Television Soaps: The Cultural Construction of Gender and Representation

Soaps but more importantly music videos can be said to interrogate the

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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.