Mulvey and True Narcissism

When the cinema was first introduced it was viewed as a space in which one could lose themselves. As Mulvey states, “I forgot who I am and where I was” (10). It was a place in which one could forget about who they were in order to live through someone else, go places they’d never be able to go, do things they’d never be able to do, live lives they’d never be able to live. Mulvey introduces the idea of the child looking at himself in the mirror and suggests,

“Recognition is thus overlaid with misrecognition: the image recognized is conceived as the reflected body of the self, but its misrecognition as superior projects this body outside itself as an ideal ego, the alienated subject, which, re-introduced as an ego ideal, gives rise to the future generation of identification with others” (10).

Using this quote and the fact that cinema is a place in which one loses themselves, one may suggest that although the viewer identifies with the actors in the cinema, this is cause for more bad than good. Rather than identify with the person on screen as Mulvey suggests, or view them as a object from which they gain sexual pleasure (10), I think Mulvey makes no mention of the desire to be the person on the screen. Especially today, this concept of desiring to be an actor, to derive pleasure from being looked at rather than looking, is prevalent. Today’s generation takes the narcissism that Mulvey suggests when she speaks of identifying themselves as the actor on the screen one step further and refuses to be content with simply living vicariously through the actor. They want to be the actors. They want to live those lives, do those things, and go to those places. Unlike those who first viewed cinema and were content with holding the actors on the screen as ideals, those who were content with understanding that they’d never live those lives, today they’ve become greedy, desiring to replace those who enjoy the true narcissism of being looked at.

And in addition to this, what about what Mulvey says about the male on the screen, who commands both what it means to be the subject and who is in control of the woman on screen who is the object: he how both looks and is looked at, he who has the best of both worlds, both sexual voyeur and narcissist?

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4 thoughts on “Mulvey and True Narcissism

  1. Your point about our generation wanting to be actors rather than the characters they portray is really interesting, and it rings true to me. I wonder whether that is indicative of a change in film since the 70s, or a maybe an increasingly rabid obsessions with celebrities? Perhaps both?

    I also wonder what it would mean if women now identified with and wanted to be either the characters or actresses onscreen as well — which is an option that Mulvey does not discuss. In that case, would the female audience member be envying the character/actress/s to-be-look-at-ness? Or could this too be indicative of a change in film culture, that female characters are now given more agency in the plot, and are not resigned to be the impetus for the hero’s actions?

    • Mulvey does mention that there is a certain pleasure and eroticism in being watched, although being watched seems to be identical to being objectified in this article. Although she doesn’t explore the possibility extensively, it is possible that there is a certain power in being an object of desire. I’m reminded of an interview that I read recently with a female pornstar, who finds validation in her power to elicit desire and her to-be-look-at-ness. I’ll try to find it…

    • “I also wonder what it would mean if women now identified with and wanted to be either the characters or actresses onscreen as well — which is an option that Mulvey does not discuss.”

      This is really interesting to me. At first I was going to say that it makes perfect sense that women would identify with the women on screen, but now I’m not sure if that actually happens. Here are my two theories on how this could be playing out.

      1. I feel like when I watch a film I would only strongly identify with a woman on screen if she is one of the main characters driving the story. (In the same way that when you read a book I think most people identify most with the character who’s POV you’re reading from or that the narrative distance is closest to). Otherwise, I wonder do I view women on screen as others? Perhaps, I don’t fully identify with the male lead even and I view both characters as other and I watch entirely as a third party (I feel like this goes against what Mulvey is saying, however).

      2. I wouldn’t say I identify with every female character on screen, but perhaps I think of myself as the main female love interest? At this point I imagine film becomes art imitating life imitating art–film is created in such a way to work out anxieties (castration fear) and dynamics that already exist in reality, men identify as the men in movies and women identify as the women, film becomes a model for how women and men should act so we recreate these dynamics again in life, and then we recreate these dynamics in film, etc.

  2. I don’t know if I’d say the recognition of oneself in cinema would do more harm than good. If anything, I think it speaks to one’s deeper desires and alerts them to what those actually are. On page 10 Mulvey states: “This is a moment when an older fascination with looking…collides with the initial inklings of self-awareness. Hence it is the birth of the long love affair/despair between image and self-image which has found such intensity of expression in film and such joyous recognition in the cinema audience.” The cinema allows for a sense of indulgence of one’s inner wishes and calls attention to them

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