Rape of the Sabine Women – a short debate.

Traditionally dated back to 750 BC the Rape of the Sabine women was a rather troublesome event when the citizens of the newly founded Rome decided to get themselves a wife via alternative means. The went to visit their next door neighbours the Sabine’s and stole all their women. This event has been represented multiple times in the work of countless artists and the most famous versions are of course the rather incredible sculpture by Giambologna located at the Loggia die Lanzi in Florence and the multiple  renditions that Peter Paul Rubens did.

.Giambologna. Rape of the Sabine Women                Rubens: Rape of the Sabine Women

I myself have always been fond of Picasso’s envisioning. The mass of twisted limbs, screaming horses, displayed breasts and giant sword wielding attackers seems to me to truly give a visceral image of what the whole event would have been like. No fair damsel clutching her breasts in panic as you often see in the works of the old masters – just unnamed, undistinguishable flesh coated in blood, sweat, lust and fear (and semen no doubt featured in there somewhere also).

Piscasso: Rape of Sabine Women

The debate on how you represent awful traumatic events is something that multiple authors have debated on over the years. Jacques Derrida, Toni Morrison, Marita Sturken, Paul Fussell, Paula Gunn Allen, Tessa Morris-Suzuki are just a few names from a long list of people. Holocaust studies, rape studies, women’s studies, post-colonial studies, Imperial studies, war studies…the list goes on of disciplines that, at their heart, hold a traumatic event at their core. The question of representation is a complex one and it is fair to say no artist, filmmaker, author, photopgrapher has ever got to 100% accurate.

The way you represent an event is at the heart of the current book I am writing on the visual culture of modern day bride-kidnapping. Bride kidnapping has its roots throughout global culture; from the poetry of the ancient Greeks to the literature of Frances Burney; from the plains of the American Wild West to the mountains of China. What I find rather upsetting is that the most notable film examples that people cite when I mention the topic are the comedy musical Seven Bride for Seven Brothers and Borat. Take Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, as the song goes, “and though they may be sobbin’ for a while, We gonna make them sobbin’ women smile!” Why would you not want a suitor who has captured you, taken you to a remote farm with a group of other captive women and then caused an avalanche to prevent your family rescuing you? I think this video from Borat also says it all (poor copy so apologies but it is via youtube). What fun, what laugher…oh, wait.

What I find problematic is how both these examples use the narrative of the kidnapped bride for comedic value and then presents as narratives of ‘alternative behaviours’ whilst actually upholding patriarchal notions of gender. For me in both the cases above comedy used against the female participants and seeks only to enforce the gender status quo rather than offer anytime of subversive laughter. Don’t get me wrong – I think that Sacha Baron Cohen is a clever man who manages to make some very salient political points in his work – I am just not sure this is a fine example of it.  As this project moves into the final stages I will post more on this topic but I would like to leave with the following clip…then go away and read a definition of stockholm syndrome….

 

 

Sexism at University: Reflections at the End of the Year

Any comments from any of my readers and friends?

quiteirregular

As the academic year comes to an end, I’m asking for people’s reflections on their feelings about gender and university.  At the start of the year, there was some great writing being published about sexism in freshers’ week in the national press, and it encouraged me to open up the subject on the blog, with a piece by Megan Clark and news from Nottingham about what made people uncomfortable (or outraged) and what was being done about it.  A new Feminist Society formed at the university where I work, forged links with the Women’s Network and launched campaigns on various subjects.

This week Cat Humphries sent me the picture below, highlighting the kind of lazy sexism which greets women at the other end of the academic year.  Just when it’s time to be proud of achievements and chill out, she found herself faced with images which suggested her role…

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Devising a national cinema module.

Slightly earlier than usual in the academic calendar I am thinking about new modules. The protocol at my current institution is that you validate a module in the year prior to when you wish to commence teaching so most of us put in vague module descriptions in the broad topic area and then you flesh it out in the weeks before the modules commence. At the current time I am focusing on my Japanese Cinema module. Although I have taught East Asian cinema for years this is the first one that is solely devoted to Japanese cinema that I have taught here in Bangor. Whilst putting the module outline together I have been contemplating how and why we continue to teach national cinema at undergraduate level.

For me Japanese cinema has been a longstanding passion and research interest but writing the module got me thinking about what ideas and concepts I wish the student to take away with them by the end of the course.

We have to put in Learning Outcomes as part of the validation and examining the ones I have to hand (well I wrote last year when I was not really concentration on the topic) you have the aims and objectives to be as follows:

  1. To provide a historical overview of Japanese cinema and its relation to society since 1940.
  2. To introduce students to representative Japanese directors and film genres of the post-war period.
  3. To explore social continuities and change in Japan through the medium of film.
  4. 4. To examine the relationship that exists between Japan and the West and how that relationship has been played out vis a vis film.
  5. 5.to examine question of local, national, international and global as they engage with a national cinema.

 

All in 12 weeks…you can see the issue.

1280px-Ichiban_utsukushiku_poster

I have long given up the lecture/seminar approach believing (and this has been born out over the years), that in the current age of twitter feeds and facebook most students are incapable of taking in, and benefiting from, a 60 mins talk. I have not quite gone towards flipped learning but I am more inclined in that direction. I believe that an active learner is a productive learner but problems arise when you are trying to impart a large amount of new information in a short period of time. Things would be a lot easier if students did the required reading but most of the time we struggle to get them to sit on their backsides and watch a one and half hour film so working on the assumption people will attend with any prior knowledge is a false assumption. (Apologies to all my good students who do the reading – I appreciate you greatly but you have to admit – you know you are the minority…) So we have limited time to teach the entire modern cinema of a nation and the needed cultural and historical information that is required to be able to see and appreciate that cinema in situ. So what approach do you take? Historical? As you move safely though the decades and cover nicely in 12 weeks the 1940 to the 2010s. The problem with that is you are asking students to evaluate the films that are the furthest from their lived experience first. Whilst a modern manga is part of their cultural knowledge that they can link into existing schema, a black and white shōmin gekisuch as Gosho Heinosuke’s Oboroyo no onna/Women in the Mist (1936) or even Kurosawa Akira first notable feature the propaganda film Ichiban utsukushiku/The most Beautiful (1944) has many unfamiliar and complex connotations that students will take time to process. In the historical approach however we are asking them to look at the most difficult films first when they don’t have the tools with which to examine them. So you take the thematic approach and the student duly studies gender, politics, warfare and economics etc. as are they are visualized via the cinema of a nation. Issue that lie with this approach is that you run the risk of essentalising the product you are examining. They become only about that issue and you are missing the wider nexus into which ‘themes’ take place. Do you take the genre approach, the auteur approach or the industrial approach? All have their positive and their negatives. Are you using this nation to debate ALL national cinema theory? Thus you are asking student to make links and connections across the wider cinematic world and run the clear risk of flattering out any cultural specificity to your texts.

Take Suzuki Seijun’s film Nikutai no mon/Gate of Flesh (1964).

A film focusing on a group prostitutes living in a post-war Tokyo ghetto can offer a variety of readings. You could examine it from the viewpoint of the role of women, a political commentary on the state of post-war Japan, a study of post-Imperial Japan, a key example of the Nikkatsu production process, a work of the auteur, star theory with the key presence of Shishido Jo, a genre film that can link into other genre films of its ilk globally…the list goes on. What is the best approach to give to student is open to debate. As I develop the module I will post materials for open discussion but one thing is clear – teaching a national cinema is far from straight forward.

Some sources I have found interesting have included:

Teaching French National Cinema by Christopher Faulkner, Cinema Journal, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Summer, 1999), pp. 88-93

The Cinema Journal Teaching dossier

and this rather weight tome – I have not bough it due to exorbitant cost (plus nearly everything is available elsewhere) but the list of articles is rathe useful depending on what approach you are taking!!