The effect Art and Culture have on the Selfhood of an Individual: How a Self is formed through their Contextual Society.
The Panopticon is an architectural concept used for prison systems where the inmates are constantly watched from a central tower to obtain obedience. In some variations of the structure there isn’t a need for the tower, for cameras can be positioned in each room. Theorised by French philosopher Michel Foucault, the psychology behind this system is that the inmates become self assessing beings, due to the feeling of always being watched. They are hyper aware of the constant surveillance and therefore do not act out of line due to the fear of punishment. Big brother was a later concept brought forth first in George Orwell's 1984, showcasing a society run on this logic. Other references to the psychology include Angela Carter’s reference to this system in Nights at the Circus. A passage midway through the novel depicts a lockup where serial killer wives are kept watch in a hexagonal structure with glass chambers for each woman off of a central watcher; ultimately the women break free into the blizzard outside their boxes.
Andy Warhol’s factory, and the society that he cultivated formed their very own panopticon of beautiful toxicity. The decker building, or the other various locations that factory had, can be conceptualised as the central tower. Here our famous wardens watch out over the boroughs of New York City from their post on the island. All the working class homes of the citizens look back to the lights over the water, like cells imprisoning those that hold up the world Andy capitalised on to retain his position on top. Within these homes Marilyn dances on the television, and their baked bean cans are suddenly symbolism of the times they are living through. The people frequenting the factory all visited on a tender invite, and to stay was to be held accountable for your artistic ability and contribution to the society. The watchful eyes of your fellow creatives were always present, as can be read from Lou Reed’s account of his experience there:
“I was a product of Andy Warhol’s Factory. All I did was sit there and observe these incredibly talented and creative people who were continually making art, and it was impossible not to be affected by that.”
(Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground.)
Back inside the hive, Edie’s in a Taxi heading to a lunch she will inevitably throw up. It's a wonder what the others thought of her. Maybe she ate Steve McQueen today, rising afterwards to the reflection of her selfÂ in the mirrors of a restaurant. Seeing herself clearly for a split second she is the infant baby, wearing one of the little girls skirts she would buy because they were cheaper, (since her parents had cut her off). She recognises herself as a child: the Lacanian baby incarnate. She, a smart enough woman to have survived this far, is not disillusioned about why she holds a seat on Mount Factorious. That is probably her newest reason to run from life, unaware that her constant catching and falling process aligns with the French philosopher Jacques Lacan’s theories around the mirror stage of develop- ment, beyond infantising symbolism.
Lacan speculated that, during this phase, a baby can look at itself in the mirror, identify with its own reflection as a baby, butÂ not yet possess the skill set or articulate brain to further their development process beyond current form as a baby. This thought is also fleeting, as only triggered from such specific activity and does not pass beyond the short term to the long term memory, and overall formation of self. This theorises our muse’s position aptly; trapped in awareness with no accessibility or encouragement towards an escape from her pandemonium. And so, the aware Edie is a detached identity, looking at her true form from an outside perspective. The two Edie’s are tethered to the mirror, standing in the New York restaurant, trapped by the reflection in this panopticon constructed by Andy, Steve, Larry...and all of misogyny’s other good men. Every person that frequented the city played a part in the formation of that age: the place of women, working class and white privilege weaved into the city by architects of time.
E gathers her fur coat at once to conceal her realisation and rushes out to the street, where her partner (now manifesting as Bob Dylan) waits to distract her from today.
Andy, left at the table behind her, mutters: “Do you think Edie will let us film her when she commits sucide?”
Sarah Lee Bartkly drew a correlation between the mentioned studies of psychoanalytics and feminist theory, expressing that: “The woman who checks her makeup half a dozen times a day to see if her foundation has caked or her mascara has run, who worries that the wind or the rain may spoil her hairdo, who looks frequently to see if her stockings have bagged at the ankle or who, feeling fat, monitors everything she eats, has become, just as surely as the inmate of the Panopticon, a self-policing subject, a self committed to a relentless self- surveillance. This self-surveillance is a form of obedience to patriarchy. It is also the reflection in woman's consciousness of the fact that she is under surveillance in ways that he is not, that whatever else she may become, she is importantly a body designed to please or to excite.” (Sandra Lee Bartky, Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power) raising together the feelings of the female experience perfectly. The reasoning she uses are all examples of factors that misogyny has deemed futile, while maintaining strict standards for women to attain them to remain desirable. This is a catch 22 situation all women find themselves in, where the world deems it shameful to aspire to be feminine, yet expects all women to exhibit a level of traditional femininity to please. This is only heightened by additional intersectional suppression, like Blackness, Transness or Homosexuality.
As I discussed earlier, one must be dominant in the face of men to gain respect: like one must when disciplining children, or taming animals. Bartkly is raising to light how there is a base level of femininity that is expected from women, which is not natural, sustainable or even attainable at times. This causes us, as women, to remain in an uncertain space where we are tricked into seeking validation from outside factors as a token to being treated with respect. We have to measure up against factors such as our looks and demeanour, on top of any given task that we are specifically attempting to execute. This writing itself could be an example of my ingrained attainment to this system; the topics I’ve chosen and style I craft my prose in; all programmed into my self subconsciously to tick boxes of pleasure and excitement, as well as displaying my knowledge and intellect.
Having displayed how mid-century culture, and Andy Warhol among other examples, failed the young female Edie, now I pose to you how the remnants of this culture bred the media centred culture of today. The Warhol films acted as the first reality television, showcasing no real narrative, just simply life. From my own practice of making autobiographical video work, I can comment that it is a strange dynamic to have with one's life. Fictional stories begin to merge with your real memories, and the editing process can provoke a god complex where one holds their reality in their hands, shaping stories like balls of clay. Henceforth, Andy’s comments of whether Edie would allow them to film her death is deeply disturbing under the pressure of a voyeur where the audience claps and cheers for the most drama. I see here a direct pipeline to the place of reality television in the 2000’s, and social media today.
The medium of video forging with Andy’s mindset cast the panopticon he contributed to upon an immortalised form. More worryingly so, his thought process around batch production converts over to people’s lives here, issuing that this is a material that he can work with to sell films and gain publicity. All of these loose beans being churned over New York have manifested now, sixty years later. His comment that “a whole day of life is like a whole day of television. At the end of the day the whole day will be a movie. A movie made for TV”, (Andy Warhol) sounds like a perfectly crafted tagline to support a reality television project proposal.
Modern society lives immersed in media that women constantly judge themselves against. Now the image of a woman, not real women, penetrates the minds of young people through the internet. Whatever the beauty standard of the moment is, that is the perfect model that everyone must attain. This process is married to consumerism, where the clothes and lifestyle that a figure displays is how all must exist. Such structures now raise one individual on a podium to be worshiped by the innocent like a false god. This does not serve the muse, and never has: seeing the ends and trauma caused to Marilyn, Edie, even Kim Kardashian (who was robbed at gunpoint in Paris). Yet, is the death of the muse a solution? I am not qualified to make such a comment, but I would hope that throughout this dissertation I have brought to the forefront of my reader the emotional effects that culture and societies informed by art have on the individual.
I cite again a passage by Angela Carter, but from the Wolf-Alice story of The Bloody Chamber collection this time. In the story a young feral girl is found in the wild and brought into the society of a village; she is scrubbed clean and taught to reform by nuns before inhabiting a large abandoned house where a count lives. One of her only toys during her infant re-human state is a mirror, that “he passed through and now, henceforward, lives as if upon the other side of things”(Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber), offering an insight that man’s innate issue is their self-awareness and ego. “You can’t have a reflection if you’ve passed through a mirror.”, continues the story, posing that transcendence beyond the self is the key to existence.