Presenter Information

Chelsea Daggett, Boston University

Location

Panel 25: Kearney 312

Start Date

27-10-2012 3:00 PM

End Date

27-10-2012 4:30 PM

Description

In the move to post-feminism many questions raised by earlier feminist texts were left unanswered, despite their continuing relevance to the current media landscape. Films featuring female characters, especially females behaving outside of typical gender roles, are still criticized for a variety of reasons that are directly addressed by earlier theories of feminism and their continuing influence on mainstream culture. The 2011 action film, Sucker Punch, was about women reacting to their oppression through a series of empowering fantasies that ultimately change their lives for the better. However, the film has been widely rejected by critics as a piece of misogynistic mass culture. The root of the film’s critical rejection is also what makes Sucker Punch a constructive film open to compelling feminist readings. This paradox is rooted in feminist debates from several texts that form the canon of psychoanalytic feminist research.

The narrative construction of Sucker Punch has been a common reason for its rejection. The complex layers of Sucker Punch, one set in a psychological institution, one set in a bordello, and another set in a series of escapist fantasy worlds controlled by the women, reflect the use of embedded fantasy in order to construct a spectator position outside of the assumed masculine spectator. This concept is outdated in feminist discourse because it focuses on the construction of the spectator. Teresa de Lauretis’ article “Film and the Visible” explains the useful qualities of the technique of a film within a film and by layering the women’s experiences within the patriarchal institutions of psychoanalysis and sexual trafficking, Sucker Punch ultimately comments on the construction of these institutions. Many of the reviews that criticize the film assume viewers experience a spectator position compliant with these institutions and enjoy the women’s suffering. This assumption proves that the relationship between film construction and the construction of the spectator still plays a role in critics’ evaluations of contemporary ideology in film. Yet spectators are often unaware of how a film’s structure defines their viewing. De Lauretis’ article also recalls the earlier work of Mary Ann Doane on “Film and the Masquerade.”

Another common criticism of the film, Sucker Punch, is that the women appear in sexually provocative clothing, even during their fantasies. This representation is believed to reinforce the spectator’s desire to reduce women to objects. However, sexuality is repeatedly equated with performance in the film, first in the bordello, and in the fantasy sequences as well. The film’s emphasis on performance recalls the feminist concept of female masquerade. This concept originates with Mary Ann Doane, who believed that masquerade of excessive femininity in film can allow female spectators to experience critical distance. By applying this concept to Sucker Punch, it seems likely that the constructed spectator of the film is not meant to be masculine. Several interviews with the director about the testing phases of the film support the idea that men do not enjoy the film. Furthermore, drawing on De Lauretis’ expansion of Doane’s work, the film’s use of popular culture to evoke well-known action and fantasy images refers to an audience that is largely masculine. However, by placing women in typically masculine roles, the female masquerade becomes a criticism of the popular culture these images are a part of.

Using psychoanalytic feminism to critique both the text of Sucker Punch and its reception, it is evident that popular culture reduces the complexities of earlier feminist work. In post-feminism it is important to look back to previous psychoanalytic feminist texts for answers to contemporary problems in feminist representation. Sucker Punch has many connections to earlier feminist film theory and also reveals the way that this theory has been misinterpreted by popular culture. Post-feminism identifies current cultural factors of reception and for feminist texts this identification requires analysis of the influence of the feminist canon on popular criticism in order to evaluate texts.

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Oct 27th, 3:00 PM Oct 27th, 4:30 PM

The Importance of Psychoanalytic Feminism to Post-feminism: Sucker Punch

Panel 25: Kearney 312

In the move to post-feminism many questions raised by earlier feminist texts were left unanswered, despite their continuing relevance to the current media landscape. Films featuring female characters, especially females behaving outside of typical gender roles, are still criticized for a variety of reasons that are directly addressed by earlier theories of feminism and their continuing influence on mainstream culture. The 2011 action film, Sucker Punch, was about women reacting to their oppression through a series of empowering fantasies that ultimately change their lives for the better. However, the film has been widely rejected by critics as a piece of misogynistic mass culture. The root of the film’s critical rejection is also what makes Sucker Punch a constructive film open to compelling feminist readings. This paradox is rooted in feminist debates from several texts that form the canon of psychoanalytic feminist research.

The narrative construction of Sucker Punch has been a common reason for its rejection. The complex layers of Sucker Punch, one set in a psychological institution, one set in a bordello, and another set in a series of escapist fantasy worlds controlled by the women, reflect the use of embedded fantasy in order to construct a spectator position outside of the assumed masculine spectator. This concept is outdated in feminist discourse because it focuses on the construction of the spectator. Teresa de Lauretis’ article “Film and the Visible” explains the useful qualities of the technique of a film within a film and by layering the women’s experiences within the patriarchal institutions of psychoanalysis and sexual trafficking, Sucker Punch ultimately comments on the construction of these institutions. Many of the reviews that criticize the film assume viewers experience a spectator position compliant with these institutions and enjoy the women’s suffering. This assumption proves that the relationship between film construction and the construction of the spectator still plays a role in critics’ evaluations of contemporary ideology in film. Yet spectators are often unaware of how a film’s structure defines their viewing. De Lauretis’ article also recalls the earlier work of Mary Ann Doane on “Film and the Masquerade.”

Another common criticism of the film, Sucker Punch, is that the women appear in sexually provocative clothing, even during their fantasies. This representation is believed to reinforce the spectator’s desire to reduce women to objects. However, sexuality is repeatedly equated with performance in the film, first in the bordello, and in the fantasy sequences as well. The film’s emphasis on performance recalls the feminist concept of female masquerade. This concept originates with Mary Ann Doane, who believed that masquerade of excessive femininity in film can allow female spectators to experience critical distance. By applying this concept to Sucker Punch, it seems likely that the constructed spectator of the film is not meant to be masculine. Several interviews with the director about the testing phases of the film support the idea that men do not enjoy the film. Furthermore, drawing on De Lauretis’ expansion of Doane’s work, the film’s use of popular culture to evoke well-known action and fantasy images refers to an audience that is largely masculine. However, by placing women in typically masculine roles, the female masquerade becomes a criticism of the popular culture these images are a part of.

Using psychoanalytic feminism to critique both the text of Sucker Punch and its reception, it is evident that popular culture reduces the complexities of earlier feminist work. In post-feminism it is important to look back to previous psychoanalytic feminist texts for answers to contemporary problems in feminist representation. Sucker Punch has many connections to earlier feminist film theory and also reveals the way that this theory has been misinterpreted by popular culture. Post-feminism identifies current cultural factors of reception and for feminist texts this identification requires analysis of the influence of the feminist canon on popular criticism in order to evaluate texts.