Watching Like a Mother
I never had much difficulty accepting the cultural studies’ premise that viewers brought a personalized set of experiences and perspectives to make their own meaning of media texts. It always seemed more intuitive than the notion of passive readers taking the same ideas from a shared text. While the heady discussions of grad school classrooms were often focused on questions of oppositional or negotiated readings, this premise has taken on new meaning for me as I realize that I don’t read things the same way I used to.
Case in point, Tuesday night’s viewing of Lost led me to pronounce the following mandate to my husband as we drifted to sleep. “Just so we’re clear, if I’m ever trapped in the debris of an explosion in a submarine that is rapidly taking on water, there will be no romantic gestures. You know I love you, but someone has to get out to take care of the kids.” Minutes before I had been enthralled by the latest chapter of the Lost saga, but the final minutes rang false to me. Part was probably the oddity of the Kwons speaking in English (an idiosyncrasy others have already commented on), but narrative disbelief really took over once I realized that Jin was to sacrifice himself to die with Sun. Maybe they have a good option for their orphaned child (although I don’t recall this to be the case). But the supposed romanticism of Jin’s death and subsequent orphaning of the child seemed far-fetched to me.
A previous version of myself might have bought that scene, and my point here is not to pick on Lost. In the spirit of the holiday, the episode gave me a way to express something I’ve been thinking about for awhile. To be clear, I’m not arguing some sort of essential maternal viewing position, but in the nearly three years since I joined the motherhood, I’ve noticed differences in the meanings I make and in what stays with me. More typically I notice it in tragedy. A child’s death on Grey’s Anatomy would have been sad in the past, but now the meaning I take is far more devastating. This subject position also probably explains why just remembering the detectives arriving at Shane Vendrell’s (Walton Goggins of The Shield) apartment to find he killed his family as part of his suicide still takes my breath away. While Goggins had displayed growing desperation throughout the last season, the audacity of this last act made clear the consequences of his friendship with Vic Mackey and their actions of the previous seasons. I suspect there are myriad other ways my meaning making has changed that I can’t recall as readily or may not even recognize.
Certainly, this isn’t a radical reading position, and as much as many of us have been interested in the prospect of oppositional readings, it grounds my understanding of negotiation of meaning to be fairly limited and of polysemy to be bounded.