Gendered Technologies


This casting of the spectator as a child in the Indianapolis News is also indicative of the infantilized cultural position discursively assigned to cinema in the late nineteenth century. Similarly, the contrast made by Richard Harding Davis between the warrior-journalist and the unconcerned film spectator is intended to highlight the differences between the two, since for Davis the real dangers faced by the war correspondent are antithetical to the safe haven of the vaudeville theater seat. At the same time, the very mention of the novel film medium points to its changing status in U.S. media culture and is symptomatic of the dizzying array of discourses negotiating film's "place" in the hierarchy of fin-de-siecle American culture.

By positing the "active" print journalist and writer in opposition to the "unconcerned" gaze of the passive (and by comparison cowardly and less manly) film spectator, Davis's comments are a striking example of the metaphorical positioning of mass culture as modernism's feminine "other" (Petro Joyless Streets; Huyssen "Mass Culture"). Indeed, Davis presents the cinema as journalism's other by situating film viewing and film culture as "feminine" in opposition to the "masculine" pursuits of print journalism within the manly territory and discursive terrain of print culture. This "comparison between residual and emerging modes of representation" and the value attached to each (Petro, "Mass Culture and the Feminine" 9) was ubiquitous in popular and academic discourses about film in the 1890s.

The movement in 1897-1898 toward developing and exploiting cinema's role as a "visual newspaper" reflects an attempt of the part of the film industry to bring "hard" news (or what Billy Bitzer called "news happenings") to the American public through in addition to "softer" vaudeville entertainment. Patrick Loughney reports that "[t]he Spanish-American War. . .was surprisingly well covered by the Edison company, which registered fifty-five films in the over all [military] genre in 1898" (145), and Allen notes that the increased "proportion of total motion picture output devoted to news. . .[increased] from 2.2 percent in 1897 to 35.2 percent in 1898, while all other categories either declined or remained the same" (Film and Vaudeville 139). Thus, while the "yellow" journals were being accused of delegitimizing journalism with their sensationalized reporting, the cinema's indexicality, and the putative association of an unmediated access to the real, allowed the film industry to exploit these aesthetic advantages over print media, which it did through a complicity with the newspaper industry. The increase in actualities and "news happening" further demonstrates that this historical moment marks a renegotiation of the gendered connotations of film genres, the gendered composition of the film audience, and the status of the cinematic apparatus in the hierarchical scheme of U.S. media culture.

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