Thursday, April 26, 2007

Post #6 Audience Interpretations

The semester is coming to an end, and thus is the Gender and Pop Culture Blog Experiment. In light of these final words, I have chosen to examine audience interpretations of South Park. This might seem difficult considering the time limitations on gathering interpretations; however, I have chosen to analyze the consistencies and inconsistencies between my own interpretations and my male friends’ interpretations; since they are already known. Being that this is a wrap-up to my blogging efforts, I would like to note that my interest in this topic has only grown throughout the experiment, and my knowledge of social and hegemonic norms evident in the topic has expanded.

Audience interpretations, of pretty much anything, will vary greatly among different people. One’s race, class and gender, as well as past experiences and morals, will play an intricate role in his/her interpretation of something. South Park is no doubt a bold show, but whether someone interprets this boldness as humorous or vulgar depends on the individual.

When I watch South Park, I am watching it because my male friends turn it on. My interpretation is influenced by numerous factors, including the fact that I am a woman. Also, I have always had a strong opinion that the majority of the material on cable television is inappropriate and should be aired on stations that have to be ordered separately, such as HBO. By inappropriate, I mean the sexually explicit, violent, adult content that airs on stations such as Comedy Central; I include South Park in this category. Some would argue that the rise of parental controls available with cable packages eliminates this problem; however, children in situations where their care taker does not monitor what they watch are the ones being affected. My interpretation of South Park is double-sided; while it is an extremely creative, up-to-date show with intelligent writers, some of the material goes way too far. I do find certain scenes humorous, but the vulgar scenes are offensive and they are far too explicit for young viewers.

On the other hand, my male friends cannot get enough South Park. There are many inconsistencies between my interpretations and my male friends’ interpretations of the show. Their interpretation of the show lies in its entertainment factor. They are not concerned about who is seeing the content that possibly shouldn’t. They actually enjoy more, the extremely offensive material than the “toned down” scenes. My male friends, and probably most male South Park fans, have a very basic view of the show; it’s funny, witty and current. The only consistency present between these two interpretations is that it is, at least, entertaining.

To offer an example of these interpretations, watch episode #508, the “Towelie” episode (available at the bottom of this blog). The very beginning of the episode is the focus this example. To briefly describe the scene, Cartman finds a used tampon in the trash. When I saw this, I was immediately offended; however, my male friends immediately cracked up laughing. Some might attribute the differences in the interpretations of this scene to the difference in the gender of the interpreters. This possible rationale assumes that men can tolerate and even enjoy explicit material more so than women. This assumption is somewhat stereotypical of masculine and feminine characteristics. For example, in the extreme case of the media’s focus on the women torturers inside Abu Ghraib, as opposed to the male torturers, there is an underlying societal view that women are normally the victims of torture, not the inflictors. According to Cynthia Enloe, “Women were not – according to the conventional presumption – supposed to be the wielders of violence, certainly not the perpetrators of torture.” The intensity of the situation and analysis of Abu Ghraib can be greatly reduced in order to apply this concept to the reason why my, female, interpretation is different from my friends’ male interpretations. Basically, women shouldn’t be the wielders of violence or torture, and nor should they enjoy watching it on television.

The two interpretations that I have analyzed are not the only interpretations of the show; however, they do show that there is a discrepancy between male and female interpretations of South Park. It seems as though the show is intended for a male audience in light of the content. The stereotypes of masculinity and femininity show through the differences in the interpretations, and that is something to consider when analyzing audience interpretations and understandings of South Park.
Enloe, Cynthia. "Wielding Masculinity Inside Abu Ghraib." Asian Journal of Women\'s Studies 10 (2004): 514-523.


Jessie said...

I think that the audience interp. approach was a good choice for your final post and I'm glad to read you've gained an interest in the subject :0)
I was happy to see you use Enloe as a resource, and as you said, it's a reductionist connection between Abu Garib and the used-tampon episode. However, I would have liked to see a clearer analytical connection between the show's content and your analysis of audience.
While I can see why the tendency to use the "audiences ultimately vary based on the individual watching" approach to the topic, it's important to realize that stating the individual interpretation before doing the bulk of your analysis can stifle your own approach and scope of analysis. It's the statement of the issue, the method of analysis, then the individual variations as cause-for-issue, then analysis of issue, that basically forces you into an oversimplified conclusion before you've given yourself a chance to analyze first, and then come to your conclusion. If you avoid reducing the issue to a normative rationale/explanation, you can then really investigate why it is that you would see a gender divide in (this issue also needs specificity geographically and other relevant categories--though here too, the approach to this comparison could be made more difficult because you're using a group of friends as a somewhat paradoxical anecdotal population for evidence collection) the ways which the episode is interpreted.
I can see you've made plenty of progress throughout the semester. Just try to de-individualize your understanding of these various topics (not that it's easy b/c individualism is the cornerstone of the bootstraps-american-dream-work-ethic dogma that many of us were unknowingly raised with--so it's something that you have to realize first before you can unlearn it :o).

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belladonna said...

It ISN'T meant for young viewers, that's why it has a certificate saying so. Young children also get their hands on movies for adults, or TV shows they're not suppose to watch. They should still be aired. If a parent cares that much about a child not seeing it, they won't.

I think if you 'get' the show, it really doesn't matter what gender/ race/ religion/ nationality you are. That's because South Park tends not to mock any of these things but the people who hold opinions ABOUT these things (Like Cartman constantly making anti semitic remarks to Kyle).

I'm a woman also and I don't think there's any issue in gender here. Or race! Like I said, if viewers actually understand South Park and what the jokes are meant to mean they'd see the irony in it. When I've seen people complain about the show it's because they've not watched it properly or it's offended their religion, which I find absurd seeing as how much damage religions do to people and they're not prepared to let a counter opinion air on TV.

Nice article, but I don't see why there's so much fuss about the show.