MINDHUNTER

I watched all ten episodes of Mindhunter in less than a week, and I’m still not sure why. It’s a well constructed show, with a good cast, but it doesn’t shine, and I don’t know if it brought me pleasure. I just know I had to watch it whenever I had time to watch television, until there wasn’t anymore left.

The most interesting part of the show is the creation of taxonomy, the dramatization of categorization. We see them debate terminology, the decision to stop calling their subjects sequence killers, and try the phrase serial killer instead. So often this language is naturalized, so often psychoanalytical concepts are presented as fact, a truth that has been discovered, and not a schema that has been invented. Seeing the moment of invention is thrilling, and seems more charged then the violent crimes that are being investigated. Brutal murder is commonplace on television, the way brutal murders are solved is common on television. One summer I watched four or five seasons of Criminal Minds, and I don’t remember any of the specific cases, the jargon stuck with me — unsub, organized/disorganized, the language of profiling. Television makes us take that all for granted. And I think that’s terrible.

My argument is not that violence on television makes us numb, or more violent, or worse people. It probably isn’t good for our psyches, but I’m not interested in that argument. I think it’s terrible that we don’t see how there’s a power structure shaping how we understand the violence in our world.

Which brings us back to Mindhunter. Is it just another crime show, giving us a peak behind the curtain into something violent and forbidden? Or, by being set in the past, and taking us along as these new norms are developed, is it doing something more complex, possibly destabilizing, possibly very interesting? I’m not sure. I really can’t say with confidence that it’s anything more than a mediocre crime show with a good cast. But I know I couldn’t stop watching it. And I know that I don’t understand why it was so compelling.

The questions it left me with were not about things inside the show, but my response to the show. Why did I feel so compelled to watch all of it immediately? The characters aren’t staying with me, or the plot, and I can’t think about anything specific in the filmmaking? It was just there, and I started watching it, and I think I would have kept watching it, not really enjoying it, but utterly hypnotized. What the fuck?

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Battle of the Sexes

This wasn’t a great movie, but any story that ends with a lesbian winning is going to be swell in my books. It’s a well crafted biopic of legendary 70s tennis player Billie Jean King, chronicling her pioneering advocacy for women’s sports, and her first forays into lesbianism. It’s a nice story, a pleasant piece of cultural history that’s worth knowing, but the filmmaking never elevates past serviceable, never transcends into essential. The sports story is epic, but predictable. The budding romance is a lovely sort of fumbling, but is rightly characterized by so much uncertainty that it can’t be the heart of the film. Instead the heart is a plainspoken demand that women deserve equal treatment, which is incredibly important, but not the most dramatic heart, or at least not here.

The film’s greatest strength is it’s cast. As Billie Jean King Emma Stone has something other then the ingenue to play, and she’s more than up to the task, embodying King with the physicality of an athlete who understands their body perfectly in one setting, but is less sure the rest of the time. Steve Carrell makes Bobby Riggs an utterly pathetic figure, too sad of a buffoon to be a real villain. You’re rooting for his failure, but at the same time, know that he isn’t motivated by malice towards anyone else as much as his own failures and emptiness. The supporting cast is good too. I love Natalie Morales, but wish it had given her something more to do. Alan Cumming is playing a stereotype of a fashion designer/older gay advice giver, but I can’t bring myself to complain about the broadness of his role because he does it so well.

I’m really glad this movie exists. There should be more sports movies about lesbians winning things, more movies about triumphant feminism, more movies that make my heart feel warm and full like this. I would just appreciate if they were slightly more interesting films.

queer actualities

Michel Foucault was a gay man who was into bdsm and died of AIDS.

I’ve spent too much of the past day talking to straight people about queer theory. I love queer theory. It’s important to how I make sense of the world. I find it stimulating and enlightening. I think straight people should learn about queer theory — I think everyone should learn about queer theory. I just worry, that when it’s taught, something much more important to me gets lost.

What I’m really all about, is queer actuality. I care about writers who are queer, and characters who are queer, and theorists who are queer. I care about the actualities of their lives. I care about the history of their sexualities, I care about their gender troubles, I care about their cruising utopias. I care about how they belong to this complicated, nebulous, not-straight tribe, same as I do.

I’ve been thinking lately, about how in an English course you’re much more likely to read a lesbian theorist than a lesbian novelist. At some point, you’re going to read Butler, or read about Butler, but you might never read a novel by a woman who identified as queer. Sarah Schulman’s nonfiction about the lack of lesbian novelists is much more likely to be taught than her own novels. In undergrad I once had an instructor give the class a biography of James Baldwin that didn’t mention that he was gay. The number one thing you can tell me to make me care about a writer is tell me that they’re queer.

Michel Foucault was a gay man who was into bdsm and died of AIDS. He wrote about sexuality and power. These were not abstract concerns for him. They were pieces of his life.

The great thing about queer theory is how you can use it to look at anything. I love that. Use queer as a verb. Queer boring straight writers. Queer texts that are drowning in unintended subtext. Queer everything. Please, I’m begging of you, please, make every piece of the world as queer as you possibly can.

But don’t stop talking about actual queer people and actual queer lives. The word queer became popular in the 1990s with the rise of ACT UP and queer nation. WE’RE HERE, WE’RE QUEER, GET USED TO IT. NOT GAY AS IN HAPPY, BUT QUEER AS IN FUCK YOU.

Fuck you if you’re going to take use queer theory and not care about queer people. Get me on a better day and I’ll be more charitable about this — queer theory is for everyone — but I’m so tired right now. Tired and angry, but mostly tired. I don’t want to think about straight people any longer. Goodnight.

gay strains of a sad waltz

Queer culture is appropriating old poems that use gay to mean happy instead of queer. We have been robbed of so much queer literature, we’re allowed to steal whatever scraps are available. The straights killed Oscar Wilde, they have to give us this.

I’m being facetious, but only sort of. I do read poetry that uses the word gay through an ahistorical gay lens. I can’t help myself. I see that word, and expect to find something that belongs to me, something I belong to. Even when I know that isn’t what the author meant to make me do, it’s a hard instinct to turn off.

I could make an argument about death of the author, and maybe I should, but I feel like the real issue is historicity. I’m putting an anachronistic concept onto the work. It’s the problem of how you can’t really call Alexander the Great gay, even though he totally was, because the idea of sexuality as an identity didn’t exist in his era. I feel much worse about putting gayness into a setting where it didn’t exist as a coherent identity than I do reading homoeroticism in a text where the author didn’t intend it.

(I actually feel really good doing that. The Outsiders has strong homosocial tendencies. The author is dead. Stay gay Ponyboy.)

I’m reading Wallace Stevens for a class right now, and I’m really enjoying it. He uses a lot of gorgeous abstract language, poems that are about the orders of the words and the images they create, not about a thing you can point at easily. So I guess it’s understandable that I was able to read one of his poems entirely anachronistic unintended manner.

Here, you go read it and then keep on with what I have to say.

When I read this, I thought gosh, this would be a wonderful poem to read at the funeral of someone who had died of AIDS in the middle of the crisis. I’ve read so much about these funerals, seen them recreated in fiction, and recorded in documentary. I was too young to remember my godfather’s funeral, I’ve only heard stories. My mother was so upset by the hellfire and damnation offered at the small town they grew up in, that she organized another memorial at our hippy church in the cities. I have to imagine there was lots of singing. I know his mother came down for it. I wonder if my mother sang, she loves being asked to sing at funerals — but maybe she was too busy holding me, or too busy crying.

There was just something very striking in the poem. The repeated line, “Too many waltzes have ended” speaks to the scale of loss. And the lines “Yet the shapes / For which the voices cry, these, too, may be / Modes of desire, modes of revealing desire,” could say something community, that is united in desire, even as it is wracked by tragedy. The stuff about Hoon doesn’t fit anywhere, but that’s alright, having a line that doesn’t fit or make sense just adds to the over all strength of the poem. I don’t want to do a close reading, filling each line with ahistorical significance that I placed there. That isn’t the kind of writing I like spending my time doing, and I feel it will be stronger if you make the connections yourself.

“Sad Strains of a Gay Waltz” could be about just about anything you need it to be. Stevens could not have anticipated my reading. He might not have appreciated it. He was a Republican. But also, he believed in the importance of imagination, so maybe he would have been fine with my appropriation of his words. And if not, the author is dead, he’s dead, and so is my godfather, so are so many. “Too many waltzes have ended.”

Too many poems were not written, a generation of gay writers lost before their time, still falling. Today would have been Oscar Wilde’s 163rd birthday, but he only made it to 46. I can take whatever poem I want and get my dirty gay feelings all over it, and no one can stop me.

_______ future

There’s this thing I remember reading somewhere, probably in Please Kill Me, about how punk rock came out of nuclear anxiety. I can’t remember who was talking, maybe Richard Hell or Dee Dee Ramone, but it could have been anyone, and I can’t check because my copy is home in Chicago, and I’m home in Minneapolis. The story is that this dude remembers growing up, hiding under his desk in school, knowing that it wouldn’t actually make a difference, and that his teacher was full of shit, and couldn’t protect them at all. The generation that started punk rock was the first to grow up with that nuclear anxiety for as long as they can remember. (I’m not actually sure if that’s right, I think the post-war Beatles generation would have hid too, but this is the argument this dude was making, talking about his own life, and I’m not interesting in fact checking experiential knowledge.)

Apparently the idea of authority being useless in the face of the end of the world shaped the young psyches necessary to make punk rock. I find that compelling. I think about this all the time.

If punk rock comes from the idea that the world could end at any moment and there’s nothing the people can do about it, then what comes from forty years worth of generations of that?

I think of nuclear anxiety as something that belongs in the past. It went out of fashion after the Cold War, and is only just now being revived. What do the creative fruits of nuclear anxiety look like in 2017?

I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out. It’s the curse, to live in interesting times. I would like to feel more confident that world war three will not begin tomorrow, but I’ll take this because it’s all I have.

I am going to travel back in time to punch T.S. Eliot in the face

I want to travel back in time and punch T.S. Eliot in the face. I’m not much for physical violence, but I think I could take him.

We spent two weeks in my modern poetry class talking about Eliot, and honestly, it made me hate him? I expect this hate will fade with time, but it is still true and hotly felt. Fuck that guy.

I had to devote two and a half hours of my life to discussing “The Wasteland.” Which, first of all, you can’t understand “The Wasteland” in two and a half hours. And even if you could, do you really want to? Before this class I did not hate “The Wasteland,” it has some fascinating language in it, I appreciated that. But picking it apart is honestly, one of the circles of hell. It is all allusions to other things! He likes using lots of different languages and expecting the reader to follow along. He wrote his own notes to the poem, but didn’t bother to include any translations, why would he want to do that, the elitist fuck.

One of my classmates called “The Wasteland” “perfect.” Which is just… baffling. Important, sure, fascinating even. But also, kind of miserable? Like, intentionally miserable? In a very interesting way! But on a lot of levels it’s a deeply unpleasant poem!

I keep on thinking about how it’s made up of so many allusions, this kind of puzzel box of a poem, where everything is also pointing at something else. And often, I like these things. I kept on thinking about Todd Haynes’s film I’m Not There, and Hal Duncan’s Vellum and Ink. Both of these works are so dense with references, but they aren’t dependant on catching all the allusions to be appreciated.

I’m Not There is steeped in the mythology of Bob Dylan. And yeah, it helps if you know a lot about Dylan. It helps to know that the motorcycle is a sign of coming disaster, it helps to know the story about him visiting Woody Guthrie in the hospital, it helps to know about his relationship with Nico. But you don’t need to know all that to access the movies. I’m not particularly fluent in how Dylan played with the story of Billy the Kid, but that thread of the movie still works for me. It’s still compelling, within itself, and within the whole of the film.

The first time I read Vellum and Ink I was a junior in high school, and I understood, maybe a third of the references? I got the punk rock ones, the gay history, and a fair amount of the Shakespeare, but not most of the politics, and none of the Sumerian mythology. (They’re really weird fucking books, and I love them with my WHOLE HEART.) Despite not understanding so many of the underlying levels, I still fell for these books. I still fell for the language, and the characters, and the SPIRIT of the thing.

It’s true, that it may be unfair to compare novels and a film to a poem, but I don’t think so. These are all texts with very fragmented narratives. That’s something they have in common with “The Wasteland” actually. They have longer fragmented narratives, but that’s the difference between a long poem, a feature film, or a thousand pages of weird speculative fiction. There is more narrative, it’s more a matter of scale than ratio.

think my problem is only like, 40% Eliot, and 50% my opinion that we should let texts breath and be confusing? That poems aren’t things to solve. They’re things to speculate over, with the recognition that you might not get anywhere, and that there will be a multiplicity of readings.

Oh god, is this another one of those situations where the real problems is that I internalized way too much Foucault? I hadn’t even thought of that, but it might be. I should remember, if I have a problem with how something is being done, it is probably because of Foucault, aka the “I’m too queer for this” excuse.

I am going to stop writing about Eliot now, and hopefully forever. I want to leave you with something nice, so here is a poem I encountered, in which a very young T.S. Eliot writes about St Sebastian. I am gay enough for that.