Critical Writing Paper #6
Writing for the Pop Culture class
ANTH 113: Ethnograpies of Popular Culture
For our current readings I chose Davis' "Shotgun Wedlock: Annie Oakley's Power Politics in the Wild West," as well as Liebes and Katz' "The Export of Meaning: Cross-Cultural Readings of 'Dallas'." Davis' article was fascinating; it compared Oakley's and Butler's shooting act with magic, illusion, and prestidigitation shows, both modern and of that time; explored the recurrent themes of sexism and violence against women in such shows; noted the lack of deception and the apparent reversal of gender roles in the Oakley and Butler act; and concluded that the act was a power inversion rather than a challenge to the established sex roles of the time.
The Liebes and Katz article is an interesting exploration of how different cultures translate the same American-made product. A Proppian model was used to categorize 3 types of cultural reactions to "Dallas": linear, segmented, and thematic. One can also see by the article that "Dallas" is quite definitely in the category of lowbrow art. Several examples of this are easily discerned, as Levine pointed out in his book Highbrow/Lowbrow. For example, the story is endlessly permutative rather than fixed; the audience is participative in its speech, talking both before, during, and after the show; and the audience frequently came to mutual (rather than individual) concensus in applauding or disapproving of the actions of the actors on the screen. However, as someone with little or no interest in soap operas, I'd love to read a study on the reasons for why "Dallas" failed in certain countries.
I find myself fascinated by the Oakley and Butler gender role reversals. While I realize it is just wild speculation, I cannot help but wonder if perhaps Butler was a woman passing as a man. It seems to me amazing that a man of the time would be so comfortable with his masculinity as to allow himself to be an unbilled and unpaid assistant to his famous wife. Furthermore, Davis mentions in the article the enormous flexibility of the romanticized "Western Woman" -- surely if a woman could dress, ride, drink, shoot, and swear like a man it would also be possible to pass as one? This would also explain the couple never having any children, Oakley keeping her own last name in a time where this was virtually unheard of, and Oakley's lack of desire to create an oppositional sexuality, since doing such would potentially demand her husband prove his masculinity -- a difficult thing to do if Butler were indeed female. While I know it is unprovable and most probably merely a personal fiction, I admit I would find myself applauding the cleverness of the couple were it true.
Last Updated: Tues Mar 23 1999