Class reflection: Utopianism and the Antisocial Thesis, Gidget and the Angry Inches

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Before we got into our readings, Sara brought up Flash Mobs, a phenomenon that seems to be all the rage these days. We discussed how this is or is not a form of trouble making, and what it means when an ostensibly "spontaneous" event is actually planned in advance (and advertised publicly in advance).  Then we watched Jamie Oliver&friends do choreographed stirfry.  

Sara provided us with an overview of Lee Edelman's No Future, explaining it as a critique of "reproductive futurism." The basis of our conversation started from the question: "What does it mean to talk about utopia and antirelationality in relation to troublemaking?" To answer this, we drew from Snediker's response to Edelman's critique of Annie. We watched Little Orphan Annie sing "Tomorrow," (and established that she says "I love ya, tomorrow," not "I'll love ya tomorrow").  After the clip, Elizabeth suggested that instead of seeing this as optimism, perhaps it could be better read as a "survival strategy." That is, those in impoverished or other marginalized conditions have no choice but to live as though it might get better. We wondered together if "hope" and "optimism" is the same, and, Sophie asked, which of them is more likely to drive radical action? Sophie pushed this, "Can you be pessimistic but still engage." I answered, "Isn't every Leftist?" We brought it back to Annie, and wondered what it meant for a positionality that had no space for desire in the present, only the future; thus, the negativity or positivity can exist only symbolically.

We stayed with Annie a bit longer. Elizabeth wanted to remind us, in regard to Edelman's thesis, that "queers are reproductive.," and we noted that Annie provides examples of radical reconfigurations of relationships with the other children in the orphanage (which are all white kids in the movie, but we have Jay-Z to edit that narrative with his "Hardknock Life" remix).  We continued to ebb and flow between the positive and negative take-aways from the film, and came next with a negative: Couldn't Annie be read as pseudo-propaganda that promotes the myth of "pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps?" And can we see how optimism can act as purposeful blinders of reality? Certainly, we agreed, this is a risk, but this is exactly what Snediker tries to challenge. He says Edelman's reading of optimism, using Annie as an exemplar, is not critical, and that there are other ways to frame on posit utopian projects.

We then watched the "Free to Be You and Me" clip, a song performed by a young Michael Jackson and Roberta Flack for the Marlo Thomas children's book special. We interrogated whether or not we could get anything positive out of this video. Becky wondered, Is "hope" to "not change", and if so, doesn't this mean there's no room for growth? Angela stated that autonomy does not exist in terms of change, that change is inevitable, so for MJ and RF to be desiring a certain stagnancy or static-ness is not only not progressive, but also impossible. But perhaps there is some queer-play at work in this video, as it does challenge the heteronormative linear progress script. We talked about the author who noted that "Queers throw the best parties," and the way that queer world-making promotes 'fun' over normative notions of success, not dissimilar to the way children do (and the way that MJ and RF are singing about).  So, we wondered, could we actually see this clip as a site of resistance?

We also briefly mentioned the way that the Right and the Left have seemed to switch places in terms of rhetorical identity on the political spectrum. Although we had Obama campaigning with "hope," we also had McCain as the "Maverick" and Palin as the "Rogue."  How do these rhetorics play out against the rhetoric of fear? Here, Sara brought up Cornell West's notion of "tragic hope," or "tragic comic hope" and related that to our discussion of "cautious optimism."

Our next clip was from the film "Gidget." We watched a scene in which Gidget is lamenting that she could "just parish from shame for coming home pure as the driven snow." [Note: We determined that, due to the year the film was released, that being "not pure" would have meant being pinned or kissed, not "going all the way"].  We also pointed out the picture on her wall that read "To Be a Real Woman is to Bring Out the Best in a Man." We drew from Snediker to talk about Gidget's "shame," and what this meant in terms of shattering visions of the optimistic.

Our fourth clip was from the film "The Examined Life," where we watched an interview with Avital Ronell.  She talked about how it is "easier to live life with directions of what is right and wrong," but that "anxiety allows for experimentation."  Ronell observed that Bush shows no anxiety for sending prisoners to the death penalty, and so we are being told that a good conscious is worthless. Ronell states that "a responsible person thinks they never did anything [worth while for social change]" and that there is "an anxiety about unachieved democracy."

(We then took a break and enjoyed Sophie's delicious vegan cookies!)

When we returned we jumped into Munoz. We read him as saying that collectivity is necessary for utopia, and that the death-drive camp of the queer theory circle fail to look at intersectionality (and is indeed a thesis that privileges the gay, white male). At this point we unpacked why it is that Snediker uses "person" over "subject," and assess that this is a strategic move that challenges the way that "subject" becomes nothing more than theoretical jargon that does not allow for persons to be, or for concrete daily modalities to be intelligible. Furthermore, Snediker agrees with Munoz that the death-drive is not a good model, and polemicizes, "one does not shatter when one is fucked." Sara also brought us back to the point Munoz makes about the way a singer does something to a song that allows them to inhabit words differently. Sara asked, "Is the shared impulse a feeling/example of optimism?" Angela stated, quite simply: "Yes."

At this point Florence gave her presentation on the film "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." We watched the song "Wig In a Box," in which Hedwig sings about wearing her wigs to transform "until [she] wakes up and turns back to [her]self."  Florence gave really insightful analsysis on themes of containment (wig in a box as queer appropriation), and how the film should be read as more of a comedy than a tragedy. There is a transformative moment for Hedwig only when she perform in front of an audiences. Florence poses, "If she cannot be herself for real, she is going to exaggerate playing with her identity." Again, we see optimism as a survival stragey. We also bring in the idea of Queer Affect: use of angery and melancholy, and Hedwigs dancing trance to express anger when words are not available. We also read Hedwigs identity as a performed identity (and also a disidentification). The wig is transformative, but is also "not natural." We wonder aloud about the meaning o fthe backup singer who is either FTM or MTF, maybe? (Maybe the not-knowing is the whole point!).  To conclude, we discuss the implications of Plato's Symposium, upon which Hedwig is partly based, and the idea that everyone has a partner to whom they used to be attached, and that, although some combos were man/man and woman/woman, there were still always just two ("Why two?!"-JB).  

As usual, we didn't exactly have many answers, but there seemed to be a consensus that there is potentiality in optimism and the belief in utopia, but, yes, a *critical * utopia and optimism.

...and, since it's finals time, I think that hope and optimism is starting to manifest as a survival strategy for all of us too. : )

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