Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Interlude

With all the short posts 'round these parts, I worry that this blog is in danger of becoming a glorified tumblr. Fortunately, I like to live pretty dangerously. A real post is brewing, but in the interim I've had this sentence rattling around in my head for the past few weeks, courtesy of high modernism's first lady of semicolons:

"With intermittent shocks, sudden as the springs of a tiger, life emerges heaving its dark crest from the sea. It is to this we are attached; it is to this we are bound, as bodies to wild horses." -Virginia Woolf, The Waves


Downright haunting in its execution, sort of thrilling in its suggestion, I've been thinking about Woolf's sentence alongside Kerrigan and Lowdermilk's "How to Return Home" (or, really, the entirety of their Tales from the Bad Years, links here and here). They strike some really useful intellectual dissonances in the way they frame my emergent twenties (and probably thirties and forties). Also, lately I find myself totally unmotivated to do any serious literary study without a good soundtrack. Grad schools, consider yourselves warned.


Bootleg performed by Krysta Rodriguez, who is vastly underrated, even if she is much older than I thought. Give K&L a few listens, give The Waves another read, and mull it over with me.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Holiday Angst: The Day After

While we here on the Block try to reassemble ourselves after a holiday full of wine and questionable family encounters, we want to take this opportunity to wish you a happy Boxing Day. Whether you spent your holidays hiding from your family in a closet (literal or metaphorical), explaining to British relatives what Sam's Club was, having awkward wrestling matches with your father (again, literal or metaphorical), or discovering your dad's amateur pornography, we salute you for surviving. I'll leave you with a tune from mid- 90's Alanis Morissette, New Queer's resident angry grrrl/firebrand:



One of my favorite songs from one of my top five favorite albums. And we all know I don't do favorites very well. Here's to vetting some holiday angst/blues  with a good old-fashioned sing along. Be good(ish), folks.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Optimism/Pesimism or, You're so Neurotic, You Probably Think this Post is the Worst

I'm gonna open by reminding all involved that my subtitle is a play on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's "Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or You're so Paranoid, you Probably Think this Essay is About You," though, if I have to insist on a joke this hard, it probably isn't very funny. Isn't the first rule of comedy that you should never explain a joke or something?

I've spent some time lately thinking about my own critical habits, and the extent to which my reading habits inform the rest of my thought patterns. Put bluntly, I find myself thinking through my everyday interactions as I would a literary or cultural text. I certainly don't mean to apologize for this, if for no other reason than that I'm pretty committed to this act. The messiness of the day-to-day has a lot to tell us about a lot of stuff. I run into problems, however, when the pessimism (or, following Eve Sedgwick, the suspicion) around which my critical practice is situated starts to seep into my everyday life. I'm finding the quest to combat my fundamental pessimism provides me a moment to also reevaluate my reading habits. As part of my brief experiment in optimism, I wonder what it would mean to also infuse my textual reading habits with optimism. I want to spend a little time thinking about what optimistic reading would look like, and to examine this optimistic/pessimistic distinction alongside Eve Sedgwick's paranoid reading/reparative reading. My goal is not so much to expand her critical work, but rather to figure out what it would mean to rescue both my reading habits and interpersonal relationships from the monotony/general pessimism of suspicion.

I'm not embarrassed to admit that I find Sedgwick's reparative reading quite difficult, both in concept and in practice. What I admire most about the article though (and really, all of Touching, Feeling, the book-length project in which the essay appears), is how deliberately unmoored it is. In her introduction, Sedgwick is careful to point out that the essays of Touching, Feeling have resisted the constriction of a book-length argument, and, giving us a glimpse of the book's optimistic core, she insists that this is an enabling possibility, rather than a limitation.  Eve's optimism helps us expand the practice of reading: "I think it will leave us in a vastly better position to do justice to a wealth of characteristic, culturally central practices, many of which can well be called reparative, that emerge from queer experience but become invisible or illegible under a paranoid optic" (147). Among other things, she calls into being a critical practice that bridges gaps, seizes possibility, and might resign itself to a positive affective vocabulary. Paranoia, by contrast, lives in contradiction, is a theory of negative affects, and "places faith in exposure." In my simplest misrecognition, reparative reading does something and feels good about it.

What I am wondering, alongside Sedgwick's critical optimism, is what it means for our reading practices (and our thought processes more broadly) to resist such pessimism. At what point in our lives (or really, my life) did gaps, uncertainties, eccentricities resolve into negativities rather than possibilities? Why do I find myself choosing suspicion (and the terror that comes along with suspicion) over the giddiness of possibility? Why do I find myself reading my year off/recent directionlessness as crippling, rather than wildly enabling? Queer theory tells me to enjoy incoherence, strategic illegibility, and getting lost, doesn't it?

In terms of both my reading practices and thought patterns, what if I stopped living in problematics? What if I stopped using disgusting grad student words like complicate, reexamine, and problematize, playing devil's advocate at every turn? Among other things, it'll make me a much more tolerable person (not forgetting, of course, that suspicion can be situationally useful). And who knows, maybe optimistically recalibrating my reading/thinking practices, in addition to being wildly generative, might actually be a little bit thrilling. Remember when reading and thinking were fun?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The World Only Spins Forward

I'm having a hard time sleeping. My brain is sort of spinning off its axis right now (read: melting out my ears), and I thought I'd try to blog my way out of it. After all, what use is a blog if I can't take my vacuous thoughts and foist them on you, my unsuspecting readers. I guess that presupposes anyone is reading this. They might not be.

I've been rereading Angels in America the past few nights. Cynic that I am, I understand that you might be tempted to roll your eyes. After all, every teenage gay boy with an HBO subscription and a chip on his shoulder likes to go on and on about how wonderful it is. And admittedly, in my most cynical moments, I find myself on the verge of dismissing the kind of identity politics which the play enacts. Maybe I'm just haunted by the ghost of 17 year old Will, who read Angels in America as the GREAT GAY MASTERPIECE. Gag me with a spoon.

And yet.

I really do think Angels in America (particularly the second part, Perestroika) contains some of the best (and most significant) writing by an American playwright. I've blogged about one of my favorite scenes before, but tonight, I'm tangled up in Harper's final monologue. Maybe it'll ease my racing brain to reread it in public:

"I dreamed we were there. The plane leapt the tropopause, the safe air, and attained the outer rim, the ozone, which was ragged and torn, patches of it threadbare like old cheesecloth, and that was frightening.

Souls were rising, from the earth far below, souls of the dead, of people who had perished, from famine, from war, from the plague, and they floated up, like skydivers in reverse, limbs all akimbo, wheeling and spinning. And the sounds of these departed joined hands, clasped ankles and formed a web, a great net of souls, and the souls were three-atom oxygen molecules, of the stuff of ozone, and the outer rim absorbed them, and was repaired.

Nothing's lost forever. In this world, there is a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we've left behind and dreaming ahead. 
At least I think that's so" (275).

(Forgive me, techno-nub that I am, I cannot format for shit. Anyone have any advice?)

Honestly, I don't have an argument for the play. I don't totally know what Kushner means when he claims a painful progress, or later, when Prior resolutely tells us that the world only spins forward. I'm a little worried about what overthinking the play might do to my overall appreciation of the piece. Plus, honestly, the writing does enough intellectual and emotional heavy lifting for all of us. What I admire most about the Angels in America is its willingness to struggle with religion. Kushner really gets America's terrifying religious history stuck in his teeth and manages to locate hope in pre-millennial  New York City. His results are fascinating and alternately refreshing/terrifying. (Am I allowed to use "refreshing" to describe something that premiered 20 years ago?)

I'll conclude this late-night public reading first by demanding that you put the computer down and go read (or reread) the play. Second, I'll leave you with Perestroika's final monologue. In the epilogue, Prior and company are sitting on the rim of Bethesda Fountain in Central park. Prior closes:

"The fountain's not flowing now, they turn it off in the winter, ice in the pipes. But in the summer, it's a sight to see. I want to be around to see it. I plan to be. I hope to be.

This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all, and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won't die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.
Bye now.
You are fabulous creatures, each and every one.
And I bless you: More life.
The Great Work Begins" (280).


Incidentally, I saw a amazing performance of Perestroika in Silver Spring two years ago. Ah, that more theaters would stage this (admittedly really, really difficult) play.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mouthing Off, Shaking It Out

I guess I owe my (three or four) readers an apology. It's been a goal for my interim year to increase my aptitude for cultural analysis, both by pushing the limits of what I can force you to read get away with writing and by expanding this farce very serious writerly enterprise into unknown cultural waters. (A twofer for passive-aggressive strikethroughs!) I imagine this tiny slice of the blogosphere has become sort of tedious to wade through as of late, and for that I apologize. Look forward to much more banal (and therefore infinitely more interesting) posts as the holidays approach. Having now apologized, I will obviously continue in the exact same vein as before, which I suspect is exactly the sort of underhanded bullshit you've come to expect from me as a blogger. Sorry? I'm hoping you'll be mildly less furious if I begin the post with a really hilarious/accurate list. Did it work? Did it?

I discovered last spring that I am totally missing the language to write effectively about visual rhetoric. As part of the project to expand my critical arsenal, I've been doing a little reading around in the visual arts, most recently Deleuze's Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Join me, won't you, as I mouth off about something I know nothing about. Admittedly, Francis Bacon is an artist that I've only come to recently, but I find myself sort of entranced. It strikes me as a little useless to talk about liking/disliking his painting, since Bacon concerns himself most often with bodies, embodiment, and horror (in his introduction, Deleuze calls Bacon's painting "of a very special violence"). I will say instead that I am equal parts fascinated and repulsed by a lot of Bacon's work and that I find this tension extremely intellectually useful.

As compelled as I am by most of Deleuze's arguments surrounding Bacon, I get a little hung up on the way he discusses bodies in Bacon's painting. Primarily citing Figure at a Washbasin (1976, pictured above) and Lying Figure with a Hypodermic Syringe (1963), Deleuze reads Bacon's bodies as trying to evacuate themselves of materiality (Deleuze uses the word "meat"). He reads these bodies as inhabiting a specific vanishing point (the washbasin, for example), through which they are trying to empty themselves, "to dismantle the face." This argument leaves me wondering, though, how we can be totally positive that evacuation is what we are witnessing. Painting, as an atemporal medium (a complicated and vaguely problematic statement), leaves us wondering about the direction of this evacuation. Said another way: Since we experience a painting as a static image, if a painting shows us half a body, who's to say whether the body is falling apart or coming together.  Rather than evacuation, I wonder what it would mean to establish consumption as the vantage point from which to read Bacon's bodies (understanding, of course, that a consumptive/consuming body is every bit as grotesque as a body emptying itself). Along this axis, Lying Figure with a Hypodermic Syringe is less about a body/figure pulling itself apart than one assembling itself.

I don't necessarily want to contradict Deleuze's reading, so much as diverge from it. What would it mean to read Bacon's figures as taking in material, as making too much of themselves? To a certain extent, these consumptive bodies become resistant figures. They resist Bacon's figural aspirations and attempts to narrativize. Such hungry and ever-expanding flesh would slightly relocate the distinction between flesh and figure. Where in his first chapter, Deleuze reads Bacon's "round areas" as attempts to contain the body and "isolate the figure," these bodies would be incapable of isolation insofar as their hunger always keeps them in contact with the rest of the painting's environment.

I'll close with some quick thoughts: What do we make of painted bodies that resist the efforts of the painter/viewer? What happens when we think about consumption as a mode of resistance? How do consumptive bodies recalibrate Bacon's meditation on the powers of horror? How might self-assembling bodies mediate the thread of general attachment between painter/viewer and painting? More fundamentally, what would it mean to think about Bacon (or any painter) as a thinker, rather than an artist? (I'm really growing to hate the word artist) Why are you still reading this post when it has clearly lost its train of thought (if it ever had one)?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Watching Way Too Much TV: An American Horror Story


Over the past few days, I've had a nearly unprecedented amount of deadlineless time to read, write, and think, which has been really fantastic. Riding this new calm, I've also taken the opportunity (of course) to gulp down a new show, and I'll go ahead and say that everything you've heard about American Horror Story is true. The Ryan Murphy that birthed Nip/Tuck is back. Hallelujah. I've been itching to blog about Nip/Tuck for a while, and Ryan Murphy articulates similar thought patterns in both shows. Glee aside (sorry Glee fans), and despite his flair for absurdity/borderline homophobia, I really think Murphy is one of the most important (or at least interesting) writers on television.

As I prepare to think through the first couple episodes,  I suppose I'll start with a spoiler alert, though I'm having a hard time thinking about this show in spoiled/unspoiled terms. Sure, if you're a reader who hasn't seen it, I'm going to be forced to bring you up to speed. I'm not particularly worried about this, though, because American Horror Story doesn't strike me as a show that is particularly concerned with revelation. Unlike a lot of the other lame shows I watch (Lost, Heroes, Supernatural), the show's primary tension is not "what's going to happen?!?" Your viewing may even be enhanced by the knowledge that Adelaide (my favorite character) dies in the fourth episode, with no word yet on whether or not she is going to haunt the house.  Also, in the spirit of full disclosure, Jack Halberstam has me reconsidering the ways in which we extract/create meaning from cultural texts, but I'll set that aside for the moment.


American Horror Story follows the exploits of three family members who have just moved into one of LA's most haunted houses as they encounter a bizarre cast of characters, including a creepy maid (who is simultaneously dead, young, and old), a toddlers-and-tiaras-type next door neighbor, her daughter Adelaide, and a teenage sociopath named Tate. Five episodes into the series, and I'm not totally convinced I've met a single living character. Ghosts are everywhere in this fucking show and they are by far its least interesting feature. 

In trying to write this, I'm chasing all kinds of different intellectual threads. We might, for example, talk about Ryan Murphy's American Dream, the source material for his Horror Story. It's quite lovely (if unsatisfying tidy) that the terrifying American family, and not the terrifying American ghost, is what most haunts the audience. I would, at some point, like to think about the way in which several of the show's characters (mother, daughter, ghost-maid) are animated by horror. Fear alternately defeats and energizes the story's characters, and I wonder if these fears (the fear of adultery, the fear of being discovered as a liar, the fear of home invasion) make the family most legible as a unit. Do the characters make most sense as a family when they are scared, and what other kinds of legibility does fear enable?


Because I've just finished reading Robert McRuer's Crip Theory, and because she's awesome/terrifying, I want to start with Adelaide. Addie, who has Down's syndrome, is portrayed as a kind of oracle-figure insofar as she knows just about everything about the house and has befriended most of the ghosts. Physically disabled as she is, Addie provides an interesting figure through which to read the events of the show. More than anything, Addie longs to be a "pretty girl" (the vague irony being that almost all of the show's pretty girls die violent deaths). I wonder if we might read Addie as a surprisingly complex intersection of disability, desire, and violence (her abuse is also obliquely informed by her mother's sexuality). The fact that Addie is disabled enables certain kinds of previously inaccessible knowledge, so that even if Addie can't understand that it isn't ok to break into someone's house, she can understand that there are ghosts in the house when the family cannot. Addie's physical difference reorganizes her world and differently structures her capacity for knowledge. Addie's understanding of the house's secrets and, more importantly, her total lack of fear emerges through her disability. Given the fact that Addie occupies such a fascinating position within the show, what do we make of her sudden, unearned death (other than just being pissed about it)?

In closing, I'm sort of curious as to what it means to call something an American Horror Story. As I've said earlier, a simplistic reading of the show casts the nuclear family and accompanying American Dream as the real heart of the show's horror. The family's desperate desire to reassemble and insist on itself inspires terror that has nothing to do with ghosts, but I think this reading is sort of uninspired. Instead, I wonder what it means to think about ghosts (and their accompanying cultural baggage) in distinctly American terms. To my mind, telling a haunted house story indicates, on some level, a desire to claim that people matter (before and after she dies, the father's mistress insists over and over again that "she matters"). Ghost stories present the possibility that people can, for better and worse, impress themselves on a location. As unromantically as I can think it, ghost stories reflect a desire for permanence and a desperate need to matter. Is wanting to matter particularly American? Are the narratives which people attach being American all that different than a ghost hunt?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, American Horror Story is a ghost story that is most compelling when totally evacuated of the supernatural. It leaves me wondering (somewhat redundantly/obnoxiously) about the ways the living haunt one another, the stories we tell ourselves, and the way we impress ourselves upon locations and bodies. Welcome back, Ryan Murphy, and thanks for a TV show that is unafraid to be absolutely terrifying.

This got a little more scattered than I meant. In my defense, twenty-four hours ago, I hadn't seen a single episode of the show. And blogging means never having to say you're sorry. For the tl;dr among us, I offer this much smarter comic and this infinitely more funny other comic. And then I beg you to lengthen your attention spans. Have a good week, folks.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Is Throwing Wine Even Something That Gets You on a Reality Show?

Like a phoenix, rising from the ashes; like a tree nymph, falling from the branches; like a lazy quarter-lifer, finally working up the nerve to re-enter the blogosphere. That's right, assholes, Will Danger is back. My first order of business is an apology for the nearly 6 month gap since my last post. At least partially, I'll blame it on the overly involved and bureaucracy-laden PhD application process that has absorbed a lot of my reading/writing efforts over the past few months. I am happy to say though, that it is finally winding down. I made the deliberate choice not to blog the process, if for no other reason than that I thought I'd spare my (few) loyal readers from 60 different (and differently obnoxious) freak-out posts. That doesn't really excuse my total absence from the blogosphere, though. In partial penance for my long absence from these rainbow-encrusted halls, I offer two links:

The first has been making its way around teh interwebz over the past week (Full disclosure: sentimentalist that I am, I tend to roll my eyes at a video like this, mostly because I understand it to be the latest in a long line of tear-jerking attempts to win a mostly useless political sympathy. Don't get me wrong, it's adorable and all. I just won't be mad at you if you decide to skip it).

The second, courtesy of the geniuses at Hark! a Vagrant, has been burning a hole in my e-pocket for quite some time. I'll leave it sans commentary, because Spiderman usually speaks for himself.

In my lengthy absence, lots of things have happened in the world, none of which I am particularly qualified to comment on (but totally would have anyway). In no particular order: Wall Street dun got occupied (and then violent), Florence released a new album, horrors were staged on several University campuses (I'm looking at you Penn, Berkeley, and Davis), and Community got awesome (and then canceled). Short the intellectual fortitude for a serious post, and because my only other option would be to blog my near-unemployment, I think it's time Will Danger returned to his roots. I gotta be honest with you folks, I've spent a large portion of the past few months trying to jump through intellectual hoops for anonymous admissions committees, so I'm looking to unwind with something a little more banal (never giving up hope, of course, that my meaningless blogging might actually mean something).




New Queer regulars know reality TV to be a foundational part of my intellectual sensibility (my interactions with other people may or may not be fundamentally shaped by the idea that there is an invisible audience watching me, and that I am secretly a character everyone loves to hate. I'm not here to make friends). Though there is a new season of the Real World and an ANTM All-Star cycle on tv right now (my cup runneth over), I actually want to spend some time talking through a show I had never heard of until about a month ago: The A-List New York. It appears to be Logo's (gay-er) version of the Real Housewives, and a certain Austinite is convinced that my desire to watch it means that I am Algernon-ing. Maybe he's right. The show follows several gay men with absurd disposable incomes as they pick completely meaningless fights, whiten their teeth, and drink all the throwing wine. Don't get me wrong, it is a really terrible show.

But I am hooked. 

The 18 year old in me is obviously a little annoyed to find yet another show about fabulous gay men being fabulous, and wonders when we can expect Disappointing-Gay-Best-Friend The Series. However, I am also left wondering what we might learn from these people, about the aerodynamics of white wine, if nothing else. Frankly, I'm too fascinated by grown men having slap-fights on the streets of New York to worry about much else.

I'll close with a quick to-do list for December:
Gather my tattered scraps of dignity and use them as camera filters for my Real World audition tape.
Begin training for my eventual porn career.
Celebrate Tyra Bank's birthday in the only manner appropriate (yellow sundress).
Oh, and I guess it's probably time to get a grown-up job, but I'm not holding my breath.

It's good to be back, folks. Bundle up for the impending winter weather. But more importantly, be fabulous, throw wine to your heart's content, and never, ever, be here to make friends.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

On the Inescapability of Gaga

I was driving home this morning, listening to the radio (an occasional past time of mine), when Lady Gaga came on. As a reflex, I immediately went to change the station, only to discover that the exact same Gaga song was the second station. Fighting back a brief panic, I quickly changed to a third pre-set station, only to discover that this song was playing on that station too! For those playing along at home, that's three separate radio stations simultaneously asking me to listen to Gaga. I took the hint and listened to the song, afraid of where else she might show up if I didn't. I listened to a Gaga-less gospel station for the remainder of the car ride.

In conclusion, the bitch is everywhere. Good for her, scary/questionable for us. I hope you folks are enjoying a lazy Sunday.

(Obviously, the links in this post needed to match the song's actual circulation)

Everywhere!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Queening Out: Thinking Through Next to Normal

It's been a while, and I imagine you are getting pretty tired of my blogging excuses, so I won't make any. To no one's surprise, this post ended up being significantly longer than I intended. Humor me. Read it.

We all knew this day would come: Will Danger is letting his inner show-queen out of the cage and let me just say that I'm surprised we made it this long without encountering her. Pausing to channel Jill Dolan, I begin: This evening, the Danger family and I trekked into DC to the Kennedy Center for an evening viewing of the highly-anticipated Next to Normal, a show which seems suspiciously, if necessarily, attached to the diva-like reputation of its star, Alice Ripley (and also a show which, I might add, has closed on Broadway and is nearing the end of its touring production).

I'm finding the show sort of difficult to write about, if only because I have several different threads I want to pursue. The set (pictured below) is interesting in the way it is alternately (and simultaneously) the Goodman's physical house and Diana's head (invoked by the creepy pair of eyes the occasionally replace the set's middle floor), which strikes me as a surprisingly complex formulation. I wonder if this design choice indicates that we are meant to read the entire play through Diana's eyes; her mind's distorted reflection of her family, rather than the actual family itself. This seems like a compelling choice in the way it places the show in lineage with late 19th/early 20th century German and American expressionism. The framework of the play falls in-line with Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, O'Neil's Long Day's Journey into Night and (most significantly) Ibsen's A Doll's House, each of which portrays a kind of nightmare distortion of the world through its protagonist's eyes. (That litany makes it sound rather as though I just completed an 11th grade English class, doesn't it?) We take Diana to be the protagonist, sure, but to what extent do we either read or accept her as a narrator? What does it mean, especially for our understanding of the story's other characters, if the events as we see them are not real, but instead a reflection (or possibly manifestation) of Diana's grief?


Perhaps because I've spent a great deal of the summer so far thinking about affect, I thought the show painted a particularly intriguing affective trajectory for grief, examining the ways in which we trade and exchange grief (Dan), the way we might come to inherit the effects of a grief we've never actually known (Natalie) and the way in which our personal affects hold the capacity to both fracture and psychically reanimate us (Diana). I'm repeating my previous entry and stepping slightly on Teresa Brennan's toes, but what does it mean to imagine affect not simply as something which we can transmit, but something that also accrues materiality and becomes physically sedimented?

Along these lines, I'm thinking in two directions: First, what is the line between the biological and the affective? At what point do we connect affects (these ethereal "shimmers" [stolen from Gregg and Seigworth]) and biological pathologies, chemical imbalances, etc? Secondly, and perhaps more interestingly, do our affects accrue materiality as they attach themselves to objects and people? In Next to Normal, Natalie, as the child who didn't die, exists as a constant reminder to her mother of Gabe, the child who did. Through Natalie, has Diana given her grief flesh? How does Natalie exist to Diana if not as an object of her grief and what happens when we start to think of grief, or any affect, as materiality?


I suppose I'm hardly qualified to critique theatre and theatrical performances, but this blog is nothing if not self-indulgent, so bear with me. This cast (which included understudy Pearl Sun) felt a little weak to me. Emma Hunton was by far the standout, singing a fantastic, if extremely unlikeable, Natalie. She's certainly come a long way since her Spring Awakening days. Only knowing Hunton from Spring Awakening (Ilse), I was sort of surprised to learn that she could even sing the part, let alone deliver the powerful vocal performance she did.

Ah, Alice Ripley.

Ms. Ripley (who won a Tony for her performance as Diana, has been playing the role for several years now, and has damaged her voice such that that she sounds as though she is singing entirely underwater) called out this evening (Not totally surprising, given the present state of Ripley's vocal chords). There's been a great deal of ink spilled over whether or not Alice Ripley is a hero or a total fucking nutbag, and I think the truth is that she's both. I will start by saying that I really do believe the woman is out of her mind and obnoxiously obsessed with herself. That being said, Ripley can be a powerful performer, and the show sort of fell apart in her absence. I really didn't want to believe that the show requires Alice to be good, because I think it's a smart show. Pearl really fell flat, though, not because she isn't a competent performer, but rather simply because there was something missing. Her Diana felt safe; Pearl did a poor job of convincing me that she was losing her mind, or in any psychic danger. Maybe the bottom line here is that you need to be crazy in order to play crazy. Or maybe Ripley's ego empowers her onstage. At any rate, Pearl Sun's Diana didn't quite carry the emotional or intellectual weight which we've come to expect from Ripley.

Whatever you're doing Alice, it's working for you, I guess.

I've run on much longer than intended, so I'll cut it off here. I do want, in closing, to think about the show's literary and theatrical genealogies (Ibsen, O'Neil, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and to place that next to the show's feminist sensibilities. What does it mean to see Diana and Ibsen's Nora make the same decision 130 years apart, and to have it be received similarly? When Diana decides to leave her family, her treatment, and her mental health behind, some audience members were shocked. Why don't we see more women choosing insanity or seeking their own paths, independent of familial ties?

Be good, folks.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Book Club in the Sky: Some Brief Thoughts

 This post has been composed (but for legal/practical reasons, not published) in the skies above Kansas, where Will Danger has just been scolded by an air-waitress a flight-attendant, over the plane’s loudspeaker, for trying to use the bathroom during a no-pee interval. My sincerest apologies to the passengers of Southwest 627. Srsly guys, flight attendants are the worst.
 
Today’s intellectual knot comes from Theresa Brennan’s The Transmission of Affect, a book whose argument has, to my mind, some wonderful implications, even if her psychoanalytic source material is somewhat outside my know-how:

“The transmission of affect means that we are not self-contained in terms of our energies. There is no secure distinction between the ‘individual’ and the ‘environment.’  But transmission does not mean that a person’s particular emotional experience is irrelevant” (6).

“The name or the concept of the transmission of affect does not sit well with an emphasis on individualism, on sight, and cognition. These things are all associated with the subject/object distinction, with thinking in terms of subject and object. This thinking, while it long precedes mechanism, gives rise to a particular understanding of objectivity that is coincident with it, based on the notion that the objective is in some way free of affect. Once this notion is accepted, then the affect, as a vehicle connecting individuals to one another and the environment, and for that matter connecting the mind or cognition to bodily processes, ceases to be a proper object of study” (19).

In addition to proposing a model for affective transfer, Brennan’s argument suggests a circulation, so that emotional transfer isn’t simply a one way street, but rather that affect flows back and forth between any number of people in complex and generative ways. Such an affective network raises a number of interesting questions: Does this affective network have a structure, or architecture? Can we think about this affective circulation in economic terms, where anger, for example, becomes a currency that is traded among people and sometimes exchanged, to various ends? A la Sara Ahmed, how does such an affective economy orient its subjects? How is this economy itself oriented? What kind of work might this framework for understanding emotions enable?

The most fascinating facet of this discussion is the way in which it reimagines the boundaries we’ve placed around affect and refigures the work which we imagine emotions to be capable of doing. As Brennan proposes in the second quote, this economy dissolves the distinction between subjectivity and objectivity (though I secretly wonder how useful an intellectual/rhetorical move this is). As a final set of things to think about, what does it mean, for psychoanalysis, our own (possibly fictional) individuality, and our interpersonal relationships to suggest that people are not psychically self-contained? What it might mean that Brennan gestures towards affect as the point at which psychological boundaries break down?

Happy Monday, folks. I hope you find the time either to curl up with a good book or watch some trashy television. Both would be even better.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Re-Mapping Citizenship, America's Psycho, and Angsty Trajectories


Or "Re-Assembling my Life, One Blog-Post at a Time"

In the somewhat lengthy silence that has (once again) crept into these rainbow-tinged halls, a number of things have happened. The most important and anxiety producing of these is that I graduated college. That's right, folks, the UMD campus is, for the time being, significantly less Dangerous.

In the midst of all the uncertainty, celebration, last minute apartment hunting, and possible job acquisition, I've managed to take advantage of my newly discovered free time and have gulped down several Brett Easton Ellis novels (The Rules of Attraction, Less Than Zero, and American Psycho), which have me thinking in a number of directions. Through these distinctly American novels, especially Rules of Attraction and American Psycho, Ellis maps and remaps the state of American interpersonal connection in the late 20th century. I'm particularly struck by the blurbs on the back of Rules of Attraction. They describe the novel as a satire, and Elis himself as a "moralist," which just seems too easy (and also somewhat strange). If we read Ellis' novels in this way, then the reader is supposed to venture through the novel's story and detest the wanton sex and drugs in which the characters partake. Ellis' America, then, is a dystopia, and we read these novels with our noses upturned the whole time, observing these borderline detestable characters. Reading any of these three novels satirically is perfectly legitimate, but simplistic in a way that I find deeply unsatisfying. 


I wish to propose an alternate reading for these novels which begins by displacing Ellis from the role of moralist (I remain pretty unsure how he was placed in that position to begin with). Instead of lamenting the isolated nature of America and its generation of snotty, smutty, drug addicted teens, these novels re-map interpersonal connection and reimagine what this connection might mean. In a peripherally queer move, Ellis does not wag his finger at the actions of The Rules of Attraction's protagonists, but frames them as new modes personhood, connectivity, and American citizenship. Ellis asks us what it might mean, in late 20th century America, to embrace the supposed desolation of gratuitous anonymous sex and drug abuse as a new way of bonding, a new mode of socializing. What might it mean to understand this seeming lack of emotional connection as simply a new incarnation of American identity? (As I'm writing this, I'm realizing there's been a ton of queer work done in this vein, but I think it's important to note that Ellis' intervention does not place itself against heterosexuality and normative American citizenship/culture, but rather takes place within them. An important and really fascinating distinction)

This brings me to American Psycho, a novel which admittedly, I am only about a quarter of the way through. If in Rules of Attraction and Less Than Zero, Ellis remaps the American quest for human connection, American Psycho presents Patrick Bateman, the figure of the American psychopath, as the central figure in this new American citizenship. What I can't figure out, probably because I haven't finished the book yet, is where the American psycho is positioned. Does Bateman kill as a new mode of human connection, or do we need to rethink American intimacy (which strikes me as an odd formulation: Do we have an intimacy which is distinctly American? Can intimacy be nationalized?) because the old mode is producing Patrick Batemans? Is the figure of the American psychopath product, catalyst, or a new mode of American citizenship? Thinking about Patrick in this way lets us read his murder-spree as a kind of patriotic duty that either provides him connection to other people or creates connection among observers of his behavior. Maybe both. Or maybe I should finish the novel (Image thieved here).

Another thing which Ellis (and also obviously the immense parental pressure in my own life) has me thinking about is the specific trajectories we inherit from our parents and the way in which the figural child (or, in this case, the 20-something pseudo-adult) comes to receive and inhabit these trajectories. Because this is not an English paper, I want to think about some of the specific forms these genealogical trajectories might take. Our parents expect things of us and, well intentioned though they all are, we inevitably grow up in the shadow of our parents hopes for our lives (which are more or less narcissistic, depending on the parent). 

Before I get an angry voicemail from my mother about this post, I should clarify a little: I don't think these familial expectations are negative, necessarily. First, I think we are initially positioned within the world on our parents coat-tails, for better and worse, and Will Danger counts himself wildly fortunate to have been so positioned (This would be a good place to point out that I have even inherited my name genealogically, though my father prefers to go by Bill Danger).  The bulk of this intellectual knot lies in the fact that we position ourselves in relation to these inherited trajectories, we decide how to inhabit them, and there is an age at which we outgrow them (I think?). How are we affected by these genealogies, in the form of expectation, circumstance, temperament, and education, how does this complex network of baggage function to produce our present environment, and how do they affect our own desires (if, in fact, we can even identify our own desires as distinct from this familial inheritance)? ...or maybe this is just the (slightly) grown-up version of the angsty livejournal posts I used to make in high school.

I apologize for the vaguely disjointed nature of the post; it was written over a period of about a week and, as such, is weirdly organized. Oh blogging, how I've missed you.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Queen Can Forgive Her Vanquished Foe

I know I'm about a week too late, but this scene just crossed my mind in relation to the recent events surrounding Osama bin Laden. I'll keep my soap box firmly tucked under my arm for this one, but I hope we might at least think about this in relation to the Osama events.

In one of the best scenes of 20th century American Lit, Tony Kushner thinks quite nicely about forgiveness. In this scene, set at the height of the AIDS crisis in New York City, Roy Cohn has just died of complications relating to AIDS, and the fabulous Belize, his nurse and former drag queen, has come to steal Roy's supply of AZT (still in its experimental phases and hard to come by) from his hospital room. Belize, Louise, and the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, together, thank Roy by saying the Kaddish over his body. When Louis protests (and for very good reason), Belize responds:

"He was a terrible person. He died a hard death. So maybe. A queen can forgive her vanquished foe. It isn't easy, it doesn't count if it's easy, it's the hardest thing. Forgiveness. Which is maybe where love and justice finally meet. Peace, at last. Isn't that what the Kaddish asks for?"

Just something to think about, though I understand that it's a little hard to think about out-of-context. Incidentally, it's a really beautiful play, if you haven't read it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Being a Straight White Guy is Hard, You Guys

It's finally over, dear readers. I've survived (and even enjoyed) my last round of final papers. Now the only tasks that stand between me and undergraduation are:

1. Reread 1000+ pages of Jimmy Baldwin and even more Virginia Woolf/Julian Barnes, which, after the terror the month of April has brought, sounds downright relaxing.
2. Trick people (well, person, really) into thinking that this farce deeply intellectual endeavor has taught me something about writing (kidding, it totally has).
3. A 40-hour work week
4. Negotiate the complexities of having your (divorced) parents and their respective families attend the same events, which usually involves wrangling herds of grown ups who would rather not speak to each other. I like to think of it as a Rodeo of Feelings.
5. Keep my equal-parts kindly and terrifying southern grandmother from saying something well-intentioned, yet horribly offensive at Lavender Graduation.

And speaking of graduation, look for more Buffy-related graduation jokes as the event approaches. What are the odds of our commencement speaker turning into a giant snake, which the entire student body then has to fight? While, in such a confrontation, I'd like to imagine myself in key-guy capacity, I think we can all agree I'd be more of a Wesley. Sorry for the oblique nerd-culture joke, but I think you'll find that there is little in all the world that will deter me from a good, if totally culturally irrelevant, Buffy reference.

Most importantly of all, I am finally breaking the eerie silence that has crept its way into this unproductive slice of teh interwebz. It feels great to be blogging again, but so much has happened in the past three weeks that I'm not totally sure where to reenter. I could talk for hours about UMD's recent Homopolooza (if you look closely, you'll find my name on the roster, just saying),  about my recent brushes with the adult world (apartment hunting, general financial terror), or the infinity of news stories spinning out from the murder of public enemy number one-ish.

However, dear readers, let's take a look at something a little close to home. Take a minute to read this doozy of an article from the Diamondback, along with this (much more informed) reply article. Now, I want desperately to avoid the formulation where everyone who shares my view is informed and everyone who doesn't is either un or misinformed, because framing a discussion under these assumptions is obnoxious, usually not the case, and also the fastest way to get people to tune you out. Michael Kossin, you are making it difficult. He writes off trans violence and its various anxieties as " paranoia experienced on the part of some transgender individuals" and simply a product of the "general presence of violence at this university and in College Park."

His comments, both on his own article and Nick Sakurai's follow-up are even worse (You might think I'd have learned by now that reading the comments for online Diamondback articles is only going to make me angry. All I can say is that I'm a slow learner). In one comment, he proposes that, as an atheist, he is a member of a group who is even more hated than transgendered people, and he wants to know, with what I imagine to be genuine concern in his cyber-voice, when the university is going to do something about that. Apart from being a totally absurd comparison (one that I might point out, only underscores Nick's follow-up point about the lack of education surrounding trans issues), I'm going to go ahead and throw this out there: Poor middle class straight white guy! Life must be really difficult for you! Figuring out what to do with all that cultural legitimacy and unexamined privilege must be really hard for you! (As a short aside, I do think my response is in some ways problematic, though a sentiment that we should all, myself included, keep in the backs of our minds.)

I won't take my growing fury any farther, for fear of inadvertently recapitulating the terms of the trans ignorance on which this article is founded, but I will tell you to read Nick's follow-up. Education, foks. Learning is what we're all about 'round these parts.

Survive finals, folks. You're almost there. As a parting gift, I will offer you this infuriating Diamondback article, in which Michael Kossin blanket-attacks the entire discipline of philosophy (and perhaps the humanities more broadly), and, as a palate cleanser, this lovely video in which Garfunkel and Oates lambaste pregnant women everywhere.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Have We the Patience to Endure?

...Hart Crane says yes, we do. This week I've been asked to blog my inspiration, in an effort to combat the exhaustion/burnout that April seems to have wrought. Short of blogging Adele's whole discography, I turn to a book that I flip through for inspiration, just about every time I write (unless my procrastination has made such a luxury unavailable). I'll start with an important preface: blogging about this makes me slightly uncomfortable, because its possibly to read such efforts as either artificially or sycophantically motivated. I'd tell you that this is not the case, but you're not likely to take my word for it.

What is this book, you ask? Michael Snediker's Queer Optimism: Lyric Personhood and Other Felicitous Persuasions, of course. I discovered the book a several semesters ago, and I'll admit that for Will Danger, Michael's prose was difficult and slow going at first, though easy/difficult might be a pretty useless way to measure someone's writing anyway. Lame/awesome might be a more appropriate system, and Queer Optimism obviously falls toward the awesome end of this proposed spectrum. The book absolutely takes time to get through, but the time is well worth taking. There is much here to learn on a sentence by sentence basis, both about optimism's workings and about writing more generally. The book has fun with its words, and reminds me that academic writing can be difficult, important, and fun, all at once. I am quite indebted to the recently-tenured Michael for a number of reasons: teaching me to think about affect, recovering Elizabeth Bishop's poetry for me, being one half of the team that kept me learning (and from getting lost) in my London adventures, and keeping me writing, even when my brain is running on empty.

I don't want this to turn into a book review, necessarily, because smarter/more useful people have already provided glowing reviews. Instead, I think I'll offer you some passages from the book, in the hopes that you might find in them the same inspiration to keep writing that I have.

"Even as I think there are some forms of hope worth defending, I'm not interested, for present purposes, in demarcating good and bad hopes, hegemonic and nonhegemonic attachments to futurity. To the extent that my own project seeks to recuperate optimism's potential critical interest by arguing for its separability from the promissory, I'm here insisting that there are ways of resisting a pernicious logic of 'reproductive futurism' besides embodying the death drive. If Edelman opines that all forms of optimism eventually lead to Little Orphan Annie singing 'Tomorrow,'... I oppositely insist that optimism's limited cultural and theoretical intelligibility calls not for its grandiose excoriation, but for its (no less grandiosely) being rethought along nonfutural lines" (23).

 "Exegesis lies beyond my aims, insofar as my ambition is less to explain these smiles (at worst, tantamount to explaining them away) than to argue for their collective value as a subject of inquiry...Why presume the indistinguishability of smiles and smirks? Why presume that a smile is not only a facade, but a facade for suffering? What does it say about Crane scholarship, and criticism more generally, that a smile, critically speaking, so seldom is allowed to be a smile? As such questions suggest, my subject is not only Crane's poetry, but also the specific manner in which this poetry as been understood and misunderstood" (44).

"I turn to anecdote in the realization of (and subsequently, in the wish to enact) the difficulty of sequestering feelings from metafeelings. Or to conjure Isabel Archer or Maggie Verver, the frustrating and exhilarating perviousness of thinking and living. Anecdotes, in their move to the subjective, sometimes are viewed as escapes from the discursive. I'm not telling this particular story as a retreat from the discursive or critical, but to note the strangeness of having felt like an allegory for my own subsequent academic work" (219).

Srsly, guys. Read it. The book does some really neat conceptual and linguistic things and has a remarkable knack for evaporating my writers block. Also, in keeping with the prompt for this inspiration-post: I found the weirdest thing in my copy of Queer Optimism. There's some Chipotle rice folded into a few pages which, in addition to being kind of gross, does more work to sum up my life than I'd like it to. I am Elizabeth Lemon.

Goodnight, folks.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I'm Not Dead, I Promise

Though if I were, please send the dedicated detectives of Manhattan SVU to investigate. Because let's be honest, if I'm going to be murdered, it would probably be a sex crime. and I'd definitely want Mariska to investigate.

Not dead, just sort of swamped. April is all-nighter season, after all. In penance, I promise a more substantive post this weekend and offer this fascinating video to tide you over:



I've been sort of mesmerized by this video since I discovered it, and I hope you are similarly enthralled. Join me in thinking about the intersections of radically different queer and feminist histories and the work that these intersections might do. God Bless Patti Smith. And Virginia Woolf.

Survive, folks. April is almost over.

Will Danger

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Coming Out of the LiveJournal Closet

This week I've been challenged to blog about something that makes me uncomfortable. Of course, when danger is your middle name, you scoff in the face of discomfort. It's taken me some time to decide what I might write about that causes me discomfort (short of commitment, human interaction, accountability, and the future, of course). What if I abandoned my faux-cool faux-intellectual detachment and blogged about something personal?

In the winter months of my junior year of high school, I did two things: first, I started a livejournal account, which I more or less actively maintained for the next three years of my life. I've spent some time recently thinking about the new interactions which social media enable, and come to realize a few things about my livejournalistic engagements.

First, though this didn't mean very much to me until recently, my livejournal is the longest writing project in which I've ever been involved. My most recent entry was this past January, bringing my total posts to 348, the majority of which were posted between 2005 and 2008. My eight livejournal friends (my closest real-world friends) and my numerous comments on their respective livejournals also suggests that this has also been the longest-running reading project in which I have ever engaged. Whether I want to admit it or not, my time on livejournal has played a significant role in shaping the way I engage and respond to texts, which is extremely interesting to a blogger for whom English grad school might be on the horizon (This would also be your cue to make a cheap, but well deserved, shot at my grammar and my ability to edit).

The founding of my livejournal, my first adventure in blogging, also coincided almost exactly with my decision to start the coming out process (temporally, I think I started coming out a week or two before I began my livejournal). Obviously, this is not to say that I came out because I started writing about myself online, or that I started blogging because I couldn't handle the (at times very stressful) public/private negotiations of secrecy that mark one's coming out. However, I'm coming to understand that the two were, for me, closely connected. At the very least, my insistence on making all of my entries "friends only" paralleled the kind of "friends only" attitude I took with my sexuality (I came out to my friends a significant amount of time before confronting the issue with either of my parents). Livejournal then, to some extent, helped me negotiate my coming out.

I remember the public nature of such a blog being absolutely terrifying to me; even then I spent a lot of time thinking about how public such a project could potentially be. I spent large quantities of time, at least in the beginning, thinking about what I could write or not in a particular entry and what information about me would be available to the world. I wonder though, if being forced to think about coming out in those terms, as a negotiation of publicity and privacy, actually helped me come out more easily. Rather than compounding my already-sizable anxiety about everyone discovering my secret, I think my livejournal helped concretize the process, enabling me to think about coming out in different terms, even if I wasn't quite aware of it. I wonder, was the way I thought about the telling/keeping of secrets and sharing of information in the "real world," most of all coming out, structured by my engagements with livejournal, at least on some level?

What's more, becoming comfortable with the process of writing about and around my coming out made me infinitely more comfortable with the process off-line. I can, in fact, think of at least two situations (each occurring a significant amount of time after my initial coming out)  in which I ended up coming out to people precisely because they had joined our expanding livejournal community, and it was going to start being weird if I denied them access to mine. My social media interactions both made coming out easier and gave me a little push to do it (something I think people need on occasion, especially me). This also suggests that I was starting to see a weird conflation between my digital interactions and my real ones. What does it mean for my coming out narrative to shift to "Oh, if you're gonna read my livejournal, I should tell you, I'm gay?" And this is not to mention the somewhat obvious and oft discussed point that once I understood it to be a safe space, my livejournal community provided me a place of digital acceptance and relatively judgment free social negotiations (complicated and made even cooler/more useful by the fact that all of my livejournal correspondences were my real-life best friends). 

One of my biggest fears in writing this blog is to become "the boy who cried queer," using the word so many times that it ends up not meaning very much, but I wonder if we can think about this experience in two ways. First, how might we understand the new forms of community and organizing which social media enable to be queer? In the case of my livejournal, my community was a new iteration of my already existing social network, whose workings (though they weren't always positive) feels decidedly queer. Secondly, do we see social media, the blogosphere in particular, to have unique effects on and present unique opportunities to its queer citizens? The wide distribution of the internet is changing coming out narratives and providing new ways for queers to organize, both socially and politically. Maybe social media isn't a queer technology, but we're certainly doing our best to make it one.

Have a good week, folks.

PS: I feel weird that there aren't many links in this post. For the sake of easing my mind, watch this (by now sort of dated) video, in which a bully victim fights back very harshly against his bully. And then this responding penny arcade comic, and let me know what your thoughts are. This alone might be enough to start a discussion. Remember my rule about blogging not being a spectator's sport? I was serious.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Goin' Down to South Park

As a short preface to this post, I'm trying to decide what potential dangers are involved in blogging about something that I'm also currently writing about in a more official venue. I suppose people might accuse me of stealing my thoughts from the comments of my readers (which would be your cue to provide some comments, gentle readers), or else of being grossly unprofessional. Neither of these potential risks seems enough to keep me from writing this post though. If I'm going to be thinking in public, it might as well be about something I legitimately need to be thinking about, right?

Somewhere along the line, I tricked a group of people into thinking that I could say smart things about the great political satire of our time, South Park. This is something that remains to be seen. In particular, I want to focus on (surprise, surprise) the show's relationship to its gay characters and its position as cultural archive, knowledge producing tool, and irreverent object.

The first business that needs attending here though, is the question of whether or not South Park is a text worth reading at all, especially if we're hunting for potential queernesses. Lauren Berlant has a fantastic footnote in introduction to The Queen of America Goes To Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship (which I finally got around to reading over spring break), part of which I've been thinking about with regards to this question:

"The backlash against cultural studies is frequently a euphemism for discomfort with work on contemporary culture around race, sexuality, class, and gender. It is sometimes a way of talking about the fear of losing what little standing intellectual work has gained through its studied irrelevance (and superiority) to capitalist culture. It expresses a fear of popular culture and popularized criticism. At the same time, it can express a kind of antielitism made in defense of narrow notions of what proper intellectual objects and intellectual postures should be" (Queen of America 265).

I love this footnote and its corresponding section of the text because I think Berlant points quite precisely to people's discomfort with this kind of "cheap" (quotes denote heavy sarcasm, obviously) cultural analysis. There seems to be the view that aiming any sort of critical thought at artifacts of popular culture (what Berlant calls "silly objects") undermines the validity of "proper" intellectual thought. 

But I think there's a little more to the anxiety over cultural studies than that. In working with a text like South Park, rather than a Dickens novel, or even in understanding something like South Park to be a text, we encounter a strange anxiety (at least, for an undergraduate English major): there might not be anything in such a text worth talking about. Very often, we are trained to extract meaning from a text without expecting that there might not be any. "Proper" intellectual objects have a kind of safety net to them. We will always have generative ways of reading a Dickens novel, and important things to glean from doing so. The same might not be true of South Park. Is this anxiety about cultural studies, partially, the fear of working without a safety net, that we might spend intellectual energies on something that turns out not to be worth it? 

In the interest of fairness, I want to share this recent academic spoof on the insta-viral Rebecca Black video. Though hopefully we can all agree that the article is hilarious, it makes me flinch a little, both because it invests in this pop cultural anxiety and is exactly what people might accuse my writing about South Park of being.

So, then, returning to the project at hand, what sort of knowledge about queerness does South  Park produce? Does the show's cultural and political presence, as well as its wide distribution establish it as a cultural archive, and finally, how does conceptualizing South Park as an archive reconfigure our understanding of the work that archives are capable of doing? 

So here's where I've reached an intellectual impasse. I'm having a hard time pinning down exactly what sort of arguments South Park makes about its gay characters. In many episodes (Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride, D'Yikes), South Park does affirm some of the dominant narratives regarding coming out, gay culture, and growing up gay. Other episodes (South Park is Gay, The F Word) disrupt some of the very narratives which it elsewhere affirms. What does South Park teach us about the gays, and how does this information intersect with the show's  disruptive and irreverent politics?

Seriously though. Blogging isn't a spectator's sport, dear readers. This time, these questions aren't rhetorical. For the South Park fans among us, peruse this list of episodes and tell me what you think. For those of you who aren't fans, what have you picked up in the cultural ether about the show's relationship to its gay characters? Really, I want to know. What does South Park teach us (or fail to teach us) about being gay?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Disappointing Gay Best Friend

As we here on the Block lament the passing of Spring Break, I thought I'd share this, because there just aren't enough memes that celebrate those of us who spend our weekends doing lame stuff and eating our body weight in gross/delicious food. 



Though we all know how deplorable I find the idea of the gay best friend (if you don't, you and I have probably gotten in a fight at a club somewhere, obnoxious blond straight girls), this video hits too close to home to pass up. So here's to the disappointing gay best friends of the world. As the days get warmer, may we strive to even disappointing-er!

Be good, folks.

Will Danger.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What Happens When People Stop Being Polite and Start Doing Porn

I gotta be honest guys, this has been the greatest spring break of my entire life. Very little to do other than sleep in, read, and go to the gym. I might even get a little work done by the time this week is over, but let's not get overzealous.

This is the true story of seven strangers, picked to live in a house, work together and have their lives taped, to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real.

The Real World.

Over the course of this break, I've also been given the opportunity to indulge one of my favorite past times: trashy reality television. But why is the Real World showing up in this queer little slice of the interwebz, you ask? I can assure you, it's not just because this blogger is green with envy that he's been excluded from yet another season. The first reason, of course, is to show Chuck Klosterman that he is not the only one in the world capable of discussing the Real World and also using the word "postmodern" in a sentence. It is my hope that this will entice Mr. Klosterman to give up ranting in the hopes of sounding smart publishing books and simply start a blog. (My first passive-aggressive strike-through!)

Secondly, Terp enthusiasts, my very own soon-to-be alma mater is finally being represented in the annuls of reality television in the form of the kinda nerdy, only recently de-flowered Michael Ross. I've got to say, in terms of people who might be representing our fine institution, I'm pretty unimpressed. UMD is quite well known for its diversity. Why, MTV, did you select a straight, white, frat-type, when you could have instead selected one of our extremely qualified and infinitely more interesting queer students (for example, a socially awkward blogging undergrad with a penchant for putting his foot in his mouth)? I'm just saying, MTV, you missed out on some marketing gold there.

At least Michael Ross seems to be sort of smart, though obviously one has to be generous when talking about intelligence in MTV terms. It's not totally unlike running a three-legged race with a corpse as your partner. In one of my all-time favorite Real World exchanges, Michael (with whom I have no less than five facebook friends in common) uses the word cataclysm, and then proceeds to spout information about solar flares, while the rest of the cast just stares blankly at him. The camera then cuts to a confessional with another cast member, who explains that she needs a thesaurus just to understand Michael, so she usually just smiles and nods. Pseudo-unscripted television at its finest.

And then there's the fact that this is one of the least diversified seasons ever. I was more than a little sad to discover that the season was void of queerness. No gay dolphin trainer. No sassy lesbian from Milwaukee. Not even a little bi-curious straight girl that we can all agree is pretty offensive. On second glance though, that might not quite be the case. Enter Dustin Zito. Dustin is your typical, obnoxiously attractive straight white guy. Oh, plus he used to be a gay porn star. Dustin did a stint on a vaguely reality-themed site called (WARNING: Actual porn link) Frat Pad. Maybe the season is a little more diversified than I first thought.

MTV certainly seems to be developing a fetish for gay-for-pay porn stars. This phenomenon fascinates me. What does it mean for a totally "normal" straight guy to make his money posing naked for other dudes? What does it mean for him to peddle his heterosexual identity (on which he insists, relentlessly) to a gay porn site whose premise is that all of its models are straight dudes who just happen to be naked? Of course, part of me wants to label this phenomenon as a complex intersection of capitalism and identity that says a lot about the ways in which we concretize identities. The realist in me also just thinks the man probably needed some cash and didn't have much going for him other than his revoltingly attractive face. Not that I'm bitter.

Also, while I'm asking speculative questions, what do we make of MTV's recent documentation of the gay porn industry, with particular emphasis on gay-for-pay porn stars? On the one hand, its nice for gay smut to be getting some recognition. On the other hand, this phenomenon has a strangely pornographic-imperialist feel to it. Does MTV's treatment of gay porn give the impression that my porn is really just something that straight guys get paid to do and that I happen to enjoy? Does it frame some of the gay porn industry as a bone that straight guys are throwing us (pun obviously intended)? Don't straight guys have their own smut to publicize?

Will Danger

(Obviously this conversation about queer porn is framed almost exclusively in terms of gay men, not in an effort to recapitulate the terms of the rampant sexism that exists in the gay community, but rather because the majority of my pornography experience has involved man-on-man action. Is there a parallel phenomenon in the lesbian porn community? I would be fascinated to know.)

Picture via

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Days When Birds Come Back

I'm back, folks, after a long bout of the flu that has left me looking rather like Kate Moss. This week has been sort of nuts, as the week before spring break often is, and I hope you have all been riding out the chaos well enough. Despite all the craziness and anxiety about impending graduation and my less than lucrative career goals, there are some mornings, when I have time to get up and do some writing and purchase a new book, with springtime-appropriate weather streaming in through the windows. These are mornings of optimism for me, that leave me feeling as though maybe we can all plug onward. To paraphrase E.D, these are the [mornings] when skies resume/The old-old sophistries of June-/A blue and gold mistake.


I want to take a blog moment to examine both the project I have set forth in this blog and my own commitment to that project. As you may be realizing, two things are occuring with regards to my writing habits: 1) I am not updating as frequently as I'd like and 2) I have made some blog promises on which I have not followed through, mainly in the form of promised follow-ups. I imagine these writerly habits are quite frustrating for you, as readers. All I can really say on this front is that I will try to play a better host to the handful of you who visit this cozy pocket of the internet.

Onward and upward, though. All the hubub which has been taking place at and around this queer turtle's university (Anna Deavere Smith, Selly Thiam, the recent marriage debacle, the many documentaries I spent my sick days watching) have left me wondering about the political and cultural weight of testimony. On the one hand, I think lots of scholarship out there (with some notable exceptions) teaches us that personal testimony is to be avoided. It is purely affective and therefore has very little critical appeal. And yet, with the recent MD marriage disappointment, we cannot discount the political importance of testimony, even if it seems a strange data source, in a number of ways. How do we read a partially affective data source? Do we attempt to draw any sort of objective conclusion from such a subjective construction? Finally, why do we find personal testimony so compelling?


Of particular interest to me is the ex-gay presence at the hearing (Its use of the word "homosexual" should gesture toward my feelings about that particular post, however I find its videos and commentary to be useful). In the spirit of the archive, I'll try to offer this evidence sans commentary, and let you readers draw your own conclusions. However, I can't pass up the opportunity to ask about the myth of the "Homosexual Lifestyle." This seems to sort of undercut the diversity of the gay community. Implicit in such phrasing is the idea that, though there are many different kinds of straight people, the gay doctor. lawyer, and blogger are all the same, which is a pretty silly idea. Returning to the evidence at hand though, why do people find ex-gay testimony so effective? Is it the narrative of redemption that attracts them?

To round out some of the last posting I play to make about marriage for a good, long while, Gender and Sexuality in Law has some great postings on marriage stuff. Check it out and tell me how hard you laughed at this video. Because srsly folks. It's good.

Things to think about:  Why didn't the marriage bill go to vote? What do we make of politicians who are willing to make such a political maneuver? What does this mean for future ventures in the realm of marriage equality and gay rights, more broadly? And, as always, where do we go from here?

Finally, we all need to get our kumbaya-yas out in one form or another:


I'm surprised it's taken Buffy this long to surface 'round these parts.


 (Dickinson image thieved via)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

In Imitatio Borghi

Imitation is sweeping the blogosphere, people, and I've caught the bug. I don't like to talk about it, for fear of losing my hard-earned street cred, but this blog was started for a class. As such, there are a few classy things I have to do. I think we can agree that business as usual around here is decidedly un-classy. Tonight's class business is a stylistic imitation post, in the flavor of My Own Private Pocatello (Incidently, Pocatello is a small town that no one has ever heard of in Idaho. I'm pretty sure no one really lives there), which is a pretty neat little slice of the internet. I hope this isn't offensive/weird!

Blogging in the voice of newswoman/local celebrity from a town in Idaho that no one really lives in? This block has never been queerer.

I know what you're probably thinking! (really though, my mom is probably the only one reading this. I know what you're thinking, Mom!) "This is just gonna be Will Danger, with a wig on his head. And I wish you'd stop embarrassing me in public." No promises on the latter, but on the former, you're right, Mom. Unfortunately, I lead a significantly less exciting life than the woman whom I am imitating, and shes quite a bit cleverer than I. Also, I don't want this to turn into a memoir-type blog exactly. So, wig on my head and 8 inch stillettos nearby, just in case, we begin. Why is it that regardless of the stylistic persona I'm wearing, the only jokes I can come up with involve wigs and stillettos?

It turns out that Anna Deavere Smith was on campus this week (who knew?), and I was lucky enough to be allowed to sneak in for free. Now, Anna Deavere Smith, fantastic performer though she is, does not deal with queer themes, expressly. The piece of hers with which I am most familiar is Fires in the Mirror, which addresses the Crown Heights race riots in 1991. Though she doesn't write about queer stuff, her plays are very queer in their methodology. Anna Deavere Smith composes her plays by conducting a series of interviews, transcribing these interviews, and arranging them in some sort of dramatic fashion. Smith doesn't actually write her own material, she has made a living stealing and publishing other people's stories.

Did I mention that she performs all of her pieces, a series of dramatic monologues, as one-woman shows? And that she is a phenomenal actress?

And yet, dear readers, her pieces are absolutely breathtaking, both in their simplicity and their emotional scope. She said something tonight (forgive me for the inevitable misquote) along the lines of "I decided I wanted to take on America and let America take me on." She placed herself in line with Whitman in the way that her work tries to grapple with what it means to be American (this is a connection I'm not totally sure I buy, but I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt). She has a remarkable talent for settling into the messiness/downright horror of the everyday, setting up camp there, and then dragging her readers (at times willingly, at times kicking and screaming) into this mess. Because of the organic nature of her source material, Smith doesn't offer artificial conclusions or really even gesture toward premeditated answers. She is however, downright surgical in her ability to extract answers (along with additional problems) from the seemingly simple stories of her interviewees, some of which are American, others not.

Smith's queer methodology raises a lot of questions, which I think I'll hold off on for now, for fear of losing my Idaho-an (or does Idaho function as both name and descriptor?) accent, but expect this post to have a sequel.

Fires in the Mirror is on youtube. Check it out.
Also, it's my mother's birthday. It seems rude to shame her publicly on her birthday and not mention it. Happy Birthday PJ!