06 August 2008

I Kissed a Girl, but...

This is intended to be a branching off of a longer piece (of which I haven’t published on this blog) about New Queer Cinema and its unfortunate offspring.

There are two unspoken rules in the worldview of what the Advocate described as the “New New Queer Cinema,” shamefully attributing an updated (and not terribly clever, at that) moniker to pedestrian gay genre films like Eating Out, Another Gay Movie and HellBent. At least in the case of Eating Out and Another Gay Movie, these films are distinguished by their gayness (not queerness, mind you) in disposition; the films exist in a world where gay is the substitute for straight, in which gay no longer represents anything close to defiance or, even, difference. In fact, this gayness thus adapts to heteronormative ideals, in a blind rejection of queer theory and what united artfulness in the New Queer Cinema films.

The first rule pertains to the idea that sexuality in flux doesn’t really exist, and worse, is worthy of ridicule from the individuals who populate these films. In Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds, we’re treated with a different variation on the film’s predecessor. Here, a gay man (Jim Verranos) pretends to be straight in order to sleep with the naked art class model (Marco Dapper), whose sexuality is the topic of choice among the film’s central characters. Critically speaking, the sequel falls into the same detractions of the first in its proclivity toward the display of male flesh and syrupy, easy resolutions for its otherwise selfishly gay characters (this includes the fag hags). However, amid its preposterous plotting, Eating Out 2 places the art model as the subject of mockery. His sexuality, which each of the characters has concocted their own labeling toward, is a joke. Though much of this could be chalked up to the fact that no one in this film genuinely cares about anyone other than themselves, it displays a rejection of the queer idea that sexuality, and really everything else, doesn’t warrant restrictive labels. We’re meant to laugh when the group, in sync, remarks, “There’s no such thing!” to the model’s declaration of his bisexuality, but instead I found myself hypercritical of close-mindedness of their remark. Had any of the characters allowed themselves to offer understanding in model’s quest to understand his own feelings, as opposed to simply trying to sleep with him, the criticism may not have been as harsh.

Similarly, on the nearly deplorable television program The L-Word, a sexuality in flux became quickly stifled for a gay restriction. Arguably the most interesting character of the show’s first season was in Mia Kirshner’s Jenny, the small town girl whose eyes are (of course) opened by a move to Los Angeles to live with her boyfriend. She begins an exploration of her own sexuality as her new setting provides the grounds for what she saw as infinite possibilities. However, when she finds herself having feelings for a man near the end of the season, the show quickly squashed those sentiments in the first episode of the wretched second season, brushing both her male lovers off the show and officially turning Jenny into “just one of the lesbians.” I can’t comment on the show as a whole, as the second season was so dreadful that I stopped watching, but through her, The L-Word rigorously adheres to queer rejection, even in its strife to be “different.”

The L-Word leads me into the second rule of the “New New Queer Cinema.” When dealing with questioning sexualities, it appears that women are more prone to exploration. This idea becomes an extension of the heteronormative world in which songs like Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” is a hit single and films like Kissing Jessica Stein become popular. With the prevalence of hot-girl-on-hot-girl sexuality as a staple of 70s erotica and porn, its continuing appearance in both popular media and in “New New Queer Cinema” might suggest some unstudied fact that either female sexuality is more prone to shifting or that women are more willing to explore. However, neither Eating Out 2 nor The L-Word allows as much. In these “New New Queer” films, gay men repulsed by pussy is a constant source of humor, and perhaps even lesbian disgust at cock as well. And yet, female characters defined as heterosexual are always the first to take the leap to the other side. Is this to appease a straight male audience, whose viewing would trigger arousal? It usually doesn’t help that the women are, more often than not, physically attractive.

This “observance” simply perpetuates the idea that males examining their sexuality is best done behind closed doors, while women should exhibit this for an audience. When it’s displayed in these films, it becomes fantasy instead of reality and usually a tool for gratuitous sex and nudity. Rebuffing these films’ and shows’ ramifications toward an understanding of sexuality under queer theory as a result of being either fluff (Eating Out) or soap (The L-Word) doesn’t account for the fact that they have replaced the gay/queer image of New Queer Cinema. In this replacement, gayness has become straightness, restrictive and, as a result, condemning of the wealth of human possibility.


qta said...

This is wonderful. So smart!

Joe said...

Thanks Damien! I'm always seeking your approval when it comes to this subject as you're the expert!

Anonymous said...

Stumbled onto this blog through netflix... Great stuff, especially on new queer cinema. Right now I am actually in a "Queer Cinema Around the World" class, and as a lover of Fassbinder, Almodovar, and Pasolini, I also agree with your viewpoint on this new idea of queer cinema. Unfortunately, things are only getting worse with the likes of tila tequila and katy perry, so I'll have to just hold my breath. Don't get much new cinema where I live, so if there are any new queer films aside from Houseboy worth mentioning, it would be much appreciated. (so far i dont expect to see anything in the class i havent but i'm sure it won't reach past early 2000's)