Friday, November 14, 2008

"Eating the Other" and "Stereotyping"

(This post is in response to both bell hooks' "Eating the Other" and Richard Dyer's "Stereotyping", two essays that deal with the politics of representation in film and the cultural sphere).

Let me begin by stating how much I love reading hooks. In the introduction to "The Politics of Representation" section in this text, the authors describe her blend of "mature rhetorical analysis with everyday language and sensibilities" (340), which makes this read not only enjoyable but also relatable and accessible.

There is so much that can be touched upon when speaking about hooks' excerpt, but what I found especially interesting were the parallels I found myself drawing between "Eating the Other" and Dyer's excerpt on "Stereotyping" from his text Gays and Film. While Dyer's work was written eight years prior to hooks', they both draw upon the same types of ideas using similar rhetoric and basis of comparison. The ideas that stood out the most for me are twofold, the first being their like stance on the dismissal or active ignorance of the existence of prejudices and biases. hooks uses an excerpt from the play Les Blancs to depict the voice of the Other in the form of the character Tshembe. His speech asserts "it is pointless to pretend that [a device of conquest] doesn't exist - merely because it is a lie" (371), which is definitively parallel to Dyer's assertion that just dismissing stereotypes as falsehood is not enough: “What we should be attacking in stereotypes is the attempt of heterosexual society to define us for ourselves” (357), as opposed to attacking stereotypes on the grounds of their inaccuracy. Dyer believes that “righteous dismissal does not make stereotypes go away” (353) much like hooks declares that the open admittance of whites of their sexual desire for the Other does not allow white people to “eradicate the politics of racial domination” (371) but is instead continues along the path of racial discrimination and racist rhetoric.

In both Dyer and hooks, the hegemonic dominance is presented as problematic, but in two different senses. hooks’ description of Sarah Bernhard’s film Without You I’m Nothing presents an example of the white hegemonic viewpoint (notably, however, given a different slant because it is a Jewish woman doing the defining and not a white man) as defined against the Other; Bernhard uses the story of the racial Other as “a personal metaphor” and as “scenery, backdrop, background” (380). Dyer also speaks of a definition of the Other (in his essay not capitalized yet still holding the same loaded meaning) on the terms of the heterosexual hegemony, which can be seen in the quote taken from page 357 that is referenced above; in this case the hegemony preaches how the homosexual Other should be viewed by society.

The second point of their similarities lies in the fact that both hooks and Dyer comment on the practice of the dominant majority of categorizing or associating the Other with animals; Dyer speaks of the relationship in film of lesbian characters to animals (lesbian characters’ penchant for “clothes made from animal skins” (359) and imagery in films “linking lesbianism with the natural, bestial or low” (357)) while hooks focuses on self-referential commentary of black men to their own identification with “the black man as animal, speaking of themselves as ‘endangered species,’ as ‘primitive’” (376) which is simply going along with the dominant majority and their views. To hooks, this rhetoric, although self-referential, is self-racism, self-hatred, and self-pity. But in both the case of the gay and the racial Other, I believe they are both arguing that these concept of the Other as animal is ultimately dominantly imposed.

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