Notes on Walkerdine, V.  (1986) 'Video Replay: families, films and fantasy'.  In Burgin V., Donald, J., and Kaplan, C.  (Eds) Formations of Fantasy, 167-199.  London: Routledge.

Dave Harris

This is based on a study of a family watching a violent film on television—Rocky II.  Research here is a kind of perverse voyeurism, with obvious possibilities [of observer effects], including the observer acting as 'the silent Other who is present in, while apparently absent from, the text' (167).  Walkerdine chose instead to be present in the text, to become apparent, to insert herself explicitly into the research.  This led her to reveal her own feelings, including the theorist's desire for knowledge, and a certain latent content of this desire including 'the terror of the other who is watched'.  In these circumstances, the researcher practices 'surveillant voyeurism', which can be driven by 'the will to truth', possibly even containing 'desperate desires—for power, control, for vicarious joining in—as well as a desperate fear of the other being watched' (168).  There also doubts about the processes of the 'intellectualization of pleasures' among film critics, who often have an equal desire for mastery: this is as equally political as the pleasures of the masses

Psychoanalysis features in some film theory, mostly about the relations in the film rather than as a matter to explain the engagement of viewers.  However, viewers are already involved in some complex dynamics, not immediately reducible to class, gender or ethnicity, although these factors are important.  There is also the context of domestic and family practices, and the play of discourses and the relations of signification between them.  In particular, filmic representations can be incorporated into domestic practices.

The family being researched was a working class couple  with three children watching Rocky II on video.  The violent climax was replayed several times.  First reactions [by W] were an initial condemnation of the violence and sexism of the working classes, and shame and disgust for the observer [which could even be seen as one of the pleasures of voyeurism, she says].  The experience also awakened her own memories of pain, struggle and class, and her own views of engagements with the underdog and his struggles.  Thinking of these fantasies and dreams permitted her own entry as a viewer within the possibilities offered by the film.  This suggests that effective viewing requires a vocabulary of fantasies.

Escape seems to be a source of the appeal for the working class viewers, rather than any resonance with the 'pathology of working class life'.  In other words, engagement involved deploying their own set of fantasy spaces, part of their own fragmented subjectivity.  These and her own fantasies were already discursive, and thus subjected to power and regulation (171).  These fantasies are the ones that connects with positions offered in the film, and this connection also is a signifying practice.  Theory can also be seen as similarly motivated by the desire to look, to master, possible only after personal fantasies have been subsumed.

Fantasy material in a film is more popular than realism.  The signification of fantasy appears as 'hot' aesthetics.  Rocky is a film loaded with other symbols, for example those of the Cold War, Stallone's earlier role as a Vietnam vet in Rambo.  All these offer fantasies of 'omnipotence, heroism and salvation'.  Fighting is seen as necessary.  Macho display is required to resist oppression [with the same paradoxes as pointed out in Willis].  Fantasies are attached to bodies rather than the bourgeois preference for the mind.  There is a struggle to be a 'big man' at home too, and Rocky displays suitable private emotions as well.  In particular, fighting can be seen as a 'class-specific and gendered use of the body' (123).  The body is both spectacle and triumph.  A fear of mutilations seems to drive the urge to fight, including the risk of oppression and humiliation, and this can be seen as an alternative to adapting to [oppressive] reality.  Masculine identity is never secure, but is always threatened, by those from another class or gender.

Walkerdine attempted to transcribe the conversation the family had as they watched the climax to Rocky, and noted:

  1. They did not watch in fascinated silence, but brought disruptions of various kinds in their viewing, such as controlling playback.  This made more connections possible, especially with masculine domination of the family;
  2. Fighting was actively developed as a metaphor within the household—kids need to stand up for themselves (a working class value), but this was sometimes mixed with fears for their femininity if girls do it, so the wife's participation in television activity had to be both encouraged and undermined.  Party politics was seen as fighting, and there were links with other combats, for example with the education authority over school policy.  This was seen by both parties as 'trouble making'.  These examples show that fighting is a celebration of masculinity but 'its basis is in oppression'(181).  Working class men are able to beat a desperate retreat to the body, because there is no escape through their mind [rather fanciful I thought].

Talking and surveillance also involves power and regulation by the researcher, and there were frequent [adult male] remarks about what happens when the researcher is not there.  The women were silent.  Talking about fighting for the male head of household was clearly significant, not simply pathological behaviour as in bourgeois conceptions.  These reactions need to be grasped in terms of class specificity.  Masculine values can also be seen behind the ridicule of female fantasies, which have a latent as well as the manifest content [some peculiar material appears about the fears of very small men, 182-3]. Reality and the fantasy of being a fighter are linked through a 'psychical reality' (183).

[Then there is an aside]. Characteristic male names for females are usually diminutives, and this shows their role in male fantasies [with a undertones of Lacan on identity, and its link with 'specific regimes of representation' (184)].  Walkerdine provides her own examples from photographs and from memories about her own childhood identity, as a bluebell fairy, nickname by her father as 'Tinky', referring to Tinkerbell.  Tinkerbell is not a normal woman but an 'hysteric', kept alive only by audience wishes.  She's childlike, feminine but safe, an object of the male gaze, a constructed Other, a 'narcissistic image of the femininity of man' (186).  Walkerdine felt positive about this identity: she wanted to live the fiction, bask in the gaze of the other.  It is clear that males want to do this too, because they are not outside of fantasies themselves.  Fantasies are attractive because they are affirmatory, because they are narcissistic, and safe.  [A number of links are made with the image of the pale consumptive or anorexic woman]. Getting back to the studied family, the male adult calls his own kid 'Dodo'and infantilizes her in order to create a role for himself as a protector, a fighter.  However, he also wants her to be a fighter, producing a certain 'fractured subjectivity' in her.

Psychoanalysis in films still largely focuses on positioning, and there is little empirical work showing how films are connected with daily lives.  The classic subject is over determined and passive.  However, there are multiple sites for the production of subjectivity and they may contradict rather than fix a subject.  Viewers in contact with films engage in active signification.  There are always particularisitc viewing situations, instead of, say, pathological scopophilia [an obvious reference to Mulvey].  There can still be general meanings, however, including some from the pre-oedipal stage.

[Back to the role of the researcher and surveillance].  Power differentials are not just managed by 'putting subjects at their ease'.  The observer's account simply must be 'a regulative reading which pathologizes the participants' actions' (190) [as in symbolic violence for Bourdieu].  The presence of the observer does trigger responses.  Walkerdine tried to develop her multiple positioning as both middle class academic and working class girl, and to make a positive use of the process of 'recognition' [as in Althusser, who sees it as a flawed process] to engage more deeply than is usual in the rhetoric of siding with the researched -- as in Willis in Learning to Labour, where he appears as an academic wanting to be a lad, but there is no account of his real position.  Lots of ethnographic interviews develop simple interpretations, for example to show female resistance to school—or is this hiding pain and anxiety because of academic failure?  (192). 

Interviews need to penetrate to latent content, as in Freud on dreams unlocking meaning through key signifiers and how they are connected with other meanings in actual discourses in the present and to unconscious or past practices.  Historically specific relations and connections are what give meaning, not the internal rules of some sign system, and there is a necessary struggle involved because power and regulation also intervene. There is a danger of infinite regress in the analysis of latent content, but it can be stopped if we focus on relations of domination and subordination in the present [for political reasons].  We must investigate the empirical realities of power and surveillance, a quasi-Foucaldian approach [accompanied by the old hope that this might produce a political practice].

Social science is voyeuristic [again].  The will to truth hides a fear of the masses and their animal passions.  It is necessary to develop multiple identities from multiple disciplinary practices.  Middle class radicals often see rationality and intelligibility as the only escape route for the masses, but this can involve a pathologization of the mass audience.  However, all analysis is a regulative practice, producing both the audience and our own subjectivity.  Researchers often fantasise that they can make the audience see properly, while disavowing fantasies of their own.  Actually, fantasy spaces offer hope and escape—Rocky for males, romantic fiction for females.  Insistence on using these materials to intellectualize risks a new kind of regulation, replacing pleasure in films and television.  The bourgeois will to truth is probably even more perverse: to know is to control, to regulate otherness.  Terror at the lack of control can lead to a desire to rationalise the 'terrifying physicality'of the masses (197), and to promote embourgeoisment as 'the only dream left'.

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