Sunday, September 09, 2007

A Slate Article on Homoerotic Movies

I probably should not call people out like this, but it is Sunday, so I feel like doing something off the cuff.

Neil Shyminsky -- your blog says that your research includes the pop cultural representations and practice of white masculinity in late 20th and 21st century North America. I read this article on Slate a while back, but do not know what to think of it. Give me your expert opinion.

The Surf Also Rises: How Macho Movies get Misread as Homoerotic.

Everyone else is, of course, welcome to weigh in.


neilshyminsky said...

Hey Geoff - Slate is either down or is fearful of my response and refuses to load. That said, the title alone suggests to me that the argument will be predicated on a defense of homosociality. So I grabbed this from a paper I recently submitted to a journal on 'gay' sidekicks and superhero masculinity. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't, but it probably speaks to the larger phenomena.

According to Eve Sedgwick, the homosocial describes a social force of same-sex bonding that is aimed – in the case of two men – toward solidarity and an interdependence of men that allows for their continued domination of women. Though the practice of homosociality alludes homophonically and linguistically to homosexuality, they are not necessarily equivalent and cannot simply be substituted for one another. However, as the homosocial represents a continuum of same-sex relationships, homosexuality always resides there as an option – though the homosocial and homosexual are not identical, they do imply one another. Sedgwick writes that, “[f]or a man to be a man’s man is separated only by an invisible, carefully blurred, always-already-crossed line from being ‘interested in men.’”

Geoff Klock said...

Neil -- it loads here fine. Try it again maybe. Here is the conclusion of the article:

"Now, 300 has earned more than $200 million in America alone, from an overwhelmingly male audience. What more plausibly accounts for this? That 20 million closet cases snuck off to see an illicit fantasy about bare-chested men in Hellenic Speedos, or that young men from the vast heartland of this very conservative, Christian, pro-military country flocked to see an unabashedly heroic tale of Occidental, republican military glory? To believe the latter, all you have to accept is that, in imagining the sort of heroic figures they themselves would like to be, straight men would project onto them not just excellence but physical beauty. Shouldn't a guy be able to do such a thing without being called gay?"

Mikey said...

Hi Geoff, Hi Neil,

Neil - your research seems to dovetail with mine somewhat. That's possibly the neatest encapsulation of this aspect of Sedgwick I've seen, one that I've been trying to get at myself without even realizing. (Nice one).

He seems unclear of what 'homoerotic' means. If you label a 'macho film friendship' as such, you're not really/necessarily claiming that it's 'not-so-secretly-gay.'

It IS a continuum (or continuity?) which also, in relation to this article, allows for a scale of intent: the real thing he seems to be complaining about is that the authors don't intend for homoerotic content, so why do we always have to look for it? Except Bigelow, who DID intend it, but then, she doesnt count because she didnt shoot the surfing right. (What?)

Also - does he realize that bandying around terms like 'recognition', projecting the narcissistic self etc opens the door to Mulvey, or even Lacan? And that only leads to trouble....

Also also - does this mean that Busey played the surfer in Big Wednesday AND Reeves's partner in Point Break? Do I remember that right? That kicks ass.

neilshyminsky said...

It finally loaded for me. Some quick comments on Feeney's article and on mikey's rejoinder.

This is one of my favorite sections of the article, and also the one that does the most to undermine the author's ostensible point, I think: 'The fact that Johnny and Bodhi operate on different sides of the law only highlights their mutual identification. Johnny is drawn across that line not because he wants to have sex with Bodhi, but because he wants to be Bodhi—or, more accurately, because he is Bodhi.' Like mikey says, talk of narcissism and recognition/identification is really just an inexact way of saying desire. And desire is a slippery topic, as mikey seems to be suggesting when he says that these words 'lead to trouble'. In fact, I'd say that once we parse Feeney's code and declare it for what it is, (that is, a disingenuously narrow stab at limiting the expression of desire) he argument actually turns against him - sexual relationships, after all, might just as easily be predicated on narcissistic recognition as non-sexual relationships.

Which is to say, I think, that Feeney is asking the wrong questions. He's wondering why people think that straight movie characters are gay (wherein he's able to prove them wrong, regardless of the answer to that question, by asserting that there's nothing in the text that proves them gay), when the question should be why these (ostensibly) straight movie characters are so easily read as gay. (which would, conversely, demand a critical look at the subtext that he so easily dismisses and require some admission that audiences shape meaning)

I'm also struck by the final line of the essay: 'Shouldn't a guy be able to do such a thing without being called gay?' To which I can only respond - why should 'a (straight? queer? other?) guy' care if people call him gay? And who are these people doing the 'calling' anyway? And since when has a movie been proven a determining factor in one's sexuality, anyway? The homophobia was obviously lurking just beneath the surface to that point, but, wow, that closing line is just ridiculous.

Geoff Klock said...

Neil: that was AWESOME. That was EXACTLY what I was looking for. I knew something in that article was bothering me, but I lack the sensitivity tothe homoerotic/
homotextual stuff to really say clearly to myself what it was.

Blogging is awesome. Without blogging that would have just annoyed me for a while.

Ping33 said...

Has anyone seen the British Comedy show: Peep Show? I'm thinking particularly about the 1st season ep which introduces Alan Johnston. I think that this faux homoerotic quality mentioned in the article is really exemplified here and is actually a hetrosexual fantasy about homosexuality. If someone isn't gay they can understand it in terms of the idolization of a same-sex person. In Peep Show, Mark wonders if he's gay because he thinks so highly of Johnston so much. He wants to become him... it all falls apart when he actually thinks about the reality of what it would be like to have sex with him.
Then at the end when Jeremy tells Johnston that Mark is gay for him, Johnston's response is "I'm a businessman yeah? That's what I do. I can't go in for that sort of thing" Not "I'm straight" rather "I'm a business man" THAT was PRECISELY the quality Mark Loved in the first place.

PS. If you haven't seen Peep Show, DO! It's WAY better than The Office (though not quite as good as S P A C E D)

Marc Caputo said...

I usually can keep up with the level of discussion on this blog with little to no problem, but this one throws me.

All I wanna know is - I absolutely, with no hesitation or irony, love "Point Break" and can go on at length about its beauty. Am I going to regret getting into this discussion?

Geoff Klock said...

get into this discussion. It will be fun.

Dan Carlson said...

Admittedly, the column's closing line saps its power by tilting too much toward some kind of homophobia. But I do think Feeney had a couple valid points, including the awkward truth that a lot of straight men do care about being labeled as gay. (Which yes, of course they shouldn't, but that's a whole other problem.)

Neil brings up a great point about why these characters "read as gay," which I think goes back to the fact that the recent rise and acceptance of gay film and TV means for some critics that anything with half-naked men fighting together is going to be branded as "homoerotic" simply because it's the easiest tag to grab. There's an undercurrent in the cultural community of not wanting to be out of the loop, and I imagine that many critics alluded to the supposed hidden homosexuality of the Spartans in 300 simply because it seemed like the thing to do.

neilshyminsky said...

I think that one of the larger problems with the article - and, as Geoff's admission of confusion suggests, it's incredibly subtle - is the conflation of homosexual with homoerotic. To say that 300 is homoerotic is not the same as saying its homosexual - there's something homoerotic about the way that athletes slap each other on the ass, too, but no one would suggest that it's also homosexual.

I'm sure there's room for disagreement on this, but I've always seen the difference as such: while homosexuality is marked by a sexual desire for the same sex, homoeroticism describes aesthetic principles and traditions that aren't necessarily connected to a homo-, bi- or heterosexual desire. To mistake one for the other, then, is like me saying 'I think Jude Law is hot' (which I do) and you hearing 'I want to have sex with Jude Law' (which I don't).

Not that I think that most of the people who have labeled 300 'homoerotic' have probably thought about it that much. Like dan says, they probably thought 'hey, the Spartans had a lot of gay sex, right?' and ran with it. (But I'd still say that it's homoerotic, regardless.)

Streebo said...

I want to watch 300 again as soon as possible. . .