An analysis to accompany SO1EO9 by Dr Ann-Marie Fleming
Cultural assumptions about a performer are based on cultural stereotypes and performance signs which are formed, at least in part, by the cultural context in which the performer is situated. Performance signs such as facial expressions, voice, gestures, body posture and body movements, as Richard Dyer notes in his seminal work Stars, have no ‘meaning of itself, but only by virtue of its cultural context’ (Dyer, 1979: 133). Goldie Hawn, as a rising star in the 1960s, adopts the coded behaviour and movements of the time, as best shown in the bikini dance scenes of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (1967-1973). Hawn’s body movements and posture is most noticeably derived from her background as a Go Go dancer, a popular dance craze of the era. However, the facial expressions, voice, and gestures are formed from cultural stereotypes about blonde women. Hawn’s role in Laugh-In, once more, is integral to this formation. Cast as the dumb blonde, Hawn would perform with a high-pitched voice and would regularly appear unaware with wide eyes and open mouth. Hawn’s performance signs, then, are dictated by both a cultural trend of which she was a part, and a sexist assumption about women.
A star, as shown above, is a product of the cultural context in which they rise to fame. From this rise, an idiolect forms and creates certain expectations about both the performance and the star. Due to this, a performer may find it difficult to remove oneself from earlier expectations as it was here that a fan base was formed. Equally, ‘because stars are always appearing in different stories and settings, they must stay basically the same in order to permit recognition and identification.’ (Dyer, 1979: 98).
Throughout her career Hawn did not rid herself of her dumb blonde associations. Instead, she provided a type of resistance to it through the actions of her characters. This play against expectation, however, did not harm the star’s career because Hawn would continue to use earlier performance signs, therefore performing dumb, whilst the characters would push gender boundaries or come up with unexpected ideas and comebacks.
The dichotomy between the exterior performance and the interior performance shifted Hawn to a not-so-dumb blonde. More importantly, it gave her an added comic genius. The roles were not superficial and the characters had a complex interiority, which combined with Hawn’s timing and dialogue delivery, provide fascinating examples of female comedy at a time when few were given the opportunity to shine.
Dyer, Richard (1979). Stars. London: BFI