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In Katy Perry’s corresponding music video to her single, The One that Got Away, she addresses the roles of men and women individually, during both a relationship, and a breakup scenario . Her visual tells two correlated stories. The first is a story of a young, elated couple, credulous, and impassioned with the entity of love. The couple depicted is rumored to be inspired by the relationship between her ex-boyfriend, Jonathan Lewis, and herself. After a few blissful scenes, the mood of the video shifts, displaying more negative interactions between the two. The second story is that of a much older version of the female character from the first story, depicted as wealthy and miserable without her “one that got away.” Throughout the course of this visual representation, Perry brings into play a great deal of symbolic material that strikes a chord with her teenage audience, exhibiting to them countless subtle messages, both positive and negative, regarding interaction between genders in various plights.
In only a few brief scenes, Perry does an outstanding job of showing her male and her female characters as equals, rather than as one superior to the other. In the segment of the video that displays the young lovers, they are portrayed as equally delighted, as they paint pictures of each other, dance, and laugh together. She shows them as two individuals against the world. The two are united. Her characters are bold, silly, and adventurous; totally and completely indifferent to the thoughts or opinions of any spectators. This is an excellent representation of gender equality in a relationship, because it paints a picture of balance and mutual respect between two people of different sexes to her audience of adolescents, who are soon to be entering into dating relationships themselves.
By showing teens this depiction of a lively couple, Perry is inadvertently screaming to the youth messages about what a healthy relationship should look like. In doing this, she is essentially preparing them each for their own future relationships. She depicts happiness and playfulness, rather than erotic scenes or domestic violence. She does this almost as if to say, “this is how two people in love are supposed to behave toward each other, and this is the kind of joy love can bring when done right.” This is the primary reason her portrayal of sameness between the male and the female is such a positive thing. It encourages her young viewers to withstand nothing less than spectacular when choosing another person with whom to spend their lives.
Perry takes this display of impartiality higher as she brings the young couple back into the picture after their initial argument. While before they were depicted in rather gender specific clothing; Perry in a pink dress, and her lover in black leather jacket, now they are shown wearing nearly the exact same ripped and stained white t-shirt. The shift into basic clothing in accordance with the severed bond the two shared effectively shows that when experiencing grief or heartache, gender is of little importance. This is Perry’s way of enforcing that regardless of sex, everyone experiences pain and everyone has to employ coping mechanisms in order to maintain health and sanity in times of difficulty. In their times of grief, they aren’t depicted in expressive clothing specific to their gender and personality, they are depicted in distressed and gender neutral clothing, because distress is gender neutral.
On a less acclaimed note, in this very same scene, Perry also depicts male and female of having different methods of expressing emotion. Although she does make it evident that both she and her lover are having a hard time dealing with the loss of the companionship of the other, she chooses to show them coping stereotypically. Perry illustrates her boyfriend as fleeing from the house angrily and going for a drive in his Mustang, most likely to blow off the steam accumulated during their spat. She displays herself with tear stained eyes and black makeup smeared across her face, crying out her frustration. This alludes toward the received belief that men are hard-bitten and tenacious, never shedding a tear or showing even the slightest indication of weakness, while women are then perceived as delicate and sensitive. This is negative in the sense that it encourages teenage boys to conceal their emotions, and it severely damages the positive message about gender equality that was present earlier in the video, but could also be interpreted as a symbol of the gender equality the couple understood before being eradicated at the close of the relationship itself.
Directly following this scene, there is a fatal car crash in which her lover’s black Mustang is lauched from the side of a cliff after he swerved to avoid large boulders in the road. He had been distracted by a pink veil belonging to his sweetheart that had fallen out of his visor and into his lap; a relic of the precious time they had spent together proceeding their assumed breakup. Shortly thereafter, the older version of his grief-stricken love is pictured visiting the site of his crash and remembering her lost muse. She is again pictured dressed in gender specific clothing: a basic black pencil skirt and a dark-colored blouse and black heels. Before, her feminine clothes were vibrant and colorful; signifying her happiness that accompanied her bubbly personality obtained through her relationship. Now, she is depicted in clothes that are basic and harsh; symbolizing her broken spirit and constant lamentation after the loss of her first love.
This can be interpreted very negatively. It is a symbol that reveals to young girls a clear message that having a boyfriend brings out your personality and sparks a passion in you that can only be described as vivacious and inspiring. While this may not be entirely untrue, it also promotes the idea that without a man, those things are unachievable, or lost. This belief encourages dependency on dating relationships at a young age and deters teenagers from creating the necessary stable habits of an independent and ambitious growing member of society. Young people directed this way tend to look for their worth in the thoughts and actions of their significant other, which in some instances, can have detrimental effects on their psychological health and overall self-esteem.
While this video contains endless evaluable symbols and devices, it is evident that it speaks volumes about gender and of its established roles in countless significant respects. From clothing styles to coping mechanisms, this video entails an array of standards and stereotypes that are employed for various distinct rhetorical purposeses. Perry uses this visual representation to speak to her teenage audience, relaying both positive and negative messages about gender to them through the use of rhetorical strategies and literary devices. While, of course, Perry aims for her music video to get across a general understanding of the song itself, she is also using the characters in the video to convey propaganda related to the genders and what they should–and should not–entail. Regardless of which aspect of the video the viewer is focusing upon, he or she will certainly be impacted by its strong points. Whether or not this is a positive effect, is entirely dependent upon how in depth the viewer is thinking while watching, and to which elements the viewer is paying the most attention.
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