Sex and Sexuality in Film Representation and Culture
Submitting InstitutionSouthampton Solent University
Unit of AssessmentCommunication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
The research featured in this impact case study was carried out by Dr.
Claire Hines, Darren Kerr, Dr. Donna Peberdy and Dr. Mark de Valk. Their
work has influenced creative practice and cultural expression, contributed
to the creative economy, encouraged knowledge transfer, and has been part
of wider discourses that have helped to inform on-going public debate
concerning sex and sexuality on screen, such as research-informed
objections to Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008
- more colloquially known as the `Extreme Porn Bill' <www.backlash-uk.org.uk>.
Collectively, the research focusses on cinematic representations of sex
and sexuality on screen in order to demonstrate the need to move beyond
the hyperbole of moral campaigners' arguments concerning the immoral
effect of media on society and instead focus more closely on the
representation of sex, a too often neglected area of sexuality studies.
New insights foreground original perspectives on the cinematic
representation of sex and sexuality that has often been marginalised in
the study of gender politics on screen. The research is located in,
connected to and influenced by related work emerging from the UK based Onscenity
Research Network Group, which has been involved in public, political
and policy debate on matters of sex and sexuality in British society and
culture (which we are members of). The cross-disciplinary nature of the
research acknowledges a shift towards the mainstream in the cinematic
representation of previously marginalized sexual practices that are often
comfortably demonized rather than critically discussed and explored.
Many current studies have opened up discussions concerning sex on screen
but remain rather broad and fixed in gender politics and feminist
discourses around sex on screen. The research draws on the recent critical
history of sex on screen through a context that acknowledges a range of
key critical thinkers in the field. This includes building on the
pioneering work of Linda Williams' breakthrough study from 1989, Hard
Core: Power, Pleasure and the `Frenzy of the Visible', which has now
come to be recognised as an indispensable account of the subject and the
need to address matters of on/scenity whereby sex is on-scene
rather than merely ob-scene. The research underpinning this case study
extends the work of Williams by examining sex as text in both theory and
practice while continuing to question the concept of on/scenity as
cultural attitudes to the explicit and obscene change. The demand to
historicise, theorise and frankly confront matters of sex and sexuality
through screen studies is effectively our central tenet intended to
illustrate how sex and sexuality on screen is eclectic, expressive and
demands closer examination. A research-based approach predicated on
examining and exploring theory and practice positively shapes and
influences our reach and significance. Such an approach now allows the
field to be collectively investigated outside of media effects debates
(which negates the polysemic nature apparent in film textual analysis).
This framework for understanding is supported in earlier work in the field
calling for its instigation and continuation (see Laura Kipnis (1996),
Laurence O'Toole (1999) and Brian McNair (2002), who collectively
investigate the very terms of debating the relationship between history,
technology, sex and modern culture).
The contradictory state of sex and sexualities as both known and unknown,
has driven this research which presents original work, fostering new
critical readings, understandings and approaches that, by necessity,
returns us to the screen as a dialogic text in various contexts
(critically, theoretically and industrially).
References to the research
Hines, C. & Kerr, D. eds. (2012) Hard to Swallow: Hard-core
Pornography on Screen. London: Wallflower/Columbia University Press.
Kerr, D, & Peberdy, D. (2013) `Playing with the Self: Celebrity
Autoerotic Asphyxiation', in Celebrity Studies Special Issue: Sex and
Celebrity. 4, (1), 58-70.
Peberdy D, (2011) `Masculinity and Film Performance: Male Angst in
Contemporary American Cinema.' Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Peberdy D, (2010) `From Wimps to Wild Men: Bipolar Masculinity and the
Paradoxical Performances of Tom Cruise,' in Men & Masculinities,
13, (2), 231-254.
M. de Valk. (2010) The Body As Montage: A Spectacle of Punishment.
Directed by M. de Valk. UK. 90mins.
M. de Valk. (2012) The Life of Herculine Barbin. Directed by M.
de Valk. UK. 20mins.
Details of the impact
The Solent Screen Research Cluster has seen numerous specialisms evolve
since its inception. One of the key areas has been original research and
publications focussing on largely neglected areas of sex and sexuality
studies in film representation and culture. The research, publications and
subsequent impact for this case study have emerged from and been shaped by
the work of the Onscenity Research Network — an AHRC funded initiative
(originally based at Sheffield University) which engages specifically with
the cultural, political and contemporary aspects of sex and sexuality in
the UK and Internationally. Forged from a symposium exploring the
possibilities of such a network (to which Kerr and Hines were specifically
invited) the Onscenity Research Network has grown into the dominant
forerunner which bridges academic studies with public and political
understanding of sexual cultures. This has recently culminated in the
emergence of the first ever Porn Studies journal (to which Kerr was
invited to be a member of the Editorial Board and Hines and Peberdy
invited as regular peer reviewers) which has garnered numerous headlines
in the press and stimulated debate on the cultural value of sexual
representation, pornography and the pornification of culture in the media
and political arenas. It is within this sphere that the sex and
sexualities research, outputs and impact noted in this case study —
particularly around the creative economy — can be found.
Kerr has been curating the Controversies, Short Film and BAFTA strands
for the annual Southampton Film Week, an event which engages broadly with
the public in various capacities including film education outside of
academia. The Controversies strand saw a research-informed talk on early
representations of sex in film to the public (Sex on Screen: An
Illustrated Talk, Oct 13 2010) and the Short Film strand has had
numerous short films screened by local and international filmmakers on
matters of sex and sexuality (for example Exploring the Body: Short
Film Roundtable, Discussion and Screening, Oct 8 2009). Also members
cited in this case study hosted a Short Film Special: Women and Film
(Oct 10 2011) with women filmmakers exploring the debate about gender,
filmmaking and film culture in the UK. Mark de Valk has presented
screenings of his film work including the Foucault inspired short film The
Life of Herculine Barbin (2009) and feature length film The Body
As Montage: A Spectacle of Punishment (2010) which examines gender,
sexuality, state politics and culture. The latter has also been selected
and screened at special events for the Lighthouse Cultural Centre in
Brighton (June 2010) and the Portobello Film Festival in London (September
2010). Both films draw on his doctoral research as one of the first
successful recipients of a PhD by Practice in film. Southampton Film Week
has attendees from across the country with a significant focus on the
south and south coast with a remit closely centred on public and community
engagement. The events gain local coverage from the press and radio while
maintaining a strong presence on social networking sites throughout the
year. Kerr has coordinated events on behalf of the University in
partnership with organisers City Eye since Film Week was established in
2008. This has seen collaborations on events with BAFTA, experienced
writer/directors from industry (Jason Ford, Fay Rusling, Ken Russell,) as
well as new and emerging filmmakers who focus on matters of gender
politics in their creative practice (Alys Scott Hawkins, Nicola Mills,
John Maclean). Public engagement on matters of sex and sexuality is at the
centre of the drive behind this case study's reach and significance
through Southampton Film Week — a space in which academic and critical
debate is held in a public forum alongside film education, festival
screenings, masterclasses and workshops on the film industry and culture.
Sources to corroborate the impact
The work of the Onscenity Research network which illustrates reach and
significance can be found at http://www.onscenity.org/
Contributors to the case study have seen their work cited across the web
e.g. an extensive and public focussed blog on James Bond draws on Hines'
work (see http://jamesbondmemes.
blogspot.co.uk /2010_10_01_archive.html) and Peberdy's work on Tom Cruise
Choice gave a four star review to Peberdy's Masculinity and Film
Performance who also gave the book its Outstanding Title award for
Peberdy's book was also positively reviewed in the Historical Journal of
Film, Radio and Television (see
which noted how the work can `not only benefit the nation and American men
but also possibly prevent a consistent return of trauma and angst that are
then used to legitimize white male authority' (Faucette, 2012:462).
Hard to Swallow was reviewed in the New Review of Film and Television
Studies noting that `Editors Darren Kerr and Claire Hines [...] both have
excellent essays in the collection' and that `Kerr's reappraisal of the
feminist potentiality of notorious 1970 feature Behind the Green Door
is an ingenious close analysis which delivers an original reading' (Joyce,
De Valk's film production work is listed on imdb:
Contributors also evidence significant reach through data available on
their respective Academia.edu sites with numerous views and hits aligned
to their research.
Details of Southampton Film Week events and their engagement with the
regional community are archived at http://www.southamptonfilmweek.com/sfw-archives.html