ext_20988: (science v mysticism)
[identity profile] memories-child.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] xf_is_love
Title: “The future looks just like him”: Mulder and the (fe)male gaze
Author: [livejournal.com profile] memories_child
Word count: 2,197
A/N: First of all I'm so sorry this is late. I was due to post on Friday but I've had a virus for a week and that, along with work being ridiculously busy at the moment, wiped me out. Mods, I hope it's okay for me to post this today.

My [livejournal.com profile] xf_is_love essay a couple of years ago talked about Laura Mulvey's concept of the male gaze and if that can be turned on its head in The X-Files. What I want to do this time, continuing my habit of writing meta for this fest, is think about Mulder and the female gaze. If the male gaze is focussed on Scully in the ways that various fans and academics have argued, is it possible for the male gaze to be turned on Mulder? Linda Badley argues yes, writing “The X-Files objectifies the male body rather than the female” (2000, p.62). She points to the camera lingering as ‘hunks’ such as Mulder and Assistant Director Skinner strip down to their Speedos1 and argues that the power of the gaze is also often transferred from the guys to the girls: Mulder watches X-rated videos, which the audience never sees, instead of watching Scully; and Scully is also allowed the “leisurely, body-assessing ‘male’ gaze (for instance, at handsome Sheriff Hartwell in ‘Bad Blood’)” (2000, p.63). So if the female gaze is viewed in the show I would also argue that a female gaze can be applied to the show: Scully is equally as able to project her look onto Mulder as he is to project his onto her.

Wilcox and Williams note that the “distinction between the standard Scully-Mulder reciprocal look and the objectifying gaze” is clearly marked in the second season episode Humbug (1996, p.112). In one scene, in which Lenny, a circus freak who exists with a small brother attached Siamese fashion to his chest, is sent to wake Scully, the two stand in her doorway staring at each others’ bodies (Scully, at Lenny’s brother; Lenny at Scully’s breasts) until each realises what the other is doing and simultaneously adjust their robes to cover themselves. Later in the episode Dr. Blockhead, another member of the circus, discusses his fear that the human race will attempt to genetically eliminate the differences visible in his community. He illustrates this by pointing at Mulder and, as “the camera obligingly focuses on the FBI agent in the middle distance, standing head held high, arms akimbo, long, elegant trench coat perfectly draped, Blockhead says, ‘I’ve seen the future, and the future looks just like him’” (Wilcox and Williams, 1996, p.113). Wilcox and Williams suggest that “The sophisticated mockery of the Mulveyan gaze in this episode only underlines the fact that Mulder and Scully do not enact such ocular manipulation of each other. Rather, they visually engage each other as partners (ibid).” Another episode which I've talked about before is Rain King (1999). In the process of investigating a man who claims to control the weather, Mulder and Scully discover the climate is a side effect of weather-man Holman Hardt’s long-silent love for his high school friend Sheila Fontaine. In the course of the episode, Mulder and Scully are confused for lovers, with Holman noting

I've been envious of men like you my whole life. Based on your physical bearing, I'd assumed you were... More experienced. I mean... You spend every day with agent Scully a beautiful, enchanting woman. And you two never, uh...? I... confess I find that shocking. I... I've seen how you two gaze at one another.

While Mulder’s response is to tell Holman that he doesn’t gaze at Scully, Scully also examines the concept of a ‘look’, explaining to Sheila that the best relationships are frequently the ones that are rooted in friendship: “one day you look at the person and you see something more than you did the night before. Like a switch has been flicked somewhere. And the person who was just a friend is... suddenly the only person you can ever imagine yourself with.” In this episode then, the gaze (male or otherwise) is not levelled at either Mulder or Scully. Rather Holman recognises the way that they look at each other: the equal gaze that, as Wilcox and Williams argue, illustrates partnership, not domination.

Of course, the notion of the male gaze can be further problematised when the figure of the spectator - Holman, Padgett, the audience - is examined in more detail. Milner notes that “Shots of Mulder sometimes invited a female gaze as surely as anything in Hollywood narrative cinema invites the male” (2010, p.107) and Wilcox and Williams argue that male and female positions can be alternated, “with men sometimes being the passive, ‘to-be-looked-at’ characters and women representing a more active investigating gaze” (1996, p.101). Mulvey neglects to examine the female spectator (or female director or female writer) as holder of a female gaze in her analysis. She argued that films were centred around a

main controlling figure with whom the spectator can identify. As the spectator identifies with the main male protagonist, he projects his look onto […] his screen surrogate, so that the power of the male protagonist as he controls events coincides with the active power of the erotic look (1989, 9.20)

This analysis, however, fails to take into account those viewers who do not identify with the male protagonist. Many fans identify much more strongly with Scully than with Mulder, as Wakefield points out in her analysis of the Order of the Blessed Saint Scully the Enigmatic (OBSSE) online community. Wakefield argues that Mulvey’s stance fails to describe precisely the way list members insist on labelling their looking from a gendered position, as active, gazing women. The term “SWILS,” for “Straight Women in Love with Scully” is a popular tag, and many members of the mailing list identify as “NSWILS” or “Not-so-straight Women in Love with Scully” as well. Other Internet fan groups, like GABAL (Gillian Anderson Born-Again Lesbians) also appeal to the fluid ways in which female spectators of The X-Files discuss their sexual orientation in relation to the character and the actress who portrays her.

Mulvey's argument seems to treat both spectatorship and maleness as homogeneous essences - as if there were only one kind of spectator (male) and one kind of masculinity (heterosexual). But what of those viewers who are gay, African-American, lower class or, as Wakefield notes, fluid in the ways they discuss their sexual orientation in relation to the characters? This is where fan production comes, and while I've never really discussed this in my meta for the fest before, fan works can also apply to the subversion of the male gaze.

Mulvey argues that it's the man who controls the film as well as emerging as the bearer of the look of the spectator. Certainly, in classical Hollywood cinema, men were the directors, producers, camera operators and screenwriters. In fan cultural production, however, women are primarily the producers (Somogyi, 2002; Camille Bacon-Smith, 1992; Rebaza, 2009). Coppa argues that it is the “female gaze that is, arguably, specific to vidding and the use of the VCR” (2009, p.112), suggesting that the technology allowed women to stop and really look at an image as well as the experience of rewatching the image. Coppa contends that technology has enabled the female gaze “by giving women the same sort of control over visual media that they previously had over only a much older storytelling technology—the book” (2009, p.112), however I would suggest that the shift in the gender of production as well as the affordance of new technology also affects the way in which male (and female) characters are both depicted and viewed in fan fiction. Fan fiction of The X-Files echoes the visual codes seen in the series text. Jenkins argues that women are forced to perform an ‘intellectual transvestism’ allowing them to explore their own narrative concerns. Fan writing, he suggests, “represents the logical next step in this cultural process: the transformation of oral countertexts into a more tangible form” (2006, p.44). With intellectual transvestism women are forced to take up a male subject position to identify with the gaze. In writing fan fiction, however, the female author becomes the bearer of the look. The gaze thus becomes female, and the male subject of the story the passive recipient of that gaze.

I would argue that slash fiction affords us a clear example of the female gaze in practice. Academic work on fan fiction has focussed on slash, particularly as a form of resistance but slash has also been analysed in relation to the male gaze, with Keft-Kennedy arguing that Angel/Spike shippers simultaneously encode contradictory versions of hegemonic and nonhegemonic masculinities “by employing the figure of the vampire to explore the socially proscribed pleasures of the female gaze on the male homosexual body” (2008, p.50). She contends that female slash writers not only graphically describe homosexual intercourse, they also employ dominant cultural mythologies around domineering and aggressive masculinity in order to explore intricacies of the male characters’ relationships. She focuses, in particular, on the hurt/comfort genre and suggests that the hurt male body is the object of the female erotic gaze. Indeed, Lorna Jowett does observe that, in Buffy, the masculine body of Spike is frequently “displayed in scenes of violence and torture making him the feminized, passive victim as well as the erotic object of the gaze” (2005, p.164). Hurt/comfort stories involving Mulder and Krycek also, I would argue, position the (tortured) male body as object of the female gaze, and further underscore Mulder’s gender-liminal position in writing him as the character who must care for Krycek.

Of course, slash is not the only form of fan fiction, and similar questions around the female gaze arise in femslash. Isaksosn, writing about Buffy femslash, suggests that “Buffy/Faith femslash writers do not only use elements from BtVS canon but also add aspects to it, such as a different gaze” (2009, online). Buffy femslash writers elaborate upon the queering possibilities in the series by combining themes, tropes and modes of description borrowed from a range of genres (including romance, erotica and hard-core pornography), thus providing contexts for the re-negotiation of generic conventions of the romance, as well as of gender conventions linked to this genre. He suggests that

In contrast to traditional pornography, especially hard-core porn, Buffy/Faith femslash texts are not directed towards a male audience nor controlled by a male gaze in the way the compulsory “‘lesbian’ number” is in heterosexual hard-core feature films made primarily for male viewers (Williams 140)” (2009, online)

I would suggest, however, that although the texts are not directed at a male audience, men may well read them. Sue-Ellen Case states that “Not all men are Gazing erotically at women; some women are Gazing erotically at women, some women who are Gazed upon by women look like men, and some men Gazed upon by men look like men” (1996, p,70). Examining the gender roles in The X-Files thus problematises Scully/Reyes femslash as much as it does Mulder/Krycek slash. The female gaze in relation to fan fiction, then, is problematised in a similar way to Mulvey’s disavowal of the female spectator problematises her notion of the male gaze: men may not be the audience for femslash, but they do read it.

Finally, further complicating the notion of the gaze is het fan fiction. Het and gen are overlooked by scholars as less resistive than slash, although Will Brooker points out that gen plays the same game as slash in relation to the primary text. Indeed, Silbergleid notes that “the tendency to use fan fiction as a space to rewrite the MSR has much to do with an attempt to negotiate cultural anxieties about gender and reproductive technologies that The X-Files canon systematically foregrounds and problematises” (2003, online). Written primarily by women then, The X-Files het fic adopts a female gaze through which to view the Mulder/Scully relationship. Particularly in relation to episodes in which Scully is coded feminine (and therefore weak), fan fiction writers critique the association between femininity and loss of power in a number of ways. Regan-Wills notes that

Another tactic [of fans] is to can go back over texts where Scully has been written as androgynous and reassert a female identity into those moments, breaking the association by reinserting the feminine back into the equation. To call attention to Scully's femininity within canon is dangerous territory; it leads nearly without fail to a loss of autonomy and power for her. But fans can reread femininity back into Scully's body at moments of strength. (2009. p.14-5)

Regan-Wills argues that the negative association between sexuality and autonomy in canon rarely bleeds into fan fiction; rather “The Dana Scully who appears in sexually explicit fic is assertive, confidant [sic], and powerfully in control both of her sexuality and her life” (2009, p.15). Scully as sexually active in fan production fails to equal Scully as victim, while Mulder as sexually active in fan production reinterprets the male gaze as female.

1. The scene in Duane Barry in which Mulder steps out of a swimming pool wearing nothing but a pair of red Speedos is referred to in fandom time and again. Indeed, a Red Speedo Appreciation Society exists. The inclusion of the Speedo in the text may therefore be a textual aberration but it has been recirculated in fandom and thus, I would suggest, becomes a subversion which privileges the female gaze.

Date: 2014-10-27 05:45 pm (UTC)
wendelah1: Scully reading From Outer Space (From Outer Space)
From: [personal profile] wendelah1
I have read this through several times now. I don't know whether or not I agree or disagree because I don't understand half of what you're saying here.

Date: 2014-10-27 07:01 pm (UTC)
wendelah1: (raindrops keep fallin' on their heads)
From: [personal profile] wendelah1
I hope you feel better soon!

The language and style seem very academic? Like a first draft for an article for publication or a conference presentation? I was thinking about giving it to my husband (who has a PhD in American Lit) and having him translate it for me. LOL.

Date: 2014-10-31 06:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] badforthefish.livejournal.com
Not sure I understood everything either. That's why you're an academic and I'm not B (hugs). but these are my two cents ayway:

Scully is way more gazed at/objectified than Mulder, see Milagro.

Second what about beauty? Does it always have to be a sexualised gaze be it het/gay/bi etc...?
I gaze both at Mulder and Scully because they are fine specimen of the the human species. I find them beautiful to look at, like I would a work of heart in a museum. certain shots of them just take my breath away because they are so damn gorgeous. I am not denying that there isn't a sexual element to my admiration, but it's not all this is.

In writing fan fiction, however, the female author becomes the bearer of the look. The gaze thus becomes female, and the male subject of the story the passive recipient of that gaze.

I disagree with this, when I tell a story from Mulder's POV my gaze is not female. I AM Mulder, therefore my gaze is male.

I do like the idea of equal gaze between M&S, which illustrate partnership not domination. Though you could argue that Mulder is in many ways quite possessive when it comes to Scully, especially in fanfic.

Date: 2014-11-03 06:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] szgrey.livejournal.com
As an academic type, I'm comfortable with this mode of writing, but I also had a bit of difficulty following at times- you cover a lot of material, and summarize a lot of arguments, in a pretty short essay, and it's hard to absorb so much so fast. Pretending for a moment that we're in a writing group together, I would say: spend more time explaining the ideas you're working with, particularly the concept of the gaze, and use more examples to illustrate your points--that makes it easier for those of us without much background in media studies.

Ok, now I'm going to talk about what's in the essay. :)

In thinking about the female gaze, I think it's important to consider the ways in which it's not parallel to the male gaze- not just the same thing in the other direction- because the gaze (as Mulvey theorized it) isn't just about aesthetic appreciation or desire, it's about power, and power is gendered. Mulvey argued, iirc, that female viewers see from an implied male perspective, because women (are trained to) see themselves through men's eyes, because that's what happens when men define the norms of a society- everyone's socialized to the default perspective which just happens to be male. (Also, straight. Also, this was in 1975, and I'll bet gaze theory has gotten a lot more complicated since then, but it's not my field.) Anyway, if the male gaze is the default, then a truly female gaze is automatically subversive and transgressive (which is what makes it exciting!), but in either case, the gender of the viewer doesn't determine the nature of the gaze.

I love the thing about "the reciprocal look vs. the objectifying gaze"- I think of all the close shots of the two of them talking, face to face, looking each other in the eye, which is such a fantastic way of showing them as partners, equals. You can see the intimacy between them in those shots, and having the camera focus so close on their faces gives the viewer an intimate perspective as well- the opposite of the way a long shot lingering on someone's body (or a close-up of a body part) invites a distancing (or depersonalizing) objectifying gaze. (I think Milagro works almost as a kind of satire, using classic male-gazey cinematic techniques- lingering close up on her lips, her hair- as Padgett narrates his awful purple prose, like "come here viewer, let us objectify this lovely woman together, and thereby illustrate exactly how creepy and dehumanizing the male gaze can be.")

(Now I'm thinking about how Scully's massive shapeless coats in the season we just watched work as a denial of the male gaze- like, just try to look at her as a body, it's impossible, her body is basically entirely hidden- and since she's not positioned as eye candy, the viewer's only recourse is to see her as a person! Of course that was mostly about concealing her pregnancy, but I still find it kind of delightful, because how often do you see a woman on TV *without* seeing the shape of her body?)

I feel like I had other comments but they've flown away- maybe they'll be back, but for now I should probably sleep.

Thanks for this! It's given me lots to think about. :)

Date: 2014-11-05 09:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] estella-c.livejournal.com
This is a rousing bit of academic writing. I hate academic writing. But I think it is pretty well done. The word I just couldn't deal with was "problematizing."

Academics suffer. Be strong and happy in your work MC.

Excellent points have been made by several. I too am enthusiastic about the mutual gaze that Mulder and Scully repeatedly share. Excellent actors both, they stuck to the "no romance" edict of CC, who wanted scary stories to be taken seriously until he noticed that the flood of fannish sexual tension had reached his chin. But that very denial forced the viewers to see them as human beings--extremely beautiful ones, as Fish states, and satisfying to look at--but with a growing trust and loyalty that binds them into a marriage before they've even kissed.

As for the female domination of the fanfic world, I've noticed for a long time that that is where the good female-oriented erotica resides. A great many tastes are being catered to, but the owner of the "male gaze" that sees a woman and thinks "sex," if he thinks of her at all, is stymied by Scully. Of course she has her admirers and her adorers among both genders, and I'm sure both enjoy imagining her naked in the bedroom. But she is always, unchangeably, Scully: an FBI agent with a gun, a scientific education, a cross at her neck, a family who loves her. She is never only an object, because we must accept her magnificent personhood.

Mulder too, of course. I love him for his mind. Feel free to giggle.

IMO, sexuality is so varied among individuals and even within single individuals that academics will have a hard time putting this subject to bed, so to speak. Fans have abducted these iconic figures and have done what they liked with them and some of it is incomprehensible to those who understand the rest of it perfectly well. And vice versa. I personally have never "gotten" slash, and I've come to think that it not only doesn't conform with my sexuality but is up against a firm wall of unconscious repression. (Well, repression is always subconscious, I guess.)

I am very glad that this kind of academic analysis is going on, as it brings a certain respectability to television, etc., where good work is being done. Shit, I wanted to do a master's thesis on *science fiction,* and it was considered too frivolous. Which dates me.


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