As increasing emphasis is placed by post-secondary institutions and employers on the importance of writing skills, this special section considers the gap between what writing instructors need to be effective and the supports currently in place, particularly in light of the disciplinary tensions between English departments and writing studies, the reliance on precariously-employed faculty members, the emergence of teaching-stream faculty roles, and the seemingly perpetual restructuring of writing centre work.
Writing instructors’ working conditions reflect multiple tensions, including the professional formation of most Canadian writing instructors in fields outside rhetoric, composition, writing studies, or applied language studies, and the historical tendency to teach writing through literature (Brooks, 2002; Clary-Lemon, 2009); the way that some “Canadian English departments off-loaded writing instruction to other disciplines, through writing centres and ad hoc arrangements” (Phelps, 2012, p. 16); the challenge of justifying small-class instruction and extensive personalized feedback as signature elements of effective writing studies pedagogy (Horning, 2007); the increasing numbers of multilingual students whose language support needs have only been partially accommodated (Marshall & Walsh Marr, 2018); and the expectation that writing instructors will “fix” students’ writing, ideally in first year, before they undertake advanced work in a specific academic discipline (Giltrow, 2016).
Academic labour issues also play a central role. Canadian college and university instructors of writing are disproportionately graduate students and contract faculty members (Landry, 2016; Graves, 1991) who, much like their American counterparts, have limited institutional power (Samuels, 2017; Bousquet, 2008). Similarly, writing centre work is often carried out by staff who do not have the same job security and institutional status as tenure-track instructors (Graves, 2016) and whose academic credentials are not acknowledged by faculty (Alexander, 2005).
In addition, new types of permanent and tenure-track teaching-stream positions have become increasingly associated with writing instruction in Canada; these positions often include heavy teaching loads that limit professional development or research time. The teaching of writing is female-dominated, both reflecting and contributing to diminished status in the academy (Alexander, 2005). Further, pedagogical training and ongoing faculty development have not been evenly available to permanent or sessional instructors of writing (Smith, 2006).
The guest editors for this special section invite contributions of short articles (including theory-based analysis, empirical research, narrative, and opinion-style pieces) that explore these issues, as well as related topics. Our goal is to work with authors to develop articles that are in dialogue with one another and that further the conversation about professional formation and identities.
Questions that could be explored:
How does location (by type of institution, within a particular faculty, department, or program, in a writing centre) affect the status and pedagogical support of writing instructors?
How do writing instructors who move between institutions or programs negotiate differing (and sometimes conflicting) administrative and pedagogical imperatives?
How are the specific needs of multilingual, Indigenous, and international students contemplated and addressed in the professional development of writing instructors, and what is missing?
How can writing instructors be supported in accommodating diverse student learning needs, including disabilities, in a changing legal and human rights landscape?
How does online writing instruction affect the requirements for faculty preparation and development?
In light of the precarious status of many writing instructors, how can faculty development be inclusive, democratic, and participatory rather than managerial?
How do writing instructors’ own identities–particularly in the context of the feminization of writing studies, the eurocentrism of the field, and the limited number of Black, Indigenous, and other racialized scholars in Canadian writing studies–affect faculty development needs and shape the institutional status of writing instruction?
How can instructors outside writing studies be prepared and supported in writing instruction needs within their own disciplines?
What are the institutional and pedagogical effects of the low status of writing instruction and writing instructors, particularly within research universities, and how can this status be challenged?
What are the effects (on students, on faculty members and in departments/institutions) of a growing group of instructors teaching primarily in a field they did not train in, especially with little time and support for professional development?
Manuscripts should be in the range of 2,000-4,000 words (including references and appendices), and should be submitted electronically1 in MSword (.doc or .docx format). Please refer to the APA Handbook (6th edition) for style guidelines. Manuscripts that do not follow these guidelines will not be considered suitable for review. Please note: The deadline for submissions is January 15, 2019.
Please feel free to contact the section editors if you have questions:
Sara Humphreys (shumphreys at uvic dot ca), Micaela Maftei (MafteiM at camosun dot bc dot ca), Katja Thieme (Katja.Thieme at ubc dot ca), and Heidi Tiedemann Darroch (DarrochH at camosun dot bc dot ca).
Alexander, K. (2005). Liminal identities and institutional positioning: On becoming a ‘writing lady’ in the academy. Inkshed: Newsletter of the Canadian Association for the Study of Language and Learning, 22(3), 5-16.
Bousquet, M. (2008). How the university works: Higher education and the low-wage nation. New York: New York University Press.
Brooks, K. (2002). National culture and the first-year English curriculum: A historical study of “Composition” in Canadian universities. American Review of Canadian Studies, 32(4), 673–694. https://doi.org/10.1080/02722010209481679
Marshall, S., & Walsh Marr, J. (2018). Teaching multilingual learners in Canadian writing-intensive classrooms: Pedagogy, binaries, and conflicting identities. Journal of Second Language Writing, 40, 32–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jslw.2018.01.002
Phelps, L. W. (2012). The historical formation of academic identities: Rhetoric and composition, discourse and writing. Canadian Journal for Studies in Discourse and Writing/Rédactologie, 25(1), 25-Mar.
Smith, T. S. (2006). Recent trends in undergraduate writing courses and programs in Canadian universities. In R. Graves & H. Graves (Eds.), Writing centres, writing seminars, writing culture: Writing instruction in Anglo-Canadian universities (pp. 319–370). Winnipeg: Inkshed Press.
Note: if you have not played this game and plan to – do NOT read this post. There are many spoilers.
Rape culture is a way to think of the systemic means by which women are rendered powerless and subjected in particular contexts. Anne Kingston, senior writer at Maclean’s magazine (a Canadian weekly news periodical) accurately described rape culture as an ecosystem that enables rape to be normalized (e.g. women “deserve” to be raped if they act in certain ways). An ecosystem is such that the those who live in it are largely unaware of its processes, much like most of us take little notice of the bacteria that allow us to live, many are unaware of the cultural processes that shape and channel the way they think, fantasize, behave, and interact. Literary genres participate in creating a national ecosystem (or symbolic order) by narrativizing the paradigmatic myths that tell us who we are as national, racial, cultural, and political subjects. Genres map out how we should deal with certain social and rhetorical situations, so it should not be surprising that noir fiction and film has participated in the seamless functioning of rape culture by perpetuating ideologies of American gender and sexuality.
Like Foucault said (okay, he didn’t SAY the following, but he strongly implied it!), we need to trace the origins of the discourses in order to denaturalize them. As Herbert Marcuse explains, in a repressive and oppressive social order, technological and mass forms/artifacts serve the practical and ideological needs of that order (John Sanbonmatsu “Video Games and Machine Dreams of Domination“) In video game studies, there has consistently been a strong push to find new and improved ways to study video games, and this trajectory tends to foreclose on linking game narratives to the historical processes and contexts that engendered them. This is not to say that we shouldn’t follow what Alexander Galloway and Ian Bogost tells us in regard to privileging the computational processes from which games are fueled, but that we need to expose the ideologies, which are distinctly linked to game procedures. With all due respect to Surface Reading (a new and improved formalism), there are immersive technologies that require theoretical practice to expose the “wizard” behind the curtain, so to speak. This is not about hunting for meaning in a print text but gazing a critical eye at an instrumentalist form of reading that can be blinding.
The Red Lipstick Murders case starts in classic noir style with “unusual camera angles” and “chiaroscuro,” creating a decentred and unstable composition (Andrew Spicer Film Noir313). We expect to see graphic violence in film noir, and this opening delivers with a woman being dragged from a car and then bludgeoned to death with a tire iron. We only see the killer’s feet and then the shadowy outline of him beating a woman to death: as spectators, we are certainly decentred (perhaps by our voyeuristic role and the expectation that we will be able to see the victim – a disturbing thought).
This is a cut scene so we are not positioned as player but as viewer, a position for which we have been trained via the culture industry. That is, we know how to watch a film and so we put these “reading” skills to use as we play. I realize there is some disagreement as to whether players actually watch cut scenes or not, but since complex video games like L.A. Noire use cut scenes as rewards for finding certain objects (pick up a newspaper, wear certain clothing, etc..), I think the point is that we are meant to do so. They certainly cost enough money to produce (meaning if they were not popular, why include them?), so I think the argument is moot and unhelpful. We need to see this cut scene to know what comes next, which is in the debriefing room at the station where Captain Donnelly fills us in on the case.
The modality of the scene changes from classic noir B&W to colour; from odd camera angles to a straight shot of the room, and we are positioned in with the other detectives as we transition from gazing as audience member to focalizing the narrative through Phelps. As Phelps, we enter and, to some extent, are controlled by a primarily male gaze. We have the power to investigate and demand answers to questions. We have access to knowledge and control. My biological features as a real person are not at stake; my ability to navigate this world is dependent on Phelps, who we follow and appear to make choices as this character, but these choices are largely decided by complex algorithms. No matter what choice I make as Phelps, he will not live up to his social designation as hard-boiled detective. He is a failed version of masculinity (more in this post). Phelps does not define ME but does influence my perception (if I allow him to). Through Phelp’s, I learn how a male-centred world operates and the price to be paid if one does not correctly perform masculinity. Video games are often called “masculinist,” but this is an overly simplified way to think about video games. Many (not all) games are really forms of social control for all genders and sexualities and most link to a decidedly American form of rugged masculinity and domesticity influenced via frontier narratives.
Through Phelp’s gaze we are introduced to a lengthy set of cases that reveal a serious threat to the American home and, therefore, nation. On this urban frontier, the threats are internal and not the external threats the frontiersman of the 18th and 19th century faced. However, one of the hallmarks of the classic frontiersman is to recognize evil in all its disguises. Hawkeye knows the difference between “good” and “bad” Indians and, similarly, our urban frontiersman/detective, Phelps, must also be able to gauge, through interrogation, who is “good” and who is “bad.” One of the twists of the noir genre is to diagnose an infection, but to be unable to excise that infection. The hard-boiled detective makes the urban frontier relatively safe, but the uncivilized element is never fully banished.
The infection in this particular section of the game exhumes a nineteenth and early twentieth century debate over temperance and sobriety that informed “the construction of whiteness and masculinity as definitional of both the public sphere in which they took place and the embodied subjects who embodied that space” (Hendler,Sentimental Men 128). This temperance discourse is remapped onto a post-collapse United States to make sense of why the collapse happened and how the U.S. can maintain its exceptionalism. The blame is cast on the the 1% (as inevitable, all-powerful, exceptional, and unbeatable – inviting political apathy as all Rockstar games do), but also on the intemperance of the nation, metonymically represented by murdered, fallen American women.
It is crucial to understand that the Red Lipstick Murders are loosely based on the Lipstick Murders in Chicago and the gruesome Black Dahlia murder in Los Angeles. In both cases, women and one small girl, were brutally attacked, mutilated, and murdered (not necessarily in that order). This link between actual murders and the fictitious world of the game is not only a convention of genres with frontier heritage but also of American literature. The link between fact and fiction (or “fact-tion”) is often blurred in American literature. Of course, these blurred lines (pardon the wordplay here) are part and parcel of nation building in the U.S. Therefore, it is not surprising that the game writers/developers drew from these famous cases, with the Black Dahlia case figuring most predominantly.
Of particular interest is the mention of the Black Dahlia by Phelp’s crusty new partner, Rusty Galloway in the cut scene where they travel to the crime scene. The killer is dubbed the “werewolf” in the game, likely due to the brutality of the killings. Galloway surmises that this case has nothing to do with the Dahlia murders, explaining that “90% of murders are domestic.” Phelps asks why so many women are being murdered at this particular point in time, to which Galloway responds, “‘Cause of the war. You should know that. Guy gets to kill people every day in combat, comes home, and he’s expected to take lip from his wife? What do you think is going to happen?” Phelps is skeptical. What Galloway’s comments reveal is an incredibly important part of the domestic and rape culture ecosystem: men can’t help it. If a woman “gives lip” to a traumatized male, then she can expect to be murdered. Chilling.
Of course, linking these cases to the Dahlia murder is more than simply sensationalizing: Elizabeth Short, nicknamed the Black Dahlia by the press, was characterized as a loose woman, who drank and caroused (James Ellroy, My Dark Places). The name “Black Dahlia” gave her an air of mystery and eroticism (not to mention the metaphorical connotations between the vagina and flowers). Often described as an “struggling” and “aspiring” actress, Short is implicitly linked to the perversity and intemperance that has defined the underbelly of Hollywood. The Red Lipstick Murder is only the first in the series of cases involving murdered intemperate women that Phelps investigates: in each case, the victims, like Short, are characterized as “loose women” – they either drink or spend too much money. They are promiscuous or drifters; therefore, the game makes the case that they were destined to end badly.
The Victim: Celine Henry
When we approach the crime scene, we are given a brief aerial shot of the victim (Celine Henry, but we do not learn her name until later). She is naked and mutilated. As part of the game mechanics, we have to straddle her, which is disturbing to say the least. Positioned just below the vagina, we look at the body over Phelp’s shoulder. The killer has written on the body the initials “BD,” which might mean, according to the coroner, “Black Dahlia.” We check the victims hands and discover that a ring on the right hand is missing.
We discover a lighter from a local club, The Bamba, at the crime scene, and soon we are on our way to discover the identity of the victim and unpack her narrative. Phelps has the power to speak for Henry, who could have easily been portrayed and even played in flashbacks, but that’s not part of the genre convention, and so it is not part of the game procedure. When we question the bartender, we learn that the victim is likely Celine Henry, and she frequents the club most nights. Her intemperance has been established.
As Phelps, we interrogate the club owner McColl, who paints a picture of Celine as a “lovely woman” but also as a heavy drinker who had “quite a head start” before she met up with a man at the bar. He mentions Celine’s husband, who then becomes a “POI” (Person of Interest), which pops up at the bottom of the screen. This little notation (in typewriter style font to add to the high modality of the game) about clues, locations, and possible suspects operates as a kind of computational internal narrator, directing us to think in certain ways, such as defining characters as innocent or guilty. As a member of what Louis Althusser called the Repressive State Apparatus, Phelps is invested with a state sanctioned mastery of official language and can demand answers from suspects. We learn that Celine does not have mastery of language, and she is a linguistic deviant because she “tells stories” to attract male attention.Celine is postioned as unreliable and unable to control language, the opposite of Phelps, even though she is educated and is also a “flier.” We later learn that Celine was a pioneering female pilot, all of which is overshadowed by her alcoholism and infidelity. In other words, her accomplishments in the public sphere are meaningless in the face of her domestic transgressions.
Phelps asks McColl about Celine’s missing ring, which is not her wedding ring, and is described as “on the large side, larger than life, like Celine herself.” Through pressing the correct assessment of McColl’s truthfulness (doubt is the right answer), the game procedures here position Phelps as the subject-supposed-to-know and McColl as the subordinated male subject, we learn that McColl bought Celine the ring, indicating infidelity on Celine’s part. Another nail in her coffin.
McColl tells Phelps that he tried to call Celine’s husband Jacob to pick her up, as he had done many times before. Jacob refuses and Celine leaves with her killer.
When we investigate the house, we learn that the house has been “creeped,” (already searched) according to Galloway (love that slang!). As we investigate, we find a note on the fridge left by Jacob for Celine stating that if she “sobers up” she can find him at a particular address. Here is our next destination, which is kept in a note book that we consult to choose clues, intuition, and also a location to travel to. The notebook is a symbol of official language – a virtual space that collects transgressions of gender and national performance, which we, as Phelps, then use to interrogate and arrest suspects.
After talking with a neighbour, Jennifer Horoan, we learn that Celine was very drunk by 10:00 pm, and Jacob may have given her a black eye (Galloway says in the house that if his wife drank that much, he’d give her a smack, so domestic violence is shown a common way to deal with wild wives in this historical representation of 1940’s America). Jennifer calls Jacob “long suffering” and tells Phelps that Celine drove very drunk, a cardinal sin, lowering Celine’s ethos even more.
When we find Jacob, he claims to know nothing of Celine’s death but Phelps finds a notebook and as Phelps, we rub the notebook with a pencil and find a secret note. This particular interaction, renders us (so to speak) as a demysitifiers – this little immersive scene is a meta-narrative for the detective’s function: only he can reveal hidden meaning and make structure out of chaos. As Catherine Belsey so saliently notes in “Constructing the Subject; Deconstructing the Text,” the detective makes all mysteries accountable to reason (which is not the hard-boiled detective way, so Phelps will pay for this misrecognition of his national role). That comes later, in this particular case, Phelps makes the world easily readable through the binary lens of gender performance. This particular clue makes Galloway accuse Jacob of murdering his wife, but Jacob insists he only wanted to commit her to a sanitorium for treatment of alcoholism. At this point, a fight ensues, Galloway is slugged, and we subdue Jacob. By clicking the right buttons, we violently regain control of the situation.
When we call in for a squad car to pick up Jacobs and take him to the station, we learn that Celine was not killed by blunt force trauma to the head. Her death was sexually violent and gruesome; over the phone, Carruthers, the coroner, tells us the horrific details:
Death was from hemmorage; the shock from the fractured ribs; and multiple injuries caused by stomping…He’s [the killer] some kind of sex fiend. The tissues of the anus were bruised about an 1/8th, but no trace of semen in the anus, vagina, or stomach.
Jacob is taken to the police station, and we get a call from dispatch that the license plate number matches a car belonging to one Alonzo Mendez, which means that Jacob is likely innocent. The Captain does not care; as far as he is concerned, Jacob was a browbeaten husband, which means that he was pushed to murder his wife.
In the interrogation session, Jacob denies everything, and we know he is likely innocent but the marriage pact as a microcosm of the nation will not bear Jacob being anything other than a “sob sister,” who was “pushed around by his wife.” Captain Donnelly’s authority and control are clear: he will dictate the narrative of this marriage, which is driven by national ideal of rugged masculinity and domesticity. There can be no queerness or changing of roles. Jacob’s failure as a husband must rest in his inability to control his wife’s alcoholism and promiscuity through violence and not his apparently passive attempt to send her for treatment. Of course, he should support her and help her to be sober, but this is a violation of genre protocol. He is not the civilizer but the protector or civilization, even if that protection is violent. “Civilizers” are American women who control the homefront.
The interrogation session is also part of the game procedure and its rhetoric is designed to support these ideologies of sex and gender. When Phelps (us) accuses Jacobs of lying, we do it in the most vociferous and insulting way imaginable, we call Celine a “drunken whore” who treated Jacob “like shit.” We call Jacob a “weak sister” for stomping on Celine and mutilating her, but we know that this is not the case. Paradoxically, the Captain’s fiction that Phelps perpetuates is exactly what makes Jacob more of a man for punishing Celine, whose sexual and alcoholic intemperance renders her the bad wife and mother: the worst crime an American middle class white woman can commit.
Phelps plays into the system despite knowing the truth – and if we agree with Jacob, we will fail to win more points and gain what are called “intution points.” These points are invaluable to gain access to answers and finding important clues, sometimes within a time limit. Again, a game’s procedures are set up to encourage the player to win but in the case of game narrative what do we win? We win by ideologically positioning ourselves correctly. We know the truth but we will not jeopardize our careers or our success to save another from injustice. When we consider the powerful combination of genre and video game mechanics, then this is a powerful lesson, isn’t it? Stay quiet and endure – don’t fight back. Much like we see in other Rockstar Games, such as Red Dead Redemption, don’t fight the power, endure the power, and do what you are told. Those who break those boundaries pay a terrible price.
Jacob admits to “killing her [Celine’s] dreams” by only being able to offer “security” for Celine, who wanted to pursue her goal of being a pilot. In 2011, the idea of security has multiple meanings for U.S. citizens, playing on ideas of financial security (which was and is still an impossibility for a large swath of the American population) and also national security. Jacob describes his social and class mobility from his life as a tenant farmer to his current middle class status, rendering Celine’s aviation dreams as wasteful, extravagant, and intemperate.
The person who is finally arrested is the Mexican American, Mendez whose ethnicity renders him available to frame in this racist gamescape. They find the murder weapon in plain site and surrounded by blood in a cardboard box in the middle of his bedroom. Again, Phelps knows better and questions the placement of the murder weapon, but when Mendez arrives, we follow the game code and arrest him.
You can read more in my forthcoming book Manifest Destiny 2.0: Genre Trouble in Video Games.
Trigger warning: this post briefly discusses rape and molestation.
I spent my last post (a long time ago) talking about how Phelps is positioned as the privileged white male through the opposition and negation of the ethnic/racialized Other. I am now going to write a series of posts about a disturbing section of the game where Phelps chases a serial killer, who slaughters and mutilates trangressive women. This is a prequel to those posts. We solve a case in which the worst parts of the social order are exposed. The hardboiled detective (us) exposes what is wrong with the social order and quells transgressive behaviour (Phelps isn’t quite a full-fledged hardboiled detective but more on that in another post).
I know Slavoj Zizek has taken a drubbing lately. Some have said he is a one trick pony, or that he is just another out of touch, overprivileged academic who makes outrageous comments with little thought the constituencies he might effect (such as his recent comments on suicide – yep, he is an idiot in some ways, but should we throw the baby out with the bathwater?). However, when it comes to his work on noir film, few can match the way in which Zizek maps out the power structures at work in this genre. While he does not make the connection to frontier literature that Richard Slotkin does, when we put these two theorists together, we gain real insight into how noir film regulates gender paradigms, locates deviance, and quashes it (or is the detective really able to do this?)
The case that allows Phelps to be promoted to homicide, which is the level where we encounter serial killer cases, provides insight into the centrality of the female body to the game (as property and commodity). We start with ca car crash over a cliff that is stopped by the “Cola King” billboard (so what you will with that symbolism). The two women are not seriously injured, but the driver June Ballard, who is a B movie actress (and married to mobster Guy McAfee), says that she and her companion, a minor named Jessica Hamilton, were drugged and then a movie producer pushed the car over the cliff.
One of the clues Phelps finds in his investigation of the crash scene is a letter to Jessica, the 13 year old girl from her mother, begging her to come home: “You’re not made for Hollywood” pleads her mother, who admits to wanting to go to Hollywood (like Jessica) to be the next “Clara Bow” – but what does it mean to be “made for” something? The mother claims that she got married and realized that she “would have never been happy in that life” and that Jessica too will “realize it one day too.” Here the discourses of domesticity run deep. Beside the letter are a pair of torn panties that may or may not have semen on them, according to the coroner, which suggests that living outside the bounds of the domestic sphere will lead to rape.
Quick digression: let’s just stop here for a second and consider what it means to stop and read a letter in a video game. Actually, we do quite a bit of this in L.A. Noire, because we are investigating clues. In other words, we must read every scene we enter visually and textually. Zizek compares hardboiled detectives to analysts: they must look at the most fragmented and distal of clues to piece together a coherent narrative. That is the task of the detective: the create coherency and civilization out of chaos. This is exactly what we do when we take on Phelp’s perception in the game. The multi-modality of noir fiction and film exploits the universe of the video game. More to be said on this in the book but end of digression.
I’d like to invoke some Shirley Samuels here because I see a similar “logic” going on to the one she parsed out in her tour de force chapter “Generation through Violence: The Making of Americans” (inRomances of the Republic) on the ways in which the female body operates on the frontiers of James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans (1826) (LOM). I realize a novel written in the early national period would seem to have little to do with a video game released in 2011 but why not? After all, as Slotkin states, the hardboiled detective is nothing more than an urban frontiersman, and Cooper’s series of books (the most popular and durable of which is LOM) on the exploits of the Deerslayer or Natty Bumppo.
Samuels writes that the generative possibility of the female body is dangerous on the frontier – her body threatens the Republic because it is out of the control of the heteropatriarchy. Women are the biological carriers of a certain type of American identity. I am taking some liberties with Samuels’s argument here, but on this urban frontier, the female body is under threat by “savage” Others. The promise of domestic bliss that Jessica’s mother desires and Jessica embodies by virtue of her virgin whiteness is threatened by men like Marlon Hopgood (the owner of a prop store and a “casting couch,” if you catch my drift) and a corrupt movie producer Mark Bishop who “likes em’ young,” according to Mrs. Bishop. In this circumstance, the female body operates as a kind of X factor. A body that lures and causes cis men to commit crimes. While Jessica is the victim, when Phelps reads the letter and subsequently discovers that she does not want to go home, we learn that, like women in frontier narrative, Jessica is a wild thing who must be tamed (and the men who raped her are savages, which, btw, conforms to Cooper’s original fictionalization of captivity and frontier histories).
Here is where I am going to play around with the Phallus (sorry). Theory jockeys know quite well that men can identify with the Phallus (the Phallus cannot be possessed; it’s name references the penis, and, hence, heteropatriarchy, but is not to be confused with the actual male organ) but women must BE the Phallus or desire. To think this paradigm through by way of (a possibly tired) analogy, when Jabba the Hut chains Leia to him as a dancing girl, he possesses power and she must BE or perform as desire for him. What we need to do is take back agency and power (I know, do we strangle the “Phallus,” as Leia does? I wish).
Now, let’s connect this idea back to L.A. Noire. What we find is that Jessica, much like Leia, is expected to perform in one way for the men who promise her movie roles and another for Phelps and Bukowsky – in either case, she must genuflect to the Phallus. Guess what? she wants to, because that is part of rape culture. Jessica will put herself in harm’s way. That is the narrative myth. The Phallus is the signification of the desire, and this game writes that desire into existence, if you see what I mean. The Phallus is the fantasy of power, after all. Jessica becomes the representative of all white girls and their burgeoning sexuality. June Ballard is the representative of women who are losing their sexual appeal, and Jessica’s mother is the woman who has fulfilled her manifest domesticity. Her voice is all but silent save for a letter than can only be brought to life by the detective figure: the possessor/definer (?) of the Phallus. This scenario in different forms is played out continuously in popular console and online video games. We need to queer up these stories.
When Phelps questions Jessica about her “abuse” (the word “rape” is not used in the game, but Jessica was drugged and her underwear ripped off, so, yeah, she was raped), she is evasive.
Phelps suggests she should go back home, but Jessica insists that she might get a part, to which Bekowsky comments, “It’s the tale of this town, Cole, Lambs go willingly to slaughter.” This metaphorical reasoning positions Jessica is the proverbial lamb and links this urban frontier even more fully to the representation of womanhood on Cooper’s frontiers. You know what is extra-depressing about all of this? That in 2014, white women are still being positioned as sexual victims and perpetrators of their own victimhood (if they do not agree to to the Phallic pact of domesticity and perform as the guarantors of racial and cultural purity).
As the case continues, we meet with Mark Bishop’s wife. Remember that he is the movie producer who jammed a prop under the accelerator and tried to murder Ballard and Hamilton. As mentioned earlier in the post, his wife confesses that her husband “likes them young” and she was one of his conquests early on. She also makes an interesting comment that Ballard “sacrificed” Hamilton to Bishop. Hamilton’s youth becomes cultural capital to compensate for Ballard’s age and, therefore, diminishing sex appeal on the Hollywood marketplace. We gain points for pushing Mrs. Bishop into admitting that young female bodies are objects of exchange for male studio executives. Phelps controls the questioning and, we control Phelps, therefore, we need to get Mrs. Bishop to perform the right speech act. In other words, the game rewards us rewarded for dominating female speech.
Phelps and Bekowsky are sent to Silver Screen Props to investigate what appears to be a pedophile ring. We step into an elevator to get to Silver Screen props and I think it is vital to note that the controller vibrates when we ride in the elevator. Is it fooling me that I am in the elevator – no. I mean, come on. However, this is an important CONNECTION between my body and the body I am controlling – right? I am Phelps in this space, in other words.
In any case, we go to Silver Screen Props and what do we find? The aforementioned Hapgood and his classic casting couch set up with secret camera rooms and two way mirrors that both film young girls in compromising positions and also peep into the bathroom. We discover that the rape film of Jessica and Mark Bishop is missing but may be at a set where Bishop is filming a B Movie “Jungle Drums.” The interesting part about this set is the reference to savagery and barbarism. Set in a mythologized African setting, the film set sends our ostensible frontier hero, Phelps, into the wild to protect civilization as represented by the white female captive, Jessica. This is a longstanding paradigmatic myth in American culture that is played out in an urban setting in L.A. Noire. Phelps, with Bekowsky as his sidekick must protect civilization from the encroachment of savage males, who cannot control their sexual impulses and violate white girls who should grow up to manifest domesticity. Bishop is paralleled with savage racialized others who represent that which must be civilized. Phelps is the great white “civilizer” who will save the white female from sexual transgression (despite Jessica’s wish not to fulfill her mother’s domestic role).
Of course, this section of the game is linked to the award winning 1948 thriller The Fallen Idol. I am still sorting through ideas….as you can tell.