06 May 2012

Gender Imagery in Film, Pt. 1

Several years ago, I took a class in political theory wherein we studied the ramifications of social and political imagery in film, TV, magazines, photography, art, and advertisements. We used the philosophical ideas of Michel Foucault, Walt Whitman, and Friedrich Nietzsche, among others, as a basis for interpreting the images we viewed. As an aside to the course, I'd like to continue critiques of social and political images in a variety of films and post my interprations here. Without pulling any punches early on (in an effort to lay the framework for this entire blog), I will use my first several posts related to this concept to discuss a hotly debated topic: gender imagery in the Bible. I'll use Lars Von Trier's Antichrist as the film in which biblical images are strongly depicted:

It is quite plausible that the Bible has done more harm to women than any other text in history. As an extension, the Bible has also propagated injury to other groups, including minorities and homosexuals. In fact, the god of the Old Testament is arguably the most homophobic, racist, misogynistic and vengeful character in literature as we know it. In his international bestseller, The God Delusion, Dr. Richard Dawkins describes this same character as “jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sado-masochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” [1]. With that perspective in mind, it is no great surprise to read historical accounts of rape, murder, torture, genocide and other atrocities carried out in the name of Christianity (or any other religion, for that matter). Likewise, it carries on into today’s media reports, with the result that many viewers don’t even bat an eye upon hearing reports and seeing video clips of the seemingly endless massacres of men, women, and children in foreign countries – that is, unless the victims are culturally similar to the viewer (e.g, Americans seeing other Americans among the sufferers, Christians seeing other Christians being persecuted, etc.).

The overwhelming amount of acceptance of heinous acts committed in the name of God can likely be directly linked to the advertising of prejudice, fear, destruction and violence present in the Bible, chiefly the Old Testament, and to the promotion of such passages by the various churches in every city of the western world. Gallup Poll data released in 2011 indicates that 3 out of 10 Americans view the Bible as literally the words of God, while 5 in 10 view it as the inspired words of God[2]. However, a national Gallup Poll from 2000 found that the number of Americans who read the Bible on a regular basis is relatively low (59% read on occasion, 37% read regularly, contrasted with 41% who rarely, if ever read the Bible) and the number who engage in Bible study is even lower (14% of Americans claimed to be part of a Bible study group)[3], which indicates that other forms of social discourse are being utilized to teach citizens of the messages in religious texts and contexts. Without the need for statistical research, one can estimate that the percentage of Americans who own a television set and watch movies and television on a regular basic is considerably higher than the number who read the Bible. This being the case, it is to the television and film industry that I shall adjust the focus of this assessment, delving into a particular film later in the analysis, Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, in depth and scrutinizing the industry in general for evidence of religious iconography and imagery that both supports and critiques the Biblical view of the roles of women and men in society.

Part 2 coming shortly. Stay tuned. --Randy
[1] Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. (New York: First Mariner Books, 2008) 51.
[2] Jones, Jeffrey M. "In U.S., 3 in 10 Say They Take the Bible Literally," Gallup, July 8 2011, May 5 2012 http://www.gallup.com/poll/148427/Say-Bible-Literally.aspx
[3] Gallup, Alec and Wendy W. Simmons, “Six in Ten Americans Read Bible at Least Occasionally,” Gallup, October 20 2000, May 6 2012 http://www.gallup.com/poll/2416/Six-Ten-Americans-Read-Bible-Least-Occasionally.aspx

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