Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Cold War, Hot Bods The Male Gaze

Steffen-Fluhr’s analysis of Invasion of the Body Snatcher productively complicates what I had originally read as a cold-war drama. Steffen-Fluhr, reading Siegel’s commentary about conformity and love, adds an additional layer to this bizarre film. If, as Steffen-Fluhr suggests, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an expression of anxieties about conformity and the collapse of gender roles (Steffen-Fluhr 143) are we to take the film as a description of current affairs or a prophetic warning of what may come?

Like one of the students in Steffen-Fluhr’s class, I too am separated by the social conventions of 1950’s America. Most of what I know about that time period is refracted trough the colorless (sexless and raceless) prism of an American secondary education. The 1950’s, in my social imagination, is a time of distressing conformity. For me, Siegel’s film was a reflection of an already dominant system of conformity: the cast is filled with “respectable looking” white men and women. The film doesn’t present alternative ways of life as viable options for experience the world; there is no message of diversity or expansive understanding so much as a reductive binary. Either you succumb to the forces of alienation (and become an alien) or resist at all costs to keep out the unnamed and unidentifiable other. As a 21st century viewer, however, each of Siegel’s options strikes me as woefully insufficient.

The film suggests no escape, or even alternative to alien domination, I suggest, because Siegel is heavily invested in the patriarchal norms which governed 1950’s America. Reading the film as a reaction to white male anxieties about increasing equality between individuals sexed as male or female, it’s obvious why Siegel might frame the film in terms of a strict binary. Either men run things, or the aliens (women) do. Siegel is ignorant of the possibility that his anxieties are rooted in the loss of his privileged position as a white man. Siegel is not so much warning his fellow men of what will happen so much as announce what has already happened: a weakening of the divisions between men and women, American and Communist and us and them. When a multiplicity of equally valid interpretations erupts from what was once a binary relationship, Siegel and the white hetero-patriarchy that he represents, is visibly threatened. The result is a film “committed resolutely to macho principles-dangerously narrow, only half-human, a world devoid of rest, receptivity, growth, and an empathetic acceptance of otherness” (Steffen-Fluhr 149).


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