Archive | September, 2016

Representation and Reality: What’s the Difference?

23 Sep


What is it about the nondescript stick figure that says ‘male’? Certainly the figure that oftenadorns bathroom’s everywhere is not equipped with genitals—it does not even have hair!  So what is it about this figure that makes people see it as male over female or even another gender/sex possibility? Well, as the Lucal article illustrates, the male is default. It must not be ignored that we read bodies, but who teaches us this skill? How do we know when we are correct? In short, there must be some sort of reason why human is typically read first as male… not to mention white, mspacman2heterosexual, Protestant, and non-disabled.

Let’s consider the conscious representation of women, especially stylized representations? How are these representations (mis)read, just as Lucal claims to be popularly misread as male, as her article points out? One stylized representation of the female might be considered in the form of Ms. Pacman. It is worth noting that, although the Ms. Pacman game became more popular than the original male Pacman, Ms. Pacman didn’t come into existence until after the introduction of the male Pacman. Furthermore, Ms. Pacman (in her original Japanese form), despite being called “beautiful,” is simply Pacman with longer eyelashes and a bow. Thus, the female is additive… perhaps the female is even superfluous. But what of a woman’s personality?

First, it seems, the standard female, the default female, seems quite interested in her appearance. While the male is mostly nondescript, the female is adorned. The female is decorated, and thus takes notice in her appearance in the way a man isn’t implied to have as great an interest in. Therefore, in a way, this seems to be an indication that females are somewhat more self-centered or narcissistic than males. This also points to materialism. As females are sometimes seen as body alone, the body seems to be more important to a woman than a man—at least that’s the representation (it is, of course, not the reality). How we represent the world, in this case, the way women are represented as having an inordinate interest in the body and material goods. Many female character representations have only one personality: female. That is, certain characters (especially the most stylized, the cartoonish, etc.) represent all stereotypes—especially the most unflattering ones—as female.

Despite, as Teen Vogue presents, the fact that many of us realize that our representations and conceptions of sexual and gender difference are overly simplicity, that realization doesn’t explain why we vehemently hold to our view of binaries of gender and sex. This binary is seen as so important, that the representations, as non-descript and artless as they are, are entrusted to guard what some consider the sanctuary of the public restroom. Why are women in such danger in the bathroom? And why is this the place where gender separation is most mandatory? But perhaps the most interesting question is why we wish to simultaneously believe in the inherent division of the sexes when this division is so easily troubled.

I am hereby accessing the phenomenon of the boi—the queer woman that dresses, not as a butch lesbian or a man but as a young man. Certainly, the boi has her or his fans. And, we cannot forget that the boi has a diverse range of gender pronouns and other gender-based societal presenting options: some bois see themselves as boyish females, some see themselves as male and use traditionally male pronouns, and others choose a variety of other options (two-spirit, non-traditional trans people, etc.) But what is it about this phenomenon that is sometimes so offensive to more traditionally feminine identified people? Surely, the boi is immature, but are they also not honest? Do they not have their fans, so to speak? And the boi does access a great deal of privilege, including the privilege of youth. I do believe that there is currently a lot of privilege to access in youth—attractiveness, fun, opportunity, etc. These have been represented in the media as the predominate domain of the young. And the young male has even more access to this power. Doesn’t it make sense that certain women would choose this power? It must, after all, give them access to not only power and privilege, but pleasure.

That is to say that I am thinking here of representation rather than reality. Drawing a distinction between what is represented (symbolic) and what is existent (that to which the symbol is applied) is becomes more necessary as we continue in the course. It’s not so much that the postmodern application of relative truth is totally without merit, but it is more to say that there are certainly worldviews that are swayed by representations of reality and differ from a shared sense of reality.


The Odd Case of Acquanetta: The Exotic Beauty, The Jungle Seductress, Captive Wild Woman

22 Sep

There are differing accounts of the women know as Acquanetta’s heritage. She was billed aaquanetta_images a Venezuelan bombshell, but she was born in Pennsylvania in 1921. Although she famously claimed to be a part of the Arapaho tribe, an orphan from the age of two and living with an adopted family until she reached the age of fifteen (the name she went by, Burnu Acquanetta, according to her meant “burning fire, deep water”), some reports claim that she was a light-skinned African American women born Mildred Davenport—a more plausible origin, and one like that of Anatole Broyard, one of what Kinji Yoshino called passing and covering. Mildred or Burnu, Acquanetta’s heritage is plausibly linked to male desire; the desire for the “exotic” beauty of Acquanetta may have allowed the model-turned-actress to spin a web of ridiculous fiction—male desire thus overwhelming the sense that the object of their lust is racially other, and the evidence of that racial otherness cannot be completely ignored, giving rise to the typecasting Acquanetta suffered and benefited from.

Acquanetta’s brother, Horace Davenport, is recorded to have become the first African American judge within the Pennsylvanian county in which he lived. And more evidence that Acquanetta’s racial roots were suspect to some: her career was closely followed by the African American press at the time, including a publication recently still in existence, Jet magazine. However, the greatest confirmation/denial of Acquanetta’s racial otherness, be it African American or other non-white, might be the roles into which she was typecast: she became the quintessential jungle seductress. According to the billing for her first film, Captive Wild Woman, her jungle genetics gave her “strange power over man and beast.”

As a film, Captive Wild Woman wasn’t meant to be stellar, exactly. The film was classic B-movie horror fare. However, a few new, creative moves were made in the 1944 film. First, a large portion of the film’s footage was recycled from an early film, 1933’s The Big Cage. The film also draws upon a Universal heritage of the monster trope: the “wild woman” in question, played by Acquanetta, is a female gorilla—played by a man—named Cheela. The monstrous twist of the movie occurs when a mad scientist, Dr. Sigmund Walters (John Carradine), transplants the brain of a human into the body of the gorilla Cheela. To his surprise, this transforms Cheela into a beautiful young woman he names, for some unknown reason, Paula Dupree.

Dr. Walters is thoroughly pleased with his new creation, despite the horror of his assistant, Miss Strand (Fey Helm), and even takes the young woman out among the “natural” humans—mostly to see if she can pass. The passing here is ironic in that this might be a wink at the audience as to Acquanetta’s own story, possibly passing for something that she is not: both exotic and of another, more acceptable (to lust after) race. Seeing her former animal trainer, Fred Mason (Milburn Stone) in danger in the lion’s cage, Paula rushes to his side. The felines are almost immediately repulsed by Paula, sensing her “unnaturalness.” Both grateful and struck by Paula’s familiarity, and no doubt her seductive beauty[1],  is immediately attracted to Dupree. However, Mason has a fiancé waiting for him to be introduced to the story.

The unnaturalness of the possible pairing of Paula and Mason is highlighted in terms of the obviously preferred pairing of Mason and Beth. Mason’s fiancé, Beth, is a pretty blonde innocent played by Evelyn Ankers. Ankers is not only a classically attractive blonde, she’s obviously of Anglo-Saxon heritage as a British-American actress. But Dupree’s sexual jealousy causes a regressive transformation back to her savage roots—in a rage, Paula transforms back into a gorilla. Dupree, as the murderous gorilla, seeks to kill her rival for Mason’s affection. In short, she seeks to terrorize the “natural” pairing of Mason and Beth. This was a common trope for horror and monster movies, according to Harry Benshoff, who claims the monster—or in Benshoff’s terms, the “monster queer”—seeks to break-up a natural, right pairing of a man and a woman. However, as Benshoff focuses on the taboo of homosexual desire reinforced by the monster film, Captive Wild Woman, while also regarding sexual taboos, revolves around latent fears of both uncontrolled female sexuality and miscegenation.

The film’s messages are, however, paradoxical and contradictory. Wild Woman (as most of the films in Acquanetta’s B-movie catalog) gives free license to the male gaze to lust after Acquanetta, but it simultaneously warns against this pairing. The film suggests the burden of sexual desire’s invocation be placed on the racially othered character, Paula. Thus the man, Mason, as stand-in for the everyman, is resolved of his guilt as his lust, but is warned from acting upon it. This odd mixture of freedom and restraint might be explained by monster theory, as elucidated by Jeffrey Cohen. For Cohen, the monster polices the boundaries of the possible—the monstrous doesn’t bar the door, but serves as a warning to those that might cross. Clearly, there is a boundary identified against the pairing of Acquanetta’s Dupree and Mason. But there is also a seductive side to the monster, as Cohen claims—where would the danger reside if it were not in some way desirable to explore monstrosity? It is also apparent that Acquanetta as Paula is seductive. However, as any good viewer of the classic monster movie must realize, we already know how this possible pairing will playout. The dominant culture—the real monster—must have its way; it must be reified and reaffirmed in its right and rightness. Although Cheela, returned to gorilla form, might have carried away an injured Fred Mason, a police officer mistakes her intentions in carrying Mason away and shoots the gorilla. But as Cohen also observes, the monster always returns—dead is not dead, for the fear lives on—and the “Ape Woman” is featured in two sequels: The Jungle Woman and The Jungle Captive.

The themes of Captive Wild Woman, in some ways, run parallel to the occurrences and struggles in Acquanetta’s life. Her probable passing/covering of her own racial heritage is not unlike that of Paula Dupree in the film. The film seems to be nodding to something that she and the dominant culture of the time kept unspoken, point to the arbitrary nature of race, sexuality, and gender. Acquanetta would go on to star in a handful of other B-movies including Tarzan and the Leopard Woman, Dead Man’s Eyes, and Lost Continent. No one knows the true story of Burnu Acquanetta, but that’s probably because no one wanted to know, not really. She was to remain as she wished to be: an “exotic” but otherwise blank slate whom men could write on as they pleased. Acquanetta was alluring, but she was also monstrous. Her otherness was constantly alluded to through the roles which she acquired. Her beauty was unnatural.

[1] The trailer for the film depicts this seen with the voiceover claiming Paula Dupree’s power of animals and men, suggesting some sort of erotic powers she might possess—suggesting that it is she who seeks out the male, violating the customary norms taken for granted during the mid-forties.