Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Painful Embodiment in Aisling Walsh's Song for a Raggy Boy and Pedro Almodóvar's Bad Education

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Painful Embodiment in Aisling Walsh's Song for a Raggy Boy and Pedro Almodóvar's Bad Education

Article excerpt

over the past few years, the concept of the body has been critically understood as a new archive from which to analyze human practices. As a site of culture, it is constituted as fluid, opening a new economy of power relations. In this sense, the body has allowed for the reconceptualization of the system of binary oppositions traditionally imposed by the heteronormative imperative. Taking this idea as a starting point of our analysis, this article centers on the suffering male body as conveyed in two contemporary films set in different national contexts: Ireland and Spain. The filmic texts discussed here are taken as alternatives to Hollywood's tendency to use beaten and/ or bruised male bodies to reassert male power and offer, instead, fresh instances of portraying physical abuse on screen.

The widespread social definition of men as containers of power has resulted in the creation of a certain iconography around the significance of male corporeality. Thus, white, healthy, and strong male bodies have mirrored the normative definition of men. In relation to this issue, Robert W. Connell has argued that this "is translated not only into mental body images and fantasies, but into muscle tensions, posture, the feel and texture of the body. This is one of the many ways in which the power of men becomes 'naturalized'" (85). In this line of thought, Alan Petersen contends that some male bodies matter more than others, given their construction through scientific and cultural practices as the standard for measuring and evaluating others (41). He calls for methods of deconstruction to expose the ways in which power interprets the "normality" or naturalness of some male bodies and the unnaturalness of others. Similarly, within the wider fields of feminism, gender studies, men's studies, and queer theory, among other critical approaches, scholars have attempted to reconceive corporeality outside the heteronormative rule. In general terms, these theories read the body as a product of culture that performs certain conventions. The idea of the cultural performance of the body was developed by Judith Butler in Bodies That Matter, where she affirms that sex is a socially constructed category forcibly materialized through time in the service of the consolidation of the heterosexual imperative (2).

Traditionally, Hollywood film has supported images of masculinity that have contributed to the construction of certain notions of male identity in Western cultures. Popular portraits of manhood have been consistently sustained by male-oriented power structures, offering narratives that objectify women and assume a heterosexual male perspective, while proposing at the same time models of ideal masculinities. A debate involving the visual representation of masculinity emerged in the early 1980s as a response to the relevant issues that Laura Mulvey exposed in her controversial article "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (1975). Generally speaking, her analysis considered the disadvantaged position of female spectators and the biased images of women in Hollywood cinema. After its publication, feminist film theory analyzed classical cinema following Mulvey's analysis of visual pleasure, concentrating on the female body as the primary stake of cinematic representation and assuming a "masculinized" viewer. In a sense, these theories left issues such as male representations on screen and the male body as spectacle unquestioned, taking for granted the main problem that motivates that system of representation. Precisely, the study of masculinity on screen has argued for the need to revise iconic representations of manhood as constructed in film narratives.1 Hence, cinematic images of the male body have been widely analyzed from different angles. There are a considerable number of influential works dealing with different aspects of manhood and representation within the world of cinema (e.g., Silverman; Jeffords; Cohan and Hark; Krutnik; Tasker; Mitchell; Donald; MacKinnon; Edwards) that give evidence of the growing importance of masculinity as a field of investigation in film. …

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