I make no great claims for these somewhat fragmented notes which are offered by way of introduction to students concerned with examining the functions of 'the gaze' in the visual media (in particular in relation to television and to advertising in all its forms). ‘The gaze’ (sometimes called ‘the look’) is a technical term which was originally used in film theory in the 1970s but which is now more broadly used by media theorists to refer both to the ways in which viewers look at images of people in any visual medium and to the gaze of those depicted in visual texts. The term 'the male gaze' has become something of a feminist cliché for referring to the voyeuristic way in which men look at women (Evans & Gamman 1995, 13). My aim here is to alert students to existing material and frameworks which may assist them in their own investigations of the issue of the gaze in relation to media texts.
Mutual gaze is now possible in forms of interpersonal communication other than direct face-to-face interaction: current examples are video-conferencing and the use of 'cam-to-cam' communication via the World Wide Web. In the case of mass media texts as opposed to interpersonal communication, a genuine exchange of gazes through the textual frame is of course not possible - the viewer can look at those depicted in the text and cannot be seen by them - giving the viewing of all mass media texts and ‘realistic’ figurative art a voyeuristic aspect. The unseen viewing which is enabled by such indirect or 'mediated' viewing can be seen more positively as serving an 'information-seeking' function (Argyle 1975, 160) - an observation which alerts us to the issue of the viewer's purposes. The impossibility of mutual gaze between viewers and those depicted in media texts unfortunately means that much of the research by social psychologists which relates to the human gaze tends to be of limited relevance to media theorists. However, where possible I have tried to refer to empirical evidence which relates to the various theories discussed.