Reclaiming Canadian Bodies

Visual Media and Representation
Wilfrid Laurier University Press (CA)
  • 1. Auflage
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  • erschienen am 27. Februar 2015
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  • 281 Seiten
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978-1-55458-992-0 (ISBN)
The central focus of Reclaiming Canadian Bodies is the relationship between visual media, the construction of Canadian national identity, and notions of embodiment. It asks how particular representations of bodies are constructed and performed within the context of visual and discursive mediated content. The book emphasizes the ways individuals destabilize national mainstream visual tropes, which in turn have the potential to destabilize nationalist messages.Drawing upon rich empirical research and relevant theory, the contributors ask how and why particular bodies (of Estonian immigrants, sports stars, First Nations peoples, self-identified homosexuals, and women) are either promoted and upheld as 'Canadian' bodies while others are marginalized in or excluded from media representations. Essays are grouped into three sections: Embodied Ideals, The Embodiment of 'Others,' and Embodied Activism and Advocacy. Written in an accessible style for a broad audience of scholars and students, this volume is original within the field of visual media, affect theory, and embodiment due to its emphasis on detailed empirical and, in some cases, ethnographic research within a Canadian context.
  • Englisch
Wilfrid Laurier University
  • 3,04 MB
978-1-55458-992-0 (9781554589920)
1554589924 (1554589924)
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The Media and the Ideal and Fat Body

An Examination of Embodiment and Affect in a Canadian Context

Wendy Mitchinson

In recent decades the concept of the affective turn has been influencing ways in which disciplines formulate research questions and research subjects (Antanasiou, Hantzaroula, and Yannakopoulos 2008; Ferredey 2008; Coleman 2008; Tyler 2008; Lea and Sims 2008; Clough and Halley 2007; Wanzo 2009). Its meaning is broad, varied, and in the words of one analyst, "amorphous" (Wanzo 2009, 978). What seems to be common in much of the literature on the affective turn is its focus on sensations, feelings, and emotions. While there is some debate about which ones are central and the meaning of each, it recognizes that something beyond the traditional linear and rational narrative has entered the academy (Tyler 2008, 88; Goldman and Matus 2010, 622). Ann Berlak has pointed to the work of Malcolm Gladwell and his description of the "adaptive unconscious" to understand what traditionally we saw as an undependable way of thinking, a thinking made of quick, intuitive judgments. In Berlak's words,

Gladwell compares the adaptive unconscious to a giant computer that crunches all the data from all the experiences we have had.. Thus, the adaptive unconscious is more influential in our day-by-day living than most of us think, and we exert less control over our actions than we imagine. (2008, 50-51)

It is a "history" of our experiences, significant and insignificant, and what we have learned from them. But Gladwell's conceit suggests a mechanistic/rational nature to the unconscious which doesn't recognize the "emotional charged" aspect of many experiences and memories (Goldman and Matus 2010, 618, 626). Seeing the "adaptive unconscious" as both interpretive and embodied thinking helps us understand what we are drawn to on many levels, even if ephemeral and mundane; for example, why we are drawn to the appearance of certain people more than others.

Historians have long engaged in research on the cusp of the affective turn while not giving it that nomenclature; that is, historians, both deliberately and unconsciously, have used the sensibility of affect (Stacey 1976; Grayson and Bliss 1971; Vance 1997). Patricia Clough has suggested that the affective turn and its use of memory through oral history has decentred the history of trauma (Clough and Halley 2007, 6-7). Yet the decentring of history itself has long been underway, beginning in the 1960s when the history of elites gave way to history seen from the bottom up. Body history is part of that decentring. The body and its reactions are central to the affective turn, and historians have offered a rich and prolific history of how the body has been perceived, idealized, and treated as an entree to topics that would not necessarily appear to benefit from such an analysis or approach (Helps 2007; Dummitt 2007; Parr 2010). In doing so, historians place the affect being studied or used within a context that shapes and nuances the generality of much of the literature on affect and focuses on the particularity of time and place. The result is positioning the cognitive and embodied as tied to one another and not just in a binary relationship (Leys and Goldman 2010, 667-68, 672-77; Purnis 2010).

This chapter examines how the popular text and visual-based media put forward an idealized body image and how they constructed ways for Canadians to approach that ideal for the period 1920 to 1980. David Staples has referred to "the hyperfashioning of consumer bodies, needs, and tastes" (2007, 120) in the postmodern world, a "hyperfashioning" that has long existed and which the popular media was central in propagating. If affective theory recognizes emotional response and influence, then a study of body image and clothing is a study where the use of the affective turn makes sense. Emotional responses are what fashion engenders. The feel of silk, the comfort of cotton, the warmth of wool directs the consumer to buy one piece of clothing over another. The failure of clothing to produce what its advertisements promise leads to disappointment, a sense of loss (Clough and Halley 2007, 5). Capitalism feeds off this loss, what is lacking, what we don't have that we think we want or need. Wearing clothes that make us feel fashionable is a way of creating contentment and making individuals, for a short time at least, feel good about themselves (Ducey 2007, 200). Clothes are part of shaping how others see us, confirming "the inner narrative of what one feels one should be" (Featherstone 2010, 198). If Clough sees in the affective turn "a new configuration of bodies, technology, and matter instigating a shift in thought in critical theory" (Clough and Halley 2007, 2), my interest is in how a historian uses the affective turn, as a way of thinking not only about bodies, but also how they were seen and how their image was sold in the past.

Unlike the studies of McGarry (in Chapter 3) and Craig (in Chapter 2), who analyze spectacles/events within memory, my chapter looks at the past, part of which is no longer in most people's memories. Nevertheless, I would argue that, for Canadians in the past, reading magazines full of advice on the body through advertisements and articles and looking through the Eaton's catalogue, which addressed how best to "cope" with a problematic body, are mediated representations, as are the Salé and Pelletier scandal in the media and the Molson Canadian beer ads on TV. Buying apparel is about buying an image, as is buying a certain beer. The image is significant-it is what others see and, as McGarry makes clear, at times image is how we as Canadians see ourselves. Images are part of collective "spectacles" in our society. Whereas McGarry's participants became tired of the ongoing Salé and Pelletier stories and Molson kept changing the TV commercials to offset boredom with its brand, advertisements on body are more insidious in their intimacy and in the excess of the normative message.

The years 1920 to 1980 were significant for Canada and its citizens. During those years Canada went from being a member of the British Empire, to a member of the Commonwealth, to a self-standing state. Underlying that process, however, were experiences that scarred Canadians and influenced how they looked at the world and themselves. The 1920s followed the most devastating war the world had yet seen. In the four years during the war, Canada lost almost 67,000 war dead out of a population of just over 7 million, almost 1 percent of its population. In comparison, the United States in World War I lost approximately 117,000 out of a population of 92 million. Immediately following the war, 50,000 Canadians died in the 1919 influenza pandemic. The 1920s image of flapper insouciance was undercut by the sense of insecurity and grieving (Nicholas 2006, 18-60). Neither did the insecurity dissipate with the Depression of the 1930s, the six years of World War II (compared to the American four years), followed by the Cold War and the possibility of nuclear annihilation. If these were not enough, there were the challenges of being part of a small population living along an impossibly long border next to the most powerful country in the world with many times Canada's population. If the national identity of Canadians is a contested concept, as McGarry and Craig also argue, then it is no wonder. Think of it-the second-largest geographical country in the world, with a small population, and throughout its history coping with regional divisions, language debates, and in recent decades a multicultural experiment. Perhaps Margaret Atwood's perception was right-our survival as a nation and a people is our greatest accomplishment (Atwood 1972). Survival is the accomplishment of not the weak but the strong, and that has long been reflected in the northern image of Canada and Canadians.

It is in this challenging context that the media in Canada has to work and survive. Maclean's magazine (1905), Chatelaine (1928), Canadian Home Journal (1895-1958) and the fashion sections of Eaton's catalogues (1884-1976) provide the research base for this chapter. What characterizes each is their longevity and their "Canadianness,"' particularly that of English Canada. Most Canadian magazines had shorter histories, in part because of Canada's limited market support and because of the competition from American publications. Indeed, many American magazines had higher readerships in Canada than did Canadian ones (Rutherford 1993, 266; Vipond 1977). While little was done to assist these publications, the government did respond to the growing concern about cultural domination (Tippett 1990). In 1936, it established the CBC, in 1949 it set up the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Science (the Massey Commission), and in 1956 it created the Canada Council. Starting in 1959, the Board of Broadcast Governors instituted Canadian content regulations, which have been ongoing.

The three magazines and one store catalogue were significant in terms of numbers of subscribers and users. For example, by the late 1960s, 24.6 percent of English-Canadian adults read Maclean's and 23.2 percent read Chatelaine. More specifically, Chatelaine, which eventually absorbed Canadian Home Journal, was a mass audience magazine, reaching 37 percent of all households in Canada. Readers were...

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