So this week I wrote a story. But I don't think I'm going to post it.
There's some info about people I still hang out with. Those people probably wouldn't appreciate me airing their shit on the web. Besides, it's not that amazing of a story. Just kind of funny to me. Sort of a butterfly effect of how something I said went on to do more damage than I intended (which was "no damage").
Anyways, I'm working on something new.
In the meantime, here's an essay written five years ago for a Latin American Gender Studies class at UC Santa Cruz:
Thanks to Ed O'Neill for turning me on to Bruce LaBruce.
When speaking on the subject of hegemonic culture/ideology, the concept almost universally brings to mind ideas of patriarchy, heteronormativity, whiteness, Judeo-Christian religious imposition, etc… But when one falls outside the boundaries of even one of these establishments, there is often another to takes its place. In respect to queer culture, there becomes a new set of standards to which one must prescribe in order to fully be accepted as such (queer). A dominant ideology is reestablished within an already marginalized culture. The desire to form a queer identity is then problematic when, for example, a person of color finds a lack of personal/cultural relevance or representation within what is supposed to be queer culture.
However, when a white male (assumed to be the backbone of hegemonic society) finds that his sexuality exists outside of the heteronormative ideology, but that he essentially has no place in queer culture, there becomes a question as to, “Why?” And further, as to “What is a viable alternative?” This essay will attempt to answer these questions through the exploration of a marginalized homosexual subculture, phrased loosely as “homocore” or “queercore” (something that could be argued to no longer exist today), and the analysis of one of its pioneers, Bruce LaBruce, and his second film, Super 8 ½.
As Gloria Anzaldua points out in her article, “To(o) Queer the Writer- Loca, Escritora, y Chicana,” it is evident that within any group of people “there is an impulse to nail things down,” to designate a certain “criteria” in order to pass for one identity or another. In the context of queer culture, “when those criteria are applied to people who fall outside of the characterizations defined by white, middle-class lesbians and gays… it feels very totalitarian” (Anzaldua, 267).
So when it comes to Canadian art-porn filmmaker Bruce LaBruce, perhaps it is not his racial identity (he is very much white) or even his economic status that separates and even exiles him from dominant gay culture, but rather his ideological independence. It was, after all, his white, middle-class upbringing, best described as “isolated” and “idyllic,” that proved the source of his original discontent (Cornelius). His sexuality apparently did not fit within the bounds of hegemonic culture, but his whiteness was not enough to then easily assimilate with queer convention. As phrased by LaBruce himself, “I… do not now, nor have I ever felt part of any gay community… I never quite understood why everyone tried to look like everybody else, and why if you didn’t conform to the precise uniform, and the Pavlovian behavioral patterns, and the doctrinaire politics, you were treated with a contempt that you might expect to be reserved for some kind of enemy. To me, it was as cold and uninviting a country as the straight world that loathed me” (LaBruce, 192-193).
LaBruce’s place of belonging then became that of punk culture in the 1980’s-90’s. It was not an ethnic background or sexual identity that united him with others, but rather an aesthetic (perhaps anti-aesthetic) or ideology of alternative that proved a common ground. “The gay underworld used to be the refuge for misfits and malcontents, a meeting place not only for the sexually adventurous, but for anyone who didn’t fit in, or resisted being programmed, or was rejected or ostracized by the heterosexual system. But now punk had become the repository of lost souls, and all the excesses and conceits of style and political radicalism and the pure anarchic melodrama that had once been the crowning glory of homosexual disenfranchisement suddenly belonged to a mob of snot-nosed, fucked-up kids” (LaBruce, 193). Still, the punk scene is not immune from the condemnation of what appears foreign. So getting “beat up… for showing super-8 movies with brash homosexual content, or appearing in bands with a decidedly fruity demeanour” or just for being a “fag” is not uncommon (Labruce, 193). So in further search for acceptance, a reactionary movement was formed, “homocore: the bastard child of two once exciting, volatile underground movements, gay and punk” resulting in a “relationship to popular culture… marked by aesthetic and sexual antagonism” (LaBruce, 194; Munoz, 429).
And like other self-proclaimed gay artists, for example the “independent video and filmmakers [who] have responded with particular passion to the AIDS crisis,” the proponents of “homocore” too have a desire to express themselves (Navarro, 39). Ever since “gay culture… has been identified as a demographic which can be economically exploited by corporations, it is to the advantage of those who can capitalize on its commodification to make it as innocuous and non-threatening as possible in order to market it. Queercore was and probably remains a form of rebellion against this process” (Cornelius). So if there is a definitive idea of what “queercore” is not, then there becomes the question as to what it is, or rather what constitutes “queercore” art? The answer lies somewhere in the representation of sexuality that does not retain the safe normalcy stamped on to homosexuality by corporate agendas. It is the expression of those who are marginalized for their sexual lifestyle (i.e. street hustlers, porn stars, dragqueens, sadists, masochists, etc…). It is reactionary but also independent of mainstream sexual ideology. It comes as no surprise then when Bruce LaBruce’s artistic expression comes, more or less, in the form of pornography.
LaBruce’s second film, Super 8 ½, is in essence “queercore” cinema: a narrative, pseudo-documentary, and porno flick all rolled into one. The film details fictional gay ex-porn star/director, Bruce (played by Bruce LaBruce), as he is made the subject of an exploitation documentary by an artist named Googie. The title is multi-layered, referencing Fellini’s 8 ½ in the context of Bruce’s last adult film which he was unable to finish, the fact that he shot his earlier work on super-8 film, and as pointed out in the narrative, the supposed size of his penis (in inches).
In form alone, the film takes on traditional activist aesthetics (queercore being, in part, reactionary is inherently activist). The shaky camera work, the frequent zooms and focus issues, and the poorly dubbed sound all cater to what activists in other concentrations have put forth due to the claim that “‘Armed propaganda’ goes nowhere if bogged down by corporate approaches to the technical aspects of logo manufacturing and the unfathomable cost of crystal-clear images and sound” (Saalfield, 27-28). It appears dirty, messy, and because of it, perhaps more authentic. It as if to say the filmmakers cannot be bothered to ensure a steady image when the content being created is sensational, and further, to be progressive one cannot deliver a product that is clean and easily digestible. But as a self-aware reproach to becoming pretentious in relation to the aesthetics of activist art, Bruce states in his own film that, “I guess you could say that not
knowing how to operate a camera, dropping the camera frequently, and not being able to afford a new prescription for my contact lenses worked to my advantage.” Other than to serve the purpose of self-reflection (and humor), this claim also infers that to work outside of traditional and commercial art is to stray from traditional and formal education surrounding technical skill. The aesthetic of activist cinema is almost inherent due to the expertise (or lack thereof) of the filmmakers.
But in regards to the content, Super 8 ½ follows very specific reactionary formulas in order to fall in line with the queercore ideology. It very explicitly represents those marginalized by their sexuality through the expression of that sexuality. In contrast to Gloria Anzaldua’s view on the idea that as queer (“lesbian” in her text) artists “the predominant concern of… work [being] sexual… makes us view our sexuality in a preconstructed way,” LaBruce’s work is representative of those who already understand themselves as sexual beings apart from the hegemonic ideal (Anzaldua, 274-5). For example, a pornographer expressing himself through a pornographic act is not doing so because it is understood that he must. It is because he already identifies as a pornographer and this is as much a part of him as anything else. Like Labruce puts it himself, “I seem to be happiest flat on my back with my legs in the air in front of a whirring camera. I guess that’s my way of asking the world to love me” (LaBruce, 195).
Amidst the narrative and pseudo-documentary that is Super 8 ½, Bruce LaBruce has interspersed clips from pornographic films his fictional character was supposed to have starred in or directed (the clips look to have been shot just for this film). One such clip shows him performing oral sex on a man who lays on a workout bench, just finishing up his set of bench presses. It is during this point that a self-reflexive voice over is narrated by the documentary filmmaker, Googie, in which she states, “He was trying to break the traditional camera-subject relationship. He would look right in the camera, upstage the other actors, adlib, flub lines deliberately to confuse them, wear unusual and distinctive clothing, and accessorize to be stylistically at odds with his costars.” While scripted, and no doubt an attempt to poke fun at the same ideology the film represents, this choreographed sequence points out a real attempt to differentiate oneself through sexual interaction. During the blowjob sequence, Bruce enters the frame where a typical muscle-jock stereotype waits in reverent anticipation. Bruce’s appearance, his stylistic choice, immediately conflicts with the other man. His arms are heavily tattooed, his eyes are outlined in thick eyeliner, his lip is pierced, and his hands are cluttered with silver jewelry, the effect foregrounding himself as a sexual being, drawing attention away from the other performer. The act explicitly depicts him as homosexual but as differing in aesthetics from what one has already identified as homosexual in the scene.
Another pornographic short shows Bruce lying in the middle of the road when an unsuspecting motorist stops to check if he is ok. The two end up having sex when all of a sudden the driver is seen puking on the side of the road and Bruce steals his car. The actor who plays the driver appears later in the film as a disabled hitchhiker who is picked up by two lesbian sisters. The two girls take away his crutches, stick a gun up his ass, and proceed to fist him. These acts not only suggest a desire to express sexuality through unconventional and perhaps socially dangerous means, but the ramifications of the actor’s several roles as an object of sexual “exploitation” suggest a voluntary and conscious decision to be depicted as such. The roles depict fantasies of rape and monetary exploitation through sex, alluding to physically and psychologically masochistic behaviors enjoyed by the participant. Though this behavior is somewhat antagonistic in terms of pornography (most rape scenarios within porn flicks end with the victim taking on an active, consenting role), it is also an expression of legitimate sexual desire (i.e. extreme role play) existing outside of mainstream straight and queer conventions.
But as the validation of sexual practice is plastic (public opinion changes), so must be the aesthetics of queercore. To be reactionary to dominant ideology, the alternative must also progress. Because of this, it may be that queercore is a fading movement. Gay and punk have both been commodified or turned into something more easily digestible by the mainstream consumer. However, in light of LaBruce’s more recent attempts to cross over into purely pornographic mediums, instead of art films with pornographic content, it may be that pornography itself is the new frontier of alternative culture (the last taboo). He states in Michael Cornelius’ article, “LaBruce, Bruce,” that, “I choose to work in pornography because it is one of the few remaining places where homosexuals can express themselves freely and radically without fear of censure” (Cornelius).
In conclusion, upon the realization of the absence of a culture that feels representative and relevant to an individual there seems to be a move to fall in with what is, in essence, the anti-hegemonic culture. For Bruce LaBruce this was punk. But in being antagonistic, punk too did not fully embrace homosexuality. So a new movement arose when needed: queercore. This subculture provided a place for the expression of alternative sexuality within the already marginalized sphere of queer culture. But like anything that becomes popular, it also becomes profitable. The infiltration of corporate agenda removes the ability to personalize one’s own sexuality and so the nature of queercore has to become reactionary, progressive, and activist. It must move beyond what is easily accessible. At its current state it has found itself within arguably the most uncensored form of sexual expression: pornography.
1. Bruce LaBruce. 1995. “The Wild, Wild World of Fanzines: Notes from a Reluctant
Pornographer.” In A Queer Romance: Lesbians, Gay Men, and Popular Culture,
Edited by Paul Burston and Colin Richardson, Routledge: New York.
2. Catherine Saalfield. 1993. “On the Make: Activist Video Collectives.” In Queer Looks:
Perspectives on Lesbian and Gay Film and Video, edited by Martha Gever, John
Greyson, and Pratihba Parmar, 21-37. Routledge: New York.
3. Gloria Anzaldua. 1998. “To(o) Queer the Writer- Loca, escritora, y chicana.” In Living
Chicana Theory, edited by Carla Trujillo, 263-276. Berkeley: Third Woman
4. Jose Esteban Munoz. 2005. “Impossible Spaces: Kevin McCarty’s The Chameleon
Club.” In GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian & Gay Studies, Vol. 11 Issue 3, 427-436,
5. Michael Cornelius. 2002. "LaBruce, Bruce." In GLBTQ Arts, edited by Claude J.
6. Ray Navarro. 1993. “Eso, me esta pasando.” In Queer Looks: Perspectives on Lesbian
And Gay Film and Video, edited by Martha Gever, John Greyson, and Pratihbha
Parmar, 38-40. Routledge: New York.