Contemporary media is characterized by a considerable degree of violence, nudity, and inappropriate behavior. Some may argue that TV shows reflect the wrongs of the world, but this assumption is only a half-truth. It is rather naïve to expect that male filmmakers could be less dominating or concentrated on their power compared to other men living in this reality. Society can still be researched from the patriarchal perspective as the concepts of conflict, power, and dominance are still central (Hunnicutt 553). Remarkably, the belief that everyone sells is relevant as men try to sell themselves to achieve a higher position, which makes the word “whore” applicable in many settings and possessing many meanings. It is possible to analyze two scenes from the TV shows in question to consider the meanings behind the depiction of violence against women (VaW) and the use of the word “whore.”
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Relevance of the Topic
It is pivotal to explore the display of VaW due to its prevalence in the media as well as the societies that proclaim democratic principles. For instance, although women in developed countries such as the USA or Canada enjoy various rights and occupy quite a high position in political and business spheres, thousands of females are still victimized. Violence against women is now regarded as one of the most serious health issues to be addressed on the national level (Krantz and Garcia-Moreno 818). VaW is referred to as an act leading to “physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts” (United Nations General Assembly). The increasing level of violence in the media and people’s lives can be associated with the reign of patriarchal beliefs and norms. The exploration of the link between VaW and patriarchal principles is essential as it can help in developing proper strategies to diminish violence in American society.
Key Terms and Definitions
It is also critical to examine the use of the word “whore” in the media due to several reasons. Firstly, the word is widely utilized in films and TV shows as well as people’s daily life. Secondly, the term is employed in a meaning that is different from its original definitions. Primary meanings of “whore” include a “prostitute” and a female who “has many sexual partners” (“Whore”). However, the word seems to acquire new meanings that are associated with humiliation, the idea of female inferiority, and patriarchal values. This research is based on the assumption that the utilization of the term “whore” in contemporary society has become common due to the prevalence of patriarchal standards and beliefs. This language item has become a form of violence against women as well as an instrument of control.
At this point, it is essential to introduce another key term that will guide this research. The concept of betrayal is dominant in the depiction of the relationship between genders in the TV shows under analysis. Betrayal can be defined as an act of being “disloyal to someone who trusts you, so that they are harmed or upset” (“Betrayal”). People start thinking about betrayal when their expectations are not met and when the ones they believe they can trust do some unexpected things. Trust is central to any kind of relationship, be it business or romance. When trust is compromised, partners find it difficult to maintain the existing relationship.
The concept of trust also needs certain consideration as it can be seen as a form of control or exercising power. In a way, trust is grounded on the premise that the person acts within certain boundaries and is eager to meet the expectations of the one who trusts them. In simple terms, people who trust other individuals believe that they control the situation. This notion is specifically apparent in the scene from The Sopranos, but it can be traced in Sons of Anarchy as well.
TV Shows Background Information
The shows depict the life of people related to criminal sub-cultures. The Sopranos is a show set in New Jersey that follows the life of Tony Soprano the head of an Italian-American criminal society. The protagonist has to balance his family life and his role as the leader of the group. The depictions related to the life of an ordinary American family are intermingled with the scenes of assassinations, fights, and other types of anti-social activities. A considerable part of the show, including the scenes under analysis, is set in the Bada Bing! the strip club where the members of the criminal society have rest and do business. Ralphie and Tracee are central characters to the scene in question. Ralphie is a member of the mafia who has quite a low status in society and tries to receive a promotion. Tracee is a 20-year-old stripper at Bada Bing! who claims that she is carrying Ralphie’s child.
The show Sons of Anarchy revolves around the protagonist Jax who is the vice-president of an outlaw motorcycle gang called Sons of Anarchy. Jax has a high position in this criminal community as his father founded it, but the young man’s rank is not secured, and he has to constantly reassert his authority. Society is involved in various criminal activities including burglary and murder. They also run a strip club among other businesses, and Jax makes sure that the venture is profitable and properly managed. Jax tends to employ various tools to achieve the established goals. The young man utilizes violence as one of the central instruments.
Brief Summary of the Scenes Under Analysis
Two scenes from two TV shows have been chosen due to their similar display of VaW and the overall concepts of power and gender roles. One of the scenes is from Sons of Anarchy, and the other one comes from The Sopranos. Both depict an interaction between male and female characters who have a sexual relationship. In both relationships, men dominate the females who are strippers. Their occupation and social status are central to the discussion of VaW due to their exposure to violence. Female sex workers are often seen as a “particular class of woman” who is “suited to stripping or who is less deserving of safety and sexual freedom” (qt. in Johnson). These females are at the lowest level of the social hierarchy as they are even lower than the rest of the women who have another (more respectable) status in society. Female sex workers are often socially marginalized and underprivileged and are prone to victimization, which is reflected in the scenes under analysis.
The male characters, Ralphie and Jax, see themselves as being within marginalized groups because of the confrontations that they have with the rest of society by violating some principles and laws. However, these men are in a higher place of power in their subgroups as compared to the women. At this point, it is important to stress that although the characters in these shows do not comply with many laws and moral values of the larger American society, they try to follow certain standards (Johnson). They have families and try to be similar to the rest of the society, at least, in one aspect of their life.
Illusions of Female Domination
It is noteworthy that the clips in question start with the depiction of the domination of women by men that proves to be a product of their delusion. Women seem to believe that their sexuality and some feminine qualities (pregnancy in Tracee’s case) can put them into the position of the one who is in charge. Nevertheless, in seconds it becomes clear that the female characters are mistaken and have to pay a high price for their errors. Importantly, this kind of delusion is also a byproduct of the patriarchal society where women are supposed to be beautiful and submissive, the ones who address males’ needs. Certain clichés emerge due to these views on gender roles, and women try to find their ways to exercise power within the scope of given rights. In simple terms, females are granted the right to be beautiful and sexy, so females try to make their sexuality a means to achieve certain goals.
The use of sexuality as a female instrument of control is depicted in the scene from the show Sons of Anarchy. The scene starts with Jax, one of the leaders of a gang, following a stripper who seems to be in control over the situation (“Jax Hitting the Prostitute”). The woman is smiling and starting to undress, and she is seemingly in control of the sexual power which she possesses over the men. However, the overall mood of the scene changes abruptly as Jax hits the girl and verbally abuses her as he holds his hand on her neck as if he is ready to strangle her.
The Use of Music
In this scene, the back music is quite romantic, but it intensifies and serves as an emphasis to display the destroyed dignity of the female. The music illustrates the argument discussed above and enhances the effect of the scene. The romantic portion at the beginning stands for the world of the woman with her beliefs and ideas, as well as her delusions, but the intensified piece depicts the men’s world with its harsh rules and the focus on domination. The filmmakers put an emphasis on the second part of the scene where the status of the man as a superior human being is manifested with the use of VaW.
Extreme Violence and Settings
The Sopranos scene similarly, begins with a dominant position of the female character, Tracee, who reveals her dissatisfaction with the behavior of her sexual partner, Ralph Cifaretto. Tracee is a stripper who faces social issues attached to the stigma of her chosen profession, but she dreams about a home “suburban, normal, loving, tidily poised at the end curve of a New Jersey cul-de-sac” (Johnson). The woman is supposedly pregnant with Ralph’s child and tries to use this fact to exercise her power. However, the man brutally breaks her dreams by pointing at Tracee’s low social position. The girl tries to question Ralphie’s power by verbally confronting him and even heating him in his face (“Ralph Beaten and Murdered Girl Tracee”). The girl does little harm to the man in terms of his physical state but damages his sense of masculinity. Nevertheless, in order to regain his higher status (according to the patriarchal paradigm he follows), he violently attacks the girl beating her to death.
The brutality of the scene is enhanced with the use of the urban setting. The murder takes place in the street near the strip club. It is dark and only distant sounds of moving cars can be heard. The gloomy setting is suggestive as it reflects the life of Tracee, as well as any other stripper, whose life passes mainly in the nighttime. The setting plays an important role in telling the story of the stripper and the tragic end of her life. The filmmakers create the atmosphere radiating violence as the dirty street is commonplace for violent crimes including murder. These places are free from any laws of the society just like the life of the stripper does not count for many. Tracee was left alone with the male who was in control of her life since he could marry her and improve her social status but did not do it.
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The choice of camera angles is also illustrative in terms of the depiction of VaW in the TV shows under analysis. At the beginning of both scenes, the filmmakers employ over-the-shoulder shots that are commonly used to depict a conversation between characters. Notably, the female characters are wearing high heels, which makes them taller than their partners. This camera angle is instrumental in displaying women’s dominance in the first part of the scenes. However, the filmmakers choose low angles when depicting the acts of violence. The victims are lying while men use their physical power. Again, the filmmakers try to enhance the effect of the scene of the attempts to question males’ power and punishment that follows. The use of such contrasts is instrumental in creating a specific (patriarchal) picture of the world. The focus on punishment and horrible consequences for females in the shows serves as not a mere depiction of the society but a suggested framework to follow.
The Use of the Word “Whore”
The major opposing detail between the two scenes is the way in which this power is illustrated and performed. Jax intimidates the woman and points at her place in the club using the word “whore” and spitting upon her face. As mentioned above, the man does not utilize the primary meaning of the term “whore” (a female having many sexual partners or a prostitute) but focuses on the new attributes of the verbal unit. The word acquires the connotation of the creature with the lowest status in society. It can be regarded as a verbal form of spitting in the face and walking all over the person. This brutal act is utilized in the show to reveal the male’s dominance while the language highlights and enhances the woman’s low position. In this scene, the man strips the woman of her dignity using physical force and verbal humiliation. Notably, the use of violence in this scene is hardly justified, and it seems that the filmmakers do not reflect the reality but construct the reality based on their own beliefs and vision or fantasies.
In The Sopranos scene, Ralph also uses the word “whore” as a means of showing disrespect and dominance. The man emphasizes that Tracee has no right or power to expect any social privilege such as proper family life. The girl would be happy to have a family with such attributes of the American way of life as a house in a suburban area and strong family values. However, when she tries to prove her true value and defend her dignity, Ralph uses violence. He hits the girl and does not stop until she is lying dead on the ground. This scene is characterized by an excessive level of brutality where a man has no limits and feels that he has the right to take a female’s life. When he sees the dead body of the woman carrying his child, he shows no sign of remorse or compassion since the girl is not worth it according to his beliefs.
VaW in the Media
At this point, it is necessary to consider the concept of betrayal that is recurrent in the TV shows under analysis. Betrayal and even trade are characteristic features of the two scenes as men punish females for their disobedience, betrayal of the established relationships, and questioning male power. VaW is depicted as males’ response to the act of betrayal or an act of punishment. Females dared to question males’ authority and their right to make decisions and distribute roles, which led to such consequences. Johnson states that the concept of prostitution can be easily traced in Ralph’s life. Such components as trade and trust, as well as position and prestige, are important for the analysis of this claim. Ralphie is trying to sell himself to become a respected member of the mafia.
This member of the criminal group tries to win more authority or sell himself at the highest possible price. Because of the way that he sells himself I argue that he can also be referred to as a “whore” who sells certain services for some gains. This fact might be one of the reasons Ralph uses the word “whore” when attacking Tracee. Subconsciously, he feels he is a “whore” but tries not to think about it. Finally, the concept of trade is manifested in Ralph’s attitude towards the young girl. The man sees her as a kind of commodity or a means of deriving pleasure. Likewise, Jax believes that every girl in the show, including the one he beats, is the property of the club and his property in a certain way.
Patriarchal Principles and VaW
These views are constructed within the limits of the patriarchal perspective, according to which men, who are superior, are in complete control over women who are inferior. Patriarchal conventions are associated with a stern social stratification and hierarchy where men are at the top (Hunnicutt 564). In highly patriarchal societies, fathers are still regarded as a major source of justice for family members. These patriarchal family values are only some of the numerous manifestations of males’ dominance in the modern world. In sub-cultures, leaders of certain communities take up the role of the father who is responsible for awarding and punishing. Due to the rules and instruments used in such circles, punishment often takes the form of physical violence. The scene from The Sopranos is suggestive as Ralphie punished the girl for disobedience and betrayal while Tony, the leader of the criminal group, punishes the man for his disrespect and violence against a young girl.
The scenes under consideration can serve as an illustration of the way patriarchal society affects the media and impacts people’s minds through media. The high position of males is regarded as well-established and justified due to the superior view of men according to the patriarchal perspective. Historically, men are seen as human beings who are capable of making strategic decisions and maintaining proper order (Hunnicutt 553). Traditionally females are viewed as creatures who can hardly contribute to the development of society and whose responsibilities should be confined to families and households (Hunnicutt 562). In simple terms, men have gained absolute power and have the right to assign tasks to be performed by women. Moreover, men also have the power to punish females (with or without reasons) and even decide whether their subordinates can live or should die. The scenes under analysis are an illustration of the most extreme manifestation of the patriarchal approach.
Some people may declare that the level of gender equality has become unprecedentedly high, but it is far from being the truth. As Hunnicutt puts it, the term patriarchal, although mainly abandoned, can still be applied to society because it is still characterized by conflict and dominance (553). Miklitsch states that filmmakers tend to utilize a considerable amount of violence and nudity to popularize their media products (181). In other words, modern society longs for the display of these aspects of life due to the governance of patriarchal values and beliefs.
The vicious circle related to the spread of violence includes filmmakers who show VaW and viewers who buy such products. The humiliation and dominance are depicted in detail and promoted by the creators of the TV shows in question. The filmmakers of The Sopranos claimed that they tried to draw people’s attention to people’s vices and initiate the corresponding discourse (Johnson). However, no negative attitude towards male characters’ actions can be found in their depictions of a moral vice, as even the first thing the head of the criminal group says when he sees the girl’s dead body is related to disrespecting the place. He reveals some sorrow concerning the death of the young girl only after exerting his dominance to a point of finality. The scene from Sons of Anarchy ends with Jax leaving the room and the girl lying on the floor, wretched and humiliated, but no sign of compassion is present. The filmmakers put an emphasis on this position, and the camera looks down on the stripper.
The reaction of the audience (or rather its male part) is similar to the one Jax and Ralphie, as well as any other man, display. An illustration of the perspective of the audience is the commentaries below the video clips on YouTube. People’s reactions to the display of violence also show the extent to which VaW is tolerated in modern society. Clearly, the number of comments is insufficient to generalize the results of the analysis, but they still represent certain trends that exist in society.
As far as the scene from Sons of Anarchy is concerned, the viewers (who are predominantly males) have a negative attitude towards a woman and approve of Jax’s behavior (“Jax Hitting the Prostitute”). They see the protagonist’s actions as a proper way to punish the girl and point at her low position. Interestingly, one of the comments is the word “whore” in capital letters, which can be regarded as a manifestation of the influence of the media. The viewer calls the female character a whore, which resonates with Jax’s verbal violence against the woman. Another commentary includes a regret that Jax is not more violent and “didn´t went all “Irréversible” style on her,” which “would have been good” (“Jax Hitting the Prostitute”). It is clear that after watching scenes of violence, the only discussion that takes place, in this case, is associated with the need to display more VaW.
It is noteworthy that the comments below the video clip featuring Ralphie and Tracee are very different from the ones discussed above. The viewers reveal their disapproval of the male character’s actions and express their sorrow as to the girl’s horrible death (“Ralph Beaten and Murdered Girl Tracee”). It seems that the filmmakers achieved their goal and drew people’s attention to such burning issues as domestic violence or VaW. The discussion evolves around the cruelty against women as well as violence displayed in the media. Male and female viewers express similar opinions on the matter and emphasize that Ralphie needs to be punished for his crime.
Again, some viewers use the word “whore” and state that even such a woman does not deserve this kind of death. Importantly, commentators seem to share the opinion that sex workers or indecent women are in some way inferior to respectable females. People still put an emphasis on the social position of the girl and tend to believe that cruelty and violence are typical of the sex industry. VaW in such sub-groups is seen as a norm so the fact that the young woman is killed is not shocking. The way she is killed is what impresses viewers most.
One of the comments is specifically valuable and reflects the hypocrisy of the filmmakers and the patriarchal society. The viewer under the nick Dave Hansen expresses his discontent with the fact that Tony beats Ralphie for the latter’s killing a girl but murders him for killing a horse later in the show (“Ralph Beaten and Murdered Girl Tracee”). Dave Hansen stresses that the life of a horse seems to be more valuable than a young woman’s life. This idea is also relevant when Tony’s first reaction is depicted. The head of the criminal group talks about disrespect to the place rather than the murder of an innocent girl. The filmmakers reveal the hierarchy of values in the patriarchal world where female life is made equal to the safety of some property.
It is possible to state the close reading of two scenes unveils the peculiarities of the use of violence in the media. The TV shows under analysis reflect the major trends taking place in society, but they also inflict filmmakers’ vision on the matter. The scenes under consideration serve as a bright illustration of the relationships between men and women outside the boundaries of respectable society. Women of a certain class (usually sex workers) are regarded as victimized objects of trade. Men are supposed to dominate, and females are expected to be submissive, which is the foundation of the existing world order. The scenes are void of any satire or preaching but seem to be a guide for people to follow where gender roles are distributed in accordance with patriarchal values. The reactions of the audience show that the depiction of brutality tends to evoke more violence or the need to watch more violent scenes. Although the scenes also aroused a discussion of domestic violence and VaW, patriarchal views were apparent and sometimes dominant.
“Betrayal.” Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online, Web.
Hunnicutt, Gwen. “Varieties of Patriarchy and Violence Against Women: Resurrecting “Patriarchy” as a Theoretical Tool.” Violence Against Women, vol. 15, no. 5, 2009, pp. 553-573.
“Jax Hitting the Prostitute – Sons of Anarchy.” YouTube, uploaded by lalalalalalaa3, 2014, Web.
Johnson, Lisa. “The Stripper as Resisting Reader: Stripper Iconography and Sex Worker Feminism on The Sopranos.” Feminist Television Studies: The Case of HBO, 2004, Web.
Krantz, Gunilla, and Claudia Garcia-Moreno. “Violence Against Women.” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, vol. 59, no. 10, 2005, pp. 818-821.
Miklitsch, Robert. “Shot/Counter-shot: Sexuality, Psychoanalysis, and Postmodern Style in The Sopranos.” New Review of Film and Television Studies, vol. 2, no. 2, 2004, pp. 181-209.
“Ralph Beaten and Murdered Girl Tracee – The Sopranos.” YouTube, uploaded by TonySoprano. 2012, Web.
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