It is awesome to contemplate the sheer quantity of European and American images of the Indians, to consider the constant fascination and inspiration these images have held for five hundred years, and to recognize how terrifyingly irrelevant this overwhelming hoard of images has been to what individual Indians actually were, and therefore how relevant these fantasies became to forming white attitudes toward those individuals, to forming the prisms, the icons, through which we perceive Indians; and how responsible these fantasies are for what was done to those individuals. This is what Ford is about.
—Tag Gallagher, “Angels Gambol Where They Will: John Ford’s Indians”
Any series of events that is unfolding for the first time, or in a new way, or with unanticipated intensity or duration threatens to overrun or elude the framing conventions of the recording artists (the cameramen and directors). This element of surprise is always in conflict with the image of smoothness, which has the semiotic function of marking the producer’s competence by emphasizing his mastery and control, his grasp of events. The signs of unpredictability and surprise are discontinuities and ragged edges that mark the boundaries of that competency by puncturing or lacerating that grasp. The image of smoothness depends always upon the appearance of the unimpeded forward course of the producer’s intention, of facility, which means that there must be no doubt in the viewer’s mind that what is transmitted is what the transmitter wants to transmit. And the only ways to achieve this were through (a) repeated preparation of the events, (b) very careful selection of highly predictable events, or (c) deletion of unexpected and undesirable aspects of events, which meant editing a recorded version of these events.
—David Antin, “Video: The Distinctive Features of the Medium”
Online is not a bewitched place to treat with mystical apprehension. Like other modes of human experience—sex, the sacred, memory—one should develop a relation to it that is intentional and empowering rather than overwhelming and addictive. One step is to redefine the debate away from its current dilemma and toward an understanding of being human that contains being online.
—Greg Pollock, “Digital Connection, Language, And Family”
Much of the show’s downfall and the bad vibes endured by the entire production was due to the technical tedium of the puppeteering. The 20-minute footage took around 20 hours to film. Imagine saying scripted dialogue over and over again to a glove. Remember that this was before the laugh-track was supplemented, and your lines are followed by the depleted patience of your would-be family members. Perhaps it was a real family after all. And yet, the actors’ hatred for Alf could never be fully actualized, cathartically, for Alf was, of course, not real. And it would have been irrational to hate on Paul Fusco, the puppeteer, who definitely suffered the most: non-ergonomically crouched under tables and counters hours at a time, moving his hands to the tune of heard voices.
—Jimmy Chen, “Revisiting Alf”
Linda Williams’s Hard Core, which I’ve been reading (and talking and thinking about a whole lot), is the urtext of the feminist porn movement. Check out the crucial concluding paragraphs of the second chapter, “Prehistory,” which traces the cinematic beginnings of porn from Muybridge’s locomotion studies to Edison’s video of a sneeze:
On the one hand, we can say with Irigaray, and possibly with some members of the feminist anti-pornography movement as well, that as long as women find it necessary to argue about power or pleasure entirely on male (phallogocentric) terms, they will lose; whatever is distinctive and “authentic” in their own power and pleasure will be interpreted negatively and to their disadvantage. In this sense there is not much difference between literary confessions (written by men but often focused on women) of female pleasure for women and the more direct and graphic confession of pleasure by women’s bodies in hard core. Both are examples of men speaking about women’s sex to other men; both want to know more about the pleasure of women; both see this pleasure as excessive; both see it as opposed to power.
On the other hand, we can say with Foucault, and with most anti-censorship feminists, that there are important differences to be noted in the uses of pleasure from one society to another and one technology to another. Indeed, the particular interpenetration of power and pleasure can be extremely important in the local attempt to resist or counter the oppressive effects of each. Just as power exists as a multiplicity of force relations rather than a single force, state, or individual, so resistance to power is a “multiplicity of points of resistance” (Foucault 1978, 95).
The value of this plural conceptualization of power, pleasure, and resistance lies in its potential to prevent the feminist critique of patriarchy from succumbing to the same imposition of a unitary norm as the phallogocentrism being criticized. It also suggests that resistance can begin anywhere, wherever this power is felt to be oppressive. There is a danger, however, in thus reconceptualizing a previously unitary and static concept of sexual identity: namely, the decentering involved could cause women to lose the gender identification that most effectively recognizes our experience of oppression and provides the most dramatic impetus to resist. Women’s resistance must therefore continue to rely on the fiction of the unity “woman” insofar as oppression continues to make that unity felt. But women must also be flexible enough to locate their own empowering points of resistance within discursive practices that are no longer taken as essential truths. This is the lesson of the “origins” of cinema and of porno. These origins are not inevitable; all they show is that seeing from the single perspective of the phallus and the male orgasm is not to see woman at all but to see only, as Irigaray tells us, the one and the same of man against the more or the less of woman (pp. 55-56, emphasis mine).
According to Williams as I read her, one possible locus of resistance to phallogocentric forces of oppression is the ability to speak (both to each other and to men) about our pleasure, not as tiny pieces of a unitary idea of “women’s pleasure” only existing in opposition to that of men’s, but as individuals with specific experiences of pleasure, desire, and oppression. Each of our bodies, and each instance of pleasure and desire we experience within those bodies, is a potential “point of resistance.” Here there is room for individual experience, for the politics of intersectionality to be about pleasure and desire and resistance to the multiplicity of forces that oppress. Her cry, and that of the feminist porn movement, is not for the abolition of pornography, but rather for resistance to the “single perspective of the phallus and the male orgasm” in favor of an opening-up of the possible perspectives from which we can view and enjoy depictions of pleasure and desire.
What is Redemptive Masculinity? It is a particular ideal often discussed as the reason men should embrace feminism. It is a way of pointing out how men suffer under patriarchy by being forced to stick to rigid ideas of masculinity that are violent, unemotional, and restrictive to a fully flourishing life. Redemptive Masculinity does not posit that men suffer equally from structural inequality or material harm under patriarchy, but that it is a valuable outcome for men to be able to embrace their “feminine” sides without fear of suffering violence. In short, masculinity can be “redeemed” from its distorted form under patriarchy by incorporating the “feminine,” constructed as emotional and nurturing. Now, to be clear I don’t think men can’t be feminists or work for women’s equity. I follow Donna Haraway in thinking that there is no totalizeable feminism, there is nothing “natural” about being a women, and there are multiple standpoints from which feminist politics can arise. However, I do think there are a couple insidious elements to Redemptive Masculinity that need to be questioned.
First, despite the forced stoicism of traditional masculinity, there is nothing “unemotional” about patriarchal masculinity; if anything it is driven by excessive emotions. Underneath the veneer of patriarchal masculinity lurks both fear and rage. Fear at the loss of control, at being unequal, at losing status, and most importantly fear of losing power - whether structurally or in the most microscopic of power relations. For power is indubitably linked to pleasure, to the experience of pleasure and the fear of its being diminished. Afraid of this loss of power/pleasure patriarchal masculinity reacts with rage and violence, expressing man’s desire to exercise his control, a control society has often promised him. Zizek’s idea that at the heart of racism is the thought that the Other has stolen my jouissance seems pertinent here. Under patriarchy men will fear that women have access to a pleasure that is denied to them, to their jouissance, and will lash out if they think that fear has been proven true. Kate Zambreno’s book Heroines is interesting in this regard, as she shows how the male modernists were as “hysterical” as the wives they claimed were crazy and abused. Their emotions, of paranoia and fear, were socially sanctioned and thus these men were not overly emotional but Great Artists. Patriarchal masculinity then does not suffer from being “unemotional” but from an excess of negative emotions that are socially sanctioned for the maintenance of women’s inequality.
This leads me to the other aspect of Redemptive Masculinity, that the emotions men need to incorporate from women are their “caring” ones. However, such thinking buys into one of the key myths of patriarchy concerning women. It confirms that women are the “emotional” ones in society, possessing something men need to possess as well. Structurally this is the inverse of the dominant logic of patriarchy, that women possess a jouissance men lack. Redemptive Masculinity then does nothing to breakdown societal stereotypes of sexual difference but only flips them. Men go from seeing being emotionless as a virtue to a lack, while women’s “emotional” nature goes from being denigrated to valued, something men require access to as well. Women are still seen as the possessors of all that is good (their jouissance, their virginity) and that men must acquire. Despite the best intentions of forming more tolerant, open men Redemptive Masculinity does not breakdown the essential connections between sexual difference, desire, and potential violence.
Recognizing this, what are the roots for a socially viable masculinity? I find the work of Leo Bersani useful here. In “Is the Rectum a Grave?” he argues that there is an essential link between misogyny and homophobia - a fear of the radical passivity of the woman/gay man. The way out of this fear is to embrace radical passivity itself, to be open to being “penetrated” by others and willing to form radical socialities with them. In his later work in Forms of Being and Intimacies Bersani has expanded this question into how to recognize correspondences between the self and the world. Moving away from the question of the difference of the Other Bersani asks how a person can recognize the sameness of their selves in the world. Radical passivity then gives way to forging non-violent correspondences in the world that will allow for both socially viable communities and sexual pleasure. I see this as a possible, though surely not the only, starting point for rethinking masculinities outside of patriarchal sexual difference, where it is not a question of the fear/desire of the Other’s jouissance but of a particular correspondence between “men,” however determined. This would by necessity be a masculinity aware of patriachal violence and histories of sexual control, while still allowing for particular pleasures of activity AND passivity for the subject. The other potential upside is that motivation for men to work alongside women for social justice is not predicated on the idea that this is the only way for men to gain something they lack, but instead they can be motivated by a correspondence they see between themselves and other women - a correspondence that springs from the mutual enmeshment of men, women, and others in communities that should be embraced instead of rejected.
This is generally a problem with TV shows with fantasy elements set in the present day. They simply don’t have the time or money to be thoughtful about their use of special effects (apparently), and so what we get feels like a collection of post-production presets: human faces morphing into demon faces, moving so fast someone becomes a blur, or those damned orbs: you see ‘em in Grimm, and you see ‘em in True Blood, and you’ve seen ‘em in Charmed, and they all kinda look the same. Fantasy powers can serve as deeply layered metaphors for the human condition when depicted in prose, but once you have to visualize ‘em, they always seem to look like things people who went to liberal arts college regret wearing as a teenager. As a result, the visuals on these shows are resolutely disreputable. Even the most well-regarded show in the genre, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, gets far more laughs than praise for its monsters and magic, with its value coming solely from the writing and performances. That meant a lot back in the late ’90s, but to be a quality TV show in 2013, you have to have both great dialogue and visual composition.
—Michael Bartel, “Why ‘True Blood”s Awful Special Effects Work in Its Favor”