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October 1994


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"Edward R. O'Neill" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 26 Oct 1994 00:33:00 PDT
text/plain (84 lines)
 The I-didn't-get-it-so-it-wasn't-there school of film viewing seems to
have taken hold, judging by recent posts. One post-er claims not to have
detected any clues that The Secret Beyond the Door was anal rape. Um,
two men with accents out of Deliverance and a prisoner in full leather?
Or, put another way: I'd love to tell you what time it is, but my watch
is up my father's ass. If that wasn't a big clue for you, I don't
know what would constitute a BIG ENOUGH clue.
  Which returns to the question of invisibility or the deniability of
homosexuality. When it is hinted at or implied (by perfectly specifiable
codes), it can always go unrecognized. AGAIN, Vito Russo's The Celluloid
Closet is absolutely necessary reading for anyone, gay or straight, who
is interested in the processes of cultural denial.
  One recent post goes so far as to say that the torturers are not homo-
sexual, merely sadists. As I tried to suggest last time, this substit-
ution of the general for the specific leaves out the specific content
of what we see onscreen. Although I admit the whole question of what
constitutes a representation (or even a suggestion) of homosexuality is
a significant one, since the very definition of homosexuality has itself
been under almost constant mutation at least since 1500.
  More specifically, during the Renaissance, there was no homosexuality as
an innate characteristic of individuals, as a trait; rather, there was
sodomy as an act, and sodomites were defined in relation to that act.
Homosexuality as a personality trait was 'invented' in the late 1800's
with the rise of medical psychiatry, and it was generally imagined to be
a gender disorder. Although the connotations of gender still cling to
homosexuality, we have, I would suggest, reached a new phase, epitomized
by the military, in which homosexuality is a purely abstract aspect
of ourselves that we can *declare*: it's a speech act.
  All of which isto suggest that the issue of who is homosexual or in
what this homosexuality consists (an act, a state of mind, etc.) is not
an external question but one central to the on-going process of naming
and constructing homosexuality.
  My favorite recent example of denial--which also speaks to questions
not about the representation of homosexuality but about its social
construction--is as follows:
> One
> guy putting his penis in another guy's anus does not mean it is homosexual
> sex.
Then what is? To be fair, the author differentiates rape from sex. But my
point in my earlier post was that this image has little to do with homo-
sexuality as, for example, I myself live it, but it has everything to do
with the culture's obsession with masculinity, male pride and violence--
which are very much central for Tarantino. This image of gay sex (if not
of gays) is significant not for what it says about gays--it says
nothing--but it's very significant for what it says about homophobia,
which is not the same thing as saying the film itself or the director
are homophobic.
   The read-it-as-you-like-it criticism continues:
> As for race in Pulp Fiction (at least one person is connecting the two so
> I'll respond here), I think that the race of the different characters is
> highly insignificant. You can read whatever you want to into the image of a
> southern white man raping a black man but that depends on what you bring to
> it, not on what is there or intended.
While I would admit that different viewers bring different responses, this
hardly excuses us from analyzing what the film DOES present us by throwing
up our hands and shouting "Whatever!"
  In conclusion, Pulp Fiction's treatment of race (which cuts across
the film) and its brief treatment of homophobia are doubtless closely
related, as Cynthia Fuchs's posts have suggested (admirably). For me
the fact of Marcellus and Mia being an interracial couple is most sig-
nificant for how lightly it is treated in the plot: all the tension
one would expect around the issue of race is displaced elsewhere, notably
onto the threat that Mia poses as another man's property. Further, the
Travolta-Jackson relationship is developed with such care (and at such
length), that it is hard not to see that racial tensions are carefully
brought up by the film only to be neutralized and displaced, as I
suggested when I said that the *function* of the rape-and-rescue scene
is not to demonstrate Butch's putative honor (such responses fail to
interrogate exactly how honor is defined in this macho world) but
rather to consolidate this male bond between boss and rebellious servant
by creating an extreme point on the male homosocial spectrum--the phantasy
of sadistic male sexual violation (*not* actual gay sex)--which puts
the two men, Marcellus and Butch, safely on the same side of the violence
endemic to male bonds.
  And by the way, did anyone else laugh every time Bruce Willis was
called "Butch"? The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
--Edward R. O'Neill, UCLA