• Sowing the Seeds of Its Own Destruction: The State's Deployment of the Panoptic Gaze and the Disturbance of State Ideological Functioning in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange

      McKew, Melinda; Department of English and Foreign Languages (Augusta University, 2010-12)
      Upon its reception in the early 1970s, A Clockwork Orange (1971) generated controversy concerning Stanley Kubrick's excessive use of violence and, in particular, sexual violence. In fact, in its original release form, the United States placed an X-rating on the film because of its graphic scenes of violence (Dirks). In a variety of ways, the film is undeniably disturbing in its portrayals of Alex (Malcolm McDowell) and his fellow "droogs" 1 violently attacking, raping, and murdering other people. Equally, if not more, disturbing, however, is the state's use of violence against Alex, especially in its scientific experimentation on him. In perhaps the most famous scene from the film, Alex becomes the object of the state's reformatory experiment to transform heinous criminals, like Alex, into moral citizens. The experiment takes place in a movie theater, wherein Alex is forced to watch a variety of violent episodes as he undergoes chemical treatment to alter his psychological experience as he looks at the images. Immobilized by a restraining jacket with his eyes pried apart with specula, the chemicals previously injected into Alex's body begin to take effect and convert his sadistic sexual pleasure at the sight of violence into physical illness as the images play across the screen. No longer is the movie theater a place for Alex to simply "viddy" 2 films with pleasure; rather, the state has transformed it into a laboratory for violent scientific experimentation, whereby to "viddy" the images presented on the screen becomes the state's primary mechanism in exercising control over both Alex's physical body and mental state. By deploying the image in the state's campaign to control, the state situates the image within a complex of socio-political power, the function of which is to regulate human behaviors and desires. Yet, the image only contributes to the efficacy of the state's scientific experiment through the gaze. In a general way, the gaze is understood as the process whereby an individual looks at other people or objects. For film studies, in particular, the gaze gained prominence in the 1970s as a theoretical term that applies to the ways in which people look at filmic images (Chandler). More recently, theorists understand the gaze as a complex process that "emphasize[s] the embeddedness of the gaze of the individual in a social and contextual field of looks, objects, and other sensory information. The gaze is to enter into a relational activity of looking (emphasis in original)" (Sturken et al. 94). As Alex's experiences suggest, his gaze places him in a relational field that subjects him to the mechanisms of the state's socio-political power and control. For Alex, to gaze is not simply to see or to watch, as the general definition of the gaze implies; to gaze is to enter into a relationship of power with the state's regulatory mechanism, rendering Alex a docile subject of state authority. Indeed, as Kubrick's cinematographic framing and placement of the scientists suggest, the image does not violently afflict all those in the theater. The image only affects Alex, the subject of the experiment. Kubrick's low-angle shot exaggerates the scientists' positions above Alex precisely as a way to emphasize their control and power over the image. It is little coincidence that this shot also reveals the scientists' close proximity to the projector, which controls the image. In this way, Kubrick's cinematographic framing implies that those who control the image seemingly control those who gaze at it, and, as such, the state's power over the image translates into power over Alex. Feminist film theorists, though, have claimed that the gaze is not a gender neutral construction, as the previous explications imply, but one predicated upon notions of gender difference in which males sadistically gaze at female subjects, thus enabling men to control and exercise power over women as objects of their patriarchal desire. Such thinking, however, is reductivist and fails to account for more nuanced constructions of the gaze and its relationship to socio-political models of power. Indeed, to claim that the relationship between the gaze and power is fundamentally reducible to the field of gender is an improper theoretical approach for analyzing A Clockwork Orange. On one hand, Alex's gaze is not the product of an active male power. While Alex's gaze is important as it is required in order forthe experiment's effectiveness, his gaze is fundamentally passive. The state forces Alex to gaze at the images, and he is completely powerless in the experiment. Moreover, Alex cannot even regulate his desires. Before the experiment, Alex enjoyed a sadistic pleasure from violence. During the experiment, however, Alex's sadistic pleasures are radically absent and transformed into physical sickness. According to the traditional feminist paradigm, Alex could only interact with the gaze as the active gazer, placed in a position of power that allows him a sadistic pleasure at the objectification of women. This is decisively not the case in this scene since Alex's gaze is a passive effect to the state's coercive demands and produces a markedly non-sadistic response, physical illness. Nevertheless, the aim of this paper is not to debate the gender identity politics of the gaze; rather, as the previous paragraphs suggest, the intention of this paper is to examine the gaze beyond the confines of gender and to connect the gaze to larger socio-political institutions, namely the state, and the exercise of institutional power. Specifically, this paper will use Kubrick's film to address the complex theoretical relationship between the individual, the gaze, and the state through the combination of three major concepts by three principal thinkers: ideology as defined by Louis Althusser, panopticism as conceived by Michel Foucault, and the gaze as formulated by Jacques Lacan. Very briefly, according to Althusser, ideology is a construct, usually discursive, that attempts to define individuals' relationships to reality; however, ideology never accurately reflects individuals' realities because it is "imaginary," never fully encapsulating the relationships people have with their real conditions of existence (162). 3 Since ideology is imaginary, it hides the real relationship of individuals to their realities-that is, ideologies are invariably false to greater or lesser degrees. The effect of this is to reproduce the existing status quo or the existing system of social relations governing the lives of individuals (Ngyugen). In the previously mentioned scene from A Clockwork Orange, ideology presents itself in two distinct but inevitably connected ways. First, the cinema operates through the ideology that the cinema is a place free from the violent coercion of the state. Second, the state operates through the ideology that its scientific experimentation on Alex is one of beneficence. Through the experiment, these two ideologies become enmeshed within each other because the state uses the movie theater as its laboratory to alter Alex's behaviors. The desired effect of the state's experiment is, as previously noted, Alex's docility. Such a desired effect requires that the state transform the movie theater into a cinematic panopticon that uses the regulatory ability of the gaze to ensure a constant mode of self-regulation in Alex. Foucault's notion ofpanopticism will be used as a way to map the state's creation of a cinematic panopticon in its experiment. Nevertheless, this is not a peaceful experiment, for the state's treatment in its newly created cinematic panopticon is fundamentally violent. While ideology attempts to disguise the violence operating within the cinematic panoptic experiment, the scene itself destroys the veneer of ideology and exposes the ideological functioning within both the cinema and, consequently, the state. On one hand, then, the panoptic gaze does, in fact, render Alex a docile subject of the state, thus solidifying the state's power. On the other hand, however, the gaze paradoxically acts as that which disrupts ideological functioning and, therefore, the state's claim to power. Indeed, by utilizing Jacques Lacan's conception of the gaze, the gaze also functions as a gap that disturbs ideological functioning and marks the failure of the state to ensure violent ideological coercion. Thus, by placing both Foucauldian and Lacanian constructions of the gaze within the context of state power and ideological functioning, this paper will ultimately demonstrate that the traditional feminist formulation of the gaze is oftentimes too inchoate and poorly equipped to fully account for more complex dynamics between the gaze, the individual, and the state, an intricate relationship that is not necessarily related or reducible to the field of gender identity politics. [Introduction]