Summer School 2018

Collected Abstracts

KEYNOTE: Visual Diaries, Performativity and Creativity: Photographing Everyday Life

Dr Wendy Martin, Brunel University London, UK

There has been an increasing interest in creativity in mid-to-later life. There has however been limited research into creativity and performativity in the context of the daily lives of people as they grow older. This paper draws on data from the study Photographing Everyday Life: Ageing, Lived Experiences, Time and Space funded by the ESRC, UK. The focus of the project was to explore the significance of the ordinary and day-to-day and focus on the everyday meanings, lived experiences, practical activities, and social contexts in which people in mid-to-later life live their daily lives. The research involved a diverse sample of 62 women and men aged 50 years and over who took photographs of their different daily routines to create a weekly visual diary. This diary was then explored through in-depth photo-elicitation interviews to make visible the rhythms, patterns and meanings that underlie habitual and routinised everyday worlds.

The paper will explore three dimensions of creativity and performativity: (1) the use of visual diaries as a creative means to make visible aspects of ageing, performativity and everyday life; (2) creative ways participants visually represented, performed and portrayed ageing and daily life; and (3) creative and performative dimensions of dissemination when social science data is presented via the arts and humanities with the development of a participatory photographic exhibition.

In particular, the use of creativity has enabled us to visualise, reveal and portray insights into the everyday lives of people as they grow older. The meanings and experiences of creativity and performativity were moreover interspersed throughout the photographic diaries of the participants, in the very mundane and everydayness of daily life. The interconnection of creativity, performativity and the sensate and material nature of everyday life was also shown. This paper will conclude by revealing the possibilities, nuances and complexities of creativity and performativity that is an ongoing and continual process in mid-to-later life.

WAM KEYNOTE: The M Word: Methodologies and Me

Dr Josephine Dolan, Centre for Women, Ageing and Media, UK

A concern with methodologies – how and why we research ‘older women’ – lies at the heart of WAM’s focus on media. For some early career scholars, perhaps even many, the term ‘methodology’ suggests a decisive, orderly and coherent practice that can be un-problematically and consistently applied to a text or data set. Yet, as we all rapidly discover, that is not the case and coming to terms with the ensuing chaos can be the most challenging aspect of any research project.  In that vein, this paper will trace some of the histories (personal, scholarly and theoretical), rationales (or at least claims to rationality) and processes (bumblings, collaborations and intuitions) that underpin the methodology for my book Contemporary cinema and ‘old age’: gender and the silvering of stardom.

EARLY CAREER KEYNOTE: Performativity and Age – A Queer Look at Aging in Grace and Frankie

Dr Linda Hess, Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany

In my presentation, I will first focus on the ways in which Queer Studies and Aging Studies can productively be brought together in the concept of queer aging to highlight the performative element of aging. In the second part of my talk I will then examine the Netflix series Grace and Frankie. I pay particular attention to the protagonists Grace and Frankie, and their characters’ plot developments,  which push the boundaries of the “specific set of historical possibilities” (Butler) that shape our contemporary narratives of women’s aging, and thus find ways to queer normative narratives of growing older.

Dancing at Samhain: Older Women exploring Age and Identity through Performance

Caroline Coyle, Centre for Women Ageing and Media, UK 

Samhain, the beginning of the Celtic New Year (October 31st to November 1st) is regarded as the most sacred time of the year. Dedicated to honouring the ancestors, it’s a time where the veil between the world we live in and the Otherworld is at its thinnest. In 2017, twelve women including myself gathered at Uisneach, the sacred and mythological centre of Ireland, to celebrate the rituals of Samhain; as part of a yearlong research journey exploring our experiences of ageing and identity. Music led the group in a meditative dance where the old year was symbolically honoured and the New Year embraced.  This paper posits that coming together in dance at this threshold time, when the earth’s energy is being channelled into its third phase; provided an opportunity for the women to explore and express their age and identity through performance in their own unique way. The data is represented in a multimedia presentation, short film, poetry and music.

New Rites of Passage: Performing the Transformative at Menopause

Athene Currie, Griffith University, Australia

This abstract, prepared for the 2018 International Women, Ageing and Media (WAM) Research Summer School addresses the representation of the post-menopausal life of women. Inherent in this artistic address is the question why in western society menopause is not defined as a natural process of transformation that has the potential to result in empowerment for the individual woman. The project ‘New Rites of Passage’ speaks of this potential as it might be depicted in performance video. These videos are created as means to transgress the current social and cultural constraints in Western culture that are imposed on the female body and psyche at this significant stage in a woman’s life.

‘New Rites of Passage’ is a series of performance videos that actively contemplate and represent the process of change in identity at the menopause. Through the use of heuristic methodology, a broad methodology most often used in the social sciences, that is more akin to art therapy. Heuristics involves a process of internal search to discover the nature and meaning of experiences resulting in growing self-knowledge. In the project videos are intuitively performed and filmed employing the tripartite process of separation, transition and incorporation evident in a rite of passage. These stages of passage suggesting contemplation in separation from patriarchal constraints, transition of emerging new identity and reincorporation of the empowered true self.

In ‘New Rites of Passage’ the woman is seen to be actively contemplating the dissolving of outworn identities in preparation for transformation, suggested by a female figure observing the push and pull of the ocean. Transition in the repetition of wrapping and unwrapping of the body in cloth and bandages, and incorporation; a cloaked figure walking towards infinity surrounded by nature, striding confidently onwards in acceptance of her new circumstances and spiritual unity. In this way, the videos are signifying the search for a connection to a ‘true self’ through a transformational process specific to the menopause. This project recognises the process of menopause as arduous. The videos in New Rites of Passage allow the viewer to consider the notion of metamorphosis, where woman’s body and psyche develops self-knowledge, a new narrative and empowered identity.

The Media, Baby Boomers, and the Advent of Aspirational Aging

Susan J. Douglas, University of Michigan, USA

Baby boomers in the United States—76 million strong—began approaching retirement in 2011, and around the world, populations are aging.  How are the American media, notorious for their obsession with youth markets and the 18-34 demo especially, confronting and representing this major demographic shift, especially since baby boomers were once, themselves, the original youth market?  And given the double standard around aging for older women, how do ageism and sexism intertwine in media representations? This talk will explore the contradictory terrain of aging for women in American media, especially TV and advertising, where negative stereotypes—or the rank invisibility—of older women are colliding with Aspirational Aging, a media-crafted zeitgeist whose central tenet is that aging is something we can and should “defy.”  This defiance discourse, targeted particularly to women, is especially advanced by what I have labelled the Anti-Aging Industrial Complex.  The talk will examine the intersections between ageism and sexism, and emphasize how neoliberal discourses about personal responsibility frame and mark off good, successful aging from bad, failed aging for women.  At the same time, because baby boomers remain an important market, the paper will also note the rise of visibility revolts, from everyday women and celebrities alike, and consider their consequences.   

Loose Women: an empowering vision of ageing or an extension of the beauty myth into old age?  

Ruth Garland, University of Hertfordshire, UK

ITV’s Loose Women is a live daily human interest and topical discussion show presented by and for women that reaches around five million people each week and claims to deliver “real, authentic and empowered women having an upfront and candid discussion” (ITV Insights, 2017).   The show’s three main anchors and four most regular panellists have an average age of 54 and the show regularly covers issues relating to women and ageing that cover health, chronic and terminal illness and disability, family life, sex, relationships and body image.  This thematic analysis of one year’s worth of programmes asks whether Loose Women in its online and broadcast forms offers an empowering and holistic vision of female ageing that is often absent from mainstream media (Williamson, 2016).   Much of its storytelling is conducted through the experiences of older female celebrities but does this approach challenge its claim of feminine empowerment by extending the beauty myth into old age, and normalizing the idea of ‘regulatory regimes’ of the body, such as cosmetic surgery (Dolan, 2014; Carter, 2014)?   Or is it an example of genuinely subversive popular feminism?

Staging the MiddleAging Queer Body for an Experimental Lens 

Dayna McLeod,Concordia University, Montreal, Canada

This paper looks at strategies of staging the middle‐aging queer body for an experimental video art lens through the work of Nik Forrest. Nik Forrest is an accomplished queer experimental video artist whose Studio Performance Experiment series (2010–‐2013) test the boundaries of perception, gravity, and the absurd. This work also decenters heteronormative, ageist, and gendered narratives through Forrest’s use of their own body as performing (trans queer) subject, and in collaboration with dancer Sarah Williams, both of whom are in their fifties. Despite focus on improvised actions to “destabilize normal perception” of what is possible for bodies to do when it  comes to  the  physics of  gravity (Forrest), the  body  cannot  escape  categories  of  gender  and  sexuality  because states  of  being  and identity are relational to heteronormative  binaries  and definitions  of  sex and gender (Ahmed;  Butler;  Foucault; Halberstam; Stryker). Through Forrest’s work, I am  interested in how these categories make  the body visible while  reinforcing  gender  as a structure, and  describe the  subject as constructed by the acts the subject performs, while considering the heteronormative matrix that  envelopes all of us. In my paper, I will also examine how Forrest stages their own body and/or other bodies for their lens while reflecting definitive control of the camera’s gaze.

Later Life Stardom: Judi Dench’s ‘retirement’ into fame

Natasha Parcei, Leeds Beckett University, UK

Cultural gerontology invites us to view ageing, and particularly later life, as a social construct. Building on the theoretical framework presented by Higgs and Gilleard in their work on the cultural significance of the Third and Fourth Ages, this presentation focuses on understanding Judi Dench’s later life stardom as a sign of shifting societal perspective of ageing and later life.  At the age when many Brits are transitioning into retirement, Judi Dench was beginning her foray into international stardom, already an accomplished stage and television actor Dench had worked professionally her whole working life. This paper analyses a selection of key roles from Dench’s film career to gain an understanding of how she is read though her age, gender, and nationality in order to reflect upon how older British women are represented on screen, and the significance of these representations. With the rise of popularity of movies dedicated to being about older people and their lives, or movies of the Silvering Screen. This presentation follows the theoretical framework for Star studies as theorised by Richard Dyer to understand that the significance of the star’s persona within its society and what the presence of that star reveals about the society they exist within.

The Ageing Star: a Key Figure in Film History, from Hollywood’s Golden Age to contemporary cinema

Flavia Soubiran, Independent Scholar, Canada   

Since the beginning of classical Hollywood, movie stars have been displaying old age as a spectacular, artistic act, an award-winning performance, a mask they could wear or drop at their convenience. In the 21st century, age has become another type of performance and masquerade, animated by motion capture, digitally designed, accelerated, slowed down or haltered. I intend to demonstrate how, in the transition from analogue to digital cinema, the figure of the ageing star has re-emerged, allowing us to fictionalize the history and imagine the future of the film industry in the digital age. Both American and European directors are re-investing in a classic Hollywood sub-genre: the melodrama of the falling star, revived in a modern or futuristic universe. I will be focusing on the performances of Robin Wright (The Congress, 2013), Julianne Moore (Maps to the Stars, 2014), Juliette Binoche (Clouds of Sils Maria, 2014), Annette Bening (Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, 2017), Kate Winslet (Wonder Wheel, 2017) and Meryl Streep (Ricki and the Flash, 2015, Florence Foster Jenkins, 2016). From ageing, gender and celebrity studies to film-philosophy, my contribution aims to explore the capacity of cinema to shape our worldview, sense of history and self-consciousness of ageing.

‘Older Women Rock On!’ 

Leah Thorn, Freelance Artist/Activist, UK

’Older Women Rock!’ creates pop-up political art spaces to raise awareness and explore issues facing early-old-age women in our late-50s to early 70s. Through poetry, performance, fashion, film and the tools of consciousness-raising and peer counselling the project celebrates early-old-age women, challenges our invisibility, unites us across our differences and subverts dominant assumptions and prejudices about us.

One outcome has been a collection of poetic/clothing featuring designs by early-old-age women artists and displayed at various locations in the UK. The poetic/clothing interprets poetry and testimony about issues that impact us, such as lack of accurate media representation; the imperative for us to ‘age agelessly’ and the beautification industry’s influence on our self-esteem and self-image; incarceration; poverty; being a carer.

The ethos and creative outcomes of ‘Older Women Rock!’ are disseminated in part through the performance of subversive catwalks. This presentation will: 

  • Show a short film montage of previous ‘Older Women Rock!’ catwalks 
  • Use Summer School participants to create an impromptu catwalk of poetic/clothing created as a result of a Visiting Fellowship at Keele University.
  • Demonstrate how early-old-age women in their diversity represent themselves through co-creation and production

Visible and Vocal: How the punk ethos shapes older women’s performance of age

Alison Willmott, Centre for Women, Ageing and Media, UK

Older people are subject to cultural expectations that influence the way they act, look and spend their time. My PhD research focuses on women aged 50+, who identified with punk. Boundaries of age are notoriously difficult to define and the widely used ‘middle age’ is not exempt from this, nor from restrictive expectations of appearance, behaviour and leisure pursuits.  This is particularly problematic for women, who are subject to gendered expectations throughout their lives. The subculture of punk came into being in the UK in the late 1970s and existing research on ‘ageing punks’ has so far failed to capture the experiences of women. Findings nonetheless suggest that punk identities, lifestyles and practices endure into middle age, providing an alternative to the narrow view of ‘ageing’ that public discourse holds.  The punk ethos advocated a DIY, non-conformist approach to music, lifestyle, and appearance, which may have had a lasting impact for the women influenced by it, potentially their ability to resist conforming to wider social expectations of ageing.  If women retain their punk identity, how might this shape their experience of ageing? I have interviewed fifteen women who identified with punk in an attempt to find out.

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