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David Bowie and Gender Performance - Essay Example

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Your Name Prof’s Name Date David Bowie, Life on Mars, and Gender Performance: A Gendered Analysis of “Life on Mars” David Bowie, like many pop and rock icons, takes a distinct pleasure in pushing the realms of acceptability that his audience has had engrained from an early age…
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David Bowie and Gender Performance
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Download file to see previous pages He, in the words of Philip Auslander, can sing “in many voices and from many subject positions without identifying clearly with any of them” (Auslander 106). By not tying up gender too closely to identity, Bowie is able to demonstrate the degree to which gender is comprised of actions and choices rather than states of being, per se. In David Bowie’s music video “Life on Mars,” Bowie demonstrates and adroit understanding of the relationship between action and gender, putting on and taking off gender as it suits his lyrics and his messaging. David Bowie, more than almost any performer before him, communicated with all the senses available to him: his image was just as important as his sounds. He thus developed images of himself that aided him in delivering messages for his music. For this reason, one of the most prominent examples of Bowie’s deconstruction of music relate to his physical appearance. Our society tends to conflate physical appearance with identity: in race politics, for instance, identity is often a visible feature, and our society goes out of its way to display other identifying marks as openly as possible, with everything from gender based dress code to “hanky-codes” which use handkerchiefs to indicate sexual preferences. The fact is, however, that physical appearance, while informing identity, is not the same thing, especially where gender is concerned. Physical identity relates to gender solely in the “choices” (Butler 903) that are made: the choice to apply this product to one’s face, or the choice to wear a particular style of dress. David Bowie’s music video for “Life on Mars” plays off of this idea of choice through conscious contrasting of different gendered performances. Bowie appears against a white background, wearing extensive face-make up, “womanizing” his face through making aesthetic choices associated with femininity. He brings the performance over the top, applying blue eye liner, pink lipstick, and dark, thick mascara. However, when the camera pans out, it is apparent Bowie chooses to wear a suit, complete with a tie – one of the overriding symbols of patriarchal control of our society, and one of the few styles of dress that, even in the era in which he was performing, was still relatively confined to male use. He thus deconstructs gender into presentation choices by presenting both masculinity and femininity on one body, and embracing what each entails easily with the flick of a camera and a change in focus. Bowie uses this divergence to great effect when combined with the lyrics. “Life on Mars” consists of a series of surreal images that flash one after the other, including “cavemen” and “lawmen” attacking the wrong person (Bowie). He thus plays his female persona’s criticism against the ridiculousness of patriarchal control while at the same time referencing that patriarchal control’s influence over the character, through masculine clothing on the presumably female character. By referencing the brutality associated with masculine violence from the perspective of a woman – a gender that he chooses to portray rather than is assigned by sex, Bowie is able to demonstrate how such violence is not natural but rather a choice made as a way of defining and participating in particular gendered groupings. There are few artists in the world who have been as willing as David Bowie to ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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