Fetishism in the Cinema

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Litsa Mouka

1 I know very well, but all the same… A study of fetishism

I know very well, but all the same...

A study of fetishism in relation to cinema
This dissertation is an exploration into the different ways cinema utilises processes of fetishisation to evoke desire and disavow lack. In all cases it will show how the basic notion of fetishism functions as a symbolic substitution for the lack and as such, how it imposes itself onto the structure of film and the experience of watching/looking. Furthermore, how commodity (Marxian) fetishism - as an intrinsic value of the socioeconomic structure of capitalism – exists in the context of film, and additionally how film itself poses as a commodity itself; the two are inexorably linked. Drawing on Laura Mulvey’s feminist Freudian analysis, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, in the first case I will show how classical Hollywood narrative depends on the erotic spectacle of the woman’s body; which simultaneously evokes a castration threat and then assuages it through its eroticised fetishisation. Techniques of camera, lighting, make-up, costume and the narrative’s technique of objectifying the female body through the eyes of the male protagonist (the spectator’s on-screen surrogate) combine to create an effect where the heightened spectacle of the female body substitutes for its lack of a penis and the unconscious threat of castration that is invoked by it. The female body comes to symbolise the phallus. In the second case, (drawing on Christian Metz’s essay The Imaginary Signifier I will show how, at another level, the whole on-screen image is fetishised; how the absence/presence of the screen image, its illusory nature, where the illusion of an animate threedimensional world is created by the projection of light onto a two-dimensional screen in a darkened room, invokes an absence which is assuaged by an illusory presence. It provides the symbolic substitution for the lack it evokes. In turn, this evokes - and its nostalgic affect is dependent on - a return to the imaginary (unconscious). Furthermore, in (Jacques Lacan’s) Mirror Stage, the subjective ego is constituted in the recognition of the self in the image of the body by looking in the mirror, whereby identity is projected onto an external reflection, so the self is recognised as an Other. For cinema, the mechanism of illusion is the same, we recognise the on-screen representation of the world and identify it with its referent, the real

Litsa Mouka

2 I know very well, but all the same… A study of fetishism

world, which is temporarily absent in cinematic space. This absence/presence re-creates the act of concealment of the absent penis in the mother and in thus doing so the whole screen becomes the fetish. The third case will develop out of the second. It will centre on the co-dependant relationship between classical Hollywood film (in specific) and the consumer aspect of capitalism. I will show how the fabulous and glamorous world of classical Hollywood cinema presented on-screen, generates material desire for the ideal life sublimated by consumer capitalism. The screen functions as a shop window for all that consumerist society allows. Richard Dyer has demonstrated in his essay Entertainment and Utopia that Hollywood entertainment systematically corresponds to the real needs (or lacks) of its mainstream audience. In this sense, cinema can be seen as the ultimate consumer fetish in Marxist theory; offering promises of the ‘good life’, generating desire, which is met by the product itself, which, as has been shown, is spectral, illusory. It evokes a lack that is met with a symbolic substitution, which vanishes with the turning on of the house lights. And finally the fourth case will be a discourse on how historically, capitalist consumer societies have replaced the anthropological religious fetish with the consumer fetish, with reference to the Laura Mulvey’s observations in her book Fetishism and...
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