Tuesday, November 13, 2012

tolerating of the intolerant? (looking for celebration of queer studies in the graphic novel, the film, and the rural American south)


I knew that the language of Valerie’s imprisoned autobiography in the book was powerful, but that her story was not explicitly about language. As such, to hear her story from her voice through on film, and to hear her speak of language specifically, changed the focus of the speech dramatically for me. It shifted my attention from her pain as one of the not-united to her world as one of terror, in which “war comes [and] the meanings of words begin to change.” Labeling certain demographics as threatening and acting upon such a change is blatantly catastrophic. Destabilizing the very lexicon, the ideological and actual vocabulary through which we live our lives, may quietly be even more destructive. The two are not mutually exclusive, of course, but from Valerie’s speech to V’s in the film, the discussion of language is one that resonated inescapably well with me.
 
But I’m not sure I like this talk of language as it distracts from the intimate pain of Valerie’s life (which of course reflects it the lives of many others). But I’m not sure I would have done it any differently from the film.

My intention here is not to cast normative judgments. Cuts must be made, and without doubt a change in media / medium forces adaptations. A fuller picture (like the one painted in the movie, which works through Valerie to expose elements of the world in which she lives) transfers better to soundbytes and the YouTube clips I visited. A (selectively) fuller picture offers more footholds for people from different walks of life to use to gain some traction; it stands to resonate with more people.

My intention here is not to cast normative judgments. Rather, it is to communicate how this discrepancy and this MCM course have served as a wonderfully challenging platform upon which I myself can engage some of the harder questions.
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I spent one or two too many formative years in rural Tennessee, in a small self-segregated town in which my neighbor (in the one small area where the business people and academics all lived) taught me that it was against God’s law for “blacks” to marry “whites.” My mother once proposed such a union as we played Barbies. I, blonde curls bobbing and flowery drawl reaching out through our basement and burrowing deep into my reconstructed memory of myself, objected. “You can’t do that, Momma. He will hurt her; it’s against God’s Law.”

I am lucky that my family recognized this as deeply problematic and took decisive steps to remove my brothers and me from this environment. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to grow up well in rural Tennessee; it’s just to say that my small impressionable self was well-served by moving to urban Kentucky and then Austin.

I am one of the people whose eyes needed to be open to a brighter, more dynamic world. It has taken 22 years, and I am still working away at it, figurative white picket fences included.
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The project of bringing broader enthusiasm for a more inclusive definition of diversity is a big one. At home I struggle with how much or how little to share regarding celebrating the dissolution of righteous barriers that reduce certain groups—“colored” folk, queer folk, immigrant folk, to name a few—to monoliths.

And so I have appreciated that elements of queer studies (most notably how it challenges our automatic ideas of bodies and desire, and the norms that surround these entities and this discourse) have had such a great presence in the syllabus, V for Vendetta included.

In my quasi-evangelical quest to walk with (/steer) hometown friends towards realization that “the light of G-d shines through the eyes of all,” I often struggle with unleashing a light (that celebrates diversity in its most far-reaching of renditions) so bright that it blinds them before their moral pupils get to dilate. “The world is so big and cool!” I want to shout. “If you don’t talk to [insert underappreciated group here] you’re missing out on so many meaningful, valuable perspectives.”

So I’d settled myself in the idea that open conversation and building rapport before reaching into deeper subjects is the way to go, and I still believe that this is a good basic tenet. Accordingly, I found Film V’s assertions to be deliciously palatable.  “While the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power.” “Words offer means to meaning and, for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth.” But now I actively missed the discourse on desire, I missed the counterpart to Ahmed’s Chapter 7 (“Queer Feelings”) or Berlandt’s talk of normative desire as an integral entity of deeply meaningful conversation.

I understand why it happened in the film. I understand why I bite my tongue sometimes when people speak from ideological places I see to be fundamentally ignorant. But now this discrepancy between Valerie’s speech in the film and the movie and these works by Berlandt and Ahmed have brought me to recognize that limiting the scope of the conversation can be a terrible truncheon in and of itself. “Fairness, justice, and freedom are more than words, they’re perspectives.” I feel my own eyes adjusting, and now it’s time to adjust our collective approach towards not only “governing the unwanted” but making them wanted.

That’s easy to write a blog post on. I’m excited to get it moving in more directions and more dimensions.

1 comment:

Lucy Stephenson said...

mmmm, yessss, indulgently lengthy. it looked a lot more digestible (/just way shorter) in a word doc! apologies.