Category: Queer

Creeping Managerial Culture in Academe Spells Trouble for Critical Researchers

I just finished submitting my CV for a research job at a university. Neither the job nor the school is particularly prestigious, but they’re both respectable. We’re not talking University of Phoenix here.

The school in question has adopted, some time over the last year or so, a new application system. Instead of emailing HR your application, you upload it to one of those annoying forms that makes you fill out all your information at least twice. But this one has a bonus feature! It’ll tell you how many “inappropriate” words are on your CV.

I thought I was doing my part by refraining from opening every cover letter with “Dear capitalist motherfuckers,” but apparently no. Here is the list of words–all from titles of papers and presentations I’ve written, research I’ve conducted and positions I’ve held–deemed “inappropriate” for a job application.

Inappropriate

I have no idea what happens to filtered applications once they enter the system. One hopes it’s just a friendly warning and not an indication that the application will never even see the light of day.

But it’s a clear statement about what the creeping managerial culture in academe–the one that reinvents workers as data and discipline as preventative–means for critical researchers. Even if “inappropriate” applications aren’t immediately tossed out (for now), the construction of “appropriate” and “inappropriate” language here serves to mark a very particular set of researchers as risks.

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Feminism For Everyone! (Except Sex Workers and Trans Women)

Apparently this is my new blog theme: re-posting my letters to that fucking feminist listserv and making all kinds of GAH ARGH UGH noises while I do it. (Also, I really doubt this one will pass the moderators to make it on the listserv itself. To their credit, they posted it after a short delay, so far without comment.)

Every time I see a sex worker become a vocal antifeminist, I feel sad. “Sure, feminism has problems,” I think to myself. “But don’t hop in bed with the enemy over it!” And then feminism does shit like this.

For anyone who is not following (which is everyone except about 1600 feminists in Canada who subscribe to the Policy Action Research Listserv), there is a feminist listserv in Canada which hosts regular, unpleasant “debates” about whether or not to “abolish” prostitution and whether or not trans women are real women. There are also posts of events, interesting articles and other announcements to the list, but sex work and trans women do get the bulk of the discussion and debate.

It is always awful. The debates are beyond pointless, and do little besides blow my mind, over and over, that holy shit. I am actually having to argue to a feminist law professor that a sex worker’s domestic violence and child custody issues belong inside a feminist analysis. That’s a conversation I never thought I’d have. But I’ve also seen a back-and-forth between two non-sex working men about sex work, in which one announced that nothing the other was saying mattered because the other was only a medical doctor who researches sex work and besides, he appears to have liked boobies on his Facebook. (The “like” in question was in relation to Facebook’s ban on breastfeeding images, which a feminist doctor would legitimately be interested in, even if he is only a medical doctor.) So, you know, feminism happens.

But in July, there was an exchange about Radfem Rise Up’s exclusion of trans women and an exchange about the murder of a Swedish sex worker amidst a particularly bad convergence of aboltionist laws. Typically debates on Par-L are undertaken by interested, but unaffected, parties. In these two cases, however, a trans person and a sex worker actually took part in the discussion.

Par-L responded by banning all discussion of sex work or trans women until after Labour Day. Continue reading

A Sodomy Obsession (Not Mine This Time)

A couple of weeks ago, an absolutely vile methodologically questionable study was released exclusively toNewsweek on the lives and habits of clients of prostitutes in the Boston area. You may be saying to yourself: “released exclusively to a commercial media outlet? But doesn’t that alone make questionable both the motivation for the study and its credibility? Would no scholarly journals publish it?” But you are missing a key piece of information: the study was authored by celebrity feminist and prostitution researcher Melissa Farley, the same psychologist who was smacked down by Justice Susan Himel for bringing incredible and biased testimony to the Superior Court case that ultimately struck down anti-prostitution laws in Ontario and who helped to author this gem, which mocks sex workers who have been sexual assaulted at work or as children. So.. you know, grain of salt for studies authored by total assholes. (But check out the comments for incisive critiques from prostitutes.)

Anyway.

While reading this BS, the following paragraph struck me as.. well, weird:

Farley’s findings suggest that the use of prostitution and pornography may cause men to become more aggressive. Sex buyers in the study used significantly more pornography than nonbuyers, and three quarters of them said they received their sex education from pornography, compared with slightly more than half of the nonbuyers. “Over time, as a result of their prostitution and pornography use, sex buyers reported that their sexual preferences changed and they sought more sadomasochistic and anal sex,” the study reported.

Now, with a sample size of 200 and no information telling readers how quotations from the men interviewed were turned into quantitative data about how aggressive they are, we can write the argument off. But what’s the deal with the anal?

It’s not just this one study: anal sex is cited in anti-porn and anti-prostitution rhetoric all the freakin time as evidence that men’s sexual desires are somehow escalating, or getting worse, or becoming more extreme, or are somehow more harmful than they were.. uh.. pre-porn? There is, to the best of my knowledge, no pre-porn era of media. But at some point before All The Men started watching All The Porn on the internet, anyway. (Of course, women have no sexual desire for anal sex. Ever.)

You can’t swing a lubey strap-on in the imaginary room of anti-porn rhetoric without hitting some bum sex. (You’ll have to ctrl-f “anal” yourself — gets kinda zen after the first few, though some are more readable than others) But it’s not just them.

This sex-positive Slate article cites a Kinsey study from last year, announcing that “the big story is the increase in anal sex reported by women” and a correlative increase in female orgasms–but don’t worry; women’s don’t actually like anal. It’s just easier for dudes to get them to do it, if they’re bought with many orgasms. No amount of WTF in the world can cover that.

And this catchy, and also sex-positive (I actually like the idea of porn literacy for young people), site called“Make Love Not Porn,” which has made a few rounds on my Facebook has this to offer:

Guys, ask yourselves how you would feel about someone sticking their cock up your butt. That will pretty much reflect broad female attitudes.

I’m all for “do unto others,” but on a site aimed at heterosexual-identified young men, that smacks of homophobia. Um, and surprise! Plenty of straight men, just like plenty of gay and other queer men, absolutely love the sensation of anal penetration. By and large, they all have the same prostate. Similarly, lots of women, gay, straight and other, like anal: most women don’t have prostates, but we do, by and large, have the same bundle of hyper-sensitive nerve endings. It’s not hard to establish that plenty of people like anal sex, and (when done right) it causes no real harm.

So what’s the big deal? Is it just homophobia? Or that elephant in the now-lube-spattered imaginary room full of anti-porn advocates with embarassingly-shaped bruises (like cats, lubey strap-ons need to be swung firmly — best to stay out of the way): someone, at some point, might see miniscule amounts of someone else’s poop? Or is it just an easily-exploited rhetorical tool: something titillating and a bit risky, that many (but not as many as you’d think, if The Kinsey Institute is right) folks know very little about?

I don’t get it.

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This is a reproduction of a post from July 29th 2011 (my mother’s birthday!) on my blog at https://landing.athabascau.ca/profile/sarahma108

Homophobia, Rape and the Unspeakable in Nick Cave’s “Lawless”

“I’m a bad motherfucker, don’t you know / And I’ll crawl over fifty good pussies just to get to one fat boy’s asshole …” — Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “Stagger Lee”

In Nick Cave’s 1995 take on the “Stagger Lee Blues,” an often-covered American folk song about a murderer named Stagger Lee, Cave twists the original tale. Now Stagger Lee isn’t just a murderer, he’s a gay murderer, and he forces his victim, “Bill Dilly,” to perform oral sex on him before murdering him. I didn’t know much of anything about Nick Cave until my supervisor wrote a book chapter about his work earlier this year, and listening to All The Nick Cave became one of my research tasks (too spooky for me; listening to Nick Cave albums late at night was a good way to end up convinced there were serial killers hiding in my back yard). While plenty of Cave’s songs emphasize male violence, they mostly feature violence against women. “Stagger Lee” is an odd song out, and I was left wondering why the thing that ultimate badasses are made of is sexual desire for other men.

And here I am again, wondering the same thing about the villain in Cave’s new screenplay, Lawless. An adaptation of Matt Bondurant’s The Wettest County in the World, a “true” story of the author’s own grandfather’s and uncles’ bootlegging operation during prohibition in the US South, Lawless follows the heroes’ struggle against corrupt lawmakers. Guy Pearce plays Special Agent Rakes, a cop turned extortionist, who comes to the backwoods community from the big city, on behalf of a similarly corrupt politician. This outsider wages a campaign of violent terror against the community’s bootleggers, and in particular against the Bondurant family, who refuse to give him a cut of their profits.

The film is brutally and straightforwardly violent, much like Cave’s last screenplay, The Proposition. There are more than a few fight scenes, complete with brass knuckles, broken teeth and blood oozing from characters’ mouths. The flesh-on-flesh impacts are played extra loud, for cringeworthy effect. The film’s heroes are surrounded by a legend that they’re immortal, which they test by getting themselves repeatedly blugeoned, stabbed, and shot, with every detail drawn out for the audience’s pleasure. The movie’s only sex scene, unfortunately, is not shown. I guess heroes are for kicking ass, not cunnilingus.

While the Bondurants carry out a few murders and at least one very bloody castration, most of the violence is orchestrated by Special Agent Rakes, who we are to understand is Very Evil. And this is where the movie gets weird.

Cave adapts Bondurant’s villain, described in a Guardian promo piece as a “redneck country cop,” to what he claims is a more “memorable” role. The change was made to get actor Guy Pearce, who is more than convincingly creepy in the role, on board. Cave’s Rakes is an urban dandy: affected, flamboyant, dressed to the nines, and very emotional. (In the Guardian interview, Cave said he made Rakes more like himself.) Rakes is established as a deviant in two interactions with women.

LAWLESS

First, he recognizes one of the heroes’ love interests, Maggie, as a stripper who fled the city for a quieter life in the country. He calls her out at a hotel where they are both staying, holding her door open with his foot as she tries to escape into her room. She tells him to leave her alone and he replies “don’t worry about me; I don’t want to drink from a greasy cup.” It’s a great line, but it’s also a weird scene, since it comes only after Rakes is made as obviously and pointedly sexually threatening as possible. Now he’s a threat, but he’s not sexually interested in the beautiful woman.

Later, Rakes is shown in his own room, dressed even more lavishly than usual. As he opens his door to find the giftwrapped testicles of one of his minions, we see a black woman, a prostitute, sitting on newspaper on the neatly made bed. There is no dialogue between them, but she’s crying. He has obviously done something awful to her — and something awfully deviant, since they don’t appear to have used the bed for fucking. Rakes has been shown enjoying causing pain in a few other scenes, so we presume him to be a sexual sadist. Can he get any more evil?

Well, then there’s the boy he kills. Cricket, physically disabled friend to the heroes, is their employee and engineering mastermind, doing everything from building the distillery to amking their cars go faster. As far as this movie goes, he’s as innocent as you can get. So, naturally, Rakes kills him.

lawless-2012-picture09

What the film shows is Rakes leading Cricket into the woods, finally pushing him through a dark doorway into an abandoned building. Rakes is about as nice as he gets in the film, questioning Cricket about why one of the other men called him a “nance.” Rakes stands behind Cricket, choking him and covering his mouth, repeating “he called me a nance” before finally snapping the boy’s neck with his bare hands. “I’m not a nance,” he says.

This scene marks a turning point in the community: the sherrif, who has been coerced to work on Rakes’ side, tries to make up with the Bondurants. In two separate scenes, he explains that Cricket’s death is over the line: “What he done to that boy” is “beyond forgiveness” and “there’s no absolution.”

Nobody says the boy was raped before he was killed. In fact, for a movie that gleefully shows scene after scene of bloody violence, the actual depiction of Cricket’s death is surprisingly peaceful; his neck snaps, they have a funeral, and that’s that. While most of the movie’s shock value is in the horrors they do shown, this is about what they don’t show, and apparently can’t even say.

The other, acknowledged rape in the story also isn’t shown. When two of Rakes’ henchmen rape Maggie, we are shown her bruises afterwards to confirm that the assault has taken place. Even when her love interest, headed out for revenge, questions her about it, she denies that anything has happened, repeating “they didn’t do nothing to me.” While Maggie’s rape is made undeniable to the audience, rape is the atrocity the film leverages, but never attempts to represent.

On the surface, Lawless was a decent action flick, packed with plenty of gore, shooting and suspense, and driven by a decent “Robin Hood” plot. But it’s also a homophobic fantasy about a community of white rural men who need to band together to protect themselves when an urban queer shows up in their midst, and threatens their economy, their values, and their family. The queer is the threat — a powerful physical and sexual threat — to the normatively masculine men, not the other way around. It’s the stuff “gay panic” is made of. Only when Rakes has been killed (overkilled) can the brothers — including the one who has not had a love interest at any point throughout the film — marry their sweethearts and spawn buckets of little children.

In LTST605, we read a critical edition of Heart of Darkness in which much of the debate centred around whether Joseph Conrad was really racist in his representations of characters of colour, or whether he was reproducing Victorian ideology about race in order to subject it to critique. I might ask myself the same question about this movie: is Cave just a homophobic writer? Or is he leveraging homophobia in a way that accurately captures the homophobia in American cultural mythmaking? (And does it matter that the film valorizes, if not confirms, other myths of masculinity, like the heroes’ invincibility? Or that Cave claims to identify with the villain?)

 

I’ve been copying blog posts from my school blog to populate this new one without copying comments because most of the posts weren’t public, so commentators had an expectation that their comments would stay within the school community. But this time the post was public, and I think my supervisor, Mark’s, comment adds a lot to this analysis:

One possible way to interpret (if not decisively decode) the gender and sexual ambiguities of the character played by Pearce here is to read it in the context of other roles he has played. In performance studies, the ability of an actor playing a given role to quote or otherwise evoke prior roles in other productions is a phenomenon called “ghosting.” For instance, in my Battlestar Galactica article I discuss how the Commander character played by Edward James Olmos ironically “ghosts” his previous role in Blade Runner: the irony obtains in the fact that both characters, in the course of their respective productions’ plots, become suspected of being not human but androids, or “replicants.” Part of the irony then is how the recurrence of the same actor in these successive roles enacts a repetition that augments each role’s suspicion of being a replicant, a copy.

I’m not thoroughly acquainted with all Pearce’s prior roles, but two that occur to me in the context of your analysis are those which he played for Cave’s prior screenplay, Charlie Burns in The Proposition, and for a much earlier film: Felicia Jollygoodfellow in Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994). He also played a role in LA Confidential (1997), a movie that, I dimly recall, involved homosocial and gay themes, though I think these were concentrated in the Kevin Spacey character. Then again, in The Road (2009), Pearce plays a folksy family man – you know, the kind defined by not being a cannibal.

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This is a reproduction of a post from September 9th 2012 on my blog at https://landing.athabascau.ca/profile/sarahma108