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Sunday, 12 December 2004

Movie / Celluloid Closets

I just saw The Third Man on campus. They show free movies in the science center. It was an entertaining movie, from 1949. Right when one of the characters, the Baron, first shows up, it's easy to tell he's a bad guy. Because he's gay. How can you tell he's gay? He's wearing eyeliner, he has on a fur stole, he's carrying a tiny dog and he smiles like Peter Lorre does in the Maltese Falcon. Also, adding to his alien otherness, he has a more pronounced accent than other Germans in the movie and, as Zoe noted, he has "Nazi teeth." Another person in the film, Dr. Winkel, collects antiques. Gay. He's the Baron's boyfriend. Obviously they're up to no good. Obviously the dead man in the film was up to no good because he was friends with these guys.

It is a bit disconcerting to realize that a large part of my identity was Hollywood code for evil. But it does provide context for claims of the religious right. They tap into a deep symbolism, older than Hollywood. We use queerness as a symbol for otherness, apparently, because we're apes. I think some monosexuals find themselves confused and made uncomfortable by other sexual orientations. I thought, after reading Foucault's History of Sexuality, that this had something to do with western culture. He has an argument, which I cannot hope to summarize, where through repression sex became a form of knowledge. Not just knowledge, but the ultimate self-knowledge. Secret, inherently experiential. Sexual identity is primary identity. So being confronted with different sexualities is being confronted with alien knowledge which could unhinge the sense of self, I guessed. Apparently, homophobia and biphobia comes from something deeper.

This does explain why some women will cheeerfully participate in their own repression. Fundamentalist language will always be more powerful than logical or rational language. Some suggest strategies for co-opting fundamentalist language for leftist purposes. We have to, I guess. Parts of this argument make me deeply uncomfortable.

We start by having the womens' groups decrying the Islamic FUNDAMENTALIST view of womens rights. These FUNDAMENTALISTS want to roll back the clock and make women answer to men. In AMERICA we don't believe in that.

Well, the women have their marching orders, I suppose. So much for letting women lead themselves. The first I heard of the Taliban was from feminist groups. I, like many feminists, wanted something to stop that situation. It made my views on the war in Afghanistan complicated. Stopping Taliban is good. bombing the hell of out of an already bombed to hell country is bad. I felt conflicted. I don't like the entire us-vs-them mentality this argument depends on. Attacking Islamic fundamentalism has become terribly confused with attacking Islam. Demonizing a foreign alien other just heightens awareness of alien others among us. If Islam is bad, then women and queers might be bad too. We're all the other.

I understand that this us-vs-them language has a draw. What I don't understand is why it doesn't seem to work on me. Do I fall for it in other places and not notice? Has my status as an other somehow made me shy away from it? Why would other others not similarly shy away? Why don't other people like logic and reason? How does logic get so easily twisted? For example: Bush is the first president in many many years to get more than 50% of the vote. But he beat Kerry by very few points, a narrower margin than any in at least as long a time period. The over 50% reflects that third party votes are much lower than years past. That's it. The victory is small. But people sieze upon the over 50% like it means something besides the Greens and Libretarians doing poorly.

I don't think people are powered by logic at all, myself included. Which is troubling. Why do we have the power of logic but not use it? My leftism is mostly emotional. I'm one of those moral values people. I think it's immoral that sick people can't get healthcare and that some people go to bed hungry. I can make arguments about why these things are bad, and the arguments are reasonable and logical, but mostly it's about the morality of it. The emotionalness. How can we make people suffer? Don't people suffer enough already from life without having indignities and pain heaped upon them from unfair social systems?

1 comment:

Crinis said...

Part of my identity is Hollywood code for evil as well: I'm an atheist. Woe betide the gay atheists of the world. The movies must be a dreary place indeed.