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NWSA Journal 15.2 (2003) 227-228

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Framed: Lesbians, Feminists, and Media Culture by Judith Mayne. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000, 224 pp., $18.95 paper.

The relationship between feminism and the mass media has long been a tenuous one. Many have documented the problematic representations in film, television, press coverage, advertising, and popular music. The literature is wide in scope and discusses everything from the possible "real world" effects of representations of gender, sexuality, race, and class (e.g., body image, rape, etc.) to the ways in which particular mediums such as film and television represent sites for theoretical investigation. Judith Mayne, professor of French and Women's Studies at Ohio State University, offers her new book, Framed: Lesbians, Feminists, and Media Culture, to this growing area of feminist scholarship. Framed is a sophisticated examination of various mass-mediated texts, which focuses less on developing theory and more on using theory to analyze particular texts. With a focus on particular representations of feminists and lesbians, Mayne engages each site with theoretical rigor.

Mayne begins her book with a brief discussion of feminist critical media theory. Working from poststructural and psychoanalytic "foundations," Mayne is quick to note that her goal is less about developing theory than it is about revealing how psychoanalytic and poststructural theories can lend insight into certain mass-mediated texts. The book is then divided into three sections. The first section, "Cherchez la Femme Fatale," examines Marlene Dietrich (focusing on the film, The Blue Angel) and French films La Cérémonie and Les Diaboliques with its American re-make Diabolique. By looking at these texts, Mayne provides an intriguing analysis of various articulations of the femme fatale. She accomplishes this by blending Laura Mulvey's psychoanalytic film theories with other issues of performance, star personae, and historical/contextual constraints.

The second section, "In and Out: Feminism in Mass Culture" moves away from film criticism and examines a variety of texts, including: films such as Tightrope, the popular television show L.A. Law, and the more general phenomenon of figure skating--in particular, the Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding controversy. Psychoanalytic issues of the female spectator make a few cameo appearances in this section, as do discussions of genre (women in prison films), and the often-debated relationship between men and feminism. In the final section, "Lesbian Looks," Mayne makes a notable shift from some mainstream texts to look at what is obscure (to mainstream American audiences). As the section title indicates, again, feminist psychoanalysis makes its mark on discussions of the gaze, authorship, and familial relationships. [End Page 227]

Generally, I found that the book displays careful and sophisticated critical work. The level of theoretical depth in her readings is remarkable, as is her blending of various elements that should be considered in particular readings, such as genre, camera angles, and narrative recuperation strategies. However, while all of these elements seem particularly important for some texts, they drop out of other analyses with no explanation. With her particular focus on narrative structures the actual medium of the various texts seems to get lost in her analysis. So, as genre, camera angles, or historical/contextual analysis seem to be important in some of the texts, Mayne neglects to take such things into consideration in others.

Of particular interest to those in Women's Studies who teach courses in feminist media criticism, or for those who wish to begin considering the work done by feminist media critics, Mayne's rigorous analyses may seem a bit daunting for newcomers to the conversation. Although I think Framed does add to an ongoing debate in feminist media criticism, the reader should have a thorough background in such theory to engage those analyses. Framed neglects to offer much theoretical explanation, discussion of literature already published on many of the texts, or a concluding section to tie all the analyses into a more general argument. However, this criticism should not be taken as a dismissal of the text. Framed offers insights into a variety of texts in a way that reveal Mayne's theoretical sophistication...


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