Thursday, 8 March 2018

Why Jennifer Lawrence is a Literal Nazi

Let's say you see a photo of a woman on a bitterly cold day.

At first glance there's not much wrong with it. It's just some random chick in a black dress. Happens all the time. But then you notice that the dudes standing next to her are all wrapped up. Like seriously. They might as well be Cossacks, you know?

Then you start thinking about the contexts of the photo. It's not a bunch of randoms. It's a bunch of famous people.

Now, you're not stupid. You know that "candid" photos of famous people are posed. And this photo actually looks posed. This is a calculated photo. Everything that we see happening in it reflects some sort of purpose.

The conclusion you reach isn't inevitable. It isn't even the most likely one given this framework. But it is reasonable.

You start to type...
Gender expectations force actress to endure bitter cold whilst male co-stars get to be nice and snug.
This was all a real story but that quote isn't. And the reason it isn't, is because people love to allude, imply and suggest. But that's not good enough here. I need something which explicitly articulates its thoughts. And because this is a brief distraction, I'm not going to conduct a more thorough search. So I wrote that. But the story is real.

I've talked before about how context isn't a smoking gun. It can do a lot to make an argument more or less plausible but the challenge as a ThinkerTM is to decide what context... and how to incorporate it.

The truth is pretty obvious... men and women are expected to wear different things. If we want to be crude about things we'd say that Feminine Dress Sense doesn't exist. Clothes are objects of purpose, but how women are "meant" to look disregards all purposes other than "beautification". That's not sensible. Not in the way we say "wear sensible shoes" when we write permission slips for school trips.

Now, we might say that these standards are sexist. They fairly clearly are. Men can't dress stupidly and women can't dress sensibly. That's sexist. But is Jennifer Lawrence's beautiful/risque/black/choose your adjective dress evidence of this social problem? Couldn't she just choose to look that way? It's not as if "fashion" doesn't have, e.g. fur coats.

Of course Jennifer Lawrence can choose to wear a particular dress. She felt like the dress was "gorgeous" and wanted to show it off. She says she "love[s] fashion". It could have been even colder and she'd still wear it. (Although I do wonder how often this dress is worn/will be worn again.) All very personal, right?

Except it's not really.

The truth is that nothing about any of us is entirely endogenous.

I go to university because I want to. But the reasons why I want to are shaped by a great many cultural narratives. And past experiences. And structural settings which allow me to take on an interest free loan.

Similarly, Lawrence is a 27 year old woman raised in a society which (a) praises physical appearance, (b) values her specific appearance, (c) expects women to look good, (d) says wanting to look good is good (and not caring is bad) and (e) says the kind of dress she wore is "gorgeous". These are vital contexts which we shouldn't really ignore.

On the other hand...Lawrence (a) was the most prominent victim of a nude photo hack a couple of years ago, (b) would count as a "plus size" model if she started doing (more of?) that and (c) has a track record of speaking her mind. Again, vital contexts we shouldn't ignore. It's just that this time they suggest agency rather than automation.

The truth is that the argument from context reveals that every decision every single one of us makes is conditioned by "civilisation". We are all, every day, Roger on the beach, throwing rocks. And we are all Bernard, not Helmholtz. But we shouldn't see this as saying we have no agency. Rather we should see it as affirming that all agency is conditional. That yes there are all sorts of reasons why you'd expect Lawrence to wear something like that dress, but that it matters enormously that within those dynamics she's still able to choose. And did. And does.

This is a very, very scary point of view. It's why you'd be a Nazi in 1930s Germany. It's why I'd be a Nazi in 1930s Germany. It's why Lawrence would be a Nazi in 1930s Germany. But it's also a reminder of why this doesn't make us evil... only human. And in that respect it's time we frighten ourselves. A lot.

Disclaimer... I don't think I've ever seen a movie with Jennifer Lawrence in? I have seen her on the Graham Norton Show, though. Also, lol, clickbait. But at least I explained the damn headline.

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