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!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Effie White's Big Fat Gay Wedding

Happy Wednesday, dear readers. If your Hump Day has been anything like mine, a deep breath and a short break is in order (If your Wednesday was awesome, frankly, the rest of us don't want to hear about it). Such a break seems like the perfect time to invoke some Effie White-style masochism (the real masochism/face-melting/jaw dislocating begins around 3:28). I considered doing an entire post as Effie White, but frankly, I just don't have the soul for it (or the lung capacity, for that matter).

And so, having enjoyed that short break, let us all take a Jennifer Holiday-sized deep breath and plunge onward.

As promised, I'm back for some long-overdue mouthing off. Gay marriage is something I've generally refrained from blogging about, for a number of reasons. For one, it has never struck me as a particularly complex issue: all we want to do is have some Big Gay Weddings (oh, and I guess maybe it'd be nice to have some state sanction and cultural capital invested in our relationships, too). Secondly, people always seem to have very clear ideas regarding where they stand on the issue of gay marriage, so that I'm not sure how much an only-moderately-informed blogging undergrad can hope to bring to the table. This South Park Clip seems to sum up the whole thing pretty nicely (Apologies for casual throwing around of the word "faggot," which is one of the few places where South Park and I diverge). Finally, and I am aware that this is a pretty stupid reason, but marriage has always felt like an issue that was pretty far removed from my own life and, as such, I have refrained from weighing in.

The current U.S. political landscape, however, is making it all but impossible to avoid talking about the M-word (which raises its own set of questions). On a national level, Barack and his administration have (finally) recalled their support of the Defense of Marriage Act (For all intents and purposes, they might have called it the Keep the Homos Out of Here Act. I think they went with DOMA for acronym purposes). Barack has always been downright infuriating in his continually delayed action regarding LGBT policies, so I'm borderline giddy to see him finally taking some action, even if that action seems like something that should have been undertaken ages ago. Barack, I'll be honest: I voted for you and now I'm thinking Hilary (who is just kicking ass and taking names as Secretary of State) might have been a better choice. On a more local level, Maryland is close to joining DC and the cadre of other smarter-than-average states in passing legislature that enables Big Gay Weddings.

I've tended to tell anyone who will stop and listen how problematic I find the "mainstream LGBT movement's" focus on marriage. Many organizations seem to focus on marriage, eschewing all else. Marriage is by no means the bottom line of LGBT rights, and it is far from the most pressing matter facing LGBT identified people (a lesson that people hopefully learned from the horrendously tragic events of this past fall).

But this still doesn't quite answer the question of how we are supposed to feel about marriage. Are we supposed to understand marriage as a simple celebration of love (I can barely get that sentence out without vomiting all over my keyboard)? Or is it an outdated and grossly sexist institution that should be quashed, and that we queers have no business further enabling? The truth is, it might be both, but I think marriage, in its current incarnation, is best understood as something that straight folks can do, but gay folks are not allowed. Marriage, for better or worse  is a right we are denied (Anyone mentioning the phrase "civil union" in response to this point is going to get the dirtiest look I can muster, by the way. And gay men are genetically predisposed to dirty look-giving). As such, I am firmly in favor of gay marriage, even if I might never get one myself.

Of course, there are all sorts of strange cultural implications to consider: If gays can get married, does this mean that when I am in my forties and own thirty-seven cats, all named Emily Dickinson, I will be a spinster? If I'm in my mid 30s and I've been divorced three times, is it time to pack it in and commit myself to a life of prostitutes and platonic friendships? And, of course, there are all the grotesque Romantic Comedies that are just begging to be written about the subject. While I mostly kid, I do think that this changing political tide with regard to gay marriage also gestures in the direction of shifting cultural scripts, though as to what form this shift might take, I haven't the slightest.

Have a good rest of the week folks.

Will Danger

(Jennifer Holiday screen cap courtesy of Vincent Allport)