trailer for the eagerly-awaited film of Stephenie Meyer’s New Moon can be summed up quite simply as lots of hot young men running around without their vests. Some of them transform into fluffy wolves. One slowly unbuttons his shirt, exposing his skinny white torso, just above the dangly bits. Another one leaps through a window.The
The link with feminist art theory may not be immediately apparent.
However, bear with me. As a sometime student of art history (I absolutely love art history, particularly all the mad theories and I fully intend to finish my long-running Open University degree course. Perhaps next year) I would argue that this trailer is an absolutely classic example of something rarely acknowledged, the Female Gaze.
Feminist art theory – please excuse the massive over-simplification - has generally tended to concentrate on asking good and important questions about why men have traditionally dominated the art world. Believe me, it’s not because they have all the talent.
It also examines the way we look at art. Feminist theorist Laura Mulvey suggested that throughout history most art was produced with a male viewer in mind - the Male Gaze - which objectifies women. Mulvey said that the Gaze could not be reversed because "the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification.”. When the male body is clearly the object of desire in art, the work is often conceived as and described as homo-erotic.
Very few commentators allow for the Female Gaze per se, and tend to suggest instead that in the rare event that men are presented for women to admire and enjoy, then women are copying a male point of view. They have in mind male strippers and teen pin ups. The Female Gaze rarely seems to make it into mainstream art.
Well, feminist art theorists, take a look at the New Moon trailer (you may need to watch it several times as I have done in the writing of this post.) Fully dressed women, half naked men. Men who are clean and shiny looking. Men in need of help - physically and emotionally, but who also display strength and who want to protect women. Strong emotion underpinning every scene. Tenderness mixed with the toughness. It’s all clearly designed to appeal to the Female Gaze. There’s almost nothing there for straight men - our heroine Bella is wearing the world's ugliest anorak - and the emphasis on the top half of the male body means it’s not even classically homo-erotic.
The books on which New Moon and the previous film Twilight were based have been a phenomenal publishing success. Stephenie Meyer has sold millions of copies and made a fortune. She has passionate fans, all of whom have fallen in love with the book’s hero - sparkly vegetarian vampire Edward Cullen – and identify with Bella, the klutzy girl he falls for.
The books have come in for much criticism however. There is the strange stalker-ish behaviour of Edward, who breaks into Bella’s house at night to watch her sleep. There’s Bella’s passivity and self-destructive worship of Edward - she’d rather die than have anything bad happen to him. There’s the clunky prose, the double adjectives, the lack of plot. And then there’s the fourth book Breaking Dawn which is in a whole critical category of its own.
So, I try and put the books out of my mind and concentrate on the films. Only ten days to go before New Moon is unleashed before an admiring Female Gaze. I can’t wait to go and run my feminist art theorist's eye over it.
UPDATE: Look at this..New Moon by action figures. Pure genius.