25 December 2008

Simpson, Mark, ed. Anti-Gay. London: Freedom Editions, 1996.

Well, see below. There were more crappy and useless essays (the more personal/memoiristic tended to be the more worthless), but there was lots of stuff that was smart and that I liked. I should for the purposes of my comprehensive exams' annotated bibliographies go over this stuff in learned paragraph form, but I'll go unordered list on you jokers:
  • John Weir's argument that identity politics are useless after AIDS, seeing as how they've killed off empathy. To assert "I am gay" is not just to assert alongside it that "You, het, are not," but also, "You can't ever know what it's like." Identity politics refuses earnest attempts at empathy, and, as a (hopeful, one-day) novelist, this seems like poison.
  • Weir's other argument that it's easy for white men to own and champion gay identity, and then to demand the same from other homosexuals, because before coming out their identities were pretty nonexistent. I mean, what white man identifies as a white man? But this choice? It's not so easy for, like, gay black men or lesbian Asian-Americans. Which identity trumps the other?
  • Weir's other argument (I gotta find more from this guy) that gay criticism of the military (for the latter's discriminatory policies) is the privilege of a mostly urban, bourgeois gay culture which
    overlook[s] the fact that enlisting in the armed forces is often the most viable economic alternative for working-class young men. If you're seventeen-years-old [sic] and you don't like musical comedy, and you don't want to move to New York or Chicago or Los Angeles, and you don't have enough money for college; and if you know that you like sweaty, male environments; and if you want to get the hell out of your small town, why not the Marines? (33-34)
    From what I've read (in private) online, it's not so inhospitable an environment for us.
  • Paul Burston's really, really smart criticism of gay film critics (and gay moviegoers) who seek always to see themselves reflected on the screen, and who get angry when gay characters aren't depicted "truly" by the filmmakers, because what on earth is a "true" homosexual? And also, the desire for cinematic self-identification is stupid. "In an adolescent," Burston writes, "this fixation would be entirely understandable; in an adult, it begins to beg a few questions" (85). In other words, a gay film theory that seeks out only known, familiar, gay characters is an immature theory. We need more.
  • Burston's extension of this to gay criticism in general, and how shitty it is. Two quotes and then I'm done: "Despite a growing trend towards 'queer', 'oppositional' readings within some (mainly academic) circles, the bulk of what we refer to as 'gay film criticism' still starts from the premise that what matters most is not what the film in question contributes to the art of cinema, or what pleasures it might hold for a queer-literate audience, but the degree to which it explicitly serves the gay political cause" (85-86). And: "One of the arguments made against so-called queer readings is that, far from constituting a legitimate critical strategy, they are merely a convenient, fashionable way of suspending moral judgement [. . .]." (96).
I've been guilty of all the thoughts and action critiqued above, and so it was a pretty fun book to read. I realized about halfway through that these critics are writing from a very privileged position. Like, they're probably themselves living in New York or L.A. or wherever, and able to go through their days-to-days without getting, say, killed or hit or otherwise abused. And rather than this being a nitpicking thing I want to fault the whole book for, I think it's a good thing. This lack of defensiveness is giving them clear enough heads to point out rather obvious hypocrisies and problems that other gays—those more oppressed, say, or more dedicated to asserting their still-forming queer identity as not insane or unhealthy—may be too busy defending their lives to see, which, of course, isn't their fault either.


Blogger Paul Burston said...

Thanks for your kind words. Gosh, that book seems a lifetime ago now. I guess it was if you were, say, 12. Good luck with your studies. Paul x

7:16 AM  

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