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Jack Halberstam's lecture

I also attended the scholarly lecture given by Jack Halberstam on Thursday evening, April 26th in the Nolte Center.
After awkwardly making my way to a chair nearly touching the podium in the small lecture room in Nolte (too late to get an inconspicuous seat!), introductions to scholar and author Jack Halberstam were made. Maybe I’m sucked into grand introductions (usually not the case), but just by listening to the person describing both their own relationship with and the personal achievements of Jack, I could tell that he was special, and important. I learned that this influential transgendered author had done a lot of work at the U of M, but is currently a professor at the Center for Feminist Research at USC.

When he took the podium, I didn’t know what to expect; I also didn’t expect the person sitting to my right to be Jack himself.
When he stood at the podium, he had a presence that captured the audience. When he opened his mouth, I held onto every word. Aside from his unapologetic, strong attitude, I was struck by his vocabulary before I noticed anything else. It harkened back to many a conversation we’d had in class about feminist scholarship, and how many words get adapted and created- to note a few, I heard ‘transbiological’, anthropomorphizing, collective imaginaries before anything else. My instincts told me to listen as closely as possible and apply what he was saying to his subject matter. Now I sound clunky and foolish- what I mean to say is, his manner was learned and very smart.
I didn’t really know what sort of subject matter he’d be talking about; the info I’d gotten on the course blog suggested that he’d be discussing sexualities, norms, and ways of making change. To my surprise, these themes were explored using the lense of popular films and animation.
Jack used the term animation loosely- he construed it to mean any type of heightened, removed reality—although he mentioned CGI movies like Finding Nemo, TV animation like Spongebob Squarepants and claymation like The PJs, we first discussed the ‘collective imaginary’ found in the popular documentary ‘March of the Penguins’. Jack discussed the ways in which the film contradicted itself, how the Christian right grabbed a hold of this film that essentially preaches family values (according to Morgan Freeman’s narration) though may in fact not capture what the narration is attempting to portray. Jack discussed the inherent assumptions made in the narration about females vying for male sexual partners, about the tragedy of a small family unit of penguins being torn apart. By imposing heterosexual, “family? norms upon the penguins, “we? are seeing what “we? want to see, a collective imagined reality, as opposed to what might be occurring with the penguins (be it homosexual expressions or collective care of babies as opposed to couples alone).
Yet the ability of some animation to capture deeply entrenched norms wasn’t what Jack was truly getting at in his presentation- instead, he spoke about animation’s ability to break molds and fight against social norms by nature of being abstract expression. He discussed many ‘breakout’ stories, including Finding Nemo (father fish a mother character, Ellen Degeneres’) and ‘Seed of Chucky’. He discussed the fact that animation can in fact express radical, new ways of thinking to help us imagine a new reality in which heterosexuality, homosexuality and gender are not the rigid categories that they persist in being in contemporary times.
Jack talked about a host of subjects tangentially, all of which were very interesting (the politicization of the nuclear family, the ‘wrong’ thing being animated often when certain stereotypes are broken but others persist, especially racial stereotypes in animation; animating revolt in the mainstream). I came away impressed and very thoughtful, because the lecture was both understandable and accessible in addition to being very fascinating. I have a keener eye and understanding of the imagined realities that we find not only in animation but in any pop culture caricature, and the ways in which we can change these realities to stop reinforcing closed-minded norms.