On Cinema Violence and Lara Logan's Assault in Egypt

Polina Slavcheva

Jan 26, 2011

"For the female spectator there is a certain over-presence of the image - she is the image." ¶Mary Ann Doane in "Film and the Masquerade" I recently saw Ang Lee's Lust, Caution, which had many scenes of sexual and psychological violence. For many of you, this will perhaps be a normal movie, with an almost insignificant amount of violence. Compared to Inglourious Basterds (if Inglourious Basterds is, let's say, a 10), Lust, Caution must be a 1. (As a spy, the woman in the movie had also agreed to be in the situation she was in, much like Logan in Egypt). But the movie upset me to the extent that I couldn't talk for hours afterwards (as it often happens after I watch a violent movie) and I had to stream a documentary about dogs to snap out of it. But after watching the dog movie, I made the mistake to wander into Facebook and read about journalist Lara Logan's assault in Egypt (she was stripped and severely beaten with poles). What went wrong with this combination is that it made me feel like screaming "What are you doing to me?" as if I was little short of being both Logan and the girl in the movie at the same time. The quote in the beginning is there because I've been wondering if my overreaction has more to do with my being a female spectator of violence than with my being a poet. The way both left and right commentators saw Logan's assault as somehow caused by her liberal beliefs and political correctness, her beauty, her sexual life, or her willingness to take risks, made me think of the many angles from which cameras "see" women on a movie screen. But men? Men always have so much privacy. In a movie with nudity they are rarely fully naked (if they are, the movie gets an NC-17, and no filmmaker really wants that). In the same way, male journalists beaten in Egypt do not exactly become the center of news. (Anderson Cooper is an exception; perhaps because he is also a celebrity, but he was not exactly attacked from all sides for causing his own beating). But I see reports that scores of journalists were beaten during the protests in Egypt (see here too). In general, both male and female correspondents become the victims of rape, killing, maiming and wounding in war zones. So how is Lara Logan different from a male victim of violence? And if male correspondents have been raped at war, why do I not remember such a story becoming the center of news? It seems that something in our culture has long made sexually assaulted females far more worthy of being looked at than sexually assaulted men. This reminds me of Laura Mulvey's idea of the male gaze: men watch women; women watch themselves being watched. Why is it not "women watch women (or men)," but women watch themselves being watched? Why the passivity? Salon.com has an interesting article on the scarcity of female directors in cinema that, to me, explains a lot. Most contemporary cinema is made by men, and movies made by women still often take their cues from those of men (either because they have to in order to get funding, or because of artistic, mentor influence, etc. I am not sure a cinema equivalent of ecriture feminine is out there yet, or that it can be fashioned as easily as literary ecriture feminine having in mind the way the movie industry works, and I am also not sure exactly what it would look like. When I think, however, of those movies by female directors I could call particularly "womanly," I remember them portraying men as vulnerable as men often like to portray women (Jane Campion's Sweetie comes to mind). I guess here I want to cast my vote for more such movies appearing out there. Lust, Caution appeared to me to be one such movie because it allowed men to look unsettled and vulnerable and this way also happened to succeed in explaining a lot of what stands behind their acts of violence.