Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Variations On a Theme


Yes, in this book, I do want to explore the very specific nightmares of gay sexual/social culture, the places where hypocrisy becomes the norm and is allowed to exist unquestioned, unquestioning, unquestionable. But certainly, that translates into other areas, especially among subcultures and cultures of resistance that originally emerged to challenge dominant norms.

...So often we end up creating new hierarchies that are just as bad as the original ones we were trying to challenge—even in subcultures, or maybe particularly in subcultures, there are rules and regulations. How do we re-imagine the whole idea of belonging? Maybe belonging isn't what we are after at all, maybe we have to create a space where no one needs to belong, what would that look like?

It's interesting, because feminism is where all my politics start—the feminism of challenging power, not accessing power. The feminism of destroying all hierarchies. The feminism of radical dykes and outcasts and freaks and whores that I first encountered when I moved to San Francisco at the very end of my teenage years in the early-’90s.

Yes, I think that feminism has opened up more possibilities for gender, sexual, social and political self-determination. But, I think that, although gay liberation emerged from feminism in many ways—as a rejection of organized religion and the nuclear family, a rejection of police and state control over queer bodies and lives—now, there is a conscious rejection of feminism in most gay male cultures. To me, this is tragic and horrifying.

In some ways I think that gay liberation made it possible for straight people to be more fluid in their gender, sexual and social identities, while gay people are busy salivating over participatory patriarchy and Tiffany wedding bands. And so, part of what I want to do with this book is to bring a queer feminist analysis into gay culture. As an intervention.


But the show’s largest flaw is its preoccupation with translating a particular black experience for liberal white sensibilities. Its eagerness to avoid offense hangs over every tepid sketch about race, sketches already laboring under excessive gentleness and lack of imagination. In each sketch black people are impeded by their own blackness, or more specifically black men cling to an idea of black masculinity, one which Key and Peele suggest is a needless performance.

...In a recent interview, Jordan Peele said:

“Keegan and I, we’re pretty good, I think our personal taste and our personal sense of adventure doesn’t go too much across this line, we don’t like to make fun of victims. We like to make fun of hypocrites, of bullies.”

But who exactly are the bullies in “Key & Peele”? Judging from the majority of their sketches, the main oppressive force the duo faces is a certain notion of blackness, particularly black masculinity. The pressure to conform to race appropriate behavior does exist. Many people of color are familiar with accusations of “acting white,” but this pressure is a symptom of the larger problem — that they are living in a racist world full of racist ideas and are negotiating their own identification with or against that society.


Homophobic reactions from hyper-masculine men aren't uncommon these days, from Busta Rhymes' assault on a male fan for touching him to Jamaican rapper Buju Banton's lyrics that advocate killing homosexuals. Williams says that within the African-American community, such attitudes have a deeper root.

“We can't communicate to each other, so we acquaint everything with being a man [and] show no emotion and nothing weak,” he explains. “You know, a man can't cry, a man can't show vulnerability and we definitely can't be gay. … We are still working on that as a black community. To love ourselves and to communicate with each other and accept each other and our differences. We are still calling an educated brother with proper diction an Oreo cookie. What I am saying [is], it is a lot deeper than the gay issue.”

These are just articles I happened across in the last day or so that seemed to be loosely related. I don't have a coherent point to make in particular, just some random thoughts:

• The feminism that Bernstein describes sounds to me like the anarchism I used to hear people describe -- an almost otherworldly, utopian naïvete. Destroying all hierarchies? Eliminating all coercion? That sort of equality is more like a mathematical abstraction than anything realizable.

• I haven't seen Key & Peele's new show, though I've enjoyed some of their sketch comedy before. But if they do approach from the perspective of challenging notions of black masculinity, the type Williams was talking about in the last excerpt, why is that a less valid racial issue? Are we talking about the same sort of crude machismo that makes so many white liberals guiltily uncomfortable with hip-hop and rap? If so, who else is better placed to address it than two black comedians? (Plus, I don't remember Dave Chappelle ever discomfiting or threatening my white identity, so I'm not sure what she finds so edgy about his comedy.)

• Maybe I'm missing something, or maybe I'm just too hopelessly white-cis-male-heteronormative to ever get it, but I seem to recall that the Old Left radicals arrived at opposition to organized religion, the nuclear family, racial/sexual inequality and state control via an Enlightenment-derived sense of common human bonds, however utopian all that may seem now. For all the rhetoric, I really don't see how all these balkanized subcultures are presenting any sort of alternative to the values of consumer culture; it all just sounds like cynical arguing over branding and marketing to me.

2 comments:

noel said...

"Subvert the dominant paradigm!"

noel said...

Key & Peele are simply trying to be funny with the topic that they know how to be funny with. They succeeded every now and then.
And maybe Busta just doesn't like being pawed by strangers, as far-fetched as that may seem.
You know, physicists look at academics arguing over stuff like this and say, "Why do they think they know anything? They have no unambiguous data." They have a point.