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Contemporary Metrosexuality III: Crimes of Fashion

In Gender Studies, Lacan, LGBT, Masquerade, Performativity, Queer Theory, Sex, The End of Heterosexuality? on September 4, 2014 at 7:39 am

The Fourth Article in our on-going Series: “The End of Heterosexuality?”

socks and sandals 1

by Michael Angelo Tata 

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Which is the history of the epicene, the eerie man-child who retains a certain softness which may be read as feminine, but which also might resist such a reading, as with the Mafioso prince, the Chicano figure of the Pachuco, or the Spanish Don — even when that don is Don Ed Hardy, as the designer’s studded t-shirts boldly used to announce down the boulevards of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills circa 2006, back when it really seemed that Southern California might inherit the earth?

Vintage Ed Hardy Meathead (RapGenius.com Photo Courtesy of lyricist Earl Sweatshirt)

Vintage Ed Hardy Meathead
(RapGenius.com. Photo Courtesy of lyricist Earl Sweatshirt)

The affiliation of these smooth criminals with beauty seems to indicate that even if no infraction has occurred, it is still a crime for men to be beautiful, that to be beautiful, they must steal beauty from women, who are the proper keepers of this phenomenon of sensuality, their murders and burglaries of a piece with the aesthetic softness and smoothness they pilfer from the other side of a gender divide they raid in a project of corporeal and sartorial upbuilding.[1] For them, the beautiful remains foreign to masculinity at the same time that it is most at home there, as we learn from ornithology, producing a certain exoticism, their delicate features arriving from another place, a different land, a foreign clime: that is, from the zone of the feminine, where to be beautiful is to present a curvy and unencumbered landscape giving vision and touch the power to proceed without the hindrance of physical obstacle (the scratchy hair follicle) or the failure to form a viable expectation of repeating form or pattern (epidermal roughness and its inherent patchiness).

The various suavités and smoothnesses of these men mark their gender as thoroughly steeped in crime, the softness of their actions and apparitions not necessarily detracting from their masculinity, which is in fact enhanced by the infusion of attitude and action with qualities more traditionally feminine. For these men, the beautiful, the exotic and the criminal all flow together, their turgid waters creating a violent and vicious swirl whose eddies wash away the ‘natural’ roughness cleanly disassociated from femininity by 18th-century European aesthetic theory. These déluges erode the awkwardness of traditional masculinity, a state famously lamented by psychoanalyst J.C. Flügel, as I will shortly discuss, evening it out in the fabrication of a beauty that would completely feminize, were it not for the presence of criminal misconduct and ethical misbehavior in the form of cultural appropriation — or at minimum the potential for such an action to break out within the realm of aesthetic judgment, where a theory of beauty is toppled, quietly and smoothly, glossy yellow tape cordoning off an area where the philosopher forensically collects clues, as if he were the Dominick Dunne of delectation. As I will also examine in the work of Edmund Burke, for these creatures, male smoothness is the core disruptive quality, in that it obscures the rough or uneven, the true masculine aesthetic heritage, covering it over with a slick, calming veneer that is a tempting lure for the unsuspecting, tantalizing honey trap for the beauty of confused Sunday girls the world over, some of whom have a Y chromosome, but all of whom have at least one X. Whitney Houston beware: Bobby gonna getchya. If only these words weren’t retroactive.

How Could She Know? Top Five Celebrity Cocaine Mistakes Gawker.com

How Could She Know?
(Top Five Celebrity Cocaine Mistakes. Gawker.com)

Read the rest of this entry »

Contemporary Metrosexuality II: Life after Gianni

In Art, Barthes, film, Freud, Gender Studies, Instinct for Research, Kant, Lacan, LGBT, Masquerade, Performativity, Queer Theory, The End of Heterosexuality? on July 17, 2014 at 7:48 am

The Third in our on-going Series on: “The End of Heterosexuality?”metrochest1

by Michael Angelo Tata 

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For Dixon Miller: Bless His Heart    

For the history of metrosexuality — and yes, it is strange yet important to provide some kind of forward-oriented chronology for even a metaphysical entity like the Metro, despite the fact that, being metaphysical, there will necessarily be resistance to containment, overflow of boundaries and an almost total refusal of vitrinization — the fantastic but very real story of the death of Gianni Versace functioned as a morality tale casting an unflattering light on an unruly and overgrown homosexual narcissism. This glamorously ludicrous stance seemed to beg for its own eradication as it articulated its visual, behavioral and ethical excesses so vividly in the language of a mass producibility that magically retained reference to the exclusive despite the tacit, blasé populism underwriting its existence. As with Freud, a primary, post-autoerotic attachment to the self seemed to lead straight to the necropolis when that love was tested in that realtime which transcends the solipsism of minutes spent gazing into a mirror whose tain holds the secret to that fixation. This creature’s disappearance freed up the domain of self-beautification for a metrosexual culture which would never know these particular consolidated energies and indulgences of the flesh, because, not being homosexual, their drive or pulsation was always directed toward an alternate biological organization of physiological surfaces different from theirs: this tale is one version of what happened to make way for a straight takeover of the scene of a sartorial display into which the corporeal factored in equally, body and garment conversing with one another loudly, and in public, the two engaged in an endless dialogue, each blocking the other’s claims to primacy through friendly semiotic horseplay. In this version or fashion genealogy, the metrosexual was an aftereffect of the Chelsea Boy’s deterioration, a degradation marked by a fatal unidimensionality which no molt or pair of alligator loafers or iced double mocha sipped by the shores of a restless South Atlantic lost in the pondering of its own turquoise splendor could have saved: the ecstasy of communication, Baudrillard’s vision of what happens when semantic channels collapse into the singularity of one neon tube abuzz with residues of lost dimensionalities, took this uniquely Mediterranean historical superficiality as a victim, Grimm’s Fairy Tale meets Movie of the Week.

Being one myself — what a crime, to admit it, even all these years later — and totally devoted to the cause, I penned a gossip column by the title Chelsea Boy for New York City newspaper LGNY in 1997, finally posing for a strange and tasteless advertisement in which I took responsibility for Gianni’s shooting before Cunanan had emerged as a suspect: the perfect swan song. In general, I took the concept and pushed it up against it structural limits, making it performative, a mobile site where surface and depth came into controversy without it being clear who won or could win the skirmish, sublation alluded to, yet never completed as a process, Deleuze’s CSO (Corps Sans Organes) popping by the mall for a ride on the merry-go-round, round and round and round, all those Holden Caulfield circles masquerading as motion (yes: Post-structuralists kept feeding the machine quarters). And because it all came so naturally to me, I continued to espouse the aesthetic long after it ceased being acceptable to do so, driven by my own sumptuary demons — right up until the present moment (and every act of écriture has its unique present, as Barthes’ punctum grounds itself in the spaciotempral banalities of a studium it is loathe to admit it needs). Walking the streets of Miami in a circus of citrus colors and animal prints, I still cannot help but flinch at the memory of what it felt like to live through the aftermath of Cunanan’s bullet striking the fleshy target of an icon reminded he was after all only a man. Read the rest of this entry »

Bend It Like Bex, Flex It Like Barts: Contemporary Metrosexuality and Its Pursuit of the Fabulous

In Art, film, Gender Studies, Lacan, LGBT, Masquerade, Performativity, Politics, Queer Theory, The End of Heterosexuality? on May 28, 2014 at 8:59 am

The second in our on-going series on “The End of Heterosexuality?”
Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 11.35.47 PM

by Michael Angelo Tata 

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for 12 Pack

12 Pack Takes Over  (photo via vh1.com)

12 Pack Takes Over (photo via vh1.com)

Introduction: Narcissus Blinked (#sorrynotsorry)       

Selfie Wars take no prisoners: and so it is with vibrant male display in mind in the grand age of reality stardom that I offer the following series of reflections on what the metrosexual has done to interrupt a certain domination of the surface by homosexual culture in general, broken up into four installments, a tetraptych to be displayed at an impossible memorial ceremony where mourning and melancholia cross wires like so much spaghetti thrown against the wall just to see if it will stick, proof that the apartment was always a rental. In the first, printed here, immediately after this preface, and in direct physical contact with it, as if that matters (it might, actually), I trace out the rough contours of a fashion history that has left men in the dust in order clarify why exactly the metrosexual should arrive as such a surprise on the scene of display, where he seems to abjure both heterosexual and homosexual orthodoxies, making the future of each unclear, muddled and completely vulnerable to apocalypse. In the second, I gaze upon more recent history—and yet years that seem to have slipped so far and so quickly into oblivion, now that time has accelerated even beyond the spaciotemporal compression initially postulated by David Harvey in his analysis of postmodern culture and that Husserlian Internal Time Consciousness, a phenomenological mainstay, has become just another bone in the Pomo Reliquary—to examine what Gianni Versace has contributed to male efflorescence and in particular how he has clothed the whore so that his eventual disappearance will be more meaningful within the context of these struggles over aesthetic ownership (for in the end, not everyone owns male display—others are owned by it, or find themselves disowned completely, dissed and alone).

Next, in the third panel, if I may be permitted to stick with the poltytych metaphor from classical devotional painting, which seems entirely apt, I examine seminal aesthetician Edmund Burke’s ideas about the external features of the beautiful and the sublime so that the stakes of metrosexual reversal as the sublime becomes beautiful in a species of metaphysical makeover are spelled out clearly: the shift is not benign, and might even be described as tactical, assuming aesthetics is a war, which it might very well be, if entomology and ornithology have taught us anything and if the human experience is not such a radical break with nature as we might initially have fancied back at the start of Enlightenment thinking (it’s no accident that the typical Sadean justification of sexual violence is always that nature is cruel). Lastly, the final section of my lyric evocation introduces future mourning into the discussion, as it attunes itself to the affinity of fashion for the corpse and looks at the strange friendship the two entities share on both runway and street: for if every fashion stance is a commentary or gloss on death, then the metrosexual, too, must die, and be glossed, perhaps still remaining glossy, a creature most at home on the pages of a magazine or the charmed quadrilateral of the billboard, much like the Armani one famously perched along the elevated High Line Park in New York City, a metrosexual anchor. Assigning a value to that/these death(s) is imperative, for not every disappearance counts, much as we might wish it did: for to end and to stop denote different modes of cessation, as Arthur Danto has taught us in his writings about the famous End of Art: not every stop is an end, although every end stops (the trick is for the disaster to be world-historical). Read the rest of this entry »

The Logic of Sex: Heteronormativity, Gender, and the Law of the Excluded Middle

In Gender Studies, LGBT, Philosophy, Politics, The End of Heterosexuality? on March 3, 2014 at 2:18 pm

The first in our on-going series of articles on “The End of Heterosexuality?”

symbols_transgender_symbol4

by Joe Weinberg

It has long been thought that there are two and only two genders: male and female. While some (such as Butler in Gender Trouble) have argued that there is actually only one gender (Male being the norm, and female, as not-male, being the only gender) and used as a basis for justifying patriarchal mistreatment,[1]  it seems more accurate to say that there are more than ‘just’ two genders. That heteronormative binary is not only inaccurate, but actively hurtful to large groups of people, those who fall ‘between’ or ‘outside’ that binary.

Once we accept that there is more to the world of gender than male and female, certain questions arise. Do we look at gender as a spectrum? How many genders are there? And where does sex come into the picture? The simple answers are “No,” “I don’t know,” and “Everywhere.” For more nuanced and complex answers, we have to take a step back and define a few terms.

First, heteronormative binary. The heteronormative binary is a very fancy way of saying “two genders.” Basically, it’s referring to the idea that there are only two genders (male and female) and that being one means NOT being the other. Similarly, it refers to the idea that sexuality is pure, either homo or hetero. I don’t like binaries; there is more to being a woman than NOT being a man, and vice versa. I also think it is possible to have aspects of both without being ‘in transition’ from one to the other. And, it’s possible to be neither one, and be perfectly satisfied with that. Similarly, even if we throw in bisexuality to the homo/hetero split, I STILL think there’s more. That’s a matter of simple logic.

Speaking of logic, there are two other principles I need to get out of the way: The Law of the Excluded Middle (LotEM) and the Sorites paradox. The LotEM basically just says that there are other more than two options, and that sometimes the decision that seems to be between two things is actually between more than two things. For some nicely inflammatory examples, abortion isn’t a matter of Pro Choice or Pro Life; someone can be opposed to abortion in all cases EXCEPT incest or rape, or can be in favor of the right to choose while choosing for themselves not to have an abortion. There’s more than just black and white. The LotEM basically reminds us that there are shades of gray.

Sorites is a bit more complex. That’s the question of when something becomes a pile. Sorites himself used millet seeds, but I prefer the image going bald. If I lose one hair, I’m not bald. If I lose all my hair, I’m bald. But one hair isn’t going to make a difference one way or the other, right? But at the same time, if I take my hair away one at a time, sooner or later I cross into the bald category. That means that there is a point where one hair DOES make a difference. So a single hair both does and doesn’t matter. That’s why it’s a paradox.

Okay. Back to the spectrum of gender. If we see gender as a spectrum with male on one side and female on the other, we run into a Sorites paradox. Look:

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 10.16.34 AM

Somewhere along that line, a person goes from being female to being male. At some point, a single quality changes the gender. While there is a fluid space in between, a space where someone could be ‘partly male’ or ‘mostly female,’ even then their gender identity is directly linked to that same binary. Riki Wilchins writes that “when you look closer, every spectrum turns out to be anchored by the same familiar two poles – male/female, man/woman, gay/straight. The rest of us are just strung out between them, like damp clothes drying on the line. The spectrum of gender turns out to be a spectrum of heterosexual norms, only slightly less oppressive but not less binary than its predecessors” (30-31). A spectrum really just is a binary. It’s just a binary that looks at the places between. But not as places in themselves so much as portions of one or the other side of the binary. So we have that paradox. Read the rest of this entry »

Growing up on the Island of Misfit Toys or: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer as a Queer Allegory

In Art, film, Gender Studies, LGBT, Mythology, Performativity, Politics on December 13, 2013 at 10:27 am

The sixth in our on-going series of articles on “The Screen”

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by Chase Dimock

The Misfit Narrative and Queer Youth

The narrative of the misfit character struggling to find his place in the world is a well-used trope for popular entertainment because it is nearly universally identifiable and it lends itself to a light, yet redeeming moral at the end of the story. Everyone, in some capacity, thinks of himself or herself as a misfit to some degree and everyone is accustomed to, yet never contesting of, the simplistic message of tolerance and treating everyone equally.

Yet, the story of Rudolph as a misfit takes on a different dimension for the 50 years worth of queer American children who grew up watching the holiday classic every year on television. While these stories about kindly treating those different from us and not being afraid to be different were commonplace in the American classroom with their examples of not being ashamed to wear glasses, have freckles, stuttering, etc., the narrative of tolerating difference resonates differently for queer youth. Unlike the child with glasses who knows he is the same as other children beneath the glasses, queer youth often feel an intrinsic difference—that they inhabit a different kind of body or gender—almost another species of being. The queer youth is looking for more than a little hope that they will be tolerated and accepted; they are also looking for a subject model to emulate, a guide on how to live as a misfit.

For most of the past 50 years, lgbt youth have had to look for subject models in the abstract. Until the past decade, there were few, if any, lgbt identified characters in the media that their family consumed. Unlike today where lgbt youth have a character on Glee or Modern Family to point to in order to navigate their subject position, children of previous generations (including myself) had to look elsewhere for characters and subject models who mirrored their queerness in non-explicitly gendered or sexual forms. Coming into one’s gay identity meant identifying across a variety of different kinds of queerness and cobbling together a sense of how to think and live in a marginalized subject position by observing and learning from other forms of outsider status, like racial minorities, the disabled, immigrants, the poor—pretty much any oppressed class of people who would have some representation in the media.

In a certain way, maturing into my gay subjectivity by identifying through the similar outsider subject positions of others was beneficial because I saw my gayness as united with other disadvantaged segments of the population. It allowed me to see that some of the challenges facing the lgbt world come not simply from sexual or gender difference, but also from how society defines and polices otherness. Read the rest of this entry »

One from the Other

In Art, film, Gender Studies, LGBT, Literature, Performativity, Politics, Queer Theory on August 25, 2013 at 11:18 pm

Picture 3(A still from David Wojnarowicz’s film, A Fire in My Belly)

by Kevin McLellan

Preface

Before the acronyms HIV and AIDS were established, there were these acronyms: the 4H disease (Haitians, homosexuals, hemophiliacs, and heroine users) and GRID (gay-related immune deficiency). Did this precursory nomenclature further contribute to the stigma for the gay community in the early 1980s? For those within the gay community not only diagnosed with what would be named HIV/AIDS? Were there other forces that divided the negative gay community, if you will, from the positive gay community? Was fear one of those forces?One from the other by no means directly addresses these substantial questions, but rather in its compression attempts to touch upon the underbelly of a post-breakup phone conversation between HIV+ Kris and HIV- Anthony in 1998, on the heels of breakthrough medicinal therapy. Yet the psychological and sociosexual impacts for those living with an HIV/AIDS diagnosis prior to 1996 had already been set into motion.

The title of this play, One from the other, correlates to something Kris says to Anthony, “It’s killing you. The alcohol and your relationship with your mother. I can’t determine one from the other.” The intention of this dialogue, and consequently the title, is by no means to demonize mothers/motherhood, but rather to use (this particular) mother as metaphor for HIV/AIDS and how the virus has control over the body like the mother has control over her son.

Kris mimics Anthony’s mother, “Why do you speak to me that way? You know that I’m not going to live for very much longer.” This language in conjunction with Kris’ claim, “You speak with her nearly every day and fall for her guilt” is not only an attempt to set the stage for Anthony and his compromised relationships (with his mother, an ex,  and alcohol), but alternatively to fashion germane language for those living with HIV/AIDS in 1998 if they were to address the virus itself.

So, ultimately, this play is attempting to support the creation of a metaphorical conceit (a mother lode, if you will) in order to address directly or indirectly various kinds of division: within the gay and straight communities, between a positive and a negative gay man, and between sons and mothers.

One from the Other

Picture 5A still from David Wojnarowicz’s film, A Fire in My Belly

 

Cast of Characters:

KRIS, a thirty-something gay man who is HIV+ and recently separated from Anthony.

ANTHONY, an alcoholic forty-something gay man still in love with Kris.

The play takes place in their respective apartments, opens with a phone conversation in progress, one evening in the year 1998. Read the rest of this entry »

Teaser

In Art, Feminism, film, Freud, Gender Studies, LGBT, Performativity, Sex on August 20, 2013 at 9:29 pm

The fourth in our on-going series of articles on “The Screen”

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 11.39.48 PM

by Barbarism

In this BARBARISM production, we explore the visual/metaphorical dimensions of projection! As the literal screen gives rise to an aural example of cultural scapegoating, we witness a verbal soliloquy of everyday sexual humiliation-meets-cajolery of women using the symbol of the breast. But if the breast is synecdochically symbolic of woman, woman is itself symbolic of sex and mother but “‘men’ and ‘women’ in Wittig’s radical argument are political creations designed to give a biological mandate to social arrangements in which one group of human beings oppresses another. Relations among people are always constructed, and the question to be asked in not which ones are the most natural, but rather what interests are served by each construction” (Bersani, 1995, p. 38).

These symbols upon symbols create a vent for basic emotions that become perverted into one-sided disparagement. “Symbols precede us. Their internalization serves to construct us” (Corbett, 2009, p. 43). The woman/breast/sex/mother is a mere screen upon which people may project their feelings and fantasies, which are influenced by culturally-condoned misogyny which simply speaks to the fear of vulnerability/mother/sex as represented by women. When people are unable to connect with an other they stoop to Otherizing and projecting within a narcissistic realm, blinding themselves to the person in favor of their created symbol stand-in for the person.

When holistic personhood is not culturally valued, the interpersonal result of intrapsychic discomfort, people are disembodied into parts that evoke amorphously scary feelings which are metastasized into cruelty and misdirected onto the part representing the person.

But the breast doesn’t represent the person, the breast represents something in the observer’s mind which is subsequently perverted into being called the person.

Works Cited

Bersani, L. (1995). Homos. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Corbett, K. (2009). Boyhoods: Rethinking masculinities. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Read the rest of this entry »

Constitutionality of Recent SCOTUS Decisions — DOMA and Voting Rights

In Instinct for Research, LGBT, Politics, Uncategorized on July 25, 2013 at 12:00 am

Neon Supreme Court

by Matthew Nelson

(This article originally appeared on As It Ought To Be)

The Supreme Court has been getting a lot of attention lately. With the deluge of end-of-term decisions over, it seems everyone is taking turns surveying the damage. But while most commentators ask “helping-or-hurting” questions – How big of a setback was the Prop 8 ruling for marriage traditionalists? Did racism win the day at the University of Texas? – I want to draw attention to a different set of questions raised by two of the year’s biggest decisions. These decisions, on gay marriage and voting rights respectively, offer an excellent opportunity to revisit our government’s famed system of “checks and balances” and ask just what we expect the various branches to do to get along.

In United States v. Windsor, the Court struck down a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that prevented even already-married same-sex couples from receiving the benefits of a federally acknowledged marriage. It did so because it found that the law violated the so-called “due process clause” of the Fifth Amendment.  So far, so good – this much accords well with our ordinary conception of how the federal government works – the legislature enacts laws, and the judiciary reviews their constitutionality. But in order to get to a place where they could even rule on DOMA’s constitutionality, the Court first had to answer a strange procedural question – was there even a real case to decide?

The problem was that the two sides seemed to agree on the correct ruling. Both the plaintiff, Edith Windsor, and the defendant, the U.S. Government (as represented by its Executive Branch), agreed that the law was unconstitutional. Accordingly, Ms. Windsor ought to be entitled to a refund of more than $350,000 in taxes that she was forced to pay on the estate of her deceased spouse, Thea Spyer, because under DOMA her same-sex marriage did not qualify her for surviving-spouse tax exemption. This led Justice Scalia, in oral arguments, to ask why the case had made it to the Supreme Court at all. What made it different from a debt-related lawsuit where the debtor agrees he owes money but just refuses to pay? In that case, there is no case – the debtor owes the money, no questions asked.

But the Executive Branch disagreed…kind of. Although they refused to defend DOMA’s constitutionality, they insisted on enforcing it and requested that the Court continue with the case as if everything were normal. However, because the Executive refused to defend the law, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group from the House of Representatives had to step in instead. Their representative, Paul Clement, pointed out that this convoluted scheme had already led at the District Court level to “the most anomalous motion to dismiss in the history of litigation: A motion to dismiss, filed by the United States, asking the district court not to dismiss the case.” Justice Kennedy noted that that is enough to “give you intellectual whiplash.” Indeed.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tea

In Art, film, LGBT, Performativity, Queer Theory, Sex on May 21, 2013 at 8:46 pm

The third in our on-going series of articles on “The Screen”

TEA By Matthew Terrell

by Matthew Terrell

Picture 11

Pre-TEA:

When I was a kid I had the feeling that the world—those around me—perceived me as off. Not that I was a bad kid—I was a fantastic, smart, active boy. But a little something was off kilter about me. Something was wrong. Something about me was a bit queer.

Today, I know what others saw in me. I was clearly gay.

Children are quite perceptive, and I grew up convinced I was not normal. I was that little boy who steadfastly watched the Mary Tyler Moore Show. I claimed to really identify with Mary. My body, my voice, my interests—every detail betrayed me to others. At age 8, I knew I was marked.

I knew I was marked even when I was too young to grasp what made me different. I knew I would never be what adults wanted of me. I would never become a man.

This is why so many people struggle to come out of the closet. Despite how freeing the act is, you know you are marked as different, lesser than the rest of the world. Before I realized what gay was, I

knew I was bad—bad in a way I could never change. Gay people have been marked for generations— we are the weirdoes, the sissies, the ones who will never be able to recreate the nuclear family.

I don’t know where flounce comes from, but it’s the fabulous little demon that has followed me since my Mary Tyler Moore days. My wrists are limp, my voice is high-pitched, and my style is garish. This is my tea, and I’m ashamed of it. I believe that nobody respects a mincing queer, and I struggle to accept who I am, love what makes me different, and live a life free of the expectations of others.

I struggle because I know I am still marked. When you are gay, you are always cognizant of who you portray. We all want so desperately to pass. I ask myself: How gay do you seem today? Is your level of gayness audience appropriate? Gay men fight to be neutral in the eyes of others. Some of us revel in being “straight acting.” We are convinced people outside our community judge us on how gay we act. How queer we are.

I carry this with me every day. Read the rest of this entry »

Thoughts on the Assassination of Judy Garland (Series of Paintings 2008-2012)

In Art, Gender Studies, LGBT, Performativity, Politics, Queer Theory on April 16, 2013 at 9:03 pm

The second in our on-going series of articles on “The Screen”

duke_Killshot 2 Judys Gopalkrishnan 2013-1

by Carl Gopalkrishnan

Between 2008-2012, I created paintings with an ‘old school’ queer cultural affinity with vintage Broadway and Hollywood musicals. I used the life of Judy Garland as an internal narrative arc, a reflective tool, as part of my personal response to the 9/11 consciousness we inhabit today.  It became a metaphorical exploration of American politics from the period of the Obama/Clinton primaries, through further conflict in the Middle East amid the background of drones and the war on terror.  I think Judy kept asking the same question too, but kept singing the whole time, so keeping her fucked up life beside me as I painted was oddly grounding.

To me, Garland is more than a gay icon. She represents the best and worst of America – and their inevitable interoperability. The flipside of her talent helped me to understand the American partisan split personality in a more sympathetic way. I also had no difficulty with being sympathetic because I can’t not be sympathetic to one side of Judy without acknowledging the damage on the other side. And this ‘otherness’ in my paintings is how I conceive what is queer in this series of paintings.  This led me to looking at Hollywood movies and musicals as metaphors for the political intransigence of both Bush and Obama’s foreign policies. I call the series The Assassination of Judy Garland, because I feel that we are now separated into those that see Judy in 2 dimensional tragic terms; and those that see how tragedy shaped her genius in glorious 3D.

I also used French medieval epic poetry – chansons de geste – roughly translated as songs of heroic deeds because they were used at that time to support the political narratives of the Crusades in ways that reminded me of how many Hollywood products supports the War on Terror.  So the queer lens I created for these paintings is a prescription lens made for a specific time and place. And this lens acts as a screen to both hide and reveal motivations and desires, as much the screen icons I reference.  So the modern political stage I see is through recent history (Judy Garland’s life) and medieval history (chansons de geste).

As a queer-identifying man of colour with multiple geopolitical and sexual identities, I found myself directly affected by the political climate of the last decade.  It was the first time as a painter that I was looking outside to constructively use what was inside me to create an alternative to the narrative War on Terror, which always insists that I use my cultural heritage to position my loyalties in a dangerous time.  When I looked around to find how I could use my queer identity, I found that it was so busy trying on clothes that it had gone way beyond the body it was made to clothe. It had changed as I had aged.

People seem to forget that queer theory breathes within a time of terror that smashes lenses and burns books. It fancies itself immune. But I could not find a queer framework that helped me to paint what I saw.  I no longer understood what I call the new normative queer, and so I returned to what I knew was ‘naff’ and old school.  I allowed myself to visually languor in the Hollywood of the 1930s and 1950s. I felt quite alienated from the new normative queer climate influenced by a hyper-masculinized LGBTI culture that was becoming increasingly nationalistic in it’s desire to go beyond its backroom history into the light of mainstream acceptance.  Part of that process seems to relegate our screen culture history into the domain of soft power forever, which I really resist.  Screen culture has a power equal to that of the chansons de geste, which could inspire entire populations to lay down their lives through songs orally memorised and sung from village to village in the time of The Crusades. So I painted within that retrospective space, choosing sense over sensibility, perhaps.

I have taken away from these paintings a deeper appreciation for how our queer histories have become silent pictures that sit patiently and move slowly behind the interactive and hyperactive edges of this new normative queer. So while I reference moving pictures, the surreality in my paintings is happening on the silent screen inside us. Applied to the bigger stage, this screen can affect momentous change. We should respect that power. Read the rest of this entry »

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