Legally Blonde



(100 points possible)


“There is no need for arms, physical violence, material constraints. Just a gaze. An inspecting gaze, a gaze that each individual under its weight will end by [internalising] to the point that they are their own overseer, each individual thus exercising surveillance over, and against themself.” 
― Michel Foucault


In this assignment, students will write a 3- to 5-page essay applying Laura Mulvey’s theory of the “male gaze”—as developed in her articles “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” and “Afterthoughts on ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’”—to a film of their choosing.(It cannot be a film you’ve already used for another assignment in class). Students will be able to appraise and employ a theoretical lens of analysis that is appropriate to a filmic object and demonstrate through one of the following steps:

Affirm and Defend

In this type of essay, you would demonstrate how Mulvey’s argument is effective in describing and analyzing the cinematic pleasures of the film you have selected. However, this essay should not just be a catalogue of your points of agreement with her. Instead, you must try to imagine the disagreements someone could have with a Mulveyan account of your chosen film, and attempt to counter these possible objections, showing how Mulvey’s framework answers such potential rebuttals.

Extend and Complicate

Here, your essay would begin by showing how the film you have chosen can be explained, for the most part, by Mulvey’s theory. However, you would also point out elements of the film that Mulvey’s model does not seem to account for. You would show your reader, though, that rather than contradict her argument, these elements allow us to elaborate on, and thus strengthen, her theoretical framework (think here of Mulvey’s own elaborations in the “Afterthoughts” article).

Challenge and Refute

In this type of essay, you would argue that the film you have chosen demonstrates a fatal flaw in Mulvey’s argument—that there are significant elements of visual pleasure in the film that Mulvey can neither account for, nor could her model be modified to include them. An essay in this mode, like Affirm and Defend, must be careful to imagine potential objections to your argument—which, here, would be Mulveyan rejoinders to your criticism. Your essay must attempt to answer these possible rebuttals.

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