Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dazed and Confused About Representation

            Dazed and Confused, the classic film following high school students in the 1970s, although entertaining, fails to make an impact or cultural change and instead perpetuates racial and sexual stereotypes. After scoring the film based on the Representation Test criteria, I gave the film a grade of D, as it only scored 3 points on the test. This score was based on the lack of diversity among sexuality, gender, and race, as well as the perpetuation of stereotypes, especially gender stereotypes, throughout the film.
            One of the biggest issues with the film is the presentation of men and women. The film begins with the annual hazing of freshman, and as one can expect, this especially feeds into violent stereotypes of men. The male seniors drive around in their cars with paddles, searching for freshmen to beat with them. They use scare tactics and physical abuse to demonstrate power, which is precisely the stereotype the representation test hopes to avoid. Rather than presenting men in non-stereotypical positions, the men represented in the film for the most part are masculine and aggressive, valuing violence and revenge in order to create “relationships” with the freshmen. In fact, the only men in the film who act scared or “feminine” in the film are the freshman boys, and these are the men who are beaten. Clearly, the film only reiterates the false concept that men must be violent and powerful in order to be masculine. This scene can represent ethos, but in a very stereotypical way. According to Lunsford, “establishing a persuasive ethos requires not only simply seeming honest or likable but also affirming an identity” (Lunsford, 56). The scene successfully uses ethos because they’re affirming an identity; the macho, high school jock identity. We see this scene as credible because it presents men in a stereotypical role, but we don’t necessarily agree with this presentation, which is why it can also fail to represent ethos.
            The women in the film are also portrayed in a negative manner when we see them hazing freshman girls and ruining their self-esteem. In one particular scene, the senior girls put the freshman on leashes, pour ketchup, mustard, and flour on them, force them to propose to senior boys, all the while referring to them as “little freshman bitches.” This scene exclusively showcases the stereotype of the “mean girl,” shedding a negative light on the way women are presented in the film. Rather than being represented as strong, independent, intelligent, or otherwise, the women are reduced to superficial, power hungry bitches. The casting also does a lot to reinforce this presentation, as the girls are pretty, but a little snobby looking. As Giannetti writes, “’Casting is characterization,’” and the way in which the film was cast definitely impacted our view of the women characters (Giannetti, 282). This scene, in some ways, caters to logos and pathos; logos because of the girls fulfilling the high school mean girl role, and pathos because of the way in which they treat the freshman. Although the audience can understand the “mean girl” concept, I don’t think that it’s necessarily logical that girls are hazing other girls like they do in the movie. One does not typically think of girls being as physically and verbally abusive to one another as they are in the film.
            One thing that struck me was the lack of diversity in the film. I was unable to check any boxes about people of color, as when they were present they acted more like props than like characters. They failed to speak and seemed to only be there for diversity purposes. In some ways, this is even worse than if they had a speaking role and perpetuated stereotypes of people of color, since in that case they wouldn’t just be in the background. However, the characters still managed to perpetuate stereotypes, as the only black people in the film were boys on the football team. The film did not have any characters that were gay, lesbian, transgendered, or bi-sexual, and also failed to have any characters with disabilities. However, this does not surprise me, since the film was made in a time when homosexuality and physical disabilities were treated much differently and with less sympathy or respect.

            Overall, I think that this scoring system is fair. It represents race, gender, sex, and physical disabilities, which are all things that are constantly misrepresented or stereotyped. I think it’s important that we hold more films to a standard like this, so as to move away from presenting certain characters in a light that just perpetuates a stereotype that their demographic is trying to move away from. I believe that movies and media should work to advance the movement of minorities and the underappreciated.  Rather than tearing them down, our entertainment should build them up, so, as discussed in Miss Represented, we can imagine men, women, people of color, and people with disabilities in non-typical roles if we see them playing those roles in a film. I think it’s time to stop cheap humor at a certain demographics’ expense and begin producing fun movies that break gender, racial, and sexual stereotypes.

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