One Direction: Gendered Gaze and the Boy Band Construction of Fandom

The narrative of music video theory suffers a significant lack compared to that of classical cinema, with most writings on the matter of spectatorship and apparatus reserved for spaces within a multiplex rather than in front of a computer screen. Seeking to alter that path ever so slightly, and take up the cause of one band: One Direction (1D), one genre: boy band pop, and a select group of theories, I hope to illustrate the power the music video has. Along those lines, determining the level of which these particular cases can reveal more about music and its visual medium today becomes equally important to the project’s trajectory. Through understanding more about One Direction, their creation, and the subsequent approach they and their producers took over the five-year run of output, I hope to engage with elements as specific as: (1) YouTube culture and fandom, (2) the presence of unreality in an older generation versus the deconstruction of such false narratives within 1D’s work, and (3) a realization of the band’s power over their fan-base which permeates all the work, especially with the eventual implementation of a first-person POV.

Each section of the paper will take up videos from One Direction’s oeuvre as well as older videos from musical acts like or within the same genre as the band. In that vein, the theories which are to form the backbone of the piece will have as central a role as these musical groups. Ruth Hottell’s “Including Ourselves,” a piece dedicated to the work of feminist theorists and one filmmaker more specifically, Agnès Varda, will be essential to much of my work going forward. While gathering the opinions of several leading minds on the subject, Hottell forms her own thoughts and begins to traverse the precipice I am now overlooking. She commences working on turning Laura Mulvey’s male gaze onto another subject, and in doing so, opening the door to this analysis of One Direction. From the sexualized nature of Calvin Klein models brought to light by Hottell, to the very presence or lack thereof of women who engage with the message shared, will lead me forward to an interpretation of the band’s use of their image and the desire to exploit it.

A list of theorists and other writings that will go into this analysis all seek to inform the future reader of the formational techniques used by 1D to engage with its audience and separate themselves from the norm created by boy bands like N’Sync and Backstreet Boys; artists from George Michael to Robbie Williams. Sergei Eisenstein’s precise and uncompromising views on film form and montage will find a unique home in a world I reason to believe he would never have envisioned during his lifetime. Lorrie Palmer’s work on Crank and the newly gendered world of hypermasculinity in action films also appears on its face to be a sore thumb sticking out from my project’s proverbial fist. Instead, I tend to believe that the essentials of both Eisenstein and Palmer’s arguments will speak to and point out the construction of 1D’s image, inside and outside of the music video world. In addition to all these works, I plan to incorporate the extensive book by Railton and Watson on music videos, along with an essay by Marsha Kinder on the same subject. My lack of exposure to their works thus far will leave their role yet undefined, though I hope that clears up in the nearest of futures.

As my project will take up the conversation of men on display for the sake of and in aid of a female gaze, I will certainly hope to go beyond the music video world of One Direction and boy bands more generally. The Magic Mike films are Hollywood’s answer to this specific moment of time and have given birth to a new form of spectatorship in the cinema. The Morgan Spurlock concert documentary This Is Us, shot during the worldwide tour of One Direction’s Take Me Home album, will potentially find a place in this analysis as an extension of the access YouTube provides in the realm of fandom and 1D’s rise to superstardom. My hope is to write this piece with an acknowledgment of all that came before in feminist film studies as well as the dearth of research dedicated to the form of moving images. One Direction, to me, serves as a significant moment in the pop culture of our digitally connected world. Their actions and output go beyond the typical taste aesthetics conversation and into the more fertile ground of theory.



Eisenstein, Sergei. “The Dramaturgy of Film Form” Critical Visions in Film Theory: Classic and Contemporary Readings. Eds. Timothy Corrigan, Patricia White and Meta Mazaj. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011: 264-277.

Hottell, Ruth. “Including Ourselves: The Role of Female Spectators in Agnès Varda’s Le Bonheur and L’Une chante, l’autre pas.” Cinema Journal 38 1999: 51-68.

Kinder, Marsha. “Music Video and the Spectator: Television, Ideology and Dream.” Film Quarterly 38 1984: 2-15.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP, 1999: 833-44.

Mulvey, Laura. “Unmasking the Gaze: Feminist Film Theory, History, and Film Studies.” Reclaiming the Archive: Feminism and Film History. Ed. Vicki Callahan. Detroit: Wayne State Press, 2010: 17-31.

Palmer, Lorrie. “Cranked Masculinity: Hypermediation in Digital Action Cinema.” Cinema Journal 51 2012: 1-25.

Railton, Diane, and Paul Watson. Music Video and the Politics of Representation. Edinburgh University Press, 2011.



6 thoughts on “Prospectus

  1. 1. This is interesting and unique! I am so excited to see what you come up with. I also like thinking of music videos as montage sequences, and 1D has some videos that are more “cinematic” than others, with narrative, gendered looks, and a catchy tune (I am talking about “Best Song Ever”).

    2. I am interested if you could bring in views from modern movies and tv-movie, which have an emphasis on music video style sequences, we can discuss this in person, which can make your argument more nuanced. I am interested in how some of the theorists are incorporated into your prospectus, like Varda, and how they are all interconnected. I like how you lay out the areas of study, but if you could conceptualize the main argument along, or within, that sentence, I think it will make your ideas more poignant.

    I am very excited to read this paper and see your conclusions, so maybe we can compare and contrast. This is also one of my areas of interest, in a broad sense, so I hope we can discuss this further.


    1. Matt. As you already know, I appreciate greatly your response to my proposal. Hottell’s arguments, to me, deal with broader themes amongst all the specifics on Varda. I plan to use that broadness to my advantage. Though I love what she has to say on the filmmaker, it isn’t necessarily of interest to me in this essay. I and 1D appreciate your loyal listening habits when it comes to their music. If you run across any interesting tidbits, please do send them along!


  2. Micah Stathis

    1. I find your chosen topic very gripping and the way you present your specific thesis and the overall context very thought provoking. Being someone who would normally dismiss anything dealing with a band cursed with the dreaded “boy-band” moniker, the way you present the band’s approach to media presence and music videos makes the potential paper seem like something I would want to read, but more importantly, need to read (regarding current innovations in video production/theory). Specifically, I find the initial premise that music video scholarship lags far behind that of narrative cinema appealing, as it is something of a challenge to conventional notions of film theory; a kind of punk aesthetic for the academic world. Finally, I feel that framing the study of 1D’s videos within recent and past feminist scholarship is a novel approach, and one that ensures the paper can speak very much to larger issues currently discussed in the public sphere.

    2. Admittedly, it is somewhat difficult to identify areas for improvement in a paper that is straightforward, but my main area of concern is not so much related to premise/concept as it is to overall research volume. Given the clarity of the thesis, I would say that you risk spreading yourself a little thin trying to incorporate all the various film theorists and theories. A much longer paper would definitely be rewarded with the additional sources, but I worry that 10 pages is not enough space to adequately discuss all the mentioned theories, their relationship to the thesis and your personal interpretation. Perhaps, identifying two or three theorists that are most pertinent to your thesis would allow for more personal reflection on the theories and their connection to your thesis. Finally, regarding the female gaze and the “Magic Mike” films, do you intend on addressing certain sections of scholarship suggesting that these films are not about reversing the male gaze, at all, but are simply a continuation (albeit, in a less than conventional way) of the long standing tradition of the male gaze?


    1. Micah. Thank you for these comments, which you now have posted so long ago. Really, they were much-needed fuel to engage with this all over again. My hope is that the bibliography is so large only because of the necessary framing I’ll need to do when discussing the alien world of One Direction and boy bands to scholarly minds. My intention is to have clearly delineated sections that engage with one specific idea or theory/theorist. I believe we agree on Magic Mike. Would love to talk with you more about it, though.


  3. Michael, this is a very fun idea for a project.

    I would suggest narrowing down the amount of videos (even an analysis of one video could go over 10 pages) you use by them, and also not needlessly tie your hands by trying to uphold a quasi-auteurist argument about the group as curators of their mass media identities. 1D does have this reputation on social media, but a more focused exploration of how in, say, 3 videos the line between the male gaze and a new Magic Mike–esque gaze is obscured would be a much more doable project. (That is to say, try to remove 1D’s agency from your formal statements, as it’s sticky business otherwise.)

    As it stands, you are rightfully leaning to Mulvey and Hottell for help with the different types of viewership and/or mass marketed personalities/models. Eisenstein feels a bit thrown in, though. This is not because a montage analysis of the music video is not a good idea, but because I don’t see your project going that way in the rest of your prospectus. Maybe the Railton Watson and Kinder readings will better inform you on how to analyze the video(s) formally, but I’d be interested to hear what you learn from flipping through their work. Sounds fascinating.

    If you give me some specific examples of 1D videos to check out that you’re definitely going to refer to I’d be happy to watch. I want to see this taken beyond Robbie Williams’ challenge to the sex-hungry viewers (which is now 17 years old) and into some new statement about 1D’s uniqueness in the current media landscape. That might be a tall order, but I trust your enlightened fandom and think that there must be something more lurking there.

    I am very happy to see you exploring the 1D sensation in a film theory context, and I think much fruit will be borne. My overall suggestion here is just to narrow your focus, as the inclusion of 6 theorists and many music videos will take up most of your essay and leave you little room to explore much more than a portion of the big themes you’re juggling. I will say more if/when you show me some vids!


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