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The Star Wars Gaze

Friday, December 18, 2015 - 11:20am

Spoiler alert: No spoilers herein about the new film whatsoever.

A 40-year-old essay with nearly 9,000 citations on Google scholar is the focus of a series of articles in the Chronicle of Higher Ed that, taken together, present an affirmative case for the humanities, and for understanding how popular art reflects our mores can introduce fascinating revelations that support positive individual and societal change:

40 years later, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" still resonates with students, and still resonates with me. Men and women remain unequal in their relationship to vision, visibility, and action. Reductive models of sexual difference continue to relegate the amazing variety of what people actually do, think, and feel to the shadowy realm of the exception.

"Visual Pleasure" sometimes seems to reproduce the normalization it describes because it focuses on a very conventional form. The essay’s limitations are real, but they also reflect real limitations; four decades later, we cannot celebrate the essay’s anniversary by declaring it an artifact of a distant, bygone era. But we can celebrate by returning to the essay itself. I think you will find, as I did, that just as lived experiences of masculinity and femininity are much weirder than the Hollywood versions, so too is this subtle essay richer and stranger than the image we have made of it.

What will critical, scholarly reactions to the new Stars Wars film tell us about present society - our fascination with science fiction, violence and video games, virtual reality, fear of the future and each other? Look to your friendly fillm studies department, comparative literature colloquium, English department brown bag lunch discussion. It's not that all the answers are there, but the free-question zones in our humanities and arts classrooms strike up the band in the hearts and minds of students, brings us closer to who we are, why we like what we do and where we're going and who we want to be.

May the Force Be With The Humanities.

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