spectator/spectator-identification/female spectator. (see also apparatus, gaze, ideology, Imaginary/Symbolic, scopophilia, suture, voyeurism/fetishism) The issue of spectatorship was first addressed 'theoretically' in the early to mid-1970s as a result of the impact of semiotics and psychoanalysis on film theory. The relationship between cinema and the unconscious is not a new concept however. Cinema as the mediator for unconscious desire, the suitability of the screen as the projection-site for the inner workings of the psyche, had been discussed by earlier theorists in the 1920s and 1930sas had the similitude between the mechanisms of dreams and the unconscious to those of film. But it was not until the 1970s that full consideration was given to the effect of the cinematic experience upon the spectator.
Spectatorship theory has gone through three stages. In stage one, 1970s film theory, Baudry, Bellour and Metz wrote about cinema as an apparatus and an imaginary signifier to explain what happened to the spectator as he (sic) sat in the darkened theatre gazing on to the screen. In stage two, post-1975 feminist film theory, the 'natural' assumption, implicit in those first writings, that the masculine was the place from which the spectator looks and the 'natural' acceptance that each viewing was an unproblematic re-enactment of the Oedipal trajectory were strongly contested (in the first instance) by the critic and film-maker Laura Mulvey. [see: Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema"] In stage three, 1980s (mostly feminist) film theory, Mulvey's writings provoked further investigations by theorists who sought to widen the debate by bringing in theoretical approaches other than psychoanalysis. What follows is a brief synopsis of those three stages and the debates surrounding them.
Stage one Baudry, Bellour and Metz drew on Freud's analyses of the child's libido drives and Lacan's mirror stage to explain how film works at the unconscious level. Drawing on the analogy of the screen with the mirror as a way of talking about the spectator screen relation, these authors state that at each film viewing there is an enactment of the unconscious processes involved in the acquistion of sexual difference, language and autonomous self-hood or subjectivity. In other words, each viewing represents a repetition of the Oedipal trajectory. This in turn implies that the subject of classic narrative cinema is male (Mayne, 1993, 23). Let's unpack this.
According to Baudry (1970), the cinematic apparatus produces an ideological position through its system and mechanics of representation (camera, cditing, projecting, spectator before the screen). The position is ideological because dominant narrative cinema practices hide the labour that goes into the manufacturing of the film and the spectator is given the impression of reality This seamlessness gives the spectator a sense of a unitary vision over which he (sic) believes he has supremacy. The spectator believes he is the author of the meanings of the filmic text and in this respect colludes with the idealism of the cinematic 'reality-effect'all of which gives evidence to what Baudry calls the 'spectator as the transcendental subject' (as having supremacy). In reality, argues Baudry, the opposite is true: the spectator is constructed by the meanings of the text. As such, therefore, the cinematic apparatus interpellates the subject as effect of the text. Later, Baudry ( 1975) moved away from this anti-humanist interpretation of the cinematic apparatus and its ideological connotations and, adopting a more Freudian approach, focused on cinema's ability to embody psychic desire. He also recognized the implicit regressiveness (back to the child) in that particular positioning of the spectator as desiring subjecta point Metz would develop more fully.
Bellour (1975) talked about cinema as functioning simultaneously for the Imaginary (that is, as the reflection, the mirror) and the Symbolic (that is, through its film discourses as language). As the spectator enters into the filmic experience he (sic) first identifies with the cinematic apparatus: the projector functions as the eye. Second, he has a narcissistic identification with the image and then, as he moves from the Imaginary to the Symbolic, he desires the image. Implicit in Bellour's definition of the spectator screen relation, which is one-way, is the notion of voyeurism and lawless seeing.
Metz (1975), echoing Bellour, talked about spectator positioning and the voyeuristic aspect of film viewing whereby the viewer is identified with the look (see gaze). Drawing on the analogy of the screen with the mirror, Metz perceived spectator positioning as pre-Oedipal, that is, at the moment of imaginary unity with the self. However, through his discussion of cinema practices as the imaginary signifier, he introduced the complication of the absence/presence paradigm. Cinema makes present (signifies) what is absent (the Imaginary) - that is, it shows a recording of what is absent. This play on absence/presence means that we are confronted with the imaginary completeness of the absent image of the child in the mirror (Lapsley and Westlake, 1988, 82). The spectator is made aware of the illusionism of the imaginary unity with the self and as such is confronted with the sense of lack. This process, Metz argued, has similar properties with that undergone by the child at the mirror stage. The male child looks into the mirror, sees his image, has a momentary identification with the self (narcissism) then perceives his difference from his mother as 'she who lacks a penis'. He then responds in two ways. First, he desires reunification with the mother and his desire is sexually motivated. Second, he denies difference and through that disavowal of difference - because of his own fear of castration - seeks to find the penis in woman (fetishization). In cinema, this Oedipal trajectory is re-enacted within both the narrative and the spectator-text relation (again it was taken for granted by Metz that the subject of the gaze is male).
Stage two Numerous problems arise out of this first stage of theorizing the spectating subject, starting with the assumption that speculation is only a one-way system (spectator to screen), that it is exclusively male in its positioning and that film texts are organized in such a way as to give a preferred reading. These issues did not become clear until after the impact of Laura Mulvey's ground-breaking essay ('Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema', 1975) which sought to address the issue of female spectatorship within the cinematic apparatus and psychoanalytic framework established by the authors discussed above. Mulvey's essay represented a turning point in film theory in that it was the first to introduce emphatically the question of sexual difference as a necessary area for investigation. Indeed, she intended it to act as a catalyst - she readily admits that the essay was intentionally polemical (1989). In her essay she examined the way in which cinema functions through its codes and conventions to construct the way in which woman is to be looked at, starting with the male point of view within the film and, subsequently, the spectator who identifies with the male character or protagonist. She describes this process of viewing as scopophilia - pleasure in viewing.
In her analysis Mulvey made clear the implications of the dual response, as described by Metz, of the male unconscious (desiring and fetishizing) for both narrative cinema and the spectator-text relation. For this sexualization and objectification of the female form that the male gaze confers upon it is not just one of desire but also one of fear or dread of castration. She demonstrated how, as a first unconscious response to this fear, the camera (and the spectator after it) fetishizes the female form by drawing attention to its beauty, its completeness and perfection. But, in making the female body a fetish object, the camera disavows the possibility of castration and renders it phallus-like (since it no longer represents lack) and therefore reassuring. Mulvey demarcated the voyeuristic gaze as the other male unconscious response to this fear. This gaze represents a desire to control, to punish the (perceived) source of the castration anxiety, even to annihilate woman. (Mulvey mentioned film noir in this context, but for an extreme example see Peeping Tom, Michael Powell, 1960.)
Mulvey then went on to ask, given that the narrative of classic narrative cinema is preponderantly that of the Oedipal trajectory and since that trajectory is tightly bound up with male perceptions or fantasies about women (difference, lack, fear of castration and so on), what happens to the female spectator? How does she derive visual pleasure? Mulvey could only conclude that she must either identify with the passive, fetishized position of the female character on screen (a position of unpleasure, her lack of a penis signifying the threat of castration) or, if she is to derive pleasure, must assume a male positioning (a masculine third person).
Stage three Mulvey's polemic met with strong response by feminist critics (as she intended) and over the last two decades there has been extensive work on revising, reworking and extending Mulvey's propositions. In an attempt to refute the phallocentrism of Mulvey's argument, Silverman (1981) and Studlar (1985) described the cinema as an essentially masochistic structure in which the viewer derives pleasure through submission or passivity. Doane (1984), following on from these writings, argued that the female spectator's positioning was twofold. She adopted either a masochistic positioning (identifying with the female passive role) or that of a transvestite (identifying with the male active hero). Mulvey (1989) in her afterthoughts on her earlier essay warned against this kind of binary thinking. And, indeed, already feminists were considering the possibility that the spectator was not so rigidly positioned in relation to sexual identity but that it was possible to postulate the bisexuality of the spectator's positioning whereby she or he would alternate between the twosuggesting a fluidity and heterogeneity of positioning rather than an 'either/or'. Modleski (1988, 98) made the point most succinctly in relation to the bisexuality of the female spectator. The female spectator is doubly desiring because when going through the mirror phase the girl child's first love object is the mother, but, in order to achieve 'normal fernininity' she must turn away and go towards her father as object of desire. However the first desire frequently does not go away. So, the female spectator's bisexual positioning is central to the mother/daughter nexus. The male spectator, much as the male character up on screen, for the most part suppresses his femininity (often projecting it on to the female and punishing her for it). However, as Modleski (1988, 99) argued, he can find himself bisexually positioned if the male character fluctuates between passive and active modes.
The contiguous question of spectator-as-subject in relation to meaning-production has equally been broadened. The spectator is not a passive interpellated subject of the screen. She or he holds a position of power and makes sense of the images and sounds (in fact the effect of sound renders the screen/mirror analogy somewhat incomplete or unsound). Even though it is a construct of cinema to endow the spectator predominantly with more knowledge than the characters (at least with mainstream narrative cinema), it does not follow that the spectator occupies only one position in relation to those characters (as the apparatus reading would have it). Cowie's (1984) discussion of film as fantasy made this clear. In her re-thinking or re-vamping of Laplanche's and Pontalis's three characteristics of fantasy (the primal scene, the seduction fantasy and the fantasies of castration), all of which are a mise-en-scene of desire, she made the point that the spectator, as subject for and of the scenario, can occupy all those positions. As such, she or he is not monolithically placed but can in fact occupy contradictory positions. As an example take Fatal Attraction (Adrian Lyne, 1987)a film in which it is possible to occupy at different times within the narrative the positions of the mistress, the husband and the wife. It should not be forgotten that Glenn Close (who plays the mistress) expressed deep shock and disappointment at the audience cheering the end of the film when she is shot to death by the wife. She had assumed (naively) that sympathy or identification with her character would occur.
Essentially these three stages of the debate around spectator-positioning and identification show how there has been a shift away from the early monolithic view of the spectator (as subject of the apparatus), to a more heterogeneous one. This is doubly the case since spectator analysis has not confined itself in recent years to 'spectator as psychic phenomenon'. The debate has become enlarged (thanks in the main to cultural studies) and the spectator-as-viewer is now equally deemed to an important area of investigation. Thus historical and empirical models of spectator or viewer analysis have been established. In this respect spectatorship has been perceived as a matter of historically shifting groups. The popularity of cinema has shifted over time and has had different effects and been differently affected depending on the make-up of those groups. Spectatorship has also been analysed in relation to intertextuality: an examination of all the texts surrounding the actual film text and their impact upon the viewer as reader and receiver. Exhibition - where films are screened and the effect felt by the viewer - is another important consideration, as is audience pleasure in identification. Finally, studies of viewer-reception, initiated in television studies, have pointed to the ecclecticism of viewers and acknowledged the difference in readings of the film depending on class, age, race, creed, sexuality, gender and nationality.