This essay has the objective of providing an argument that contemporary pop culture is composed of aspects of carnivalesque, which can establish a gap for social and cultural opposition and misdemeanor. Nevertheless, it is important to make a note of how it is limited to modernity. This essay will outline the confines as well as the elements of carnival Middles Ages from Bakhtin’s cultural theory view and the main transformations in society since Renaissance. Authors such as Francois Rabelais and Mary Russo will be used to expound on the theories of carnivalesque, celebration of the lower body, ‘grotesque body’ and the world turned upside down.
Carnivalization is a term created by Mikhail Bakhtin, which refers to the fictitious process which results from the absorption of myths by the novel, a process in which societal chain of command is combined and executive ability subverted by being divergent to a differing perspective, that of the ordinary person’s way of life (Ecc & U, pg 72). The general hypothetical perception derives from the word ‘carnival’. Bakhtin suggests that there is a difference between the carnival as rituals and masks. The mythical practice he obtains from these rituals carousing is similarly different from the latter. Bakhtin has provided a literal turn of phrase to carnival rituals, masks and other paraphernalia associated in Saturn’s festival, termed as the Saturnalia, during which hierarchy is balanced, and barriers are uninvolved.
Bakhtin evaluated Middle Age carnivals and used them to illustrate that such events provided society with a second world and alternative life. Carnivals placed each individual of the society on an equal platform where the issues of status quo were irrelevant. These allowed people to enjoy collective amusement, celebrate renewal, transformation, and change. Bakhtin argued that carnivals were evidence that the rigid social system that existed had the potential to be bended and open. Therefore, there he indirectly provided the idea that resistance and social misdemeanor were probable. Carnivals were a clear indicator that the vertical hierarchy was unnatural and that it is a system socially constructed.
In the cultural theory by Bakhtin, ‘grotesque’ plays as one of the major roles. For instance, ‘grotesque body’ in Middle Ages is unfastened and is by no means absolute, which is contrary to modern closed finalized body. Inadequacy of the body is the explanation behind the incomplete social system (Hyman et al, p. 23). According to Bakhtin, the mouth, nose, genitals and anus in that order are the main body parts of the grotesque body. He provides the argument that all the events that are linked to these body parts are the commencement and the ending of life because they are closely associated. In the modern world, a naked woman’s body or intimate body parts are mostly linked to crudity or depravity, because ‘decent’ is defined by a covered body. Bakhtin argued that the body became closed in Renaissance. For instance, the sculpture David mad by Michelangelo the proportional and complete body is publicized. Modern-Day culture is visual. In developed society, the modern bodily norm was urbanized, which was completely resistant to grotesque body.
Sculpture David made by Michelangelo (Compton,314)
Francois Rabelais, a major French humanist of the European Renaissance era, rearranges Bakhtin’s theory of the carnivalesque from his study of Gargantua and Pantagruel. It illustrates how carnivalisation plays a role in the ‘rebirth’ of the medieval literary ‘ideologeme’. By ‘rebirth’ or ‘renewal’ Rabelais was referring to the end of the gloomy and old picture of the world that characteristic of European medieval literature and art which originates from Italy, and the construction of a new one.
The old way of thinking is destroyed through subversion of the rising social hierarchy and thinking. The society became much more enlightened during the renaissance period, and they began to question the policies from religious scriptures and authority. Bakhtin provides the argument that Rabelais’ work marked the birth of contemporary European Belles Letrres. Belles Lettres is a name that explains a category of writing, but the rules of engagement of that particular category show a discrepancy in various usages. Bakhtin suggests that Rabelais has succeeded in dialoguing the world of authorized, classical, medieval, ideology and that of folk humor, which have for many years been separated.
Grotesque Realism and Humor
Grotesque was introduced as a medium to explore optional modes of experience and face as well as to challenge the presumed universals of traditional beauty (Kayser & W, p. 12). The grotesque images were prominent in romantic, expressionist, symbolist, pragmatist and surrealist vocabularies. The reappearance of grotesque in fine arts was in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries constituted of one of the new expressive modes. Through this grotesque was extended expanded and reinvented.
Mary Russo in her book Female Grotesque: Carnival and Theory suggests that the grotesque body is an open, extended, protruding, secreting body, the body of becoming process and transformation. The grotesque body is in resistance with the traditional body, which is covered or closed, vast, motionless and lustrous. It corresponds to the aspirations of bourgeois individualism, and it is linked to the rest of the world. The female body’s representation solely depends on the perception male artists especially in an always-patriarchal society. However, the female body in itself has usually been represented as the idealized male fantasy a form to be lusted and gazed.
In modern society, people are accustomed to images of young slender women, and it imposes dilemma on social order when grotesque body appears in the social space (Freud, P. 36). For instance, a female artist who decided to shoot a music video posing naked in the streets of town A. She was very excited, and her display of Middle Age carnival universal laughter is evident. However, society approached her actions with a modern sarcastic laughter placing her in an inferior position. Nevertheless, town A where the video was shot pushed the boundaries and allowed the changes for the female artist. Although the society that celebrates slender women, particularly those with eating disorders to attain unachievable body appearances, as a whole, do not acknowledge this occasion. The reason is that the female artist is grotesque body, which is improper and dishonorable, which is not in agreement with middle-class values, which control society.
Image 2: Artificial Human Figure (Remshardt,168)
The style of writing distinctive of carnivalised text is grotesque realism. Bakhtin argues that the significant code of grotesque is humiliation, which is disregarding what is high, ideal, spiritual and abstract. Humiliation and degradation of what is above an individual includes the human body. Bakhtin refers to degrade as to involve oneself in copulation or sex, conception, pregnancy and birth. According to Bakhtin grotesque realism, breaks down the images of the body changes as it is in pregnancy. He insists that the perception of the body as an infinite unit is satirical of the medieval era in viewing the human body as brought forth by only one subject, decay and strife. Madonna in her music video in What it Feels Like to for a Girl the video ends tragically, Madonna in the death of an old woman cloaked in blacked she symbolizes death that helps the old lady have the time of her life before aiding her end it. Madonna is a grotesque of because she is facilitating a death ritual for someone that society disregards and is considered useless in its culture. The act is subversive, and because Madonna stays with the old woman in the car until they both die, she is grotesque because she combines life with death simultaneously. The famous pop artist is carnivalesque and grotesque since she pairs living with demise, thus loses boundaries morphs and changes.
Russo suggests that the carnivalesque destabilizes binary categories and presents fleeting expressions of misdemeanor. Grotesque is idealized as a body that morphs and transforms a body that has no restrictions and as a synthesis of old and young bodies. An instance of grotesque is Madonna in her music video in What it Feels Like to for a Girl. In this video, she plays subversion, and she regenerates the ‘ideals’ of modern versions of maturity, maternity, virgin and whore and therefore resists the victimizing categories placed on women in western society.
The only women featured in the video are three Madonna, the old woman and a chubby waitress. As such, her body is unnatural, as she is always transforming into something or someone else. Accepted culture in every society deems of forty-four years as old but the contrary when she stands next to an elderly woman and the chubby waitress (Mifflin & M, p. 48). Madonna thus becomes the youngest and the most beautiful, and she is grotesque because she morphs and changes into what is popular in the culture, which is a youthful image.
Grotesque is the absence of limitations. A closer evaluation of the elderly woman exposes that she is reliant on Madonna. She cannot perform basic tasks like walking to the car without Madonna’s help she is a representation of a woman in a patriarchal society. The patriarchal model proposes that a woman is dependent and lacks organization. Russo suggests that women make spectacles of themselves because of the loss of boundaries and the kind of inadvertency, and, however, anyone can make a spectacle of himself or herself if they were not careful. Therefore, Madonna seems to make a scene of herself intentionally as she purposes to associate with the spectacle itself in this case the old woman. She seems to humor old age by caring for it her point is she embraces age as the limit that divides women. Madonna is grotesque because she eliminates the boundaries between herself and the old woman as an object and abject respectively.
Russo suggests that women are unruly when they are unsuccessful in controlling what comes out of their mouth, by way of consumption or exclamation and the means by which they claim cultural symbols of power. The unsuccessful manner in which women fail to control their mouth results to unruly behavior. Unruly also means to assert literary descriptions of authority such as violence, which is the power primarily, reserved for men. The unruly woman’s upheaval in opposition to her appropriate position inverts the organizational association between the sexes and disturbs one of the most deep-seated of community distinctions, that of man and woman (Mifflin & M, p. 56). The female on top is neither in the appropriate position nor in any other legitimate position. The confines placed on her imply that her influence arises from the necessity to impose compliance to an exacting set of beliefs in which sexual category is a significant key player.
Gender is the main issue here when a woman claims to be on the top position by explicating words that imply a woman can perpetrate and commit violence it does qualify women to enact violence in acts of equal severity as men. Carnival and the carnivalesque as suggested by Russo puts forward a reorganization or counter production of culture, understanding and satisfaction. Women who are popular figures in society such as Madonna may tend to produce an option to masculinity and customer culture by creating satire of the aspects of ‘women’ that repulsive and taking on the aspects of ‘men’ that are valued. Therefore, such popular female figures redeploy and centralize the grotesque and unruly woman as the ‘woman’ to titillate the guided male point of view. Instead of the classical ideologies of femininity promulgated by the media.
Russo claims that the consequence of sublimation of the abject is the donning of a mask that subverts normative identity this mask uncovers the grotesque. She represents the traditional body as a false imposition, a symptom of repression and begins to suggest the repressive power in choosing to take off the mask (Hyman et al, 2000). When a woman strips the traditional mask, she becomes a ‘female grotesque’ for instance in the illustration provided by using Madonna’s video. A ‘female grotesque’ eschews a safe femininity that garners her hollow approval for playing by patriarchal rules. She creates within her body space for ‘noise dissonance’ a playground in, which she can lay claim to the power of being grotesquely productive.
Russo claims that the lack of recognizable variations between these approaches towards a feminine image, originates from the idea of the feminine as always a preordained performance that masks avoid (Freud, p. 39). This, therefore, makes it difficult to apply a performance of femininity in a subversive way. However, there is still an opportunity of employing an enlargement of the normal to draw attention to subversive character, a strategy applied by femmes. Mary Russo believes that the grotesque is a mechanism for questioning the role models of perfection that are involved by patriarchal cultures. Women who stand up against the status quo of power are most of the times viewed as a threat. They are considered as subversive elements that corrupt what is taken for granted a norm in society. Female protagonists who are branded as grotesque because of their resistance to classical culture use the grotesque characteristics to demand authorization in a society that survives on pre-established rules of what normal amongst men and women.
In conclusion, all three authors provide an argumentative approach to carnivalesque, subversiveness, low culture and grotesque. It has always been perceived that even in the 21st century some parts of society refuse to acknowledge women as an equal member. In parts of the world like Africa, women walk in fear in the streets wondering if what they are wearing is decent enough. Because in instances when the men feel it is not they feel, they have the right to strip off a woman clothing with the claims of indecency. Female protagonists are still championing for stringent measures for society to embrace certain elements and let go of the vertical thoughts of the classical body.
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Hyman, T, Malbert, R Carnivalesque. London Hayward Gallery Publishing, (2000).
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