"A despised woman and a worshipped singer": the representation and reception of indigenous Seto women in the film "Taarka"
Kerli Kirch (Florida Atlantic University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper uses a multi-perspectival cultural media studies approach to study how the filmic text, audience reception, and political-economical environment of the Seto film “Taarka” reinforce ethnic, cultural, gender, regional, and lingual hegemonies regarding the indigenous Seto culture in Estonia.
Paper long abstract:
This paper critiques the dominant hegemonies that subordinate Seto (ethnic minority) women living in Setomaa, an Estonian periphery. It draws on the principles of social constructionism, cultural studies, standpoint theory, intersectionality, and postcolonial feminism to examine gender inequality together with other forms of subjugations connected with ethnicity, language, culture, location, and religion, inherent in Seto society. This study analyzes the first Seto film "Taarka", which is advertised as a (docu)drama. However, "Taarka" can also be interpreted as an ethnographic film because it contains various ethnographic elements, such as cultural traditions, historical figures, ethnic clothing, etc. Media texts have a substantial ideological impact on our understandings and they can reinforce or oppose the values of the dominant social groups. The paper utilizes a multi-perspectival cultural media studies approach that includes the analyses of production, filmic text, and audience reception of "Taarka". An examination of the political-economical environment indicates that the Estonian funding system primarily finances Seto culture-promoting activities (such as the film "Taarka"), which forms stereotypical views of a heritage-related Seto culture. These funding principles also contribute to the unequal power distribution within the Seto community, which empowers Setos who actively promote their ancient traditions. The filmic text analysis demonstrates that although "Taarka" challenges masculine hegemony and traditional gender roles, it nevertheless reinforces painful stereotypes of Seto people, heteronormativity, and Estonian ethnicity's superiority over Seto ethnicity. The audience reception examination proves that Estonian audiences are upholding ethnical, cultural, and lingual hegemonies and view Setos as the exotic 'other' in Estonian society.
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