Monday, February 22, 2010


Hope floats past my brain's blue note
My body exists as a mere anecdote
This all began as a lump in the throat
Practice the piano till emotions are remote

You strike the first key you see
The hammer collides with the string most intelligently
Then vibrates its characteristic frequency
That melody is far too pretty for me

What's with this flow of energy?
That tone struck some chord inside of me
You play your songs so beautifully

Thoughts exist not to set me free
But displace my actions beyond certainty

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Building Better Bisexual Worlds

In “Monsters from the Id,” Margaret Tarratt argues that science fiction aliens are externalized representations of unconscious drives. This science fiction film adjusts gender representations and identifications. In it, women possess masculine traits. Tarratt quotes Freud stating, “the Id…is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts but has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle” (349). The alien in Aliens represents the fear of human’s bisexual nature. The embodiment is gendered feminine carrying horrific, grotesque, repulsive, and violent qualities. The alien’s visual characteristics and Ripley’s victory over the alien represent the fear of human’s bisexual nature.

The creation of ordered meaning from Freud and Lacan’s ideas of unconscious desires leads to socially constructed gender roles. These ideas structure film and the audience’s reception. The man, as an active spectator, objectifies the woman. Sexual difference positions men in a higher status of the symbolic order and woman largely exists as the Other. The feminine gender representations held on a day-to-day basis are merely a performance. The instance of a bisexual nature would claim there is an oscillation between the masculine and feminine roles. That is to say, they are not fixed. The feminine sex, but bisexual identity, could possess traditionally masculine traits without causing castration anxiety, reason with rationality, not relying largely on the feminine quality of emotion, and perform the maternal function. The masculine sex, but bisexual gender identity, could ideally possess traditionally feminine traits without castration anxiety. In a sense, the blending of both gender identities would be a complimentary desire and a type of accepted “incorporation.” As the boundaries between aliens and human are consumed, humans then feel something is lost because their human body is treated as a host. Currently, under a capitalist patriarchal society, a man may feel the same way. From the masculine gender, being feminized is consuming. If masculinity has been breeched, men are feminized, and die. Their ever important masculinity would be lost if a bisexual nature were identified.

The alien in Aliens (1986) has the place of the absolute other. In an evolutionary sense, she is hyper-reproductive. Examining the nature of the beast before it is known, one crew member insinuates, “Maybe...there’s one female that runs the whole show. She’s badass.” He is right. She is the ultimate other, creating tons of babies, which live for the process of incorporation. Ripley refers to the alien’s baby as, “A dangerous organism.” The organism is dangerous because of the fear of incorporation. It presents the fear of men being feminine, or of women being masculine. She is not attractive, but here, the body of woman is rather grotesque.

The female character, Vasquez, appears to be very masculine. She is a muscular Marine. When she first sees Ripley, she criticizes her, calling her “Snow White.” When the squad enters, they send her in first, but she must carry a huge phallic gun. In the beginning of the film, Ripley is initially characterized as the emotional mad woman. In addition, she dreams of incorporation pleading, “Kill me!” We later learn she is the cool, rational, woman who can have it both ways. She can drive the loader, play the mom role, wear short hair, and keep the symbolic nuclear family together. The human females are allowed a degree of oscillation.

When an alien attacks Ripley and Newt, the evil Burke, a capitalist patriarchal symbol, turns off the monitor that could help save them. Ripley exposes the darker side of masculinity of Burke in opposition to the alien’s hyper femininity. She asks, “Which species is worse?” He is the villain, and we are glad to see him die through incorporation.

The alien is represented as a killing machine, so we are repulsed. The birth imagery plays out often. When the crew is in the womb, everything is chaotic. When her babies come in through the tunnel, or long corridor, only phallic guns can destroy them. They eventually retreat because the aliens are apparently intelligent. The alien’s babies, visually bisexual, are the embodiment of castration anxiety. The method of reproduction represents female repressed sexual desires. Like the abyss, the alien’s womb symbolizes Lacan’s male castration anxiety. There is an obsessive focus on the female body. The squad escapes through a small red corridor. The child, Newt, knows the way because technically, she has been the last one out of the womb. Nevertheless, the womb also sucks her back in.

Ripley’s victory over the alien represents the fear of humans' bisexual nature. Ripley carries a huge fire-launching gun. As a mucous alien-baby begins to emerge, threatening Newt, the child screams. The feminine speaks. Ripley removes Newt from the gross embryo. There is a still silent moment when Ripley and Newt realize they are witnessing, firsthand, the alien reproduction process. They stand among the eggs, the thing responsible for possible incorporation, or bisexuality. The camera pans across her long birth canal. The alien is shown in all her menacing glory. The alien breathes an intimidating breath at Ripley and Newt. Ripley fires her weapon, then points it at an egg. Looking at the alien, it understands for a moment, “I won't hurt your babies, if you do not hurt mine.” Then one egg begins to hatch. The bargain is off and Ripley fires at all the eggs. Ripley carries Newt away, but the elevator is broken, and the alien returns. Both get on the plane, driven by Bishop. Maternal motivation drives the action and the symbolic nuclear family holds strong throughout the film.

When the alien threatens the family institution, Ripley yells, “Get away from her you bitch!” She must incorporate with a robot before she can win the mom-to-mom battle. The alien’s phallic tail whips around injuring Ripley. Both fall into the abyss of castration. Ripley’s eye is bleeding. Ripley climbs out of they abyss, but is caught. Bishop, torn in half, who we now sympathize with as he is almost blown away, saves Newt. Ripley closes the door to the great unknown, and all is right with the world. Newt calls her “Mom!” Bishop claims, “Not bad for a human.” They are placed back in their womb-like pods. “Sleep tight” Ripley says. In a robotic tone, Newt says, “Affirmative.” Alien reproduction, bisexuality, and the unconscious converge. The Id is polymorphous- it is inevitably bi and hypersexual.

**Author's note: this was written under extreme sleep deprivation, but I still dig it**

Tarratt, Margaret. “Monsters from the Id.” Film Genre Reader III. Ed. Barry Keith Grant. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007. 346-365. Print.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What a Difference a Day Made… 24 Little Hours

As a dietitian asks a client to document food intake in a diary, a mass communications student must consciously understand their media consumption. Documenting my media use for a 24-hour period helped me become familiar with how I consciously and unconsciously utilize media. Recollections of the “grieving process” characterized my media deprivation experience. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance feelings surfaced throughout my day. The evening before the experiment, I experienced idealistic denial. I considered the obvious media I had to avoid such as my laptop, iPod, other music, DVDs, or cell phone. I prepared by calling and informing relevant friends and family of this assignment, ripping labels off the clothes I would wear, and additionally ripping labels off hygiene items I needed. At this point, I felt in control of my choices. I also felt as if I could truly avoid media and enjoy the opportunity to live a peaceful, mindful, and present day. In the past, I have consciously avoided media. I generally do not watch TV; sometimes I drive without the radio; or have avoided turning on my laptop if I notice an unhealthy dependence. Having previously deprived myself of media, I was hopeful and committed to completing a peaceful 24-hours. This hopeful feeling of being present and accepting quickly turned into anxiety.

My morning routine consisted of yoga, showering, eating, getting ready, and then leaving the house. I had a doctor’s appointment to attend and had to go to the beer distributor as I was hosting a get together the following day. Afterwards, I planned to drive to my boyfriend’s house, have dinner, and enjoy a media free evening. However, I was overwhelmed by the difficulty I had avoiding my routine media use. The most difficult media to avoid came from advertising. A Cheerios box and conditioner bottle were anxiety inducing. After examining the box and bottle, I realized they imposed dominant ideological values such as heterosexual marriage or gender role beliefs. I became disgusted and slightly irritable. I then began ripping labels off everything I could and hid other products whose labels I could not remove.

Advertising media was by far the media most difficult to avoid. It is everywhere. There were so many unavoidable media encounters in the doctor’s office. I mentally prepared myself, but I felt surrounded and almost paranoid. The pen and clipboard I encountered during the sign in process had drug advertisements. There were also TVs in the waiting room. My idea to use earplugs to ignore the sounds of the TV did not really work as I could easily hear everything. I attempted to avert my eyes from the advertisements. However, I noticed a drug advertisement on the examination table’s stirrup covers. I was at the OB/GYN and luckily, I only received a shot, so I did not have to physically touch the stirrups. I felt like I was experiencing a consumer-society information overload and very relieved to leave. Experiencing the advertisements at the beer distributor felt less personal. I expected sexist advertisements and that was exactly what I found. I did not avoid using the advertising media from the doctor’s office and the beer distributor because they were simply part of the errands I had to run. I also could not avoid using my debit card at both places. Debit cards contain a chip that can process data concerning the purchases I make. I have found this data collection most apparent in Target. When I use my debit card there, I receive coupons directly related to products I have bought in the past. With this in mind, using actual dollar bills appeared less media related, but I did not have any with me. To completely avoid all media, I should have stayed in bed all day, but I cannot simply give up 24-hours of my life. Necessity brought me out of the house.

While driving to my boyfriend’s house, I began staring at signs as if they were a newfangled thing. I forgot I was supposed to avoid media, and the religious signs outside of churches and on billboards were terribly interesting. Their messages were unavoidable and I even found myself pulling over to document their claims. My favorite was a billboard picturing Hell’s fiery flames. It asks, “Where are you going? Heaven or hell?” Resisting the messages on the billboards and church signs was difficult. Additionally, I noticed many signs for small at-home businesses and contemplated the local economy. There were several small repair shops and hair salons local community residents run from their home. I imagined the men probably work in their garages and the women take the livelihood of cutting and styling hair. Each house with a sign for an at-home small business did not seem to possess customers.

Some days I wish I could throw away my cell phone, so, I happily avoided making and accepting phone calls. From this experiment, I realized my body possesses a sort of muscle memory connection towards physically locating my cell phone. It was powered down, but I still continued routinely checking to be sure that it was in my pocket. I did not use my phone, but I asked my boyfriend to call two of my friends solidifying the following day’s plans. Making plans is impossible without some media form.

Silence overcame me while I was alone. Without media, there was a sort of quiet stillness. My boyfriend attempted to entertain me with some hand drums, but I was quickly irritated. I settled for the sound of wind chimes. I could not fully accept the quiet feeling. I found myself applying personal coping mechanisms due to media withdraw. My usual, seemingly positive, coping mechanisms for day-to-day stress tend to involve media use. I “tune in” to something like the Internet, music, or a friend on the phone, while simultaneously “tune out” whatever is plaguing me. As I was unable to use these particular coping mechanisms, I chose to clean and organize instead. The house was completely spotless.

During the class discussion on political economy and Smythe’s view that, “in a capitalist culture, all non-sleep is work time” I initially felt Smythe needed to lighten up and learn to relax. After closely paying attention to my media engagement, it became apparent media is embedded with codes to be identified and translated. Advertising requires an audience’s attention. Advertising exists to be decoded, so products are needed, then bought. As Marx claimed that all unpaid work was profit, my time spent connecting with advertisements and decoding their ideological implications was merely given away freely as a commodity. I found great difficulty choosing an activity that did not connect with a consumer product. Overall, this experiment felt like a success. It raised my awareness of my chosen and imposed media encounters.