Men’s Health, Oh Comely and Simplified Gauntlett! A Level Media CSPs and some identity note help.

This is an extra set of notes building on my magazine extracts page.


I am aware that my identities theory page has got a bit big. There are some good tools for you to use and if there is a question about “theories of identity including Gauntlett” then Tajfel and Turner (in groups and out groups) or Stryker (identity salience) could get you loads of marks but you are going to want to start with Gauntlett!

What I want to do here is simplify Gauntlett a bit and distill his ideas down to some key bits you need which you can explain using details from your CSPs!

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Look at David Gauntlett’s ickle face! So cute and twinkly!

The board have reduced Gauntlett’s ideas about identity to these concepts:

• Fluidity of identity

• Constructed identity

• Negotiated identity

• Collective identity.

These ideas come from his book “Media Gender and Identity” which was first published in 2002 and then revised in 2008.

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The books are a bit old now (or just right if you think about the age of some of our CSPs – Badoom-Tish!)

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The first edition looks at mass-market print magazines a lot and there is an emphasis on broadcast T.V. but that was what was big then. He does say some really digestible things about identity.

Take this one about the jumble of media messages we receive which impact on our identity:

Media messages are diverse, diffuse and contradictory. Rather than being
zapped straight into people’s brains, ideas about lifestyle and identity that appear in the media are resources which individuals use to think through their sense of self and modes of expression. Gauntlett (2002).

Or this one about the way we use media figures to help construct our own identities.

By thinking about their own identity, attitudes, behaviour and lifestyle in relation to those of media figures – some of whom may be potential ‘role models’, others just the opposite – individuals make decisions and judgements
about their own way of living (and that of others). It is for this reason that the ‘role model’ remains an important concept, although it should not be taken to mean someone that a person wants to copy. Instead, role models serve as
navigation points as individuals steer their own personal routes through life. (Their general direction, we should note, however, is more likely to be shaped by parents, friends, teachers, colleagues and other people encountered in
everyday life). Gauntlett (2002).

And finally this one about how media figures have replaced flesh and blood identity makers:

Because ‘inherited recipes for living and role stereotypes fail to function’, we have to make our own new patterns of being, and it seems clear that the media plays an important role here. (David Gauntlett, 2002).

So, identity is “fluid” and malleable. There are different codes, modes and behaviours we can use to signal and reinforce who we are (although as Touré pointed out we can jump between identities with ease).

Identity is also “constructed” out of the messages we receive. In the past all of these messages would have been delivered in the real world; parents, extended family, tribe etc. How you spoke, acted, dressed yourself and any other behaviour would have been modelled on the real world individuals you interacted with; copying the higher status individuals for example. Later on religions would offer models of identity intermediated by both the clergy and the religious texts (think about it – it is a media form, it is mediated by both being a book, that can be distributed, and through the work of religious dissmeninators – a fancy word for people who spread ideas).

What the mechanical reproduction of words and images suddenly gave people were powerful models of attitude and action. If you watch a documentary which interviews media consumers from the first half of the Twentieth Century they often talk about the impact that movie stars had on them. Movie stars modeled masculinity and femininity. Movie stars taught the audience how to walk, talk, drive, kiss, smoke, shoot and speak.

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Humphry Bogart and Lauren Bacall kissing. These are the sort of lessons you weren’t going to get at home, school or at Church!

What Gauntlett says is that these are the navigation points that people can use to construct their own identities. These navigation points are “negotiated” by both the individual and the culture they find themselves in; both are maintaining a dialogue and establishing rules, codes and conventions. If you want to you can link this to the technical term “parasocial relationship”. This is a ma-housively useful term which describes the way we feel about people that we never meet (what Dyer calls the difference between “the real” and “the reel”). Psychologists have demonstrated that human beings aren’t really equipped to cope with non-face to face communication and we can’t help having feelings about media personalities. Because these images are carefully constructed they have a huge impact on what we think of as desirable traits and behaviours and so shape identity in powerful ways beyond our control.

Finally “collective” identity describes the way groups of individuals gave a sense of belonging and there are expectations and rules that govern membership of the group and attitudes and behaviours of group members. This is linked very firmly to the way the mass media (the very subject of the course you are studying) gives people collective experience and language. We know what is meant when someone is described as being a real life Rosie the Riveter, Dr Frankenstein or Barbie. They work because the audience share a language. Conforming to a collective identity however requires accepting the rules, beliefs and attitudes of the group. Someone might be either hugely offended or thrilled if they were called a “real life Barbie doll” depending on their sense of identity and values.

So to explore this using the magazines . . . (there are other notes on the magazines here)

Men’s Health is an interesting one to start with:

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This magazine is very clear about the identity group it is targeted at but remember your Judith Butler (GENDER PERFORMATIVITY), the entire concept of manliness is governed by “fluidity”. The magazine is REGRESSIVE in that it models masculinity through muscularity, militarism and violence (even if that is only in the language used). The front cover is also piggy-backing on other representations of masculinity (basically it promises that the reader could live a Fast and Furious life if they just start drinking the protein shakes and hitting the gym). In this way the cover uses the parasocial relationship the audience have with “the reel” Vin Diesel to construct an identity “navigation point” (Gauntlett).

Many men, in our post-industrial, society, are looking for identity positions that they can use as reference points. In his 2008 documentary “Bigger, Faster, Stronger”, about steroid use, Christopher Bell pinpoints the problem: “My Dad was never my hero.” His heroes were Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and the wrestlers he watched and emulated. His toys had been He Man and the jacked-up G.I. Joe.

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Watch it. It’s really useful!

The result? He and his brothers became obsessed by muscles and both his brothers took steroids (as a note his older brother committed suicide after the film was made and, tragically, you can see in the movie that he is struggling to accept a life that was not as perfect as he wanted it to be – he wants to be a wrestling star and no other success makes up for that failure).

This TOXIC MASCULINITY is what Men’s Health feeds and feeds on. The front cover is designed to promote self-dissatisfaction and is targeted at men who feel that Christmas has left them fat and ugly. The editorial is very blokey/chatty with lots of rhetorical questions thrown in (and some classical references to make some readers feel slightly inadequate). The Phillip Howells interview is supposed to be inspiring but if you think about it is even weirder; his wife dies and instead of any discussion about emotions or anything healthy like that he runs, and runs and runs (even odder if you think that there is an article about mental health on the contents page). Howells models the emotionally repressive side of toxic masculinity here and the “794 competitive miles” (which are overlaid on his image) are designed to act as a goal or validation of his approach to life. Vin Diesel’s star status is also used as a some kind of target for the reader.

There is an assumption that the “collective” of “Men” will regard physicality as an end in itself. If you look at the images men are only decorative through muscularity and there is a sense of negotiating a collective identity based upon ideas of masculinity from the past. These are not “new men” (in touch with their feminine side, caring and softened).

If identity is “fluid”, “constructed”, “negotiated” and “collective” then Men’s Health seems to be doing lots of the heavy lifting . . .

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for a particular group of men.

Oh Comely is a different proposition. In many ways we can read this CSP as being PROGRESSIVE as it seeks to expand the range of possible identity positions that the reader can adopt and yet build them into the collective identity that make up the readership.

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If you look at the Aimee-Lee Abraham’s words above the magazine is really clear about its desire to shape the identity of the reader (this can only happen if, as Gantlett says, identity is fluid and negotiated). There are also a really wide set of identities represented in the magazine, including one trans (and still questioning) individual, that present the reader with the widest set of codes, attitudes and behaviours that are being modeled for them.

The front cover itself (there are more notes on my other page) provides the reader with the aspirational role-model that is usual for lifestyle magazines but with a progressive twist.

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The use of a more androgynous model, the resistance against sexualization and the use of natural-looking make-up are part of the negotiation about identity that is happening between the magazine and its reader.

If the reader is fluid and malleable then they can be given points to navigate the construction of their own identity. Remember that media theories often overlap so Marian Wright Edelman’s famous feminist quotation, “You can’t be what you can’t see” (which underlines the difficulty of forging a completely new identity without effective role models to guide you) supports Gauntlett’s ideas. The magazine is part of a negotiation about identity which is being constructed as the reader absorbs the messages the producers have encoded. Finally the readers belong to collective made up of a wide range of identity sub-groups.

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When you are writing your 25 mark question make sure that you use detail from the CSPs (like naming Fahma Mohamed, pointing out that she is Bristol based, noting that she is Muslim and a FGM campaigner and making it clear that she is pictured in a bright, colourful and positive way) to support your assertions that the magazine is widening the identity representations that you would usually find in a lifestyle magazine. It is this detail that will allow you to explore and analyse the magazines effectively and actually say something useful about the way Gauntlett explains identity!

 

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