Making space for the maid

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Feminist Media Studies, 2009, 9 (1), pp. 57 - 71
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Chinese television dramas over the past decades have seen the rise and decline of various narratives, but no other narratives speak to the emerging urban middle class's fear and anxiety more palpably than the stories of the maid. However, despite the growing popularity of the maid stories among urban viewers, most of these stories do not resonate with domestic workers themselves. How do we make sense of the growing popularity of the maid stories among urban viewers? And how do we account for the differentiated capacity to resonate and identify with the characters among viewers? These are important questions to consider if one is to understand the new cultural politics of power and social formations in post-Mao China. In this paper, I explore some of the crucial ways in which a controlling gaze is facilitated and naturalised by the visualisation of place and space in these dramas. Then, through both critical analyses and engaged ethnography, I demonstrate how two sets of controlling gaze - everyday and televisual - reinforce and justify each other. Finally, I advance the concept of "peripheral vision," which, I show, denies the modernist "master" narrative of the city and, instead, empowers the subaltern figure with an epistemological position of "eye-witness" and anthropologist of the city. © 2009 Taylor & Francis.
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