Ethical Values Associated With the Portrayal of Women in Horror Movies Research Proposal

Pages: 7 (2616 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 8  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Film

¶ … communication in the media. Specifically it will discuss ethical values associated with the portrayal of women in horror films. Typically, the portrayal of women in horror films is negative, sexist, and violent. Filmmakers portray the women as victims - helpless in the face of brutal attacks. They rarely have the ability to fight back, and when they win against the enemy, they are somehow seen as less "feminine" or womanly. Think of the Ripley character in "Alien," a tough, no-nonsense woman who wins, but is certainly not feminine or womanly in any sense of the word. When women win against the males in these films, they become more like men themselves. The ethical values of these films is practically nil, especially when it comes to the women they portray in them.

Horror films as we know them today made their debut in the 1920s and 1930s, when Hollywood cranked out such hits as "Frankenstein," and "Dracula." Those early films are quite tame by today's horror standards, and that is part of the problem where the ethics of these films are concerned. In the 30s, women were victims in the films, and there were gender issues. One journal author notes, "Bride of Frankenstein offers an exemplary instance of what film theorist Rhona Berenstein identifies as central to horror films of this period: a capacity to generate especially volatile narrative spaces for the staging and negotiation of complex gender and sexual identities" (Phelan 172). However, that has increased to a major degree, with today's horror films showing incredibly graphic violence, especially to women, and the films just keep on coming. By the 1960s, horror films included more graphic sex, and at least one author maintains that Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," produced in 1960, ushered in a new era of horror films to the public that were far more lurid and violent (Sapolsky 35). Author Sapolsky explains, "A trendsetter in gore was 1963's 'Blood Feast.' It depicted the stalking, attack, and mutilation of beautiful women" (Sapolsky 35). Today's horror films carry on the extreme violence tradition, glorifying it and the anti-heroes that populate these violent films, and that is one of the unethical standards of this genre. It targets women, uses them as objects for extreme violence, and discards them without care or thought, in the name of entertainment. Horror films are classic examples of a society behaving unethically and popularizing unethical and anti-social behavior.

The other ethical issue these films present is the sexual content of so many of them. Sapolsky continues, "The carnage is usually preceded by some sort of erotic prelude: footage of pretty young bodies in the shower, or teens changing into nighties for the slumber party, or anything that otherwise lulls the audience into a mildly sensual mood'" (Sapolsky 37). Thus, these films use women as sexual objects as well as victims, which is unethical and reprehensible at the same time. Also at issue is why these films are so popular and why society approves of them and attends them, when they paint such a negative picture of women and the people that violate them.

This is an ethical issue for a variety of reasons, including the adverse affect on society, including the duties and principles of the filmmakers and their impact on society. What are the implications of these films if they are viewed by the wrong elements of society, such as insane or violent individuals? What if these films induce violence in others, especially against women, as the films glorify? Who is responsible for that violence? The filmmaker who incited it, or the lunatic who carried it out? Americans (and others) have an ethical duty to speak out against these films and ask for them to stop, but instead, they eat them up at the box office. A "Los Angeles Times" reporter notes that production houses are producing more horror films than ever before, and of an even more graphic and violent nature, and the outlook for 2009 shows an increase in these types of films. She writes, "Horror films are dominating the release schedule in 2009 -- almost certainly, event movies like 'Watchmen' and 'Terminator Salvation' will outgross their spookier kin, but not a month will go by without at least one film designed to terrify audiences making its way into theaters" (McIntyre). Americans are flocking to these films, which may be even more disturbing than the films themselves.

Obviously, the violence and abuse of women in these films is shocking, and it is extremely worthy of investigation because the films are so popular and plentiful. Writer Sapolsky elaborates, "Critics have blasted the producers of slasher films, claiming these films disproportionately portray vicious attacks on women and tie images of extreme violence to scenes of sexual titillation and precoital behavior" (Sapolsky 33). They mix sex and extreme violence with the goal of titillating the viewer, "thrilling" them with the gore and implied (and often completed) sex act, and they glorify extreme violence to an alarming degree. They glorify the killers in these films, too, bringing them back repeatedly in sequels that contain even more violence. For example, the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" films have come back four times between 1989 and 2006, and the "Halloween" films have 10 incarnations, and reportedly one in the works for 2009 (Graser). As a "New York Times" reporter notes, "As they see more and more horror films, audiences are increasingly difficult to shock. After you blow up someone's head, rip people in two or burn off their faces, where do you go from there?" (Zinoman). That is another major ethical issue in these films. Where will the violence stop? As filmgoers become more used to the rampant violence in these films, how far will they go to create shock value, and how much more will women have to suffer at the hands of these lunatics?

Professionals and researchers in the field of film and ethics often find that these films are extremely biased against women. Two experts note about the horror genre, "Research indicates that males are more likely to be the aggressors and to fight back when assaulted, whereas females seldom initiate aggression and often turn to flee from attack" (Tamborini, and Salomonson 182). Numerous critics comment on the treatment of women in horror films. Another critic notes, "Rarely in the history of horror films do we get a chance to see the feminine psyche display its more aggressive animus. [...] More often than not, however, the male is assigned the roles of both monster and warrior-hero" (Iaccino 13). Researchers tend to agree that the genre is quite detrimental to women, and film critics generally pan most horror films, finding them so lacking in real film quality that they do not deserve critical recognition. "Los Angeles Times" reporter Gina McIntyre notes that horror films make the audience "feel" something, which might account for their popularity with audiences but not critics. She writes, "Which explains why the genre has managed such an enduring presence, even though it rarely earns much in the way of critical acclaim" (McIntyre). Even though many feel these films are harmful, there are those who see them as something else.

Some critics see the films evolving over time, creating a new type of female image that is empowered, such as in the "Alien" films. Another critic writes, "In this new cinematic image, the woman is presented as a fellow comrade or a competitor of equivalent strength, reflecting impulses toward independence or uncontrollable aggression" (Iaccino 14). In addition, some industry experts see far more in the films, such as enhancing their filmmaking skills with these low-budget films. Sam Raimi, director of "Spiderman" and many other films began his career with horror films, and he is returning to the genre this year. He says, "The world of the supernatural is a great canvas to experiment with camera technique, sound design, lighting and editing. The goal is to present a world that does not exist through our eyes. So you really are supposed to stretch the boundaries. I thought it was a great place to grow and experiment'" (Lally). Another industry expert notes, "Horror is the genre that makes you feel something, like comedy makes you laugh,' said Andrew Form, a partner in Michael Bay's company Platinum Dunes, which produced the new 'Friday the 13th'" (McIntyre). In addition, there are at least some researchers that believe women in horror films are actually role models in many cases, and that women enjoy horror films and should not feel guilty about it. The researcher writes, "Postmodern horror compels its heroes, many of whom are women, to both exercise instrumental rationality and to rely on intuition; it requires them to be both violent and to trust their gut instincts" (Pinedo 25). Thus, there is a group of critics and experts that view the ethics of female treatment in horror films somewhat differently, and at least some of their comments are valuable in the debate about this ethical and moral issue.

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APA Format

Ethical Values Associated With the Portrayal of Women in Horror Movies.  (2009, March 10).  Retrieved January 18, 2019, from http://gonimotita.info/subjects/paper/ethical-values-associated-portrayal/37955

MLA Format

"Ethical Values Associated With the Portrayal of Women in Horror Movies."  10 March 2009.  Web.  18 January 2019. <http://gonimotita.info/subjects/paper/ethical-values-associated-portrayal/37955>.

Chicago Format

"Ethical Values Associated With the Portrayal of Women in Horror Movies."  Essay.  March 10, 2009.  Accessed January 18, 2019.
http://gonimotita.info/subjects/paper/ethical-values-associated-portrayal/37955.