I Am Marla’s Withered Facial Expression: Rethinking My Media Consumption

Having just returned from six months of Salford living, I am slowly but surely sinking back into Irish university life. On my first week back at university, we were already assigned to start drafting our final year research projects.

Naturally, I shit myself at the thought of it.

I decided to take it upon myself to research into the minds of university students. My secondary school English teacher told me to always write what I know about. But unfortunately, this comes with some consequences. I was going to have to be be A LOT more critical of what media I consume on a daily basis. And it made me think about all the problematic films and books that I loved and entertained me and inspired me – and how ultimately, they were harmful depictions of women and girls and the trans community worldwide.

I remember walking outside of the cinema after seeing Selma two weeks ago. No one seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. No one seemed to feel the mix of white guilt, anger and compassion that I was feeling. A film like that should do that, right? Little time was spent on discussing what we had just watched. We began to talk about Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club and David Fincher’s cinematic representation of it. I was quick to praise this work. I had always loved it – psychological texts hold a special place in my heart. But when I thought about Palahniuk’s work as a whole: who is this cunt? Especially seeing as he believes white men are a marginalised group. And I feel like I fucked up by putting this man on a pedestal and scrawling “The things you own end up owning you” on the back of every cubicle door I could find.

And the next part isn’t as easy to admit. I love Woody Allen movies. I have spent hours watching documentaries about his film making and reading books about his creative process. But this man has hurt and abused so many women, including his own adopted daughter. When I feel sad now, I can’t just sit in bed and watch Everyone Say I Love You without feeling disgusting.

And I feel even worse when I have allowed myself to be influenced by the photography of Terry Richardson. And that I know all the words to more than a handful of R Kelly songs. And I start to think to myself: “Is there anything positive I consume? Am I just breeding this discourse and flushing out more poison into society?”

I do not know if being critical of what I enjoy is enough. I know it’s wrong. I am looking around my room now as I write this. Paper eyes are staring back and nearly all of them are men. Have I let myself fall in too deep?

I am not saying that men can’t be good influences.

What I am trying to say – explain to myself, even – is that I have let myself be far too influenced by patriarchal discourse. And I am feeling the exact inferiority complex that Sandra Gilbert And Susan Gubar talked about in The Madwoman in the AtticBecause I am researching a demographic that I am a part of, I have to take myself out of it and look at the content I consume on a new level. And it hurts.

I recently watched Prozac Nation, the film version of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s autobiographical text. I cried. Hard.

It was difficult to watch on many different levels because I identified with her character so much. I am a privileged white girl who experiences bouts of depression, and I have penchant for my pen. As I watched Lizzie’s character devolve more and more into a total medicated numbness, I wondered what other people thought when they watched this. I could see my truth in it. But it is so easy for people to call bullshit on females who have depression, as this common stereotype of women being over-emotional pervades through every aspect of media we consume daily and has existed through the ages. This produced a domino effect upon me – I can’t remember the last time I saw physical disability being portrayed in a film.

I recently had a discussion with a friend about Jared Leto’s character Rayon in Dallas Buyer’s Club. His role pissed me off to no end. A man playing a transwoman in a multi-award winning film is going to send out a bad message. I don’t care that it was fiction. I am not taking it with a pinch of salt. It’s perpetuating a notion that transwomen are not “women” at all. And misgendering someone is an act of violence. I began to think of how whitewashed the media I consume is. David Lynch is one of my favourite directors and he shows no representation of people of colour in his work. I read Nabokov. I loved it. And all it has done is promoted the fetishisation of young girls and branded them as sex objects.

It is impossible to say that we live in a postracial and/or a postfeminist Western world if these depictions permeate through film and television and literature. The only thing that we can all do is continue to examine closely what we see and hear and read. Really fucking tear it to shreds. Because even if things seem to be okay; they probably are not. It is important to stay critical, no matter how much things improve.

I am guilty of assimilating without question. And feeding this relentless machine that never seems to stop churning no matter how hard I kick or how loud I yell and scream. I’m sitting here trying to think of the point I’m trying to make by writing this. And I’m already thinking of what I will be judged by when it comes to publishing this.

And as I said before – I am privileged. Media representation affects me a whole lot but fuck; does it depress me when I think of how white, cis supremacy kicks everyone to the curb EXCEPT white, cis, heterosexual people. And I want to do as much as I can to remedy this. So here goes nothing. Let the research begin.

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