Why And How Seeing Is Not Just An Act Of Believing: Notes On Culture Studies In The Context Of Films As Cultural Artifacts
3. Difference Between Look And Gaze
The act of looking still retains certain amount of innocence. It’s is more filled with curiosity and less with judgement. It’s the first step. On the other hand, a gaze demands certain amount of self consciousness. Unlike looking, which is in its basic form one-sided (…you look at something and your look gives the meaning to that subject/object…This line exists because you are looking at it, and it has a meaning because you have assigned a meaning to it…), gaze becomes a two-way street, and in a more complex way.
It is a psychoanalytical term popularised by French theorist Jacques Lacan. Simply, it describes the anxious state that comes with the awareness that one can be viewed. The psychological effect, Lacan argues, is that the subject loses some sense of autonomy upon realising that he or she is a visible object. This concept is bound with his theory of the mirror stage, in which a child encountering a mirror realises that he or she has an external appearance. Later, Michel Foucault discussed gaze in the context of power relations and disciplinary mechanisms in his book ‘Discipline and Punish.’
Later, this existentialist theory came to play a dominant role in the study of cultural artifacts, especially cinema as an art form.
To begin with the gaze is characterised by who is the gazer (viewer). The spectator's gaze that of the spectator viewing the text, i.e. the reader(s) of the text. We enter the darkness of the theatre, put on the 3D glasses, and travel to the distant planet called Pandora.
Now, things begin to get complicated. We come to ‘intra-diegetic gaze’ in a text, where a character gazes upon an object or another character in the text (…In Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo,’ James Stewart spies on at Kim Novak posing as his friend’s neurotic wife gazing at the painting in the museum…), and then, the ‘extra-diegetic gaze’ where a textual character consciously addresses (looks at) the viewer, e.g. in dramaturgy, an aside to the audience; in cinema, acknowledgement of the fourth wall, the viewer (… In Woody Allen’s 'Annie Hall,' Allen directly talks to the audience… In 'The Purple Rose of Cairo,' Mia Farrow goes to a theatre and the hero of the film within the film, stops his ‘acting’ and directly addresses the woman…).
In a film, the camera's gaze is the director's gaze, which the director purportedly lends to the audience. The audience sees what the director sees, or what the director wants to show.
Now, the gaze is gendered. In the essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,’ Laura Mulvey introduced the concept of the male gaze as a feature of power asymmetry. In film, the male gaze occurs when the audience is put into the perspective of a heterosexual man, and Mulvey argues that in mainstream cinema, the male gaze typically takes precedence over the female gaze. That is why Bipasha Basu in a bikini.
Following Mulvey’s argument, we can argue that if there’s male gaze, there must be ‘female gaze’. If the male gaze is mostly heterosexual, then there must be ‘homo-normative gaze. Can we further subdivide it? Can there be a Dalit gaze, a Hindu gaze, a disabled gaze, a transsexual gaze?
If we go deep into understanding Lacanian gaze, we understand that the idea of gaze does not origin outside in the object of gaze, but on the mind; the gazer decides the gaze. That is why a homo-erotic reading of ‘Sholey’ can infer that Jai and Veeru were not just good friend but more than that, and the “Yeh dosti..” duet is actually a love song.
Structures do not have their inherent meaning. Its meaning arrives via representation, and a particular gaze can dismantle this representation and add a different colour to it.
(The author of this piece has copied liberally from Wikipedia.org entries to make himself clear)