Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Physical Attractiveness Bias in Oleanna

I apologize if everyone is through with discussing Oleanna. I hate being the one to admit this and hope that no one find me “shallow” for it. As I have been doing research for the rough draft of my project, I came across this article (click on full PDF to read) and couldn’t help but acknowledge that physical attractiveness bias may have been at least partially affecting my perception of who the victim is in Oleanna. I, like most of the class, strongly sympathized for John, and despite some of Professor Prenkert’s arguments and showing of scenes in the film that can be read in Carol’s favor, I found myself very adamant in my opinion that John was the victim. That is not to say there weren’t good reasons for finding John the victim and as Professor Prenkert mentioned in class today, it was probably the way Mamet intended. I do not want to assume that everyone has the same perceptions on beauty ideals or what those perceptions are, but I must admit I did think Carol was unattractive and wondered had she been attractive if I would have perceived her more as a victim.

As we discussed a little in class today, Mamet’s play is highly interpretive and ambiguous. In class we had mentioned John’s character could act more “pervy” and Carol’s character could act more innocent. I have never seen a live performance of Oleanna, but I wonder if Carol on stage had the same appearance as Carol in the film? I would also like to investigate if Mamet had an idea of what these characters should look like. Although this would not affect our reading of the play, I think it partially persuaded me in John’s favor after seeing the film. Would we as an audience feel differently about who the victim is if Carol was played by Pamela Anderson? Jennifer Aniston? An Olsen twin?

I particularly find this issue interesting because we tend to look at aspects of the law to be so objective, but it’s easy to see how something unconscious such as physical attractiveness bias might persuade a jury’s position in a sexual harassment case.

3 Comments:

Blogger songbird said...

I think you make a great point, Steph. I found myself being irritated by everything about Carol. As the movie progressed I found myself being frustrated about everything from the way she stumbled over words, to the way her glasses fell off her nose.
My prejudices remind me of the discrimination law debate we had today in class. Epstein was adament that society was beyond discrimination, and part of me agreed with him, but with pointing out the physical attractiveness discrimination, maybe I, too, am guilty of having prejudice that sway my decision making process. Take for example, if I was interviewing Carol, subconsciously, I may make a decision influenced by the fact that her hair was in her face or that her glasses were not very flattering. I would not intend to make these judgements, but sadly, I could see how they might influence me.
Furthermore, I was just thinking if this case was taken to court, would a jury or a judge be able to escape prejudice and discrimination like this? I wonder what sort of practices and protections there are for court personelle. How do judges avoid discriminating and having prejudice against defendants and plaintiffs?
It's interesting how much phyiscal appearance can be a factor. Wow!

9:07 PM  
Blogger Katie Krengel said...

While working at a defense litigation firm two summers ago, there was a case that came about a 20 something girl who was injured due to a faulty wooden platform. The defense firm knew that they would have to settle in mediation because they "didn't want to put the girl on the stand." They said that because she was very pretty and well spoken, the jury would automatically side with her. So, at least in the insurance defense world of Indianapolis, discrimination based on physical appearance is a recognized part of litigation and the courtroom.

9:30 PM  
Anonymous Marie E. said...

I completely agree with all three of you. It is so simple for people to say they put personal preferences, opinions, and appearances aside but let's be honest here- we are all human and we all pass judgment on one another regardless of what is influencing our opinion (be it someone's hair or religious preference). I was surprised to read that the defense in the Indianapolis case admitted to the subjectivity of a jury's so-called "objective" opinions. Does anyone think there should be some changes made to the court system in order to accommodate these human tendencies?

8:50 PM  

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