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Jun. 21st, 2011

The art of everything and nothing

I’d heard about a film called The Tree of Life probably a year or so ago. It was advertised as something of an existential epic starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. The film is written and directed by Terrance Malick who also made Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, and The New World. To say that Terrance Malick has always marched to the beat of his own drum would be to vastly oversimplify the contributions of an artist with fiercely intense convictions. In the tradition of great filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick, Ingmar Bergman, David Lean, and Frederico Fellini, Terrance Malick has created a cinematic oeuvre uncompromising in its attempts to understand how we negotiate our lives relative to the complex nature of the worlds we inhabit. His films tend to be less about a particular subject than they are about the ways in which we might choose to consider the subject itself. His films are meditations on life. The stories, such as they are, may indeed be site-specific, but the examination of the human spirit and the choices we make in determining how we might live are always at the core of Malick’s work.

With this in mind, I rushed to the theater to see The Tree of Life as soon as it arrived in Richmond. I read very little about it beforehand. I wanted to go in cold, not really knowing what to expect. What I discovered as I watched the film was that I wasn’t so much watching it as I was experiencing it. I sat in my seat, the film played on the screen, I looked at the screen. There was much more transpiring in the ensuing moments, however, than what I am accustomed to in the movie theater. Typically we watch a movie, follow the plot points, make decisions about who we like, who we don’t like. We go to the movies to, in a sense, have a bedtime story read to us. We often choose to degrade our experience by assigning a certain number of stars to the movie, measuring its entertainment value. Malick’s film doesn’t seem interested in any of this. He transforms the movie watching experience into something akin to attending a religious ceremony. The gravity of his artistic reach is nearly Wagnerian in scope.

So, what then is the film about? Not much, I’m afraid; just, pretty much everything. And, depending on your tolerance level for ambiguity, The Tree of Life could prove to be a tedious, and frustrating two and a half hours. The movie follows a middle-class family living in Texas in the 1950’s. There are also scenes set in the present featuring a middle-aged business man (Sean Penn). We ascertain that the middle-aged man is reflecting on his childhood as the oldest of three boys growing up in a seemingly idyllic 1950’s southern family. Ah ha, we have a connection! Those are about the only two dots that connect easily in the film. This is not a criticism, however. The O’Brien’s are a typical American family of their generation. Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt) is an honest, hardworking, family man. He is unquestionably the head of his household. Once an aspiring musician, he sacrificed his dreams in favor of a more pragmatic existence.

Jack, the eldest of the O’Brien boys fears his father. He bears the brunt of his father’s often intense strictures, and seems to be the only one willing to rebel. Mr. O’Brien only wants the best for his family. He teaches his boys how to be men, how to survive in a harsh, cruel world. He insists that his sons have good table manners, and that they know how to fist fight. Jack knows his father loves him, but resents his fastidious manner. Later in life we see that Jack has become, in many ways, exactly the man his father raised him to be. Whether or not this is a good thing has more to do with the value we might assign to individual choice over what we might consider success. Therein lays one of the film’s many important questions.

As I watched the film, I found myself drifting off. Not because I was bored, but because I felt so connected with what I was seeing I couldn’t resist the urge to see the O’Brien’s through the filter of my own experience. Every few minutes or so I would shake myself and force my eyes to stay fixed on the screen. I’ve paid precious money to see this movie and dammnit, I want to get my money’s worth. It finally occurred to me that I was seeing the movie just fine, even as I cycled through the turnstile of my own memories. How serendipitous it was for me to see this film on father’s day of all days. Lord knows my relationship with my own father has met its share of controversy. My father was just as earnest in his way as Mr. O’Brien. I never allowed myself the chance to understand his methods. I simply dismissed them as cruel and hateful. My father loved me in the only ways he knew how. And no matter how much I might have wished for this or that to have been different, it was what it needed to be.

The Tree of Life is the kind of film that invites you to consider your life. It’s a film that reminds us of how small we are as individuals, and how large and beautiful we are as a collective. In the vastness of the universe comprised of stars, planets, animals, plants, untold numbers of organisms, we are but a speck in time. This is a comfort because it relieves us of the tremendous burden of having to be more than what we think we are. We live our lives in the ways in which we know; that is until we know something else. Then, if we allow ourselves the opportunity, we grow from our mistakes. We choose to become comfortable with discomfort because it’s the only way we can expand. Terrance Malick attempts to convey this message in a film. This is a huge risk because most people don’t go to the movies to think about their lives; they go to escape them.

The film does not follow a traditional linear plot sequence. We see moments of the lives of regular people. They aren’t famous people, or important people. They are us. I suspect many will balk at Malick’s film for being pretentious and artsy. It is only those things to those people who didn’t see the film, whether they watched it or not. For the rest of us, The Tree of Life is a chance to honor the lives we live and to recognize them for what they are, free from expectations and demands. It’s a chance for us to forgive ourselves, our father’s, and our mother’s for all the things we/they aren’t. It’s a chance to celebrate who we are in spite of our shortcomings. It’s a chance to celebrate our shortcomings in spite of our successes. Every few years or so a film comes along that turns the camera on its audience. It digs so deep into the recesses of our souls that, if we’re not paying attention, we scarcely notice that the film isn’t about what it’s about. The film is actually about us. The last film I saw that accomplished this feat was Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York. Now Terrance Malick has himself made another brilliant work of introspective art.

mzwk

-Alex

Jan. 7th, 2011

Had some free time, so I thought I'd write an essay on...

Discourse, Media, and the politics of queer representation: Examining controlling images and their effects on LGBT activism
By: Calvin Alexander Sutton

Introduction

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans have, within the past decade experienced a considerable increase in visibility in mainstream television and film (Harris, 2009; Avila-Saavedra, 2009). Given the exclusionary position to which sexual minorities have been relegated in previous eras, it would seem that a higher rate of visibility would be the ideal, and a proper motivation to assume that queer political discourses have progressed to a considerably substantial degree. While it is important to acknowledge the legitimacy of increased visibility within socio-political, cultural, and economic spaces, it is equally vital that this perceived political progress be summarily subject to critical scrutiny. Of particular interest to this examination is the degree to which queer males may be subject to controlling images.

Thus, in this essay I seek to examine the potential for the construction and propagation of controlling images of queer males in American television programming and film production, and the effects such images may produce in obscuring political discourses in LGBT activism. At the outset of my analysis I present an overview of literature that discusses current perceptions of the state of queer politics, the problem of queer representation in media, and the conflation of the gender binary relative to queer and heterosexual male characterizations. Further, I describe a theoretical framework that incorporates concepts from critical theory and poststructuralist queer theory. In proposing a content/discourse analysis of various texts featuring queer male lead characters, I lay the groundwork for a qualitative, inductive analysis of the issues discussed in the overview of the literature. I conclude the discussion by offering further research avenues for which the theoretical framework and methodology described might be deployed for further robust investigations, and assess the merits of the theory relative to the current investigation.
Review of the literature

The state of queer politics and identity

In posing the rhetorical question of “What’s left of lesbian and gay liberation?,” Alan Sears (2005) focuses a significant spotlight on the position of queer politics in the post-Stonewall era. Arguing that queer liberation fronts born of the Stonewall Rebellion have become viable commodities of capitalist pursuit in direct opposition to their anti-capitalist origins, Sears asserts that queer libratory discourses must be repositioned outside of commodified spaces in order to retain political formidability (2005). Drawing from Marx as his point of entry, Sears structures his thesis around an understanding of class dispositions as the nexus of the shifting of discourse in queer communities away from liberation toward an economically salient assimilationist project (2005). While LGBT Americans have fashioned spaces for individual expression and inclusive (albeit discursive) political agendas, these spaces have been infiltrated by capitalists as sites for economic appropriation, eschewing the necessity for the political urgency of queer activism (Sears, 2005). Further, Sears states “Gay liberation politics often insisted…that sexual freedom required a broader social transformation to eliminate the gender system and other forms of inequality” (Sears via Steven Seidman, 2005).

What results from the shifting focus, however, is the apparent reconfiguration of queer politics that assumes hegemonic compliance (Sears, 2005). In other words, queer liberation politics that once sought to separate itself from the oppressive domination of standardized heteronormativity, has increasingly come to appropriate aspects of heteronormative politics in exchange for perceived political capital and integration into desirable, heterosexually-dominated, socio-economic spaces. To the degree that economic viability correlates with increased visibility, queer politics have evolved toward more “respectable” discourses, leaving behind those members of LGBT communities who lack the economic capital and the desire to assimilate (Sears, 2005).

Sears explains the commodification of queer spaces thusly: “Open lesbian and gay life has thrived in the commodified forms: bars, restaurants, stores, coffee shops, commercial publications, certain styles of dress and personal grooming, commercialized Pride Day celebrations with corporate sponsorship” (2005). It is in these spaces that the banner of queer politics is being assumed and re-contextualized in heterosexual domains, effectively limiting the legitimacy of LGBT activism. Sears’ analysis reveals an agenda that subverts LGBT activist projects, and reconfigures them as tools of capitalistic gain by way of exploitative commercialization.

Sears’ observations describe a distinct positioning of queer politics in a precariously vulnerable state whereupon total absorption into heteronormative, capitalist spaces could potentially render queer politics and LGBT activism severely ineffective, if not obsolete.

With respect to Sears’ efforts to contextualize queer liberation, the discussion of homosexuality as a focus of individual identity versus social construct is, in itself a contentious debate embedded within the cause of defining queer subjectivities. Guillermo Avila-Saavedra illuminates this point stating “the debate over essentialism and constructionism is central to the studies of human gender and sexuality” (2009). Essentialists posit the biological inevitability of the encoding of sexual orientation, while constructionists claim that homosexuality is culturally and socially constructed. Michel Foucault asserts that sexual identities are socially crafted as repository sanctions against deviant sexual practices (1978, via Avila-Saavedra, 2009). In this way, heteronormative power is reinforced as homosexual practice is necessarily marginalized as deviant.

Within critiques of sexuality as a social construct lie the seeds of queer theory projects aimed at investigating the delegitimizing of homosexuality through power based hegemony. Queer theory, as a site of resistance, seeks to question notions of power relative to sexual identity. Avila-Saavedra notes the importance of the politically ascribed definition of the word “queer” as an ‘attempt to negate the notions of sexual identity, resulting as it did from poststructuralist debates that defy rigid definitions and categorizations’ (2009, via Jargose, 1996).

Negating the rigid applications to identity further broadens the scope of critical analysis to the degree that “considerations of hegemony and sexual identities in queer media cannot be divorced from issues of class and race” (Avila-Saavedra, 2009). This is an important distinction to make given the relative ease with which queer political discourses may misrecognize attempts to subvert hegemony as a monolithic activist project with no regard for cross-racial, class-based variability. In commenting on the commodification of queer spaces, Sears reminds us that queers “who have gained the most are people…with good incomes and jobs, most often white, and especially men. At the same time, queers of color…people with limited income…women…and transgendered people have gained less, or in some cases even lost ground” (Sears, 2005). Thus, a comprehensive critique of queer politics, identities, and—in the case of the current discussion—media representation must avail of itself the benefits of analytical intersectionality.

The problem of queer representation

Regarding the discussion, then, of queer representation in media spaces, it is arguable that homosexual characters—particularly queer males—are reproduced as political agents enacting subversive counter-cultural positions. Instead, queer male representations may have been reduced to culturally progressive extensions of hegemonic stasis; necessarily innovative in their ability to be perceived as an “other” for fun and profit, though potentially conditioned toward marketable palatability (Avila-Saavedra, 2009). In his discussion of queer assimilationist tendencies in the film Relax…it’s Just Sex, Jeff Bennett contextualizes queer representations, in general, in television and film providing that “although gay and lesbian programming is generally regarded as marketable, its livelihood frequently depends on its ability to refrain from explicit social commentary” (2006). Thus, we locate a substantial underpinning to the commodification of socio-economic, queer spaces and the necessity of controlling images to the degree that specifically constructed queer images align comfortably with capitalistic designations of visibility at the expense of explicit declarations of queer activist discourse.

What amounts to a “marketable” construction of homosexuality in media reproductions is that which adheres to the notion of sameness in relation to heterosexuality (Bennett, 2006). To the extent that LGBT characterizations in mainstream programming tow the line of a politics of universality, queer libratory politics are further obscured as a radically dangerous element, out of sync with common, inclusive notions of a thoroughly homo/heterosexual co-existence (Sears, 2005; Bennett, 2006). To that end, Bennett explains “Ellen can come out, but only if she struggles. Will can date, but only if he lives with Grace” (2006).

Bennett goes on to argue that the push towards framing queer representations under the rubric of universality relates directly to economic concerns (2006). Particularly within the film industry, studio executives must negotiate a balance of producing cost effective titles that will yield significant profits with artistically innovative ventures that facilitate a competitive edge (Bennett, 2006). In this regard, LGBT filmmakers and consumers interested in compelling projects targeted at challenging “apolitical commodifications of sexual identity” often turn to independent media outlets, and away from mainstream productions (Bennett, 2006).

When the focus of queer imagery drifts away from universal (heteronormative) constructions, particularly in regards to queer male representation, mainstream productions most often limit such representations to the downtrodden (Bennett, 2006). In the film Philadelphia, Bennett locates the double-edged conflict of queer male representation arguing that the film “purported to represent a “normal” man, who just happened to be gay and HIV positive in a world that isolated people with AIDS” (2006). While it is arguably necessary to acknowledge the political implications of the AIDS epidemic in America, it stands to reason that films of this nature, alongside titles such as Brokeback Mountain (2005), A Single Man (2009), and Angels in America (2004), inadvertently undermine the political legitimacy of diverse and expansive LGBT communities beyond purporting stayed notions of victimhood.

Moreover, in analyzing the positioning of homosexual masculinities in television and film productions, conflations of homosexuality and femininity abound in such programs as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (Ramsey & Santiago, 2004). Arguing an intentionally contrived contrast to the “straight” guys to which the shows “Fab Five” attend as veritable “fairy god mothers” (2004), Ramsey & Santiago contend that “Queer Eye…genders the Fab Five as feminine through the stark comparison of the stars to the heterosexual men they are sent to transform” (2004). Linking this phenomenon to standardized queer male representations, they continue: “homosexual characters often provide a measure against which lead characters appear more masculine, thereby affirming the definitions of masculinity as necessarily heterosexual” (Ramsey & Santiago, 2004).

Consistent with the overlaying of queer political discourse with capitalist commodifction, television shows like Queer Eye have solidified their position in the broader American context. Having introduced terminology such as “metrosexual” into the popular culture lexicon, Queer Eye and its producers effectively reduced the efficacy of queer politics—as a site of resistance—to a mere fashion statement (Ramsey & Santiago, 2004). In other words, thanks to shows like Queer Eye, heterosexual men are afforded the luxuries of appropriating just the right amount of “trendy gay chic” to improve the quality of their lives within homogenized, hegemonic spaces, while the comparatively fatuous “Fab Five” remain sexless, politically disenfranchised mammies. Such designation provides credence to qualifying the “Fab Five” to be nothing more than feminized arbiters of style and beautification, while accomplishing little, if anything towards queer libratory ends; hence the paradox of increased, commodified visibility. Ramsey & Santiago conclude their analysis thusly: “So if in Quer Eye heterosexuality and masculinity are trumpeted while popular notions of homosexuality as feminine are maintained, who “wins” due to the success of the program? We suggest that the real winners here are the capitalists behind the products that Queer Eye promotes…” (2004).

Gender conflation and political homophobia

When compared to constructions of hegemonic masculinity the designations of queer males simply do not equate when it comes to offering substantial political wherewithal. How, then do such queer male representations manifest as reinforcements of the negation of queer political discourse?

W.C. Harris suggests that the images of queer males touted by mass media outlets feed directly into the underpinnings of all political discourses within the context of framing masculine identities (2009). Harris cites the 2004 presidential campaign as ground zero in the pointedly homophobic project of structuring masculine identities as a mechanism for suggestive cajoling of the social consciousness. Suggesting a strategy enacted by the Republican party that sought directly to call Senator John Kerry’s masculinity into question, Harris contends that Republican strategists overemphasized Kerry’s French heritage, and perceived indecisiveness as a “flip-flopper” as a method of feminizing the democratic candidate (Harris, 2009). In contrast to the decisively resolute, hyper-masculine (read: real American man’s man) incumbent, President George W. Bush, Kerry appeared to be little more than a “limp wristed” aristocrat with an overbearing wife, and a decidedly overemotional approach to the position of “Commander and Chief” (apparently evident in his disavowal of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War following his return from active duty) (Harris, 2009). That Kerry was also falsely accused by a FOX News correspondent of trying to appeal to female demographics by joking about his frequent appointments with a manicurist, following a presidential debate, also assisted in solidifying his perceived effeminacy (Harris, 2009).

Given the United States’ contentious relationship with France on issues concerning national security and the global “War on Terror,” Kerry being perceived as a French sympathizer (The French were opposed to military occupation in Iraq) cross-referenced with the construction of his perceived effeminacy arguably had a considerable effect on the campaign’s outcome (Harris, 2009).

A significant focus for the Bush campaign was centered on legitimizing the war in Iraq. Thus, the presentation of strength, decisiveness, and stubborn resolve would prove a viable asset to Bush’s re-election, in opposition to Kerry’s namby-pamby “flip-flopping” (Harris, 2009). Here we see direct notions of heteronormative masculinity (tinged with a homophobic undercurrent) called upon as indicators of strong leadership ability. Thus, if we are to believe that heteronormative “strength” and resolve are the nationally recognized necessary ingredients for an effective leader, where does this regard masculine identities inconsistent with hegemonic constructions of manhood? It further stands to reason that suffusing masculine identities into the political discourse of the election played naturally to the Republican’s favor alongside ballot initiatives in eleven states designed to ban same-sex marriage in that same election cycle (Harris, 2009). While there is no irrefutable evidence that conflating masculine identity played a direct role in re-electing President George W. Bush, or preemptively banning gay marriage in eleven states, I contend that a formidable case can be made that the rise in queer male representation in the media that began in 2003 (Avila-Saavedra, 2009; Harris, 2009), juxtaposed with the 2004 election reveals the potential for a cultural narrative worth investigating.

Theoretical Framework

In considering a methodology for producing empirical analysis of the issues surrounding the controlling images of queer males in television and film, and the effects these potentially specious images portend in regards to LGBT political discourses, I turn to a bilateral theoretical framework incorporating elements of critical theory and poststructuralist queer theory. These two analytical methods provide a cogent foundation for a critical examination of the supposed pervasiveness of queer male controlling images and their functions as instruments of necessary oppression geared towards dominating the social consciousness. Both derived from Marxist ideology, critical theory and poststructuralist queer theory seek to cast a light on contradictions prevalent in capitalist productions, the construction and manipulation of sexualities, and—within the context of this discussion—a confluence of media generated, constructed sexualities and capitalistic deception towards delegitimizing and reductionist ends.
Critical theory

Beginning with critical theory, I cite two concepts that lend a substantial amount of analytical coverage to the discussion: immanent critique, and the culture industry. In his examination of critical theory, Robert J. Antonio describes immanent critique as “a means of detecting the social contradictions which offer the most determinate possibilities for emancipatory social change” (1981). Immanent critique, according to Antonio, finds its roots in Hegelian philosophy that identifies social progress as the manifest nature of the ‘dialectic in history’ (1981). In other words, the mechanisms for social development and subsequent collapse are all built into the historical foundations of societies. To that end, immanent critique should be understood as a method of contextualizing various social phenomena as a product of oppressive ideologies rooted in historical progress (Antonio, 1981).

To the extent that immanent critique can be a useful tool in uncovering contradictory discourses within various texts featuring queer male representations, it is my belief that incorporating this brand of examination into a content analysis of such texts (in the form of film and television programming) could be exceedingly revelatory. By applying immanent critique the critical observer can come to interpret a reading of a text in a variety of forms teasing out the very ideas and concepts the text may openly claim to denounce. In other words, while critics may praise television studios and film production companies for increasing the visibility of queer male representation, a closer reading of these representations may reveal dubious implications for their intended purposes.

Comparatively, looking at the culture industry—television, film, and most all marketable forms of popular culture—as a method of propagating various oppressive and repressive ideologies would establish an analytical continuum working in tandem with immanent critique. Conceptualized by Theodor Adorno, Max Horheimer, and Herbert Marcuse, the culture industry “administers ‘mass deception’ by churning out a never-ending supply of mass-produced, standardized commodities that ‘aborts and silences criticism’ (Appelrouth & Edles, 2007 via Bottomore, 1984:19). The critical theorists culture industry constructs an “ideal” by way of repetitious advertising and high quality presentation designed, ostensibly, to entreat consumers towards a pursuit of individuality. Realistically, the goal of the capitalist is to foster a desire within the individual to cleave to the collective understanding or reading of a particular text in the service of a uniformity in habits of consumption and, ultimately, social consciousness (Appelrouth & Edles, 2007). In this regard, applying the conceptual model of the culture industry to the reading of texts featuring queer male representation can make ascertainable various modes of social constructions of queer males designed to impede or delegitimize discourses pertinent to LGBT progressive politics.

Poststructuralist queer theory

Turning then to poststructuralist queer theory—in examining the potential for a hybridization of the two concepts—Ki Namaste begins the discussion by locating postructuralism as a particular school of thought outside of the foundationalist tradition that identifies the subject as the site of political action (discourse) (1994). Namaste states “[Poststructuralism]…argues that subjects are not the autonomous creators of themselves or their social worlds. Rather subjects are embedded in a complex network of social relations” (1994). Namaste further contends that while many modern theories of social discourse may acknowledge individuals as sites of knowledge, poststructuralism observes individuals as “effects of a specific social and cultural logic” (1994). To that end, postructuralist discourses provide that subjectivities presented as autonomous, self-contained agents should be ‘deconstructed’ and challenged (Namaste, 1994). Here, we return to Foucault’s writings on sexuality that purports that “social identities are effects of the ways in which knowledge is organized” (Namaste, 1994). Moreover, in Foucault’s treatment of the balancing of power and knowledge, the widely accepted notion that “knowledge is power” is reversed to substantiate his claim that power is never separate from knowledge, but rather embedded within it (Appelrouth & Edles, 2007). Thus, an examination of the power/knowledge relations of heteronormative and queer media reproductions is key to understanding the premises by which discourse takes its shape in queer male representation. At this juncture, we may begin to see the continuity between subject positionality and the presupposed oppressive agendas of media capitalists in their presentations of queer male subjects.
Taking the analytical possibilities a step further, however, I consider Jacques Derrida’s concept of “supplimentarity” that “reveals that what appears to be outside a given system is always already fully inside it; that which seems to be natural is historical” (Namaste, 1994). For example, Namaste argues the construction of heterosexuality can only exist by virtue of its binary opposition to homosexuality (1994). Thus, we begin to discover further implications for alternative methods of interpreting various texts. By closely examining the positionality of queer male subjects on television and in film, we can contrast their definitive designations as necessary binary oppositions to their more “traditional” heterosexual counterparts.

In developing an analytical model specific to the project at hand, I cite deconstruction, which Namaste defines as “the illustration of the implicit underpinnings of a particular binary opposition” as a useful tool in interpreting texts (1994). I seek to ascertain whether or not such analysis would reveal a commonality of subjectivities by which queer males function as a delegitimized appendage to hegemonic masculinity. Should the application of these methods uncover a power/knowledge assessment favoring hegemony, the perception that queer males lack the political capital to effectively shape discourses in LGBT activism could further prove self-evident.

To summarize, I combine immanent critique and the conceptualization of the culture industry with the poststructuralist queer theoretical model of deconstruction (the modern derivative of Derridean supplimentarity) as methods of interpreting queer male representations in television and film. By conducting a content/discourse analysis of current texts that feature such representations, I seek to investigate the potential for embedded patterns of constructed sexualities geared toward delegitimizing queer masculinities that may presumably stifle and conflate activist projects within LGBT political discourses.

Method

The purpose of this examination is to organize a protocol by which analysis of texts may potentially reveal patterns of embedded consistencies of constructed identities—designated here as “controlling images”—within queer male representations in television and film. To that end, this study would incorporate a content (discourse) analysis of a variety of network, and cable based television programs that feature queer male lead characters, as well as a selection of mainstream, and independent films also featuring queer male leads. Such analysis centers a particular focus on a qualitative, inductive investigation designed to yield empirical data pertinent for methodological and critical applications.

In selecting a content/discourse analysis of proposed texts, I seek to identify recurring themes, narrative contexts, images, and socio-political discourses in which queer male characters are primarily positioned as the central narrative focus. Citing Acosta-Alzuru and Lester-Roushanzamir, Avila-Saavedra defines discourse as ‘a system of representation in which shared meanings are produced and exchanged. Discourse emphasizes relations of power while also attending to relations of meanings and the process of production and exchange are therefore “materialized” within the text’ (2009). Stated another way, discourse analysis does not attempt to define or assign specific meaning to the text. Rather, it favors analysis of the social construction of meaning through the text (Avila-Saavedra, 2009).

Theoretical Applications and Assessments

In teasing out the elements discussed above within the texts to which this method is applied, I seek to illustrate the mechanisms by which capitalists sanction the delegitimizing of queer male subjects. Bringing to bear the resources outlined in the theoretical framework section of this examination (deconstructing the texts) my project unfolds as a critique of capitalist productions designed to alienate queer males from enacting a formidable political discourse. By perpetuating the controlling images of queer masculinity and queer male sexuality positioned deferentially to hegemonic masculinity/sexuality, capitalists reinforce distorted notions of queer males for the implicit purpose of limiting LGBT political power. This hypothesis calls to mind various questions by which research of this nature might prove profitable.

Additional research questions

For example, the application of poststructuralist queer theory (by way of deconstruction) calls to the fore questions of what behaviors specifically constitute the perceived weakness of queer males compared to their heterosexual counterparts? Are such behaviors systematically recurrent in media productions? Returning to the examples of films like Philadelphia and Angels in America—two films that feature queer males infected with HIV/AIDS—such a question conjures curiosities regarding the subject positionality of queer males as victims unable to assume decisive authority without heteronormative intervention. Do we as a culture apply the same tack in observing heterosexual males struggling with potentially fatal medical maladies? Is it possible that heterosexual men are seen more as heroic given their perceived ability to withstand such adversity? Specific to the notion of HIV/AIDS infection, is there a cultural bias that perceives infected queer males dramatized in film as merely the victims of their own deviant sexuality? Moreover, are there sufficiently ascertainable political inferences embedded within queer male representations of victimhood? If so, how do these inferences translate to interpretations within mass consumer markets as manifest productions of the culture industry? One could hypothesize that a particular saturation of these contextualized images could easily invoke constructions of stereotypes, limiting the broader context of diversity in LGBT communities. There exists favorable potential in pursuing this line of investigation empirically, linking it to Harris’s analysis of constructions of masculinity in the 2004 presidential campaign, for instance. To this degree, the analysis produced by the present methodology could potentially lend itself to considerable investigations of queer male positionality within myriad social contexts; thus making it a potentially robust and far reaching investigative tool.

Overall Assessment

Having discussed the broader possibilities for the application of the purposed method and the theoretical framework which it comprises above, I should note that while the analysis could yield useful empirical data on the topic of queer male representation, the examination contains within it potential fallibilities. Given the discussion of Sears’ and Avila-Savedra’s focus on a comprehensive analysis that addresses race and class as commensurate with notions of gender and sexual orientation, for instance, the generalized scope of the current investigation does not directly address the racial or class-based components. Further, the current investigation does not properly define a specifically focused project regarding the resolute aims of political discourses within LGBT activism.

What the theoretical framework and methodology do successfully achieve, however, is flexibility within the scope of empirical possibilities. While the current investigation may not address these aspects of the problem of queer representation specifically, this same theoretical approach may be tailored to explore the more finite elements of a further complex network of socially stratified identities (i.e. race, and class). Additionally, while this discussion perceives an agenda whereby capitalists seek to focus the discourse of representation towards assimilationst drives, to thusly presuppose a collective discourse of liberation as the desired result of empirical study would stand to effectively undermine the intended projects of critical theory and deconstruction altogether. Ultimately these methods seek to educate rather than indoctrinate, thus, empowering individuals to enact agency as they deem necessary.

Conclusion

Above I have outlined critical analyses of the perceived problem of queer representation in television and film. Having presented a proposed narrative whereby capitalists have supplanted queer libratory projects with the homogeneous discourse of assimilation in queer commercial spaces, I argue the presupposition that, additionally, television and film reproductions of queer males have thusly been appropriated. Presenting a bilateral theoretical framework aimed at analyzing various texts incorporating queer male representations, I contend that questioning the veracity of these representations refocuses discourse to the extent that agents armed with a critical skepticism might be less inclined to accept controlling images that belie the multifarious subjectivities of LGBT Americans. As consumers embedded within the fabric of a capitalist economy, LGBT Americans must be cognizant of the devises employed by oppressive agents desiring the dismantling of discourse designed to challenge hegemony.

Echoing the sentiments of critical theorist Herbert Marcuse, I submit that ‘man’s emancipation from slavery’ (Appelrouth & Edles, 2007) is a political project that individuals must assume in order to subsist in a cultural context in which capitalist pursuits may silence and further disenfranchise citizens of a free society. Deconstructing and exposing all forms of potentially oppressive social constructs can richly embolden those subject to the oppression by reinvigorating the knowledge building process to shift the balance of power in the service of equality.

mzwk


draft completed December 17, 2010






Bibliography


Antonio, Robert J. (1981). Immanent critique as the core of critical theory: Its origins and developments in Hegel, Marx, and contemporary thought. The British Journal of Sociology, 32(3), pp. 330-345.

Appelrouth, Scott & Edles, Laura D. (2007) Sociological theory in the contemporary era: text and readings. Thousand Oaks, CA. Pine Forge Press.

Avila-Saavedra, Guillermo (2009). Nothing queer about queer television: televized constructions of gay masculinities. Media Culture Society, 31(5)

Bennett, Jeff (2006). Queer Anxiety: Assimilation politics and cinematic hedonics in Relax…It’s Just Sex. Jounral of Homosexuality, 52(1/2). pp. 101-123.

Harris, W.C. (2009). Queer Externalities: Hazardous Encounters in American Culture. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Namaste, Ki (1994). The politics of inside/out: Queer theory, poststructuralism, and a sociological approach. Sociological Theory, 12(2). pp. 220-231.

Ramsey, Michele E. & Santiago, Gladys (2004). The Conflation of male homosexuality and femininity in Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Feminist Media Studies, 4(3). pp. 353-355.

Sears, Alan (2005). Queer Anti-Capitalism: What’s left of lesbian and gay liberation? Science & Society, 69(1). pp. 92-112.

Jan. 1st, 2011

Art as beautiful trash: arguing in defense of Black Swan

Much ado has been made recently about the clichés and absurdities of the film Black Swan, directed by Darren Aronofsky. This seems a rather peculiar criticism about a film that’s subject, in fact, appears to be the examination of clichés and absurdities. Conceived as a backstage ballet drama, Black Swan tells the story of Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), a talented ingénue cast in the lead role of a reimagining of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Nina quickly finds herself thrust into a world of confusion and doubt as she prepares to embark on the role that could make or break her career. Overwhelmed by the pressure of such a prospect, Nina begins to fracture mentally and emotionally; spiraling into a psychological state of panic, so densely enveloping that she (along with the films audience) seems to lose her grasp on deciphering fantasy from reality.

The films plot centers around the conflation of the documentary account of restaging the Tchaikovsky classic, and Nina’s interpolation of the Swan Lake fantasy into the reality of her interior world. Thus, we locate the source of audience consternation. That the story of Black Swan reads absurd and melodramatically overwrought is neither meant to be overlooked, nor is it merely beside the point. Rather, this understanding of the films unfolding is entirely the point. Black Swan is a film about excess; a theme richly intertwined within the worlds of ballet, Tchaikovsky, and postmodern cinema. Perhaps Aronofsky’s chief sin was attempting to hide the focus of his project in the last place he expected his audience to look: just beneath their noses.

By expertly exploiting the techniques of freak show cinema, Aronofsky tells his story of a story within a story almost ironically. In the same way that comedies often deploy satire as a vehicle for exposing the absurdities of the world in which we live, Black Swan channels a stylized, melodramatic logic that voluntarily wallows in its own fatuousness. That is not a criticism. In this regard, the medium of ballet is not so much the focal point (so to speak), but rather the point of departure whereby art and its creation magnify the dancer’s insecurities, self doubt, and the overindulgent comedy of self-absorption, writ large. To the extent that Black Swan is truly a “psychological thriller,” we can come to understand fear and psychosis, not as horror film scare tactics, but, rather, as an examination of the self-mutilation the mind imposes as it presumes judgment from caustic externalities.

How does Aronofsky accomplish this?

He shoots most of his characters in extreme close up, both for practical purposes, and to maintain subjective interests. He uses mirrors and other reflective surfaces to display the conflicting angles of his characters’ constructed and perceived personas. He uses scarce, dim lighting in almost all the films interior shots (with the exception of the performance sequences) to undercut the hyper-reality of the fantastical plot elements. Most importantly, however, he uses Tchaikovsky’s music (and the hyper-romantic lushness therein) to demonstrate Nina’s devolution into fragmented, broken pieces of glass. The mirrors that reflect Nina’s imperfections are transmuted into shards of self-deprecation that tear at her skin and signify her brokenness. All of these cinematic tropes have been exploited time and again. Aronofsky knows this and confidently places his cards on the table.

Furthermore, Aronofsky very carefully places his camera on the stage during the performance sequences in the beginning of the film, during Nina’s dream, and at the end during the opening night exhibition. What makes this particularly note worthy is that, typically, in performance sequences, the viewers of the film are seated (by way of the camera placement) with the cast of extras populating the spectators point of view, as the camera observes the performers on stage as objects. Aronovsky places us right in the center of the action, close enough to give us a subjective point of view, but still giving us enough distance to simply observe. We don’t get a great view of much of the dancing, because we are meant to focus on the tragedy unfolding in Nina’s mind; tragedy that the dancing simply underscores. The camera moves dizzily with the dancers, the orchestra swells to nearly unbearable volumes and diminishes on cue. Stage lights momentarily blind us as the swan unfurls her feathers.

The film is certainly not without its flaws. There are, perhaps, no less than half a dozen throw away lines, and clumsy dialogues. Whether or not such careless dalliance factored prominently into the fabric of intention is merely fodder for conjecture’s sake. What matters most is not where the film stumbles, but how well it seems to understand itself. I suspect Aronofsky understood all too well the soapy nature of parts of the screenplay. But Black Swan is a film that exceeds its flaws. It seems aware of its shortcomings, but doesn’t dare back away from them. Like the music in Swan Lake, it undermines its flaws by overpowering the audience with the weight of its opulence.

Consider the life and work of Tchaikovsky himself. He was a composer riddled with self doubt, bitterly hyper-sensitive, and exhaustively neurotic (according to some historical accounts). Some musicologists have accused him of vulgarity; having over-orchestrated works with perfumes of melancholy so turgid, and opaque, they very nearly shriek of sarcasm. That he also struggled greatly with his sexuality (as Nina quietly does) is surely no coincidence. Artists imitate life as life so frequently imitates art.

Black Swan may or may not border on camp. Such a debate is ancillary at best. It’s a psychological exercise mired in self-consciousness on the level of ego, over-exaggerated by the excesses of romanticism. The mind as a hall of mirrors reflects two sides of the ego: the talented, earnest, technically contained white swan, and the black swan, cunning, calculating, defensive. Imagine the myriad conflicts that ensue when one attempts both roles at once.

Have you ever found yourself in a state of tumult so violently overwhelming it seemed at every turn there was some conspiratorial agent bent on destroying you? Have you ever exacerbated an inner conflict with outer forces to such dire hysterics only to find that the real enemy was staring back at you in the mirror? If you answered yes to either question, you just might know what it’s like to dance a day in Nina’s shoes. Or, if you’re less inclined to take it so seriously, you might, at the very least, concede that you’ve just seen a pretty good film.


mzwk

Calvin Alexander Sutton

Nov. 5th, 2010

Hope Springs Internal (as promised)

To consciously assert that the last two months of my life have been busy and full of emotional ups and downs would be to underestimate the power of subtlety. I am a student again: writing papers, absorbing copious amounts of information, and pretending to know what I am talking about. It’s a pretty sweet gig, and will adequately suffice for the time being.

Among the highlights of my recent misadventures:
1) I presented my final group project and graduated from the MPLI program in early October.
2) I have turned in two papers and have thus far received one grade. My professor emailed this message to me upon reading my first paper: “Hi Calvin…I’m not finished grading all of the papers yet but wanted to let you know that yours was excellent – by far one of the best I’ve read in this course in several semesters. I’m very impressed!” Not the worst way to kick off my impending grad school tenure, I suppose.
3) I turned 29 a couple of weeks ago. My birthday was an odd emotional pastiche of indifference, unfulfilled expectations, excitement, gratitude, sadness, and more indifference; otherwise known as a Monday. A good time was had by fall! ;)
4) I met several boys on Match.com and successfully arrived at the conclusion that I will need to cancel my subscription post haste.
5) I reconnected with an old friend I had been missing for a few years now. Not sure how this will play out, but even the mere suggestion of repudiating past transgressions is, for me, close enough for jazz.

So, yeah, it’s been a busy couple of months. I am so utterly grateful for every bloody second of it. I have felt very much alive throughout this period of time (even through the less than stellar moments). Harkening back to some sentiments I put forth maybe two posts ago, I seem to be flying at warp speed towards a new chapter in my life that could reveal itself to be a veritable embarrassment of riches. This is purely a matter of perspective contingent upon the veracity of the methodology I employ in calculating the sum of my yet-to-be hatched chickens. Lest we forget that chickens aren’t known for their ability to take flight. Maybe God is much too good to me. I feel so enlivened and enthusiastic at the awakening of the sleeping giant that is my intellectual curiosity. I have had trouble sleeping recently because I can’t stop thinking about the possibilities at my finger tips. This is what living should feel like, I think.

Yet still there is more to this internal elation than what (me)ets the (I). A funny thing about autumn is that it signals the beginning of death. The leaves fall to the ground, the bleak temperatures invade, and darkness looms longer and more prominent; its presence more strategically ominous. So too do relationships wither and fade. I discovered long ago, however, that with every death comes a new life. Where hope dies on one branch, another supports a new nest on which a bird builds its home. In the last few weeks something I had been clinging to finally slipped through my fingers and has passed me by. I mourn that death almost paradoxically as I celebrate the birth of something new or something knew. Perhaps future posts will unravel that mister-y. For now, I marvel at the poetry of it all. How interesting it is that my thoughts rest in quiet turmoil at this paradox in the after glow of the birthday of yet another dear friend I lost a few years ago. Seldom am I given to overanalyzing coincidence. No need to start now. Love (read Life) is what you make it.

mzwk

-Alex

Sep. 22nd, 2010

"...was just calling about our date 2nite. Still meeting at 8 o'clock on the AUCTION block, right?"

Yesterday, while frittering away precious time on okcupid, I came across the profile of a Filipino man from San Diego, CA. I thought his profile was fantastic. So, I told him. I sent him an email just to compliment him on how vividly honest, and genuine I read his profile to be. I congratulated him for constructing a series of self portraits that successfully eschewed the standard canonization of oneself vis-à-vis ones online dating profile. He also managed to sidestep the usual tropes born of unimaginative self deprecation (just nearly in opposition to the former self homage). We’ve all seen them: “I’m a laid-back guy just looking to meet some new people.” I thought I would list more, but why wallow in trivial pursuits? You get the idea. I was impressed with his ability to simply describe who he thought he was in conjunction with what he was sure he wanted (in a mate). And he seemed sure of it all. How fortunate he is, I thought. Won’t be long before he’s scooped off the market. Of course, it didn’t hurt at all that he had beautiful brown skin, dark searing, soul penetrating eyes, and lips that won’t quit. He was skinny, stylish (at least in his pictures), an all around cutie. How could he be single? How could I?

Therein lies the question: how could someone who seems so put together be unspoken for? Is it unusually high standards? Too picky? Could be anything, I suppose. I will not attempt to answer this question rhetorically…(?)

Instead,

I will now proceed to jump the tracks. I will make loose, awkward comparisons of biblical proportions, shoe-horn a brittle economic narrative hypothesis (or two) into the mix to show off my misguided understanding of the recent sociological “research” I’ve been doing, and conclude with a slightly questionable (if not confusing) reference to slavery, all to demonstrate just how sick, feckless, and unnatural I think online dating truly is.

This should be fun, no?

How strange it is that we construct these billboards of ourselves as though we were marketing executives headed into a stock holders meeting prepared to hawk our ready-made wares; selling our souls to the technological gods in exchange for fun (read “love”) and profit. What’s most interesting is what our descriptions of ourselves reveal about how we see ourselves. Isn’t it always fascinating to observe how much or how little information people provide? And how, from the evidence provided we beget one implication after another, strictly for our own discomforting purposes? The thing about creating an online profile is that it is, in a sense, a negotiation of logic and chance all tied to the hope that striking the right chord might reward you with the joy of extended co-dependency, or, at the very least, get you laid. Ostensibly, it’s an opportunity for each of us to show the world just who we think we are. Is that ever a pregnant invitation for disaster?

I tend to think of it like this: In the Bible, God is said to exist as three separate beings in one: There is God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Well, at the risk of making a grandiose and possibly blasphemous comparison, is it possible that since we are created by God, in a way we can think of ourselves in a similar light? Not similar in power, authority or divinity, of course; but, merely the idea of three in one. First, we are who we think we are. This is the person we describe on our facebook accounts, dating profiles, etc.; our self perception. Next we have the version of ourselves that others perceive. This person is different to everyone who perceives it, as they perceive it in their own language. But, for the purposes of this illustration, we shall designate this “second being” as a de facto “universal perception” as viewed through the lens of the “oppositional gaze.” Still with me? Finally, the “third person” is simultaneously a combination and conflation of the previous two; a bizzaro version of the two “realities” fused into a third, constantly at war with itself, falling apart, reconfiguring, repositioning, renegotiating, and eventually transforming. In other words, the third person is an amalgam of the two former persons. It is likely the most truthful version of ourselves as it is the only one that forces us to confront ourselves as both the “idealized projections of our consciousness” and as a “tragic interloper,” tacitly absorbing the projections of insecurities from others. Hmm, I almost managed to make that sound convincing. Pseudo-intellectual meaningless schlock? Indeed! But, for the present incantation, it shall certainly suffice.

Truth is, most of us abhor the drudgery of online mate shopping. But, we do it anyway because—like getting the oil changed, or getting your license renewed—we must, if just to stay on the road… to success, or security? When the car gets dirty, we vacuum between the seats. When the profile gets weighted down with inconvenient (irrelevant) selling points, we restock the shelves with the freshest, most innovative product line we can manufacture; batteries not included. We do this, because, again, we must.

In a capitalist society where everything is for sale, how could we possibly separate our “selves” from the fray? Dating is all about mergers and acquisitions: we advertise and market ourselves in the hopes that someone will buy, we merge our product with another to fend off competitors and finally attempt to corner the market of our non-linear affectations by sealing the deal with a contract; we acquire our other because we think this somehow increase our own market share. When the terms of the contract grow stale, we renegotiate or trade in our current feelings and desires for new ones. Buy, sell trade; wash rinse repeat.

Isn’t it curious that we think of prostitution as the “oldest profession?” Notwithstanding the parallels that exist between the selling of ones body for sexual favors to produce capital and the selling of ones soul to okcupid to sustain self worth, there is a certain poetry that exists between the cracks of our self delusion/creation. We all kind of know how pathetic we are, but we continue to hope that no one else notices. How many suckers can we fool?

I think I read somewhere that back in the days of slavery the auctioneers would slap lard on the slaves’ lips to make them look like they had been well fed, which would make them healthy and ripe for the picking. Some of the potential buyers would even approach the female slaves and squeeze their bare breasts just to see how supple and robust they were. A woman with a hearty bust would likely bear healthy children. A man with ample endowment was sure to produce strapping bucks just as profitable as their source. It almost makes you think twice about the amount of time we spend photo shopping our facebook pictures doesn’t it? Then again, maybe not.

What do you think? Do I seem bitter?

mzwk


-Alex

Aug. 27th, 2010

sweet...in before SEPTEMBER!!

We all have days where we feel totally energized, as though we could somehow manage to conquer the world all on our own. And then there are other days. There are days where we might feel so useless, underappreciated, and misunderstood that we dabble with fleeting thoughts of wanting to just disappear. These are all natural emotional highs and lows. We all experience them and we all come out of them…usually. But, the key word here is fleeting.

“When you live through the mind-made self comprised of thought and emotion that is the ego, the basis of your identity is precarious because thought and emotiona are by their very nature ephemeral, fleeting.”
-Eckhart Tolle

And there goes that “F word” again.

I have said this to say what exactly? I have been thinking a fair amount over the last few days about who I am and who I want to be. I feel like I am in a spectacular place right now. I have so many opportunities for growth and development at my finger tips. I am affording myself the space to increase my knowledge and further explore and possibly inch a step or two closer to realizing my full potential. I have long believed that I am meant to do great things. There are certainly days where that seems all but true. But, generally, I persevere. The difficulty arises when it seems as though you are forced to “go it alone.” Stepping out on your own to achieve your brand of excellence is not easy, yet always necessary. I have this nagging feeling that the only way to truly achieve greatness (whatever that means to you) is by understanding and thereby enacting the steps necessary for said achievement on ones own terms; in other words: alone.

So what do I want? I want to be a vibrant, intelligent, visionary, highly skilled master of my life, equipped with the capability and wherewithal to be an example to others. I want to rise above any and all expectations. I want to demonstrate that dreaming big and putting forth the effort and discipline necessary to achieve your goals will always yield the desired results. I want to show the world that you don’t have to be like everyone else, or anyone else to be accomplished and to use your life to positively affect the lives of others. I want to demonstrate that through conscious understanding and communication with others we all have the ability to move mountains. I want to transcend my own ability and expectations of what I believe I am capable of. I want to be a positive force for change in the world. I want to show the world that it is only when we step outside of what we know as our comfort zones that we begin to live. Living is a huge risk. But, I think we are all designed to meet that risk and all of the subsequent challenges head on. It’s when we buckle under the pressures of expectation that we begin to lose sight of our true power and potential. As soon as we realize we can accomplish something, it seems that we become preoccupied with the obsession that we will accomplish nothing; so, many of us stop trying. I want to die knowing that I never gave up an opportunity to learn, to become better and to expand. I crave knowledge and insight like a junkie craves heroine. I don’t ever want that to change. I don’t think it will.

So, who am I right now? I am a scared little kid. I am aware that there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but who wants to climb to the top of a rainbow and slide to the bottom when you’re deathly afraid of height’s? That’s just it. I’m afraid of heights both literally and figuratively. I am overly humbled if not somewhat afraid of achievement because once I achieve I will be thrust into the spotlight. I will have to continue to deliver. I will be laughed at, judged, admired, misinterpreted, misunderstood, loved, hated. It’s all so overwhelming to think about. But, this is not just my cross to bear. We are all subject to the same universal whims. Each of us serves as the writer/producer/director of our own daily serial. As a kid who grew up watching lots of soap operas, the irony of the daily desire for drama and subsequent denial of such truth in tandem with mental and emotional exhaustion of mental and emotional energies expended on the daily grind is not entirely lost on me. Wait, what was I talking about?

So, what am I afraid of? I would rather not fail if it is at all possible to avoid doing so. I know I will have set-backs, probably daily. But, that’s the gig. Again, I don’t believe a fulfilling life is meant to be lived comfortably. I’m afraid of feeling lonely. I feel this often and struggle with feelings of ambivalence when it comes to choosing between the road less traveled, and the safety zone where all the cool kids hang out. Being alone has always been my nature. Being lonely is a bit different. It’s natural for humans to seek others in partnership to share the experience of survival. I was unfortunately absent the day God handed out social skills, so I’ve had to cheat off the kid sitting next to me for nigh on 29 years now. I fear large scale social interaction in unfamiliar territory. I fear rejection, despite having experienced a fair amount of it; I’ve grown gun shy perhaps. I fear unwanted attention. I suppose I have a fair amount of work to do to go beyond my fears. I have inserted myself into a good many situations over the past year designed specifically to release my incarcerated self. I think it’s working, but my tolerance for overstimulation is still relatively low. And, so I move forward.

So, what am I going to do now? I am going to stand up and take charge of my life. I have done a pretty good job of this the last couple of years or so. So, I will continue to stay the course. I will work at complaining less. I will try not to limit myself to victimhood when things aren’t going my way. I will continue to increase my knowledge base. I will encourage people around me to seek similar paths. I will try not to be a whiner. This will be challenging at times, but I can do it. I will continue to place a value on each individual I encounter. I will listen more than I talk. I will be the change I want to see in the world. I will continue to be kind of a big deal!


mzwk


-Alex

Jul. 2nd, 2010

WHITE flight...who feels like a fight tonight? (titles should never make sense, I think!)

One of my favorite things to do is to read criticism of films, music, artists, authors, you name it; even for things I’ve never heard of or will likely never see. I’m endlessly fascinated by a writer’s ability to interpret a work and to attempt to persuade me one way or the other toward a particular end. I find that good critics can be just as talented at reading a work as the artist was at creating it. What an undertaking it must be to be charged with the designation of deciding how art (and non-art) informs the balancing of culture and society and vice-versa; creating a sort of canon or writ of cultural identity.

I often gush over the great Roger Ebert, film critic of the ages. His reviews make me smile; as does the occasional blog post. His writings are often more interesting (and interested) than the movies themselves. I have tried to find other film critics that satisfy my curiosity of film criticism as readily as Sir Ebert, but have scarcely come across anyone who so ardently commands my rapt attention. That is, of course, until I tripped over the manifold polarizations of one Armond White, film critic for the New York Press.

I think I may have first heard about Mr. White about one and one half years ago. There was the great “District 9“controversy in which White lambasted the film that most “major” critics praised. Ebert wrote a blog post entitled “In Defense of Armond White,” that sought to explicate White’s acumen for writing, researching and criticism. He also pontificated on the freedom of critics to express their subjective view of a piece of work so long as they do so honestly and with the clarity and depth of knowledge to defend their position. It turned out that Mr. White had more than a few haters who immediately took to message boards and blog comment pages to voice their outrage. Ebert would later quip “White disagrees with most of the people, most of the time, and some of the people all of the time.”

Many would argue that Armond White has strategically positioned himself as the principle film critics’ iconoclast for the ages; a kind of anti-hero who’s primary function is to alert the masses of the hoodwinking of the rotten tomatoes film critics’ cadre. While, on the surface his opinions read as diametric oppositions to the collective, Armond White often manages to illuminate fine points that a lesser critic may overlook or even bury. Though, he is often relegated to mere contrarian status, and sometimes, with good reason, by my estimation. It seems that Mr. White almost purposely goes against the grain. When a majority loves a film, he sees schlock. When the “herd” pans a film, he sees untapped beauty; a pearl wedged tightly in the jaws of a clam that the “herd”—which comprises mostly liberal hipster nihilists, in White’s view—is far too shortsighted and hackneyed to see.

I go back and forth with White. I applaud his bravery in stepping away from the pack to fashion his singular vision of criticism often padded by conservative (or, more appropriately, anti-liberal) socio-political sentiment. Though, I must admit that he often leaves me scratching my head in maudlin ambivalence. He often seems determined to shoe-horn overwrought profundities into the underpinnings of a film that would be easier to find in the nutrition facts on a box of kid’s cereal. I suppose now is the point that I should cite examples. Well, I don’t want to. Look him up on rottentomatoes.com and see his record for yourself. You will quickly see what I mean.

Each week, when the reviews for the upcoming films are released I check out Ebert’s writings to find out what he thought about this one or that one. Then I immediately think: “well, since these films have faired well with Ebert and many of the other big names, I’ve gotta check out White’s take to find out what he will inevitably hate about them.”

Furthermore, White’s reviews are often venomous, seemingly mean spirited, ostensibly over-concerned with the effects various films may have on the culture, and usually so mangled with academic verbiage, it seems the author prefers that his words be deemed impenetrable by the undesired lot (hehe…maybe that’s what draws me to the flame). This would separate the numb-skulls from the initiated; those more intellectually equipped to process White’s genius. He does, after all, have his fair share of partisans, as do most provocateurs.

Why then, do I keep coming back for more? I suspect it’s this weird unity of opposites thing. When Ebert rips a film to shreds, he does so with a wink. Like these lines from his review of the dreadful “The Twilight Saga: New Moon”:

“Yes, Edward (Robert Pattinson) is back in school, repeating the 12th grade for the 84th time. Bella sees him in the school parking lot, walking toward her in slow-motion, wearing one of those Edwardian Beatles jackets with a velvet collar, pregnant with his beauty. How white his skin, how red his lips. The decay of middle age may transform him into the Joker.

Edward and the other members of the Cullen vampire clan stand around a lot with glowering skulks. Long pauses interrupt longer ones. Listen up, lads! You may be immortal, but we've got a train to catch.”


On the other hand, when White rips a film to shreds he rips it, spits on it, stomps on it until its innards start bleeding through, then he voraciously insists that the maker of this pile of shit immediately be drawn and quartered. See here a few of his comments from his review of “Synecdoche, New York”:

“ONE HAS NOT truly suffered as a moviegoer until seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman perform a seizure in Synecdoche, New York. This freak-out has nothing to do with art and more to do with career promotion: Our cultural gatekeepers have rushed to crown ham-actor Hoffman King of the Ugly and Obvious Art Movie. And Charlie Kaufman’s been dubbed a genius ever since he wrote the preternaturally clever gimmick movie Being John Malkovich. Now Kaufman’s been commissioned to make his own weird directorial debut, starring the unctuous Hoffman as his latest disgusting alter ego. It is as close to an abomination as 2008 cinema needs to come.

Pity those nerds and fashion-sheep who´ll waste time trying to connect Kaufman’s symbols, cite the many David Lynch references and puzzle for ways to use “synecdoche” in daily conversation.

Also pity the very good actresses—Jennifer Jason Leigh, Emily Watson, Samantha Morton and Dianne Wiest— who Kaufman convinced to appear dumpy and repulsive. They also had to work with Le Hoffman.”

Here we see that Ebert has merely, but humorously expressed his distaste for the film. Conversely, White has expressed his disdain for the film, the people who made the film, the people who starred in the film and the people who enjoyed watching the film. He has thrown a hyperbolic temper tantrum.

I have no problem with White’s hatred of a film (even one like Synecdoche that I found to be a masterpiece). My issue with him is the insipid vitriol. Why so nasty? What has Kaufman, or Hoffman ever done to him, I wonder?

I have still yet to even hint at answering the question of why I continue to read (and enjoy) Armond White’s criticism.

The man has a virtuosic mastery of the English language and the written word. I may disagree with him most of the time, but much like Bill O’Reilly, Armond White has a way of communicating his ideas and criticisms in a persuasive manner that commands attention and invites healthy debate; if not ponderous bafflement (read guilty pleasure entertainment). Something about his brand of critique gets at something in me. White seems driven to upend the status quo; to challenge the thinking man to look beneath the surface to find those qualities that are so often ingrained into our perceptions as the “Norm” we are often not able to realize when we are being sold a bill of goods by hordes of snake-oil salesmen. I don’t always know if he’s right, or even fair. But I do know he makes me think, which of course makes me want to know more about what I consume.

Armond White makes me smarter (or, at least instills in me the craving for a deeper sense of knowing). Roger Ebert does the same. They each challenge me in separate but equal ways: Ebert makes me want to be a poet, and a heartfelt observer; like him. White makes me long to be a scholar, and investigator, a thinking man. They seem to represent this yin and yang relationship to my intellectual yearnings. I feel I am better because of their work. I wish to affect others in the same way.

Maybe sometimes, White is right.



mzwk


-Alex

Jun. 30th, 2010

My favorite melody goes like this: me me me me ME me me me me...me ...me! Just read you'll get it!

Had another MPLI session last weekend. This time in Farmville, VA. Thanks to my new trusty gps, I actually managed to arrive on time. On Friday evening we were given the results of a Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test each of the members of the MPLI class took several weeks ago. This test is designed to codify an individuals’ personality into four distinct categories that measure whether said individual is an introvert or an extrovert, more sensitive or intuitive, thinking or feeling, and more judging or more perceiving. The test we took consisted of about 200 or so questions related to our general personality, working style, social habits, and self perception. At the Friday meeting each member was given a 17 page report indicating a four letter abbreviation that best described your personality type. The report gave a thorough breakdown of your type and essentially described how you cope with typical quotidian social structures and norms necessary for most all of us. I must say the test nailed my personality. It was kind of creepy to see just how close the test came to telling me about myself. At the end of the test we were given a “polarity index” score which is a numerical percentage of how accurately we answered various questions with the same or similar meanings, for the purpose of establishing a sense of continuity within the structure of our personality type. My score was a 77 out of 100, which is apparently pretty good.

At any rate my personality type is: INTJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging)

Here are a few highlights from my report on the complete INTJ description:

“INTJ’s are typically innovators in their fields. They trust their inner vision of how things fit together and relentlessly move their ideas to action. They would rather spend time on what they believe is important than on what’s popular with others.”

“INTJ’s are independent and individualistic, and others may see them as stubborn at times. They move ahead with or without the support of others, and they have a single-minded concentration.”

“They like using logic to solve complex, challenging problems. Routine, everyday tasks bore them (AMEN TO THAT!!). They analyze and attempt to fit pieces together into a coherent whole.”

I think that describes me pretty well. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The report goes into a much more in-depth description of the type as it breaks down each of the four categories. Here are a few bullets from the different sections I found fascinating and eerily true:

Category I: Introversion
• Consider social obligations unimportant and leave them to others. (Funny and very true).
• Prefer in-depth discussions about important issues; hate small talk (AMEN!)
• Are seen by others as hard to get to know because you process so much inside. (never really thought about that, but could be true).
• Assume others will be uninterested in your thoughts. (Because this is usually true, hence the live journal).
• Respect others’ individuality and desire the same respect in turn.
• Seek in-depth involvement with individuals; uninterested in surface relationships.
• Don’t feel the need to talk in a social situation. (People watching/listening is way more informative and fun)

Category II: Intuitive

• Like to go beyond the surface and read between the lines. (Always!!)
• Like ingenuity for its own sake. (Totally.)
• May enjoy humor and word games based on nuance. (Me? Word games? Nah!! ;)
• Enjoy the role of scholar and thinker. (Its always nice to dream).
• Value mental virtuosity. (uh huh)
• Like acquiring new knowledge for its own sake.
• Find that practical uses for your ideas may come as afterthought’s. (Almost always).
• See almost everything as fitting into a pattern or theoretical context. (Indeed).
• Value cleverness, inventiveness, and uniqueness. (among my favorite qualities in others).

Category III: Thinking

• View situations objectively and analytically.
• Are intellectually independent.
• May need to have all of your questions answered before you can trust any conclusions. (Take nothing for granted!)
• Appear almost unemotional in your interactions. (This often gets a bad rap).
• Don’t pay much attention to people’s emotions and may often be seen as cold. (Really?)

Category IV: Judging

• Plan for the worse case scenario with many contingencies in place. (Yeah, I get paranoid like whoa!).
• Dislike any kind of diversions.
• Do not like surprises. (who enjoys not knowing what’s coming??)
• May enjoy the planning more than the doing. (Can’t someone else put my plans into action?)
• Like established methods and procedures.
• Appear rather predictable but like it that way.

Overall, quite a few interesting insights into my inner-self, indeed! Some things were a little surprising to discover perhaps, but basically this test revealed that I’m quiet, methodical, creative, cold, guarded, calculating, a loner, observant, tacitly imaginative, and heady. Okay, maybe not so surprising after all.

In unrelated news, I heard a story yesterday on NPR about a blogger who encourages woman in their fourties to write letters to the twenty year old versions of themselves offering advice on the future. Now, clearly as someone who “values ingenuity for its own sake” I could not pass up this opportunity at self-reflective post-modernity. So, I will proceed to write a letter to my 23 year old self. This was just a scant five years ago. But, if I knew then what I know now…well…Lord knows where I would be. So here I go:

Dear Ca…a…uhhh…Alex, (June 30, 2005)
Relax. Take it easy my friend. Life is about to hit you in the chest at lightening speed. Over the next few years you will encounter situations that will affect every cell that comprises the you that you embody at this critical moment. Strap in. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Life has never been particularly easy for you, but some of your greatest challenges still await you. The important thing to remember is to just relax. It will seem like the end of the world for a minute or two. But, if you take a minute to breathe and bring yourself back into this moment, you will find that circumstances are almost never as merciless as they seem.

You will, within the next few months find yourself entangled in relationships that will eventually push you to a breaking point. All things will ring with magic at first. But remember LOVE-LIES-BLEEDING. You will seek approval from others instead of finding it within, and in the process will experience one of the greatest hurt you have known up to this point in your life. To provide some perspective, it will be the greatest pain you have experienced in any one concentrated period of time. You will trust others who appear to have your best interest at heart, but unfortunately have demons (and coping methodologies) of their own. Each of your pathologies will converge in an apocalyptic battle that will leave no one standing. You will be pushed to do and say hurtful and harmful things to others. And those same others will do and say hurtful and harmful things to you. There will be points when you think you might never recover from the fray. Take comfort. You will survive. But you will not be the same person ever again. You will blame yourself for all the hurt, the unanswered questions, and the disappointment. Learn to let it go. It will consume you for much too long if you carry it on your shoulders day in and day out. Know that you are loved. You are not a bad person. Eventually new friends will come into your life to remind you of this.

You will lose a friend. Someone very close to you; someone you admire and have even been jealous of. Someone that, in your quietest moments, you may have even wished you could be. Don’t spend too much time wallowing in anger and resentment following his death. Forgive yourself. He will know how much you loved him. He will not be angry at you. Forget all the arguments, all the nasty things you said and thought about him at various moments during your time as friends. Focus on what he taught you. Remember the strength that he gave you. Concentrate on how brilliant he was at being himself, and learn to follow suite.

On a strangely warm day in February of 2008, you will have a conversation with a friend that will, in a way, change your life. You will be lifted out of the fog that the death of your friend, and the turmoil of other intimate relationships has put you in. You will rid yourself of addictions just momentarily; long enough to see that you are capable of change. Take advantage of this day. Remember it. Remember the words of your friend as you listen to him while sitting in your car. Remember the sensation of sitting on the edge of your coffee table when you return home that evening pondering your friends wise words. Remember the joy you feel when you watch the tv show you dvr’ed that day. Something said on that show will give you the energy to make it through the next few months of your life and beyond. This will be a “come to Jesus” moment.

In the Fall of 2009 you will find yourself once again climbing what seems like an impossible mountain. But, you will meet someone who will give you hope and will encourage you to pursue a very important future endeavor. But, be careful. Addiction will return and loom large. You will discover into the new year that this beast will be harder to fight than any other, because it provides such a convincing false sense of security. You will meet another individual early in the year who will, through no fault of his own, throw you off track; upset the balance and progress you have made. You will be reminded of the agony of the previous similar struggles. But, you must see this as an opportunity to grow; to take the mistakes of the past and to disidentify from your broken self and to create anew. Nothing is ever as bad as we may want it to be.

You will find yourself in a position of provider. You will come face to face with the demons of your childhood. It will be difficult for you at times. Very difficult. But you can make it. You will search in dark rooms for others to prop you up, but will fear their judgements and will shield you feelings and emotions from the light of day. Few will notice your agony and this is okay. You will remember the blessing of that fateful day in February 2008. You will breathe and become present. You will sleep peacefully. You will delight in the little things. You will be grateful for all the blessings in your life.

As the seasons change, you will blossom. You will grow more into yourself and become all the things you were meant to be. You will go on to make…


mzwk



-Alex

Jun. 14th, 2010

please indulge me this brief moment to prove to you that I am, in fact, SMARTER than you...

I had a friend over last night to watch a movie; the second in a series of four movies I’ve selected for my friend to see. These are four films I’ve seen recently that I loved and feel I should share with the masses who haven’t yet had the privilege of such viewing pleasure. Last nights movie was Me and You and Everyone We Know. I blogged a bit about my experience with this film a few months ago. What a delightful, magical film it is. I love love love it! My friend was, I guess less than impressed. Our exchange went something like this:

Me: So what did you think?
Friend: It was okay I guess. Not really my thing.
Me: What made it “not really your thing.”
Friend: I don’t know. It seemed kind of disjointed. Just wasn’t my thing.

I suppose that’s fair enough. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and everyone has their own experience of a thing. I think the thing that bothered me about it was the fact that this same friend has cited Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia as one his favorite films. I always tend to get a little suspicious when people list Magnolia as one of their favorites. Why? I’ll get into that in a minute.

It also bothered me when I said, half joking, that I would go straight for a girl like Christine/Miranda July, just for the chance to be with someone so delightful, creative and courageous, and my friend laughed at me. “You’d wanna be with a woman like that?” queried my compatriot. Why not, I thought. I felt an immediate kinship with that character the first time I saw the film. It reminded me of my attempts at romantic bravery in the face of possible embarrassment. I’m referring to my “choose your own adventure” love letter I blogged about some time ago and other quirky attempts at getting a boys attention. Seeing Miranda July’s character in this film gave me hope that someday, someone might be charmed by my creative advances. Eh, maybe not. Maybe I should be boring the way everyone else pretends to be. Personally, I would be over the moon if someone went to such lengths to try and impress me. Maybe I should be a character in a movie instead of a real person.

Anyway, it struck me as odd that someone who likes Magnolia would dislike Me and You and Everyone We Know simply because it’s “disjointed.” My friend kept describing the movie as “one of those inter-connected movies.” I suppose what my friend meant was that it was a film in which there are different characters playing out different plotlines, and, at some point in the film, the different plotlines would collide (or coalesce) into a neatly woven story in which all the parts fit into a perfectly form-fitted box. Well, this film doesn’t really work out quite so neatly. But, neither does Magnolia. In fact, I found Magnolia to be FAR MORE “disjointed.” I’m beginning to hate that word. It doesn’t really mean much. At least, not in the context in which it is being (mis)used. I venture to guess that my friend also felt a greater emotional connection to Magnolia…I guess. He was willing to concede that MAYAEWK had merit. It just wasn’t his thing. Is it reasonable that I care so much about this one opinion? Not at all. In fact, I may be bordering on irrational given my inability to let it go. After all, this post-mortem took place last night at around 11pm and I’m still stewing over it at 8:33 am. I didn’t get to sleep easily last night either. But, that’s another bedtime story.

So, here’s my beef with Magnolia. First off, I want to make it clear that I think Paul Thomas Anderson is a brilliant filmmaker par excellence, indeed. I think he’s one of the best working in Hollywood today as a matter of fact. Boogie Night’s is easily one of my top 25 favorite of all time, no question. Though, after that, P.T. Anderson starts to lose me. Magnolia is technically brilliant; maybe even virtuosic in scope. But, to me it plays out like a whiny, three hour mellow drama a la General Hospital.

I can’t explain why in any rational way, but, something in me resists the films of P.T. Anderson (save Boogie Night’s). I find his characters very difficult to connect with emotionally, and his stories, overwrought and trying way to hard to reach for the stars. He seems to see himself as this puppet master of epic universality; some god-like arbiter of the human condition. Who died and made him Stanley Robert Altman Kubrick? He seems to write and direct from this angle of artistic superiority that I can’t seem to grab on to. I’m trying hard to avoid using the “P” word, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to hold back. I guess I feel like his movies have this kind of pretentious quality. I hate that word. And I hate when people throw it around so willy-nilly. I allow myself this one exception.

I go into each PTA film wanting and hoping to like it because I can see how vastly talented he is. But, I just always end up feeling as though I’m someone too emotionally bankrupt to get his point of view. Kaufman speaks to me much more readily than Anderson does.

No. Better still, I think there are a lot of people out there who say they love movies like Magnolia because they think it makes them sound deep, and cool, and all indie like. I say this because anytime I have had conversations with people about movies they like, I ask them to throw out a few of their favorites. I listen carefully to their list for context clues to pin-point exactly what it is they look for in films; sign posts of consistency. Typically there have been two constants with people (I’ve spoken to) who list Magnolia: 1) the other films they list are almost always really popular movies that everyone has seen (and most people like)—which I don’t necessarily have a problem with—that seems almost antithetical to what PTA aims for in his films, thereby making their list incongruous at best; implausible at worst. And 2) whenever I ask them what it is they like about the movie, they almost never provide a substantial response other then to say something like: “It’s just really beautiful and emotional.” Which, again is fine, I guess. But, if you’re talking about something that is among your favorites wouldn’t you have a little more to say than just that? I don’t even like Magnolia that much and I can muster higher praise. When I listen to a person’s favorites list, I’m much more interested in why they like what they like as opposed to what they actually like. The truth lies surreptitiously inside the “what” conveniently shrouding the “why” if you get my drift.

So, do I think that MAYAEWK is a better film than Magnolia? I don’t know that “better” is really the issue. What I do know is that Me and You is, to me, a far more affective and ultimately effective film. What do I like about the film? I think the film opens the door to this world in which people actually say what they think, instead of what’s socially acceptable. The main character in the film is not afraid to go after what she wants romantically, or artistically. She is brave beyond measure. She finds the things that fascinate her in the world and she tries to merge with them in whatever way she can. She’s fully aware of the risk involved. She knows the man she’s after is resistant. But, what matters most to her is that she sees something in him that speaks to her. She sees something that she finds beautiful, artful. She wants to merge with that beauty. She isn’t afraid to just be herself. This is true for one other character in the film: the strange little girl with the hope chest. While, it’s true that most of the world would indeed consider her a strange little girl, all she sees is what’s important to her. She wants to be a mother and a wife. She’s not necessarily interested in the path children her age are “supposed” to take. Her bravery is contrasted beautifully against the two young girls who totally lack imagination, are entirely witless, and seek attention by pretending to move comfortably in a world in which they have no knowledge. They, to me, represent most silly teenagers in the world who think they know it all when in reality they are nothing more than scared little birds who hide their fear behind faux bravado and ersatz confidence. They are posers trying so hard to be something, they have no awareness of to be just be. They brag, they taunt, they tease, and they run away from the first real opportunity they have to put their p****** where their mouths are.

The same dichotomy is reflected between Christine and the art gallery curator. Christine is so authentically herself she seems almost unaware that anyone might be anything else. She is a romantic at heart, unafraid to wear her heart on her sleeve. She wades through the awkward quick sands in life—that most of us flee from—because she is unapologetic about her pursuits. Achieving her goals and creating beauty is far too important to her to worry about how “weird” she might look. The curator, on the other hand, is a lot closer to who many of us (if not most of us) are in our real lives: too preoccupied with maintaining our dignity to be bothered with such silly whimsy, and so self contained and self-consious we sometimes forget to breathe. She masquerades as a sex pot on the internet where she is “safe”—hello facebook, my “friends” call me pot—in lieu of connecting with real people in real places toward real ends. She’s afraid of her own shadow and deflects attention away from the obvious by being cold and bitchy. She wishes she had the courage to be more like Christine. MACARONI INDEED!!

I think MAYAEWK is an important film because it demonstrates how valuable it is to be yourself, how fruitless it is to try to be anything else, and how surprised we might all be to discover just how “weird” we all really are…just like you and me and everyone we know!

To write the film off as disjointed is to overlook the power of the threads that do indeed bind it all together. The characters may not crumble into a green bean casserole of fastidious cinematic cohesion in any way that we are used to or would prefer. But what connects the stories and the characters are the common themes. Themes, glorious thematic threads, oddly similar to the technique P.T. Anderson used in Magnolia, a film, I suppose, far less encumbered by the weight of its disjointed-ness. (Is that a word?)

MAYAEWK is a film alive with the spirit of optimism in a world where daily reality seems to supply anything but. Maybe this explains my friend’s reluctance toward the film: cynicism. Though, I must admit, that is usually the lynchpin of my rhetorical repertoire. I should note that I speculate merely through the prism of presumption.

I suppose I could glean just as much from Magnolia. I will need to sit and watch it again sometime. I am undoubtedly passing unfair judgment on the film and its maker…perhaps. I still hold to my original hypothesis with the added caveat that there are most certainly people who truly connect with the work, understand it on levels I never could, and find solace in its moments of genuine exuberance and creative genius.

Such is often the result when one compares apples to oranges.

Why do I care so much, you ask? Because, I think my friend is wrong. This seems a far too minute giant to clobber in conversation. Moreover, I’m not entirely certain I could hold my friend’s attention long enough to verbalize my point. That’s why I have a blog I suppose: to win those arguments I can’t stop having with imaginary people in my head.

Just so you know, dear friend, you are wrong. Wrong about the movie, about me, about…well whatever. So fuck you, fuck me, fuck old people, fuck peas! FUCK!! ;)

Having just read over this post and my last three or four, one thing has become very clear to me: I am all kinds of sexually frustrated. Sure could go for a wet, hot, jimmy-haha!

mzwk


-Alex

Jun. 10th, 2010

on the QUEERING of relationships...or what cums first: The chicken or...?

I recently began reading a book called A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory by Nikki Sullivan. The book is more or less an analysis of what many might consider to be non-normative behaviors as such relates to sex, relationships, gender and identity politics and much more. The text seeks to define the term “queer” in a quantifiable way, were that possible given the many contradictions that very word conjures. Upon hearing the word, many might assume a negative connotation is at hand. Not necessarily the case, as queer theorists like to point out. The word queer, as used in academic language, effectively—or, perhaps, not so effectively—refers to most anything that seeks to transgress the norms and “values” set forth by the majority, prevailing culture. The term is not merely relegated to gay and lesbian issues, but rather, extends itself in myriad, often indefinite ways to provide an institutional umbrella that might include research disciplines that investigate BDSM, fetishism, drag culture, gender-bending, and so on. The journey through this book, thus far has been quite fascinating, if not, at times, dissatisfying and even the cause of some mild consternation. That, however, is the subject of another post.

While reading I’ve become increasingly attached—I guess you could say—to what subjectively constitutes the basis of relationship formations. Or, perhaps more specifically, how we define our human to human relationships through set boundaries (both directly communicated and implied), and how we have shouldered and accepted mainstream ideologies of what our relational definitions and boundaries should be in the midst of relational ambiguities.

What do I mean by relational ambiguities? It has been my experience that each relationship we form with others is so formed on its own terms: We meet someone, usually find a common interest and celebrate that commonality by asserting a good faith effort to ensure that, as the saying goes, “there’s more where that came from.” We seek to define ourselves through the prism of the Other. We seek confirmation that our hopes, dreams, realities, psychological associations and assumptions are thus reliable and trustworthy, thereby validating our motivations, insecurities, thought’s and actions; or, more simply: our existence. Thus we arrive at the proverbial “two roads diverged in a wood.” We must select one on which to continue our journey into the Other: we form a platonic relationship/friendship, or we form a romantic relationship.

Conventional wisdom asserts that the basis of said relationship be determined by how we define ourselves sexually—speaking most generally in terms of our orientation, or, even more precariously, our gender identity. Here, we arrive rather ubiquitously at our impending ambiguity. Is it not possible that our emotions could potentially dictate that we experience intimate yearnings beyond the barriers of our self-imposed limitations vis-à-vis our sexual identity? In other words, what if you’re a straight man who enjoys the company of another man (gay or straight), in a way societal norms chiefly admonish as existing beyond the scope of heteronormative bonding? Perhaps you derive a certain pleasure from this same-sex exchange that usurps, or plainly subverts the boundaries of emotional distance(s) that often typify platonic (heterosexual male) intimacies. I should note that this supposition does not preclude the existence of physical intimacy within the bounds of this hypothetical relationship anymore than said relationship requires it.

Our basic human instinct supplies the backdrop of our need to connect beyond our own physicality. It is, then, possible that this propensity toward one sexual identity over another, combined with norms and standards of hegemonic society requires that we restrict the limits of our love-giving, and the physical manifestations thereof. Freed from the oppression of social pressures and hegemonic standards, we can apply our humanness to all forms of relationship in unique and individual ways as our emotions see fit. Boundaries are defined as natural progression dictates.

This process is no doubt precarious because it depends primarily on the consistency of those we use as yard sticks by which we measure ourselves. Like all things, we humans are as transient as the weather. It would seem that we forget this, or, at the very least, manufacture unreliable expectations of others, and somehow mange to hypocritically blame those Others when we find their actions or words to be contradictory to the image and projections of them that we invented ourselves along the sojourn; regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. All pain is the same. We blame others for their ephemeral nature, when we are guilty of precisely the same crimes of passion and inconsistency. Though, perhaps my view reads a touch more cynical than yours…whoever you are.

How impressive. I have stated and, perhaps, re-stated the obvious. So what is the point? I don’t suppose there is one. For that matter, I wonder what the point is in relating to others in any capacity? That is, aside from the fact that we must for the sake of survival. Is there any motivation that lies beneath? And what of survival? Who says we even need to survive? Here I’ve gone off to flirt with nihilism; not a road I wish to travel whilst so heavily intoxicated, balancing on the razor’s edge of an incipient emotional breakthrough…or something.

I have adopted something of an ascetic existence: celibate to a fault, and yet open to love and being in love in its many non-sexual and non-romantic forms. There is much written about the depths of platonic love in richly romantic language; and particularly in previous centuries. Many a love letter were written from one man to another, one woman to another with nary a vague reference to any particular brand of sexual desire; alternative (read: erotic) forms of physical expressions of said love notwithstanding. Where are the scholarly texts that examine the inter-related psychologies and pathologies (as it were) concerning non-sexual love relationships? They exist, I’m sure. The point is, sometimes it just feels incredibly fruitless to have to swallow a reality riddled with definitions and expectations of normalcy, even in the most abject and abnormal circumstances. There are relationships that defy singular definitions as readily as they cry out for sophisticated boundaries and emotional clarity. We all want to know where we stand.

I have said nothing useful here. I presently lack the courage to type what’s really on my mind. I will cease to prolong this agony now. Maybe I should write a scholarly text instead. Until such a time…

mzwk…(though, sometimes, I truly wonder)


-Alex

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