Tuesday, February 28, 2006

This comes verbatim from Towle Road, a good blog:

A noteworthy if sad junction of events happened last week. It was the release of some FBI memos regarding the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and the announcement that
seven paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division would be charged with engaging in sex for money on a website.
Here's one
revelation from the newly released memos:
"Military interrogators posing as FBI agents at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, wrapped terrorism suspects in an Israeli flag and forced them to watch homosexual pornography under strobe lights during interrogation sessions that lasted as long as 18 hours, according to one of a batch of FBI memos released Thursday."
And here's a point brought up in
an opinion piece just published in The Nation.
"This confluence of events presents the unlikely but completely plausible scenario in which 1) military boys star in gay porn which is 2) subsequently used by military interrogators in Guantanamo to torture prisoners in violation of international law then 3) these same military boys are prosecuted for acts which are perfectly legal under civilian law but remain punishable offenses under a silly and discriminatory set of military policies while 4) the torturers and their supervisors get off totally scot-free. Ain't that America."

This also from The Nation:
Early this month, the Defense Department admitted (in a letter to the
Senate Armed Services Committee that its TALON (Threat and Local Observation Notice) surveillance program engaged in "inappropriate" domestic spying on anti-war groups. As NBC News reported late last year, military intelligence labeled UC Santa Cruz's Students Against War a "credible threat" after they shut-down a recruitment visit and returned a few months later to
spy on a kiss-in against the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Likewise, the FBI spied on a demonstration against military recruiters organized by NYU's OUTLaw. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (along with the ACLU) has filed a lawsuit requesting more information on the program and its impact on LGBT organizations.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

So I'm going to be teaching this course on Sex in American Cinema at St. Mary's for three weeks in May. There's already buzz and apparently all but a guarantee of high enrollment. Now I have to figure out what approach to take, and what to include.
All I know so far is I don't want to do this as a run-down of standard contemporary gender theory, but instead try to apply actual empirical, scientific, and social study of sex and sexual behavior to understanding films, their depiction of sexual relations and relationships, and their impact on ideas and behavior. I guess what I'm looking to break out of is the unconsciously puritannical strain that relentlessly seeks to substitute the social for the actually sexual in all studies of sexuality in art and culture. In the back of my head I suppose I'm also looking at it as a way to test my problem with Freudianism--the primary notion that cultural productions start with a sexual impulse, the basic concept of libido. (A lot of post-Freudians are more sophisticated than that, but still retain the basic assumption in the structure of their theory.)
This is the course description I gave them:

Cinema and sexual life have evolved together in the United States for a hundred years, and it’s impossible to say which has led and which has followed. From early instances of the screen star as sexual ideal in the 1920s, through the effect of drive-ins on sexual activity among teenagers in the 1950s, to the contemporary depiction of gay characters and love affairs, the movies have not only reflected Americans’ attitudes about sexuality but actively taught us what to believe, denounce, and accept. Gender roles and sexual relations are so central to narrative cinema that in a real sense the history of American cinema is the history of sex in America. To comprehend this subject, we will study both the social issues that have affected sexual behavior in America and the essential strategies in film studies that help us understand how films communicate ideas. Selected topics: Comedy and Courtship; Melodrama and the Power of Female Sexuality; Star Image and Sexual Scandal; Metaphors of Sex in Film Genres (Film Noir, Horror, Science Fiction); The Adult Video Industry; Race as Sexuality; Sex and Violence; Sexuality as Subversion.

I'll probably add a couple of topics to that. I'm interested to see if I can find a way to present hetero- and homosexuality as complementary instead of mutually exclusive; and to discuss non-sexual same-sex relations, because that area is so confused; and I want to get into the cultural creation of the teen-ager as a sexual category. Also, maybe, the not-so-subtle paradox underlying the defense-of-marriage debate. The clearest way I can put this, I think, is: What we often hear is that the opposition is about defining what marriage is for as a social contract: Marriage must be defended from dilution of its purpose of channeling reproduction (and thus sexual behavior) for society vs. marriage is essentially a monogamous affectional bond that can serve society. What this occludes is that marriage is being presented both as the acme of sex and where sex goes to die. That paradox, which may be a way the culture finds of expressing an important truth about both sex and society, is actually more interesting than the opposition the society creates in order to promote two equally unrealistic and counter-productive political positions. (At this point, promoting gay marriage has gotten as boring as fighting against it, though still not as criminally stupid.) That may also help get to the special position that the '50s seem to occupy in Americans' view of cultural representations of sex--which may just be a matter of the social power of the baby boomers. (That kind of thinking--the '50s as a state of mind rather than an historical period--is the kind of sloppy but pretentious thinking that might absolve me of the responsibility to offer any serious chronological study of cinema or of sexual behavior.) Anyway, it ought to a good place to explore the idea that cinematic representation by its nature has a dialectical relationship with the realities of the society, which is probably the idea that matters to me most, as a way of shifting the emphasis in the wrong-headed ways I think people use to look at art.

I am only just starting to think about what I might have them read. My initial search for stuff specifically on cinema and sex has been disappointing because the stuff has been dogmatic and not really about sex at all, quite often. I know I'd like to use The Trouble with Normal, because it sets out the issues about cultural attitudes so nicely, just as I know I want to start with the film Kinsey, because it helps define America's troubled relation with both sexual behavior and the representation of sexuality. (The very fact that a lot of people who talk about sex in cinema fail to start with this distinction indicates the problem I have finding stuff that will halp set the terms I want to use.)

But what do you care? You're wondering what movies I'm thinking of using. This is my A list:

All That Heaven Allows
Basic Instinct
Bonnie and Clyde

Boys Don’t Cry (with The Brandon Teena story)

Broken Blossoms
Duel in the Sun
Inside Deep Throat (with Rated X – A Journey Through Porn)
The Lady Eve
Mildred Pierce
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
The Opposite of Sex
Pillow Talk
Play Misty for Me
Postcards from America
The Postman Always Rings Twice

Rosemary's Baby
Show Girls
Some Like It Hot
The Terminator (with Back to the Future – Oedipus)
Top Gun
Trash, Flesh, or Heat
Y tu mama tambien
Your Friends and Neighbors

I can only fit in 10-12, even if I squeeze in a couple of double features. My B list:

40-Year-Old Virgin
A Dirty Shame
A History of Violence
American Beauty
American Pie
Before Night Falls
Before Sunrise
Blue Velvet
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
Boogie Nights
Carnal Knowledge
Double Indemnity
Eternal Sunshine
Far from Heaven
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! . . . Kill!
Friday the 13th
(or one of the series)
Happy Endings
His Girl Friday
It Happened One Night
Lust in the Dust
Me and You and Everyone We Know
Midnight Cowboy
Mysterious Skin
Primary Colors
Rear Window
Red River
Risky Business
Send Me No Flowers
Sex, Lies and Videotape
Shadow of a Doubt
She’s Gotta Have It
The Basketball Diaries
The Butterfly Effect
The Doom Generation
The Dreamers
The Fluffer
The Idiots
The Road to Bali
The Thrill of It All
Velvet Goldmine
Wag the Dog

I just found a compilation of '50s-era sex-ed films on eBay which should be a great addition. The reason I'm thinking of a few foreign films is by way of contrast, to establish the conventions of American film, but also to go into how "exotic" came to mean "sexy"--just as "explicit" means "filthy" now.
By the way, my search for films for this course on imdb.com led me to I'm a Dirty Filthy Cocksucking Cunt! Why is it all the good titles are taken?

Now I'm going to get to work on what to read.
The rest of the time right now I'm focusing on course preparation, the talk I have to give on Whitman's "The Sleepers" at a conference in March, and the work I'm supposed to be doing for a book on dreams and education I'm working on with Kelly Bulkeley and Phil King from the International Association for the Study of Dreams. Gary Kornblau has something in store for me but I don't have time to get started on it yet.