Television Soaps: The Cultural Construction of Gender and Representation
Soaps but more importantly music videos can be said to interrogate the
cultural construction of gender and representations of identity. The video
suggests a set of images to the viewer and usually these are a blurring of
gender and identity. Music videos predicate on the representation of female
gender experience. The two interrelated sign systems- access signs and
discovery signs- will be discussed. Music clips that will be focused on are
Madonna's "Burning Up', "Express Yourself', and "Justify My Love'. The singer,
who has been labelled "Our Lady of MTV', has an amazing video appeal due to her
play with gender and identity. No other single artist has produced as many
mixed images as she has.
Television soaps tend not to interrogate the construction of gender and the
representation of identity. They do not seem to cross any boundaries. People
watch soaps to relax and somehow relate, so if they were to experiment with the
theatre of gender, it may be seen as a threat to viewers. Soapies usually have
the males in typically male dominated occupations such as doctors, car salesmen
and chefs. Women in soaps are usually secretaries or housewives. There does
not seem to be any attempt for a switch of roles. Females are feminine, males
masculine. There has been one exception, which was Kylie Minogue's character,
Charlene, on Neighbours. She was a mechanic and tomboy. This is one of the few
occasions where a soap has interrogated the cultural construction of gender and
representation of identity.
A music video is footage that accompanies a song. They can have a
storyline related to the song, displays of images or simply focusing on the
artist/s performing. Music video is forever crossing the lines of gender and
identity. It is able to do this as it is seen as a form of art, therefore there
is no threat to viewers. It is ironic that Boy George has said that "video was
the worst thing to happen to music", when he himself looked and acted like he
was crossing the lines of gender and boundaries back in the 1980's. Madonna is
most famous for creating videos with no boundaries for gender or identity. Most
of the time, she deliberately plays with surfaces and masks. Madonna visual
style engages and hyperbolises the discourse of femininity- she has bleached
hair with dark roots, street smart image yet glamorous. Gender play is the mix
and match of styles that flirt with the signifiers of sexual difference, and
Madonna is always doing that. The three music videos of Madonna to be analysed
a re `Burning Up', "Express Yourself', and `Justify My Love'.
Pouring money into the visuals, she is the first female artist to fully
exploit video. In the three videos to be discussed, there is a mixture of
suggestion and aggression. "Burning Up' involves her and a man. She is
writhing in the middle of the road while he is driving towards her. At the
moment where she seemed submissive, she was actually about to take over-
suddenly he disappeared and at the end of the clip she was behind the wheel. It
was like she was powerless, but then she turns that image upside down by showing
who had the control. `Express Yourself' is very similar. It shows her as being
powerful and also as being weak. She plays with gender through her wearing of a
pin-striped suit ( the male sign of power and success) and her crotch grabs. It
also shows her with a chain around her neck. Madonna says:
"It's just an image I thought was powerful...It showed an extreme. Extreme
images of women: one is in charge, in control, dominating; the other is chained
to a bed..."
It is evident in this video that she interrogates the cultural construction
of gender and representations of identity. "Justify My Love" is the same. The
banned video showed how gender roles could be swapped, blurred and played with
to create different identities. It showed men who looked and acted like women
and women who looked and acted like men. It totally changed the typical gender
roles and behaviour around.
E. Ann Kaplan (1897) stated "Madonna's feminism is part of a larger post-
modernism phenomenon which her videos also embody in their blurring of
sacrosanct boundaries and polarities such as male/female, high art/pop art,
film/TV, fiction/reality and private/public.
Two interrelated sign systems developed from videos predicated on female
gender experience- access signs and discovery signs. These can both be seen in
Cyndi Lauper's 1983 hit "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and Madonna's 1984 song "
Borderline". Both are set in the street not feeling threatened, which is the
access sign. The discovery sign is being female. In "Borderline" it is the
fact she gets discovered to be a model.