Film spectatorship and subjectivity : semiotics, complications, satisfactions

Carboni, Camilla
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Stellenbosch : University of Stellenbosch
Spectatorship is an essential aspect of the film industry, and hence a key facet of film studies. In film studies, however, the notion of subjectivity is marginalized in a preference for broad generalizations. This is because any consideration of subjectivity leads to indeterminate results. Such research is consequently of no use to filmmakers in guiding them on how best to accommodate mainstream consumer preferences, which is most often the objective of spectatorship studies. However, apart from this, subjectivity is a key component in film reception as every human being views ‘reality’ subjectively and therefore films also. Although the outcome of studies that include the notion of the ‘subjective individual’ will be indefinite, it is an important aspect of any study of spectatorship. The notion of the ‘subjective individual’, as opposed to the generalized notions of ‘audience’ and ‘spectator’, is thus crucial and consequently underlies my entire discussion. In an attempt to demonstrate the importance of subjectivity in film spectatorship studies, I address three primary notions in film reception studies – the text’s structure, cultural complications and psychological satisfactions. In doing so, I consider how each of these notions significantly involves the ‘subjective individual’. In addressing the first notion – the text’s structure – I examine the role of the spectator in relation to the film text, particularly during the reception process. I show how codes function, are organized, and are very specifically encoded into the text by the filmmakers. I then examine how the spectator – the recipient of the communication, who is positioned by the text (interpellated) to receive the narrative – decodes the text’s message. This process thus involves not only subjectivity in the filmmakers’ choices, but also in the ‘reading’ position that the spectator adopts, according to his/her personal interpretation of the text. The second notion – cultural complication – involves the aspects which condition both the encoding and decoding processes of film, namely: ideology, polysemy, the overlapping ‘public’ and ‘private’ spheres, and the unconscious desires of spectators. Each aspect has a profound affect on spectator response and, consequently, on the study of spectatorship. Moreover, each aspect entails the notion of the ‘subjective individual’. The third notion – psychological satisfaction – deals with unconscious desires and thus addresses subjectivity in spectatorship in its most intense form. Lacan’s ‘Mirror Stage’ theory and Freud’s work on dream analysis demonstrate how personal the desires motivating the viewing of films are, again revealing subjectivity as a key aspect in film spectatorship study. In amalgamating these ideas, I draw on the phenomenon of celebrity. The film celebrity, originally an ‘object’ of the film text, has become central to popular culture for reasons of psychological satisfaction. I explore how spectatorship and what generates it – the film industry – have co-created the film celebrity and, in turn, how this phenomenon moulds popular culture and affects ideology; subsequently affecting the “theory of ‘reality’” by which we, as individuals in society, live. Since this “theory of ‘reality’”, although constituted by the dominant ideology, is personal and conditions the way we (as human beings and film spectators) view everything, spectatorship studies cannot ignore spectators as ‘real’ people – ‘subjective individuals’.
Thesis (MDram (Drama))—University of Stellenbosch, 2007.
Film criticism, Motion pictures -- Philosophy, Motion picture audiences, Motion picture audiences -- Psychology, Dissertations -- Drama, Theses -- Drama