by Joyelle McSweeney on Nov.21, 2011
Reading over Seth’s post below and the intensely negative reaction it’s garnered, a few thoughts come to mind.
1. The Boyesque is Real
I grew up with two brothers and a sister, and watched a lot of cartoons with my little brother because I didn’t have any interest in the girl ones. Those cartoons are a steady diet of violence. The models of embodiment they offer young boys are either human-animal hybrid, robot-truck hybrid, or superhuman (He-man). These figures are themselves media for sexy violence, shown to each other or to the single female character on the show, generally wearing a bustier and generally tied up and shot with a laser of some kind. Whether Thundercats, He-men, or Transformers, these male cartoonish violent avatars all walked around in a glamorous nimbus of sex and firepower. The violence children are exposed to through these cartoons is real, it does a violence to them. Male identified children are supposed to perpetrate the violence, and females to receive it. The Boyesque and Gurlesque, respectively, seem to me to seize hold of these glamorous nimbuses of violence and force it to do unauthorized things.
2. Mediated/Art Violence is Real Violence
Seth’s covered this one in the comments field below. But I agree: violence in the media does a real violence to children and actually to all those who come in contact with it. The violence enters the viewer and re-emerges through fantasy, action, or just a troubling fluency in violence itself. My very well behaved Catholic undergrads at Notre Dame have no problem writing texts full of ultraviolence when assigned to do so (and I do assign them to try this– just to show them how much of a knowledge of the physics of violence we have). A real world application of this, if you must have one, is the guys who, trained up on video games, operate the ‘drones’, bombing Afghan wedding parties from computer consoles at bases in Virginia. These soldiers basically play a killer video game for 12 hrs at a go, and apparently their PTSD is considerable.
3. The Boyesque, like the Gurlesque, is not a Critique.
The Boyesque it seems to me, offers a response-via-not critique or fantasy removal or prohibition of violence. Instead, analogously to the Gurlesque, it pulls this fantasmatic yet real violence to itself, forces itself to don the ill-fitting and ridiculous super-manly bodies of Saturday morning cartoons– and, importantly, commercials– and stomp out through the Ghostbusters movie-set universe. But, like the Gurlesque’s inhabitance of the cartoonishly ‘girly’, it could fail to wear this body. It could fail to survive it. It certainly refuses to restore order, like superheroes and heteronorms are supposed to. And it refuses to give us good liberals a safe place to stand. We’re going to get covered in that StayPuft gunk as well. Maybe the Stay-Puft marshmallow man is an ill-gendered suicide bomber whose body is a weapon is a costume. Maybe Puar would agree.
4. Boys vs. Girls is a Consumer Product
Seth likes consumer products, and one ‘product’ we’re given to consume through the media and commercials is boys vs girls. The fact that toys, clothes, and entertainment comes in pink or blue flavors proves this. One response might be critique, an essay or something. Seth’s post, it seems to me, takes the Boyesque route. It makes Boys vs Girls a flamboyant, go-for-broke messy mud-fight. It’s blue supersoakers vs. pink, blue silly string vs pink, and Seth, it seems, fully expects to end up tied to a flagpole by a pink jumprope.
Seth wants to stage a pageant war between the Gurlesque and the Boyesque, make it ludicrous, oversized, and flamboyant. Why not?
5. The Gurlesque is Not Dead
Obviously if a tempest like this one can stir up on a Sunday afternoon, the Gurleque is not a dead term in American poetry conversation. Hate it, love it, or feel ambivalent about it, it has some purchase on our thinking about gender, texts and violence.
6. Boy is a Gender, Too
Please. One of the things that really surprises me about the response to Seth’s post is the assigning to him of the roles of male, privilege, hetero, and, inevitably, heterosexist. But Seth hasn’t claimed any of those identities. The only one he claims is ‘Boy’. As Boy George has shown us, the category of Boy is hardly a heteronormative one. Boy is not Daddy. Boy is not Man, or even Male. Boy is not necessarily straight. Boy is what Seth thinks it is. Isn’t that what 21st queer studies to show us? To assign him the role of white, straight, male, hetero privilege is not only to make assumptions about where he’s coming from but, it seems to me, to think with exactly the kind of ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ that queer studies is supposed to critique– that is, it assumes male-straight-white-privileged is the default position until proven otherwise. Frankly, I think the same error has been made in sizing up the Gurlesque. It doesn’t seem to me these Gurls made a claim to any identity but Gurl– and that’s not the same as able bodied property owning women of voting age. To make a bunch of guesses about their backgrounds and identity and to evaluate their positions based on these seems to me to just replicate compulsory normative thinking by assuming a certain unmarked cultural position until proven otherwise.
We feminist, queer, disability media critics are supposed to be more thoughtful than that.
Does the Staypuft marshmallow man really strike you as a figure of heteronormative oppression? Then why does he have to be blown up with a laser gun by the troop of wisecracking male movie stars so they can control the reproductive choices of Sigourney Weaver?
[[7. This is so obvious to me that I forgot to articulate this before: I don’t think the category ‘Gurl’ or ‘Boy’ are modes that you need a certain biological or cultural identity pass to participate in, not at all. If ever there were lit modes that recognized the cultural construction of gender these would be the ones.]]