Edited By Christopher Brown and Pam Hirsch
9 Staging Embarrassment in The Last Picture Show (1971) and Morvern Callar (2002)
This chapter examines embarrassment in film, specifically as it is experienced by young women in relation to states of dress and undress in a swimming pool setting. It looks at the mechanics of the emotion, and considers the role of the public gaze in embarrassment. The second half of the chapter employs this thinking in the analysis of two ‘case study’ swimming pool scenes. In each, the female body is exposed or partially revealed in a sexualized environment. The potential or actual embarrassment experienced in each scene is a result of the public gaze, an element that transforms the subject of the experience into the object of spectacle.
Embarrassment studies scholars appear to agree that embarrassment is primarily a public phenomenon.1 Rowland S. Miller, who has conducted several key studies in embarrassment, reports that there are very few instances of people reporting having felt embarrassed when they are alone, without real or perceived spectators.2 Rom Harré describes embarrassment as ‘an emotion characteristic of situations in which personal conduct becomes an object of a public consideration and judgment of which the actor is either aware or believes himself or herself to be aware’.3 Robert J. Edelman writes that, following embarrassing events, people feel ← 133 | 134 → ‘exposed, like the center of attention, and worried about what others were thinking’.4
Embarrassment occurs when something happens that momentarily ruptures our publicly presented social...