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Reel Vulnerability

Reel Vulnerability: Power, Pain, and Gender in Contemporary American Film and Television

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 226
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  • Book Info
    Reel Vulnerability
    Book Description:

    Wonder women, G.I. Janes, and vampire slayers increasingly populate the American cultural landscape. What do these figures mean in the American cultural imagination? What can they tell us about the female body in action or in pain?Reel Vulnerabilityexplores the way American popular culture thinks about vulnerability, arguing that our culture and our scholarship remain stubbornly invested in the myth of the helplessness of the female body.The book examines the shifting constructions of vulnerability in the wake of the cultural upheavals of World War II, the Cold War, and 9/11, placing defenseless male bodies onscreen alongside representations of the female body in the military, in the interrogation room, and on the margins. Sarah Hagelin challenges the ways film theory and cultural studies confuse vulnerability and femaleness. Such films asG.I. JaneandSaving Private Ryan, as well as such post-9/11 television shows asBattlestar GalacticaandDeadwood, present vulnerable men who demand our sympathy, abused women who don't want our pity, and images of the body in pain that do not portray weakness.Hagelin's intent is to help scholarship catch up to the new iconographies emerging in theaters and in living rooms-images that offer viewers reactions to the suffering body beyond pity, identification with the bleeding body beyond masochism, and feminist images of the female body where we least expect to find them.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6105-9
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: UNMAKING VULNERABILITY (pp. 1-20)

    In the first season of the Baltimore cop dramaThe Wire(HBO, 2002–2008), police officer Kima Greggs recalls her experience as a rookie cop. “You’re in your radio car alone, working your post. Most women aren’t getting out of that car—not without side partners showing up. They’re intimidated, physically.” Kima’s description of being “straight-out-of-the-academy-type scared” accurately captures the uncomfortable cocktail of fear and pain that has been at the heart of cinematic depictions of women’s difference. The calculation Kima ascribes to “most women” is the advice patriarchal culture gives all women: don’t get out of the car; don’t...

  5. Part I The Cinematic Construction of Vulnerability
    • 1 The Furies, The Men, and the Method: CINEMATIC LANGUAGES OF VULNERABILITY (pp. 23-48)

      The Furies(Anthony Mann) andThe Men(Fred Zinnemann), both released in 1950, mark an important moment in the construction of gendered vulnerability onscreen. The complex negotiation of genre conventions and gender representation in each film helps to define the cinematic languages of vulnerability that post–Cold War popular culture will critique and dismantle. Both of these films show the process by which acting onscreen becomes “naturalized” and therefore invisible. Method acting seems to dissolve the barrier between the body of the actor and the art of performance, and the seeming authenticity of the resulting emotions onscreen enables sentimental vulnerability....


      By the time Brian De Palma releasedCasualties of Warin 1989, the image of the American soldier was cast by popular culture as neither invulnerable nor heroic. Twenty years of Vietnam films fromThe Green Berets(1968) toPlatoon(1986) had created a new genre; as early as 1980, Peter McInerney argued inFilm Quarterlythat there existed a “Vietnam genre” that traditionally portrayed “the Vietvet as devil or saint, but each insisted he was damned.”¹ If films likeThe Mencould forsee a return to the suburban home and nuclear family, however ambivalent, by the end of the...

  6. Part II Resistant Vulnerability after the Cold War

      In August 1991,Vanity Fairhit newsstands with a cover of a naked, pregnant Demi Moore, shot by famed celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz.Ghost(Jerry Zucker, 1990) had made Moore a bankable star, and at the time of the shoot she was pregnant with her second child. In the cover photograph, Moore refuses to meet the gaze of Leibovitz’s camera; she looks up and to the left as her left hand cradles her round stomach and her right hand covers her breast. Moore’s gaze is determined, nearly defiant, and her short hair and the conspicuous diamonds on her ears and...

    • 4 Matthew Shepard’s Body and the Politics of Queer Vulnerability in Boys Don’t Cry and The Laramie Project (pp. 103-116)

      A year after Matthew Shepard’s murder in Laramie, Wyoming, in the fall of 1998, Andrew Sullivan unleashed a firestorm of controversy about what he termed the “marketing” of Matthew Shepard. Sullivan alleged that “the marketing of Shepard is . . . a damaging symbolic statement about who gay men still are in this culture.” Sullivansaysthat marketing Shepard as representative of gay men in America allows the larger culture to view gay men as “weak, effeminate stereotypes,” but he appears tomeanthat it posits gay men as vulnerable—and to be labeled vulnerable is to be seen by...

  7. Part III Vulnerability beyond the Body
    • 5 The Violated Body after 9/11: TORTURE AND THE LEGACY OF VULNERABILITY IN 24 AND BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (pp. 119-141)

      When American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into New York City’s World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the production team behind Fox’s new program 24 had already filmed the show’s pilot, which includes a terrorist parachuting from an airplane full of passengers, which then explodes mid-air. The show debuted two months later, on November 6, 2001, and more than a decade later the show’s focus on terrorism seems as prescient as the pilot episode’s exploding plane seems eerie.24became a major hit for Fox, complete with a lively online following—including a site (The...

    • 6 Vulnerability by Proxy: DEADWOOD AND THE FUTURE OF TELEVISION FORM (pp. 142-158)

      In the second episode of David Milch’s HBO seriesDeadwood,Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant), former sheriff, future hardware tycoon, and erstwhile protagonist, tries along with his partner Sol Star (John Hawkes) to purchase a lot of land from saloon owner, murderer, and pimp Al Swearengen (Ian McShane). As Al approaches the table where Seth and Sol sit at Al’s Gem Saloon, Seth stands abruptly and announces, “Sol’s got my proxy.” When Al asks, “Meaning him and me should talk without you?” Seth snaps, “That’s what it means.” As Sol and Al debate the efficacy of Al selling the lot outright,...

  8. Afterword: FEMALE POWER AND TARANTINO’S BASTERDS (pp. 159-166)

    In the preceding chapters, we have seen the logic of female frailty dismantled, the iconography of dependence replaced, and the myth of the heroic individual challenged. In part, this work has depended on changing beauty standards that no longer figure muscle definition and femininity as opposites. By 2004, when writer/ director Mary Harron put out a casting call forThe Notorious Bettie Page(2005), set in the 1950s, she had to specify “no gym” to be assured of finding actors for the female roles without the athletic builds that have become the new millennium’s standard. But, as post-9/11 television shows...

  9. Notes (pp. 167-192)
  10. Bibliography (pp. 193-202)
  11. Index (pp. 203-212)
  12. Back Matter (pp. 213-214)