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.