Drive-Bye SCMS

March 20, 2010

I performed a few drive-bys at SCMS (parking $40!) as it was held in my own town, meaning I stayed home and was thus left to perform Mommy-duty while other conference-goers cocktailed into the night. No matter, I attended 4 panels, 1 workshop (Queer Mentoring, where I spoke) and 1 party, and here’s a fly-by of my idiosyncratic bests:

Sean Cubitt pointed out our looming dystopia (who knew!) where the world and its citizens, due to finite resources, would soon have to choose between media storage and consumption, while also more encouragingly reminding us that there is only one global communication system that effectively brings nations, corporations, people, and NGOs together to problem-solve–not for health, poverty, or peace but in the name of the WorldWideWeb–making this our future’s most probable terrain of productive politics (a lone place of co-dependence, passion, and engagement).

Raya Morag gave a paper on representing the trauma of the perpetrator which rocked my neat little documentary world. If, as I believe, documentary’s function is to make its subjects into victims or objects (even if it thinks it is performing the noble opposite, and even when critical documentarians push it against its own evil ends) whatever do you make of a slate of recent Israeli films that allow the perpetrator of atrocities into this very documentary victim-slot?! Morag creates a template of resulting crises: of evidence, disclosure, gender, audience and narrative. Yes.

On a terrific panel on Sex in the Seventies, Damon Young looked to one strain of radical feminist thought and image-making (like Catherine Breillat’s) that divides the face from the vagina, in hopes of “faceifying” the vagina, and thus granting it the face’s personality, identity, and humanity and cementing its (her, our) valid place in liberal democracy.

Here, Elizabeth Venell re-visited the oeuvre of Barbara Hammer, arguing that the tautological narratives of coming out and visibility (from repression to liberation, invisibility to visbility), used by queer scholars and makers to narrativize queer cinema’s triumphant history, could be expanded to include other stories, including the affective over the legible.

The conference ended for me at the lovely Queer Mentoring Panel where gobs of grad students and gracefully aging professors talked together, carefully naming and nuancing our mutual and conflicting professional needs and commitments given the institutionalization of queer studies and the ongoing realities of homophobia and world-wide Depression (financial). I waltzed to the bar with my designated mentee, Greg Youmans. We realized together the beautiful ironies raised by the figures of Jan Raymond and Eve Sedgwick who served as my dialectical spectral mentors in the dying or changing Lesbian Nation which was Western Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley in the 1980s. Lucky me, I was already his fan, allowing for what I hope is the best kind of queer mentoring, the one I called for in my brief remarks, a “good lesbian mother connecting via queer commitment and love while remaining vigilant around the easy marginalization of the least visible queers (lesbians, people of color and trans people) and minding the dangerous minefields of cross-generational engagement.

At the pre-Berlin cast and crew screening of THE OWLS Friday night, I was talking with my friend, fellow filmmaker and Pitzer professor, Silas Howard, who has recently transitioned, and reports that he often now successfully passes. I asked him for some secrets he has learned as a newly-male among men, and his most interesting find was that they are all really gay together when women are not around. Glad to have this confirmed, but it was something I already knew: a founding principle of both my early queer and feminist educations. Eve Sedgwick was my professor of women and gender studies in a college that proved the very cradle of male-homosociality (Amherst—just gone co-ed—boo-yah!) teaching us co-eds about the ways that men used women to legitimize their more abiding desire to see and love each other.

Hey, I’ve always loved men, too—straight, gay, no matter—and I’m as open to stories of men-loving-men as the next gal…I’ve written elsewhere about Fight Club and South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut as feminist films (in their radical willingness to unmoor sex from gender), but I reasoned that the misogyny (and homophobia) underwriting their dystopic worlds-of-men under-cut any feminist gains allowed. I’d say that in our current cinema, for instance, I Love You Man, feminist-influenced gender play continues (for men, who can work on their “feminine” sides: Chocolat anyone?) and the hatred even seems softer (for women who are so dull, listless, boring, and benign how could you feel anything at all for them, least of all an emotion with political chops) but is ultimately of no less concern. I actually like many of the current spate of juvenile male homosocial bonding orgies as much as any person who likes men might: their boy-men-leads prove to be hot, funny, and complexly gendered humans on sophisticated quests for sex, comraderie, family, love, and identity; too bad this is best satisfied in a movie world where men greedily colonize for themselves all that is best in women, leaving females as unnecessary, unfunny, uninteresting half-humans any sane person would choose to disregard, at least in relation to loving a man.