Tag Archives: genre

‘Everything she liked that she couldn’t possibly use herself, she bought as a present for a friend.’ – Tender is the Night

28 Sep

Stuff. I have chosen “stuff” as the topic of my first ever blog post, partly out of the indecision that has led me to gestate this blog without writing a word for an entire summer; and partly perhaps because I am in the process of packing up all the “stuff” in my possession ready for the final pilgrimage to university. Fitzgerald sums up my condition: if I can possibly use something, it must be taken. All possibilities and improbabilities must be accounted for!

Consider for example my dvd collection, currently stacked and topped by a receptacle for might-be-useful shopping receipts. I am reasonably fond of all the films in my collection, but cannot conceive a scenario when I will want to watch every single one in the lapse of time before I next come home. Why then can I not simply leave one or two behind?

I fear a part of this stems from the need to present my “stuff” as a collective: a physical catalogue of media that sum-up the interests and character I wish to portay, that is somehow lacking without, say, Red Dwarf Series VI… how else will the observer discern my susceptibility to a humorous robot!? [Kryten, anyone?] This assumes the ability of my film collection to represent externally my sense of humour, zeal for musicals, and most probably my attachment to Johnny Depp.

This external representation is of course only valid when seen through the eyes of an observer who shares the same cultural associations as I do. My assumption of what the box for Just My Luck represents [a devotion to Mcfly*] may not at all occur to “the observer” – who could just as easily assume that, as a female, I must like chick-flicks [I don’t especially]. It is not merely the medium of the film itself that bears a representation upon my self-image, but the physical medium of the box in which it is marketed, sold and now displayed in my room.

It was my sister who first pointed out to me the relation between such material objects and gender assumptions. When pooling our dvds collectively, she remarked that whilst the boxes for hers were predominantly pink, white, or brightly coloured, mine were dark blue, red, and black.

If I return briefly to Tender is the Night and Nicole Diver, whose shopping extends beyond the regulation of her list “to the things in the windows besides:” for the 1920’s female, shopping in itself was an act of feminine significance. Nicole’s shopping is impulsive, superfluous; it contrasts to the systematic economy which labours to produce such goods for her. What seems like the purchase of a whim is in fact the product of a meticulous process that has shaped both the product, and her (sub)conscious desire for it. Her “artificial flowers” and doll’s house figurines are reproductions of a gender-branded lifestyle. Her “feminine” identity is being constructed, displayed, and reinforced by the act of shopping with Rosemary, through whose young and impressionable eyes Nicole’s self-modelling is received.

Returning then to my own modern-day purchases: what do their dark and “male” appearance mean? A conscious “buying-out” from an advertising culture of overtly female or “feminine” products? This prompts the question, to what extent can I act and choose independently from the gender-oriented advertising that inevitably obscures most mass-marketed film releases? The same question can be applied to much of the “stuff” that fills my room – books, music, and childhood toys in particular.

And furthermore, if shopping in itself connotes a feminine activity, how far can the presence of “masculine” items counteract the gender stereotype evoked by my desire, collection and display of “stuff” as a whole? Finally, I wonder who the “observer,” of whose judgement I am so concerned, can be – if I take my room as a private space, then it is myself –  my “stuff” becomes a self-extension or projection that reinforces an image I wish to see. If, however, my room is taken as a public space, my “stuff” is subject to outside interpretation, and the meaning held up by my tower of dvds may well come crashing down.

* Who star in the film, as I’m sure everyone knows.