Archive for the ‘gay studies’ Category

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Green Lantern to Join Ranks of Gay Superheroes

1 June 2012

Gay characters have inhabited the pages of the comic books for a number of years now. Kevin Keller of Archie Comics is openly gay, as was Extraño and Bunker. Northstar, I hear, is slated to marry his boyfriend in an upcoming storyline. Even the current incarnation of Batwoman, Kate Kane, is a lesbian. But DC Comics will push the envelope next week in the second issue of Earth 2 when it reinvents the Green Lantern as gay – openly, unabashedly gay. “He doesn’t come out. He’s gay when we see him in issue two,” says comic creator James Robinson.

The reconstruction of Green Lantern strikes me as significant, since only a handful of characters in the DC universe are “mainstream” good guys, good guys without significant alienation from society. Someone from the X-Men, for instance (to skip into the world of Marvel for a second), wouldn’t be terribly noteworthy as gay or lesbian or even intersex; X-Men are already “freakish” outcasts. Green Lantern is part of the hegemonic cast, and therefore his reincarnation as a gay man signals a shift in DC Comics, in their willingness to promote gayness as a norm.  Nay, a super-norm.

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Abraham, Sodom and the Gospel of Jack Black

15 July 2011

“liberalism,” def.: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, disapproves of your sexual proclivities.

It was no minor miracle.  Last night I persuaded my wife to watch Year One, a comedy starring Jack Black and Michael Cera.  In it two primitive tribesmen leave their village only to find themselves in the midst of biblical salvation history.   The poop jokes abounding throughout the film were, predictably, hilarious.  My wife’s reaction to the humor was, predictably, cool.  What the two of us could agree on in any case was Year One‘s utter disregard for the Genesis narrative.

In the movie the two protagonists run into Abraham, who is in the process of sacrificing Isaac.  Isaac is a mouthy, sex-crazed profligate, so it’s understandable why the father of all nations wants to slay the youngster.  When Black and Cera break up the would-be sacrifice, Abraham believes it to be divine intervention, and the two men are taken into the Hebrew clan.  Of course, the people of Abraham practice all manner of deviant behavior: his daughter is a lesbian, another son practices buggery.  A few scenes later Abraham gets it in his mind that he must circumcise every male among him, not so much for covenantal purposes as for a quasi-religious way to address sexual lust.  Throughout the visit to the proto-Israelite camp, Black and Cera endure Abraham’s diatribes against the people of Sodom.  The sexually depraved Sodomites are a people hideous to the prudish Abraham, and loathing for them drips from his mouth.

Casting the biblical patriarch as a sexually repressed sadist makes sense only in the gospel of Jack Black.  Denial of any personal liberty represents sin.  Numerous freaks lie along the path to wholeness, but the real problem are the puritanical.   Deliverance comes in the form of antiauthoritarian expression and the genuine friendship of those who condone one’s animalistic passions (which turns out to be the overtly didactic conclusion of Year One). 

The flick got me thinking about Abraham’s masculine identity, in any case.  If he didn’t establish his gendered self-identity as a pathologically aggressive killjoy, then how did he?  Of course, there is something to be said about his slippery personality when it came to interacting with pharoahs (Gen 12) and kings (Gen 20), not to mention his passive but self-serving attentiveness to his own wife (Gen 16).  More positively, he lives into his calling to be a blessing to the nations (Gen 12:2-3).  In stark contradition to Year One, Abraham is wholly on the side of Sodom.  He saves their people from wholesale defeat and slavery (Gen 14).  When the LORD intends to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, it is Abraham who comes to their rescue, interceding on their behalf (Gen 18).  That is to say, Abraham’s posture is not one of self-righteous condescension at all, but one of deep and abiding hospitality.

In the end, Abraham does far better than tolerate the Sodomites.  He intervenes for them who are so remote from the divine covenant.  That is a form of friendship quite impossible for Year One, caught in its haze of blasphemy and methane, to comprehend.

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Country Boys

31 January 2010

Hugh Campbell, Michael Mayerfeld Bell, and Margaret Finney, eds.  Country Boys: Masculinity and Rural Life. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006. 322+ix.

In the age of corporate identities, urban men often look to rural men as possessing something primeval and masculine.  Whether the frontiersman or the farmer, the cowboy or the co-op producer, something about the wilderness remains in these men.  There seems something rooted to a masculine essence. 

Country Boys contests these powerful images with gritty, provocative sociological studies.  In truth, they say, rural men have their masculine identity socially constructed every bit as much as the city man.  Fifteen essays, from various authors and covering country life from America to Ireland to New Zealand, examine and challenge the gendered values held in these environments.  While its essays are of inconsistent quality, Country Boys is overall a very useful volume for men’s studies. 

As the introductory essay recognizes, men of the fields and forests and outdoors uphold “the symbolic power of the venerable rural myth of rugged individualism” (2).  They exude a sense of toughness, structure and discipline.  They gravitate towards a rather patriarchal order.  Because rural psycho-social organizations erect firm boundaries and expectations, men in these environments sometimes have a hard time challenging norms or responding to dramatic shifts in cultural climate.  There is often a subtle but ubiquitous enforcement of conservative, white, heterosexual lifestyles.  Many of the essays in this volume illustrate the force of rural hegemony. 

The several studies on rural men’s bodies are, I think, the strongest contributions.  Will H. Courtenay writes about the health effects of manly codes, cataloguing compelling statistics about these men’s injuries, illnesses and early deaths.  Jo Little’s contribution explores different ways the male body tends to be portrayed, such as naked calendars and homely singles ads, and how each is intended to steer people away from “scary sexualities” back to the valuation of the family.  The gem of Country Boys is probably David Bell’s “Cowboy Love,” which provides four vastly different portraits of rural homosexualities.  Without sounding bitter or didactic, Bell describes the perilous identities of these men, also explaining how we cannot conflate the idyllic “homosexual rural” with the actual “rural homosexual.”  The essay is all that much more impressive since it was written before the Brokeback Mountain phenomenon.

Missing from the volume is a look into religion among men of the country.  (How it is possible to speak of cohesive societies and cohesive masculinities without religious ties, I do not know.)  Also omitted are studies about migrant workers.  Sometimes lacking is a counterbalancing sense of appreciation about rural men’s decisions, and how their (increasingly unpopular) values help facilitate their often happy lives.  These points aside, Country Boys can be said to contain important studies.  I recommend it as a library resource and a book for upper division sociology classes.

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“Gay” the Preferred Term of Abuse

2 January 2009

A survey conducted in 2008 by the ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers) found the word “gay” to be the most common term of disrespect heard on school grounds in the UK.  83% interviewed said they heard the term being used, followed in popularity by “bitch” (59%) and “slag” (45%).  Most interestingly to me, every term of abuse reported went back to some reference to homosexuality when directed at males: “poof,” “batty boy,” “queer,” “homo,” “faggot,” “sissy.” 

Now while I’m not sure how the good ol’ fashioned “dickhead” didn’t make it’s way in, I can confirm in my recent experience that anti-homosexual language is the preferred method of verbal abuse among young men in both the UK and America.  Despite growing acceptance of homosexuality with the younger generations, teens have freely adopted hate language seeminly excoriating the same lifestyle.  Many of them do not connect the hate language with stigmatization of the gay lifestyle.  (In fact, I met a gay student at the University of South Dakota who admitted he too regularly used the word “gay” as an insult.)  The power of the insult seems to be derived not so much from the attribution of sexual perversion per se, as it might have a decade or two ago.  Teens rather relish the idea of perversion.  Instead, it stems from the social connotations stereotypically associated with homosexuals, namely, that they are weak, unmanly, and unable to function in the world of men precisely because they cannot identify themselves as “real men.”  That is, saying to someone, “You’re such a fag” is equivalent to the sexist “You’re such a pussy” to the racist “You’re such a Jew” to anti-disability rhetoric in the form of “You’re such a retard.”  Each epithet attributes a sense of psycho-social lowliness.  We might say that homosexuality isn’t frowned upon so much for its moral status as its power status.

As the above article points out, “gay” has by and large replaced the insult “lame.”  True, although the article seems completely oblivious to the fact that “lame” is by no means a neutral term, as they insinuate.  It picks fun at a group of people quite unavoidably public in their own weakness: the physically debilitated.