworth film, and read out aloud from the essay: ‘mainstream film coded the erotic into the language of the dominant patriarchal order …’ She paused and looked at us to see our response. But none of us said anything. Then she asked: ‘What does Laura Mulvey mean when she says the sex of the camera is male, not female?’

I turned to the screen, where Marilyn Monroe was swinging her miniskirt with a shake of her perfect waistline, and smiling at the camera seductively.

Timidly, I raised my hand and answered with another quotation from Mulvey: ‘She meant that women are the image and men are the bearer of the look. So women are the sexual objects of Hollywood films.’

‘Yes, absolutely,’ Professor Dai nodded. ‘Most conventional Hollywood films are just like Playboy magazine, but with a bit of narrative.’

Playboy magazine. So far we’d never had the chance to see one for ourselves. Before the days of the Internet, Western magazines were definitely not available in China. I could only guess what it might be like. In truth, I longed to own a copy of Playboy! It would at least prove that I knew a thing or two about the West. I couldn’t help but wonder if Western girls were also subjected to the constant sexual harassment we Chinese girls in the countryside were. We didn’t wear miniskirts or sexy dresses to seduce men, but we were abused by them nevertheless. In what sort of society had Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe lived? Was it anything like ours, or completely different? These were the questions I took away with me after that class.
—  Xiaolu Guo, from her memoir ‘Once Upon A Time in the East: A Story of Growing up’

Way back on the seventies, even before the first Star Wars movie came out, Laura Mulvey, feminist film theorist published her work “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”. In it, she explained, according to Freudian theory, the two pleasures from cinema come from 1) identifying yourself in the story to forget about life for a while, and 2) enjoy looking at visually appealing images and people. Because the industry was entirely controlled by straight white men, though, they inherently filled the first niche with people like them and the second one with objectified and sexualized women, especially there solely for the enjoyment of the male gaze.

Left without lead characters to identify with, minorities —what an ugly and deceiving word when they amount for the majority of people in the world— had to desperately search for themselves in background characters. A big part of the fandom consists of women, people of color, queer or with disabilities, latching on to the few characters they could find representation in. They get attached to this characters, love them like part of their own family and friends, because they provide something that is so rare to them in mass media: a voice.

One can only imagine what it is like to be a straight white male. To go to the movies, enjoy the story fully, and then leave without the necessity to form any kind of emotional attachment to the characters. Why would they? They will find themselves perfectly represented all over again in the next movie they decide to watch, whichever it might be, and the next one, and the next one. Representation to them is not a luxury, it’s a given right.

Seeing this, it’s no wonder how confused and scared straight white males are, now that they can’t find themselves leading the charge of the new Star Wars franchise. Two movies in a row they’ve had to sit on that theater and face the minority’s reality, facing a situation that is so unlike anything their psyche is used to they react like wounded animals, with a primal fear of being erased from a narrative they are sure to own.

The best part is, for the first time, they are so desperate to find themselves that, like lost children in the dark, they have latched themselves to the one character that has given them a chance at representation: Kylo Ren. They have projected on him their airs of grandeur, blind expectative of an easy redemption and even the misguided self-assurance that, in the end, he will be the ‘true hero’ —instead of the women and people of color who are actually fighting evil in the story. Inadvertently, though, they have willingly chosen to self identify with the most annoying, manipulative, mediocre, unbelievably self-righteous and unbearably whinny fuck-boy this franchise has ever created.

Though, looking at their reactions and comments online, they might not be too far off on that one.

—  On Star Wars, Representation and Straight White Males
Women then stands in patriarchal culture as signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his phantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning…In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female.
—  Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings
if uni was more like RuPaul's Drag Race, part 2
  • *me and one other girl still standing on the stage*
  • RuPaul: Flora Fanon. Serena Bhabha. Your discourse left us.. a little underwhelmed. I'm sorry my dears, but you're both up for elimination.
  • *the lights flash as I regret my poorly written essay*
  • RuPaul: Two students stand before me. Ladies, this is your last chance to impress me and save yourself from elimination. The time has come.. for you to critically analyze! For your LIFE!
  • Me: Okay.. well.. consider how in the Star Wars films, the lightsaber is a phallocentric icon both visually and narratively, wielded in the original canon exclusively by men, and passed down patriarchally, establishing that .. in essence.. the lightsabers have become..
  • my opponent, Serena Bhabha: *does a death drop* taking into account the theories of Laura Mulvey in "Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema", this is part of a cinematic tradition that ascribes a masculine identification process upon the viewer, wherein they assert themselves into the film through the journey of a male. thinking back on Lacan and his post-Freudian thought on male castration anxiety, the lightsaber, protruding externally, may even symbolize an extension of the insurmountable and unyielding masculinity of the characters, which adds significance to the scenes where characters have their limbs literally cut off to assure the viewer of their inability to continue wielding a lightsaber
  • me: well, welll.. i mean.. don't you think that's taking it a little far, if-
  • RuPaul: Ladies! I've made my decision. Serena Bhabha, shantay you stay. Flora Fanon.. you'll need to retake this class if you still want the credit. Now.. sashay away.
  • me: thank you for this opportunity... i've learned a lot....
  • me: *to the camera, while writing my lipstick message on the mirror* I don't think I deserved to go home tonight there were girls here with much weaker discourse but ok
[I]n a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female figure, which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness.
—  Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (19)

somewhatbadasslol-deactivated20  asked:

Yes because Erik Larsen, image comics 2nd biggest comic creator ever is a fake geek, yes because being sexually attracted to the gender your attracted to and wanting to see them be sexy in entertainment we pay for is sexist. Woops I guess those countless women who like the male top less scenes in twilight are sexist then.

Sit your ass down and let me tell you something. 

1) Any creator who chooses giving their characters ‘attractive’ clothes over ‘functional’ ones, ignoring how little sense it makes in-world for a crime fighter to dress like that is failing as a creator to give their world-building credibility. 

2) Therefore, anyone who vocally supports this rather than being reasonably critical about it is, to me, a fake geek boy. A real geek would be more worried about the real things superhero comics are about, not getting a boner. 

3) If you want to buy comics that give you a boner in the entertainment you pay for, I dare suggest you are buying the wrong kind of entertainment. I assure you no one’s gonna complain about the lack of clothes in a porn magazine. Happy wanking!

4) Oh, you’re still there? Or are you done? Ok, either way, lemme tell you that a shirtless scene by a male character has nothing to do with women sexualizing him. It is a) still a male power fantasy b) nothing like being dressed like a porn star all the god damned time c) Man boobs are not sexualized!!!! 

5) Even if women were sexualizing men in comics, this is, by definition, not sexism.

You see that? Prejudice, stereotyping, discrimination, women. I want you to re read those words very carefully. Now re read the whole thing. Now realize you’re using a word you don’t even understand and see how embarrassing that is. There’s no thing like: fishes it’s just fish, there’s no thing like mouses it’s mice, and there’s no thing like sexism against men because we live in a system were they are privileged over women in every damn aspect. That you would cry like a baby because my women in comics are not sexy now this is unfair this is sexism!!!!! like a brat who has been denied a cookie after they ate a whole box of them a minute ago is downright depressing. 

6) Oh! But don’t feel too bad my little spoiled brat! There is still someone you can blame other than yourself! Freud! Where… more like the stereotyped collective subconscious. Ok, here it goes, I’m gonna try to bring this down to a middle school level so that everyone understands it ok?

There was this theory, by Dr. Laura Mulvey called Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema that was mainly based on psychology to analyze the causes of the treatment of men and women on the screen. Now, this theory, obviously, was meant for film, but let’s assume for a moment we are working under the same basis due to comic books’ visual nature, ok? Ok. 

So, according to Freud, people got two main types of pleasure from watching things: scopophilia, meaning the pleasure of simply watching attractive things, like kids enjoying colorful toys, or watching other people’s body in a sexual manner (turning them, in our minds, into objects for us to enjoy, specified Freud), and then there’s the ego, in which you go to a movie, sit down for 2 hours and forget about your pathetic little life and imagine you are the hero on the screen saving the world and getting the girl.

Obviously, everyone wants both, but you can’t lust over yourself, right? So what did the industries do? Easy! They were all old white men and there for their collective subconscious told them: let’s put the men for the ego because we can identify with them, and let’s put the females there for the male gaze because we like seeing them! :D (very similar to what you just said, isn’t it?)

Except, here’s the thing, who do women identify with? The male character? The woman who is there just to be a pretty thing? Damn, our egos are seriously damaged by this system.

So what is happening now? There is more female creators! Like Gail Simone and Sue DeConnick who conscious about the need female readers have of strong complex models to identify with! And they have created them! And they have shifted them away from their main purpose as ‘male gaze’ in the process! And now males are crying like babies that have had a toy taken away from them but women hare finally happy and being represented as equals in the industry!! 

So no, darling, it is not sexist or wrong of women wanting a better representation in media.

7) Seeing all this, I think it’s very clear how stupid and sexist it is to refer to the women who have been buying comics for a long time and slowly gained ground on being treated as equals by the industry as a vocal minority. 

So, you know, educate yourself, find other media, or fuck off.

(also you cited Twilight as an example and that’s fucking embarrassing dude wth? no wonder this is how you think)

Chantal Akerman at the Venice Film Festival, 1982 for her film Toute une Nuit.

“I think you see her all over contemporary art-cinema. I know that everybody is singing her praises now but if anything, I think her influence is still possibly understated. It’s enormous, which is one reason why it’s frustrating – In the immediate aftermath of her death, I thought the obituaries really undersold her, especially in the mainstream media, well at least in the more general interest publications – It was just like: feminist filmmaker, woman filmmaker, experimental filmmaker, all those labels seem really, really small when you think about what she did. There’s so many ways you can talk about what she did. I think for me, it was about this idea that you could make films that were both really formally rigorous and really personal at the same time. And you can introduce this formal rigor into narrative cinema… going back and forth between narrative and documentary, combining those modes, doing different kinds of narrative films, going back and forth between the cinema and the gallery, which is something we’re trying to explore with this program. I mean Akerman did all of it. She did all of it before a lot of people.”

- Dennis Lim, Art of the RealFilm Comment podcast

anonymous asked:

What is male gaze?

The Gist: Women are the objects, and men are the subjects. Men are the ultimate decision makers on what makes a woman valuable and/or beautiful. Women are then expected to confirm. Women are sexualized in media to fulfill male fantasies, and then women in girls in everyday life are expected to perform to those standards. 

The term “male gaze” was coined by Laura Mulvey in her essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”.  The Male gaze refers to the way that women are constantly objectified through the heterosexual male’s perspective. In her original article, Mulvey was talking about the male gaze in film: Women are objectified in movies, because it was (and still is) almost always a straight man behind the camera calling the shots. Today, I think the concept of the male gaze is relevant in almost all aspects of media…and life in general.

In all aspects of life, women are expected to conform to certain beauty norms that have been deemed attractive to men–thin, large breasts, shaved, wearing makeup, sexy–but not too sexy, and so on and so forth. The more general concept speaks to the idea that women should be constantly working on their appearance in order to appeal to men, because men get the final say on their value. 

For a more current application, I would definitely check out The Representation Project. It’s the same idea, which is that men get to dominate the messages about women that get sent out by the media. They are the ones who did the documentary MissRepresentation.

mathemagicalmlp  asked:

What were they doing with movies in the silent era that they're not doing now? I mean, isn't telling a visual story the best possible use of film?

Well first: what constitutes “good” or “bad” in film usage? I really love the movie Waking Life, which has little to no story – it’s just an animated exploration of philosophy.

Originally posted by the-ocean-in-one-drop

Or take music videos. What’s the story in Garbage’s Push It? I don’t know, but I find it profoundly effective.

What they were doing in the early days of cinema that they didn’t so much in the studio era is wild experimentation. You had people trying to use movies to bring the audience into uprisings and popular movements. Film as a tool, not as entertainment.

Film meant to shock you out of complacency.

Film as a psychological experiment - seeing what happens when you intercut a man with a neutral face against happy images or sad images or images of soup.

Film that wouldn’t let you just sit back and let it wash over you.

To learn about early film history is to learn about alternate history. Cinema was not always predestined to be stories. It could have been anything. Nobody knew how people would react to seeing moving pictures onscreen. There were so many voices, and so many directions it could have – and did – go. But in the end, the Hollywood vision of narrative cinema became the dominant one. 

That’s not a judgment call per se, it’s just how it is. You could even argue it’s a sort of natural selection, although I think that’s oversimplifying matters.

Nowadays there’s still plenty of experimentation – and there certainly has been experimentation of different sorts throughout all of film history, even the studio era – but the establishment of the studio system, and of the Hays code, really restricted the form that popular cinema took. In their drive towards mass-market acceptance, the studios bucked off much of cinema’s wild experimenters, its early adopters, and its chorus of different voices - including women - until it became a virtual monoculture.

(caveat: this is me flexing my film degree muscles for the first time in over a decade, so I ain’t fresh on this. for a fun look at the Hays code era, I refer you here.)

9

Il Cinema Narrativo e gli anni ‘10

Dopo il 1906 i cinema divenne uno svago per le classi popolari, il motivo di attrazione era il raccontare storie. Nacquero i “nickelodeon” (dai nickelini, le monete da 5 centesimi di dollaro) e d’ora in avanti le pellicole raccontavano storie “da sole”, con scene più esplicite e con l'uso delle didascalie (dopo il 1915 ci furono didascalie con i dialoghi). Iniziò l'immenso potere, anche comportamentale, del cinema sulle masse. Ora le pellicole iniziarono a viaggiare tra una città e l'altra. Charles Pathé, per primo mise, su un circuito di sale, comprando i film sul mercato invece di produrli. Si delinearono i primi generi: guerra, western, melodramma, comico. Avevano stancato le inquadrature fisse, i personaggi in gruppo senza protagonista. Dal 1905 c'era André Deed, in Italia noto come Cretinetti: la cui ingenuità smascherava la società borghese. Più raffinato era Max Linder, ma nel 1925 Linder si tolse la vita, quando la sua popolarità sparì. Dei 500 film da lui interpretati oggi ne rimangono soltanto 82. Ferdinand Guillaume, Polidor o Tontolini, creò un personaggio a metà strada fra l'uomo e il bambino. Nel 1915 viene lanciata dal produttore William Fox nel melodramma La vampira, Theda Bara, anagramma di “Arab Death” (“morte araba”). I produttori le modellano addosso l'immagine di donna perversa e tentatrice, pubblicizzandola con foto attorniata da ragnatele e serpenti. Per il pubblico americano è ormai la “vamp”, nome che deriva da vampiro.

In Italia nacque una tradizione cinematografica legata al teatro. Case di produzione avevano sede a Roma, Torino, Milano e Napoli. I primi lungometraggi della storia cinematografica furono probabilmente italiani. Cabiria, del 1914, fu importante per le grandiose scenografie e per il nuovo linguaggio cinematografico che coi movimenti di macchina: è il più famoso film italiano (didascalie scritte da Gabriele D’Annunzio) ed il secondo kolossal della storia, dopo Quo vadis? (1912). Alcuni primi avventurieri iniziarono ad acquistare più sale, dando vita a circuiti: il tintore e clown William Fox, il commerciante di pellami Adolph Zukor e i 4 fratelli Warner, riparatori di biciclette. Nel 1910 negli Stati Uniti c'erano già 10.000 sale. Colui che seppe codificare il cinema come opera narrativa fu l'americano David W. Griffith, con il film Nascita di una nazione (1915). Griffith fu anche il primo vero regista, ci fu la specializzazione in varie professioni, rendendo il cinema una grande arte collettiva. Con Intolerance (1916) Griffith superò sé stesso: usò il montaggio parallelo per collegare 4 storie ambientate in tempi e luoghi diversi. Ci fu la nascita del cosiddetto “mondo diegetico”, cioè un mondo illusorio dei film, dove tutto è finzione. 

anonymous asked:

hey i just discovered feminist literary theory is a thing and i'm way too old to have just discovered that, i'm not a person who is grounded in english at all. like, i'm almost done with my gsex minor and i JUST discovered literary theory, which is so unlike reg fem theory, which has so far for been just about riot grrrl and slutwalks and blah blah blah white stuff anyway we read bell hooks, eve sedgwick, cixous, va woolf, nella larsen, winnett, kristeva....i what should i read next?

It sounds like you are doing really good so far! This is not my expertise except that I have had some training in it I guess. Feminist theory as it is a thing is not really distinct from literary theory,* or, they are embedded in each other. One important reason is that feminist literary theory is not necessarily about literary objects as much as it is about language (and other stuff I guess) and, like, I’m not really sure how to tell you to get into Lacan but you should at least familiarize yourself with Simone de Beauvoir–I really liked Butler on de Beauvoir, it takes work but it helped me a lot. You can probably also handle Foucault, at least, like, The History of Sexuality volume I which is maybe not the most valuable but it’s a good read. I dunno I actually sort of don’t think there is a structuralist or postmodern thought without feminist theory which is maybe wrong and stupid but I think it’s true. Somebody here will have something to suggest. I think my contemporaries read Deleuze out of context for no reason and are highly sloppy but maybe you wanna.

*I want to say, like, “slut walks is not feminist theory” but feminist theory is an institution and a place and that place is dumb undergrad classrooms. my WS intro to feminist theories class talked about slutwalks and also read Wittig and Kristeva so idk. It was taught by a historian!

The other important reason that I talk about and think about a lot because it aligns more with my interests is that literary studies, especially by victorianists, was one of the major places where women’s studies the Discipline was institutionalized in universities in the U.S. in ways that I think it is very important to be critical of. ON THAT NOTE, probably you should read The Madwoman in the Attic. It’s pretty much as canon as it gets and there’s a lot of value in it but it’s my opinion that it relies on and ultimately institutionalizes white feminine subjectivity and has itself supported a lot of racism in women’s studies programs. It’s sort of one of the first great works of feminist criticism by one of the first great tenured professors of english literature at one of the U.S’s powerhouses in gender studies, etc., etc. In Susan Gubar’s later notoriously racist screed “What Ails Feminist Criticism” (her answer is literally black and brown women fyi) she wrote of stages of feminist literary criticism and I think it’s useful both as an overview of some things that really were happening in feminist studies at different times and how this history has been imagined by (reactionary) theorists like Gubar. Robyn Wiegman iirc wrote a response to this piece that articulated why it sucks. Those two things are good things to read. If you are interested in feminist literary criticism’s canon you should also be looking at Elaine Showalter. This is not my field this is all I got for you.

So, like, quick aside, none of these things are perfect and many of them are actually extremely fucked up or bad but we are working on a genealogy here, right?

In the past I really liked the Routledge Queer Studies Reader. I also have the Routledge Feminist Theory Reader which I think has pretty good breadth but not enough of anything. Some of my lit theory people have recommended Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory for an overview and it seems like if you are going in this direction you should pick that up. I have poked into it before and I like how it is set up. If you start getting into more art theory, visual theory and film theory I looove the Feminist Visual Culture Reader edited by Amelia Jones and Feminism-Art-Theory edited by Hilary Robinson. I’d recommend those for anybody getting into feminist theory or histories thereof. 

Okay so here are some other things you need to read: 
Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider–I keep thinking of this story mostlyflowers​ told of a litbro being like, “you know, that one famous Audre Lorde essay?” but if I had to pick the pertinent pieces here it would be “Uses of the Erotic” then “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” and “Poetry is Not a Luxury” and “The Uses of Anger” and of course “The Master’s Tools.” It’s funny because when I read that story I really couldn’t figure out which of these would be the one that is ~~~assigned all the time! They are all Classics.

Adrienne Rich’s “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” is something you absolutely can’t not have read, minimally, but the book of essays Blood, Bread, and Poetry has a lot of things more directly about literature if you’re interested in this moment in time.

I have seen the Combahee River Collective Statement assigned in women’s studies classes, as performance/popular literature, and in lit theory classes, and it’s important but on top of that I think that Barbara Smith’s lit criticism gets ignored a lot, here is “Toward a Black Feminist Criticism” which is a good thing. Patricia Hill Collins’s Black Feminist Thought is a go-to text, too. She’s a sociologist. You might want This Bridge Called My Back as well–I had really good experiences with most of my WS classes but if you haven’t been exposed to these things you should start with these.

You need to read Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto! read that right now. Read it yesterday. Then you have to read Judith Butler, I think Excitable Speech and Bodies that Matter are probably something you want to look at but I love Undoing Gender. If this direction is interesting to you, take a look at Shoshana Felman, I have really loved Ann Cvetkovich and Peggy Phelan in my life. These are “””””performance theorists.””””

You gotta read at some point probably Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Here is a pdf of Gloria Anzaldua’s “ To(o) Queer the Writer– Loca, escritora y chicana.” Irigaray? Probably you should familiarize yourself with Susan Sontag and definitely read “Notes on Camp.” 

I can’t remember anything else I’m tired

is this about books? I don’t read books. this is not helpful but like one million professionals of this field follow my blog so they can help. I dunno I think you should read Barthes

Do you really care about the literary in feminist literary theory or is it the theory you want help with? What are you into? Sexuality, film, madness, work? What did you like or not like about what you said you read? what looks good to you anon 

eratosthenes314  asked:

Why are some people down on the term 'ludonarrative dissonance"? I've heard murmurs that the concept/phrasing implies gameplay and story are separate, but I thought the whole point of the word is to admonish those who fall into that trap, not to be a symptom of it.

I have no idea how old this ask is, but I get this question on occasion so I'ma try to answer it.

In short, the term “ludonarrative dissonance” was coined by Harvey Smith almost 10 years ago now to describe what he felt were issues in the way the original Bioshock attempted to comment on Objectivism. Basically, he felt that the game was clearly critical of Objectivist philosophy via the fall of Rapture and the hypocrisy of Andrew Ryan - that an all-for-one mentality inevitably lead to the collapse of this society. But the mechanics of the game were all about prioritizing self-interest and accruing power to leverage over others (guns, plasmids, even the moral choice system about whether to harvest the Little Sisters). In Smith’s view the story and the gameplay were in conflict with one another and what they were trying to achieve thematically and tonally, and he called that conflict “ludonarrative dissonance.”

And superficially this seems like a really handy term, right? Like how Fallout 4 presents you with this urgent job of saving your missing child but the game’s open-ended design encourages you to screw around in the wilderness forever instead, or how in Human Revolution Jensen is full of self-loathing about his augmentations, but as the player they’re just a conduit for making us more awesome and we love them and want more. We can just point and go: “Ludonarrative dissonance!” and everyone understands what we’re saying. And I guess to a degree that’s true, especially given how common it is for game stories and game play to be at odds. We want emotional beats (“I’m falling in love!”/“I’m mourning my dead husband!”/“I need to save my child”/etc) but our gameplay systems are very spacial, and the results often don’t gel.

So if it’s a useful term why the distaste for it? Well, the reason the phrase has fallen out of favor with a lot of critics is that we’ve seen something of a philosophical shift take place in terms of how we approach games. Historically “story” and “gameplay” were seen as discrete, separate things. It was just the way games were thought about for the most part. DOOM the game was a shooty adventure about blowing up demons, DOOM the story was a blurb in an instruction manual that let you know the setup about Mars and a door to Hell. Final Fantasy the game was one of turn based battles and inventory management, Final Fantasy the story was something that took place in cutscenes and dialog boxes. Mario the game was about jumping, Mario the story was about a lizard that kidnapped a princess and a plumber that had to save her. It was widely believed for *years* that these two elements were both part of any game and yet wholly apart from one another. Consequently we had a whole generation of players, critics, and developers who largely thought about story and play as separate constructs, even if there were games that blurred that line a bit.

But we’ve reached a point where that line is regularly blurred. The very point of playing games like Gone Home or Dear Esther or Her Story is to exhume the story. In Western-style RPGs players sculpt the story as they play with their decisions and actions. Games like Minecraft and The Sims allow players to tell their own stories by building their own locations and characters. Games like Dwarf Fortress are built around *generating* unique stories with each playthrough from the very game mechanics themselves. The point is, story and play are increasingly not thought of as separate or discrete, but inexorably entwined. Where do the systems end and the stories we tell with them begin? Gameplay has little to no meaning for the player without the narrative (even an abstract, non-representational one), and the narrative is not separate or independent from the act of play. Left 4 Dead isn’t a story about 4 survivors and a game about shooting zombies, it’s a game that generates narratives about four survivors trying to survive a zombie apocalypse by shooting their way out.

That’s not to say games can’t be internally dissonant. Human Revolution *does* fail to make us meaningfully empathize with what Jensen has lost, and Fallout 4 *does* fail to treat the Shawn plot with the gravitas one would expect a missing child to generate. But to phrase the failing as a conflict between story and gameplay feels increasingly misleading - it’s a failing with the game itself, full stop. Like, you can shoot a scene in a movie completely wrong - you can use the wrong lens, the wrong framing, the wrong focus, and the wrong camera movements to completely fail a scene. My go-to example of this remains Battlefield Earth, given that half the damn movie is shot in dutch angles for absolutely no reason and completely in defiance of all cinematography conventions. But you wouldn’t call it “cinema-narratively dissonant” because the cinematography is not a force at odds with the narrative. It’s just crappy cinematography. Similarly, mechanics and narrative are both part of the experience of playing a game, and they’re not forces at odds with one another but parts of a whole.

Now, this is a relatively new position, and one that’s largely been taken up by younger critics who are generally interested in games with more narrative meat than formal systems meat. I am sure there are game critics and academics who are quite comfortable deconstructing a game down to systems and narrative in pursuit of more rigid formalism and more specific ontologies. I’m also sure there are devs who, having seen stories written separately from game systems their whole lives, would struggle with a more holistic interpretation of how games can or should work. So like everything I say, take it with a grain of salt, do your own research, and reach your own conclusions!

And now I’m wondering if this should just be a script for a short episode. Goddamn it.

'Let's Get Lit'


Anytime I’m less than psyched about school, work, or responsibilities, I watch Haim’s performance of ‘Let Me Go’ at Glastonbury 2014. It’s positively breathtaking and the kind of iconic performance I always see middle aged men gasping over when It’s David Bowie or U2 on stage. There’s something about the sheer power of their stage presence, and the way it manifests itself differently in each band member - Este grimacing at the crowd and getting lost in the bass, Danielle defiantly hitting her guitar with a drumstick, and Alana completely abandoning her maracas to go summon her crowd of fans. 

I’m not the first to notice how mesmerizing seeing live performance is, or how inherently weird this fixation is. Laura Mulvey’s groundbreaking work on women in cinema, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” asserted that our obsession with watching women’s performances is a way of casting our desires and dreams onto the gender we view as “objects.” This process can have a crapload of negative connotations, and Mulvey pummels them all - the idea that women can be controlled through viewing, and that society’s misogyny is usually filtered and focused through this gaze. But I’ve always seen the way I and other Haim fans - usually younger women - watch these performances as something more inherently empowering and confidence-inspiring, and less objectifying. Yes, we are in a way projecting our own dreams of being on stage and creating something onto these trio of women, but the way they command their performances leads to a completely different type of viewing. Haim’s refusal to acquiesce male generated fantasies of women performers makes their sets exciting and inspiring.

Haim’s live performances challenge the ways in which women entertainers are usually controlled - sexualized for a male audience,  not allowed to do anything too masculine or powerful lest it challenge the implicit hold men have on popular culture. Haim toys with these tropes on stage, whether its conscious or not. Take Este’s bassface, for example - her performance style is an aggressive rejection of feminine performance norms. She  grimaces and pulls faces that do nothing to appease the male objectifying gaze. They are so exaggerated that it’s almost as if she does them specifically for this purpose - as a brazen response to the notion that she is performing for any man, or anyone but herself, really. This juxtaposition between her classically feminine fashion styling and physical, choreographed movement makes people so uncomfortable because it’s not a performance of straight femininity. Danielle snarls and grimaces as she performs epic guitar riffs, and these bursts of electrifying, powerful music are underscored by her generally quieter and calmer opening words. Alana moves seamlessly between different instruments - keys, maracas, guitars - with the air of someone surveying a stage that is their territory.

There have been a lot of articles about Este’s bassface (exhibit A and B), and more than a few mean tweets about their stage choreography. But for those of us who worship them, the bassface and the shred-face and the maraca-face are exceedingly rad because they fly in the face of what’s expected of women performers - to be glimmering, smiling, always camera primed belters. There’s a subtle rebellion there, and one that turns viewing YouTube videos of Glasto sets into a rebel yell for self-confidence and giving gendered standards the middle finger.