Similarities between Starstruck and Hairspray Films
Artistic work plays a core role in creating awareness among the people by presenting the truths about humankind that cannot be expressed in any other way. This awareness leads to the formation of important values that contributes in making the society a better place. Movies, as a form of art that uses motion pictures are more than mere entertainment objects; they are indeed a true medium of communication of important values and ideas responsible in shaping the personal identities of both the performers and the audience.
Movies as a form of art encourages the understanding of one’s culture or even expose misunderstandings. As a form of art movies contribute greatly in improving the society especially when the public respond and contribute positively to them. This paper intends to discuss about two movies, Starstruck and Hairspray which were filmed back in the 1980s with view of identifying some of the similarities on how the movies tackle the issues of identity construction, particularly feminine identity.
The paper will also compare the deconstruction of the misogyny inherent in Australian pub culture with the racism in working class US culture. • Similarity 1: Central in the themes depicted in both films is the idea of identity construction especially feminine and family identity.
Each film centers on the lives of young people (female) who are determined to complement their biological femaleness with socio-economic alternatives such as building a career in the performance world that will guarantee them to adequately play the roles expected of a woman in the society, the roles of a family caretaker, a mother, etc. The fact that they are biologically females is not enough to make them feminine going by Susan Brown-miller’s arguments that feminine is a romantic sentiment and a nostalgic tradition of imposed limitations.
[Brown-miller, 1984] Additionally, femininity is something achieved the same way as gender: it is something that is accomplished and constructed [West, & Zimmerman, 1987] Fortunately, their indulgence into the performance industry fills that void: they find a new identity in the performance industry, and a feminine one for that matter; in Hairspray Tracy starts bleaching her hair and adorning other feminine styles upon becoming a regular performer, while in Starstruck young but determined Jackie intends to earn enough money through dancing to save her family pub from being repossessed by the bank.
In Starstruck young Jackie and her cousin Angus are convinced that Jackie has got all it takes to succeed in the performance industry and that Angus is equally able to become her manager. To them music is a form of identity, in the sense that it is not only a profession that promises a lifetime career but also its proceedings can bring a positive change on the lives of other members of their family. For instance, if Jackie succeeds in singing she will earn enough money that will save their family pub from collapsing.
Based on George Schopflin perception of identity building, Jackie and Angus can be said to be in the process of articulating themselves in the face of a discourse that is highly regarded in the community and that will reward them recognition. [Schopflin, 2001] Furthermore, music is a form of communication which tends to play a core part in the construction of an individual identity. It involves the thought, feelings and actions of the performer thereby helping in the reflection of one’s personality.
On the other side, in Hairspray Tracy struggles to curve herself a niche (identity) in the music industry. It is ironical that Tracy wants to be a music star given that she has a characteristically ‘unfit’ (overweight) appearance. Ideally, performance industry is for the beautiful, beautiful in the sense that one should be thin. It is an industry that fits people like Tracy’s classmate, Ambers who is currently the star in the performance circles since she is thin and beautiful.
Tracy’s insistence and believe in herself wins her substantial recognition and she becomes a regular performer in the local show, marking her rise to fame. She begins to behave in her more feminine way by bleaching her hair a thing which earns her a place in the special education classes. She also uses her feminine identity when she snatches Amber’s boyfriend, Link Larkin, her new identity as a superstar in the local performance circles pushes her to another to another height of a campaigner for the integration among the blacks and the whites.
In a nutshell, Tracy’s course to achieving a new identity can be described in George Schopflin arguments, which hold that identities are tied to a set of moral propositions that regulate values and behavior and that the process of identity construction is characterized by ideas of wrong or right and requires people to be judgmental in their endeavors of condemning or acknowledging certain kinds of behavior.
[Schopflin, 2001] Furthermore, Tracy adopts dancing styles from both the white and the black community which contributes to making her more successful in the local performance circles; she even beats her rival, Ambers in the Miss Auto Show title. This double adoption of performance styles shuns choice or taking sides and sums up the reflexive function that brings about feminine identity. [Voela, & Sampanikou, 2006]
Based on Syd Field (1994) it can be argued that performers reside in both the professional and personal roles: the professional life depicts what the performer does for a living while the personal life is an evidence of the performer’s romantic and other forms of relationships. The juggling of these two roles forms the true identity of a performer as a bread winner, father, mother, spouse, friend, etc. [Field, 1994]. Additionally, the notions of social theory suggest that the very awareness of these roles is enough for the construction of identities.
[Eagly & Steffen, 1984] Similarly, these films also play the dual roles of constructing personal identities as well as creating family identities. [Capo, 2006] For instance, in Hairspray Amber, a former star in the local performance circles comes from an influential family that boasts of a commanding presence in the performance industry. Penny who also seeks fortunes in performing though does make a substantial impact has to live by her racist mother who bars her from associating with a Negro, Seaweed.
Penny’s mother refusal to have her daughter relate with a Negro can be interpreted as an act aimed at safeguarding family identity. Tracy and her mother teams up with others in a series of performances intended to campaign against racial segregation. Ironically, Tracy family identifies itself with pro-integration performances while Amber’s family intensifies itself with anti-integration performances. Similarly, in Starstruck Jackie’s pursuits in music are motivated by family issues.
Her greatest objective is to perform so that she can earn money which will help in financially boosting the family pub and save it from being reposed by the bank. • Similarity 2: Although it is can be argued that there are many ways of enhancing or creating femininity some ways are more ideal and hence ore valued than others. The most valuable aspect of femininity is the cultural ideal, the yardstick against which other forms of femininity are measured with.
[Meyerowitz, 1993] The mass media is one of the most touted forces behind the construction of femininity and feminine ideals. Representations of feminine found in the mass media tend to exert a forceful impact on the consumers and participants of the representations. This is particularly very effective especially on television which is by far the most popular and accessible form of mass media. [Livingstone, 1998] The directors of the two films had one thing in common: to produce a piece of work whose core theme was femininity.
The fact that the films protagonists who are young females achieve their dreams despite living in societies that seems to oppress and alienate them is enough evidence that ideal femininity is at the center of the whole thing. For instance, Jackie lives in a society that is too competitive and hard to please while Tracy lives in a society that recognizes beauty as being thin and that upholds racial segregation values.
By enhancing the success of the women (Tracy and Jackie) in doing something that is deeply held in their hearts and in an industry that is held in high esteem by the society, the films promote the development of female sexual roles and hence developing ideal femininity. [Neuberger, 1952] With the protagonists in the two films being young (teenage) females who are in the green years of a promising career that enhances the roles of a female (dancing) it can be argued the two televisions shows are setting the impetus for real femininity which is grounded on a true love and dedication to one’s gender.
The films actively enhances the construction of ideal femininity by depicting women as less aggressive, naive and passive even in pursuance of their dreams. [Friedan, 1963] The directors of the two film brings out idea of femininity indirectly by contrasting it with masculinity, i. e. , despite the women being at the center of things it is men who plays a core role in shaping the women careers. Additionally, according to Susan Brownmiller femininity is the contrary of masculinity, it is about pleasing men because it makes men more feel more masculine.
[Brown-miller, 1984] For example, in Hairspray, Tracy’s career as a dancer only blossoms after her contact with the black male students in the special education school who introduces her with her friend Penny to a Mr. Maybelle and goes ahead in teaching them new dancing styles which she uses to beat her opponent during the Negro Show which is hosted by Mr. Maybelle. On the other hand in Starstruck Jackie pursuits in the performance industry are only given hope by his male cousin, Angus who never tires to register Jackie in big shows which has got the potential of sealing Jackie’s success in the performance industry.
Moreover, going by Susan Brown-miller’s perception of femininity that, it always demands for more and it is capable of seizing and embracing natural variation in order to demonstrate and reassure its audience of difference even when the difference does not exist in nature these two films plays a core role in the construction of ideal femininity, given that the protagonists in the two television shows fights their way into creating for themselves an identity and a feminine one for that matter in the performance industry plays. [Brown-miller, 1984] • Similarity 3:
The subcultures represented in both films can be termed as ‘deprived’ due to the fact that they are yet to be recognized by the mainstream performance industry in their respective jurisdictions: Hairspray subculture is yet to be recognized by the Hollywood and similarly the Starstruck audience seems overlooked by the mainstream Australian cinema. The reason behind their lack of recognition by the mainstream performance industry can be associated with the fact that they are yet to achieve the performance standards which can help them to build popularity that can be tapped by the Hollywood or the mainstream Australian cinema.
In Hairspray Tracy, Penny, Ambers and others in Hairspray are just beginners who are in the green period of their careers. Furthermore, they are yet to reach the fame beyond their local town given that they are just regulars in a local show hosted by a local promoter, Mayballe. Moreover, Tracy is depicted as too plump to make any impact in the performance industry, an industry which is ‘culturally’ a preserve for the thin and beautiful. Even Ambers who is considered beautiful and who was the reigning queen of the local performance circles is no match to (she was beaten in the Miss Auto Show) Tracy, a ‘pleasantly plump’ youngster.
In Starstruck Jackie and her male cousin cum manager, Angus can be termed as novices in the performance industry. Furthermore, Jackie failed to make an impression in a local performance which Angus had registered her to make a try. Though the two believe that Jackie is talented her talent needs to be nurtured so that she can reach the standards required by Hollywood or the mainstream Australian cinema. Her future in the performance industry is yet to be sealed given that she is yet to win a monetary reward from her performance. • Similarity 4:
It can also be argued that there is a considerable amount of misogyny portrayed in the Australian pub culture and the racism in the working class American culture. In the Australian context, Jackie and her male cousin, Angus are portrayed as too determined to see that Jackie wins the top prize in the annual performance show, a thing which will make her seal her future in the performance career and above all earn the much needed money which will help in bailing out her family pub from the reality of being taken away by the bank.
This shows how coveted the pub is and that the reality the loss of it to the bank is too great to bear for the family. On the other side, in the American working class culture racism is portrayed to be at record high. Being a black is an enough reason to warrant segregation from the mainstream white society. Black boys are kept in the special education school in order to put their academic progress on check. Amber and her parents Velma and Franklin who owns a park are perpetuators of racial segregation and they are vocal in countering Tracy’s endeavors in fighting for racial equality.
Penny’s mother Prudence also perpetuates racism when she locks Penny in order to prevent her from dating a Negro, Seaweed. She goes takes the issue to a level higher when she uses a doctor to brainwash Penny into dating white boys. These two movies share the similarity that they have both used performance to fight against the deconstruction of the inherent misogyny that is portrayed by the bank that is intending to repossess the family pub (a coveted asset in Australia) and the racial segregation among the whites and black in the working class American culture.
Historically, pubs have been one of the most coveted assets that a family can dream of owning in Australia. However, the pub in culture in Australia has been a funny one with the most striking feature being the high levels of misogyny among the mainstream men society whereby the pub patronage was a highly contentious issue with gender and race being the yardsticks for who was to be admitted and who was not. Masculinity and national pride are two features that stand tall in the Australian pub culture.
This was a trend that was very common in the 1970s when women would not be allowed into pubs without the accompaniment of men. They were either allowed to buy beer for themselves. Women who found the habits of going into pubs irresistible were referred as morally loose or simply whore. Similarly heterosexual men were denied entry to pubs on accusations that they would cause trouble once inside. [365 Gay Reports, n. d. ] In the American working class context, misogyny is shown when Tracy, Penny and Tracy’s Mother and others were arrested just because they were demonstrating against racial segregation.
Racism is a phenomenon that has been very rampant in the US especially among the working class where many blacks fitted and therefore the use of female performer (Tracy) to fight it is can be interpreted as a way of fighting misogyny just as the same way Jackie is used as a savior of the family pub in the Australian context. References: A. H. , Eagly, & V. J. , Steffen (1984). Gender stereotypes stem from the distribution of women and men into social roles. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46(4), 735-754. A. , Voela, & E. , Sampanikou, (2006).
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