11 – Refugees, ‘Docile Patriots’& Foucault’s Monsters

One point I found especially interesting and what stuck in my mind from the article by Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan looking at Transanationalism and Global identities was the idea that identities are not only intersectional, but are also global. They shift and move with us and across geographical boundaries, influencing people across the world. These ideas, coupled with the Monster, Terrorist, Fag reading brought me to this project focussing on LGBTQ+ refugees who have migrated from the Middle East to places such as Berlin, Prague and Amsterdam.

I not only find this project necessary and compelling in itself, and really hope it gets funded, but it also connects to some of the themes we considered this past week. For example one of the subjects speaks of the ways in which it was the not the people but the ideologies of where he was before that so negatively affected his life there. He considers this and the influence of religion as the major ways in which the hate toward LGBTQ+ people was constructed and came from. I believe this works as an example of the idea that is presented in Monster, Terrorist, Fag by Jasbir K. Puar and Amit S. Rai of the ‘docile patriot’. This is seen as this person speaks of the way in which it was the ideologies of the place that made it unsafe for LGBTQ+ people there. These ideologies are the major ideas of what is considered ‘acceptable’, right/wrong or aspects to aspire to that are constructed by those who carry the power and authority in society. They trickle down from those in power, being included in and influencing aspects such as the media and therefore the general public that consume it. This creates the ‘docile patriots’ that are presented with this structure of society and dynamic of what is or is not considered acceptable and no easily accessible alternative ideas.

The film and the information on the indiegogo page for it also presents some interesting filming techniques. As they write ‘to connect the stories of the specific refugees, we plan on using snorricam a lot (just like we did in our campaign video). It refers to the selfie aesthetic, but also creates the illusion that a subject is still while the world moves around them.’ I think this is a very interesting idea and functions in a way to create a really great connection between the viewer and the subject. It plays with the ways in which everyone has this power nowadays to construct ourselves online any way we wish. Which is especially interesting to look at in comparison to the ways in which these people who get a new and fresh start somewhere with a freedom be themselves have the chance to recreate/construct and be these new and true versions of who are they are that they couldn’t elsewhere.

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Throughout this film and other narratives surrounding LGBTQ+ refugees the common theme of a country or place considering queer people as having some sort of disease or psychological ‘problem’ is seen. Which, in  my mind, links to the concepts presented by Foucault of the ‘monster’ for example the ‘individual to be corrected’ and the ‘monster to be quarantined’. They are looked at as having something wrong with them that can be ‘cured’ (when they are viewed as having or being diseases) which would place them as the ‘individual to be corrected’ or, as stated in the image below, are thought of as being ‘paedophiles and people must be protected against us’, which would then equate them to the ‘monster to be quarantined’. They are always viewed as the ‘other’, the ‘monster’ and not as ‘normal human beings’. This shows the way in which these identities, label and ideologies are forced upon people and how we discipline ourselves through being these ‘docile patriots’ and not breaking from the structures and marginalising or violent status quo that is presented and preached to us.

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10 – Advertising, Commodification & Orientalism

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These images come from an advertising campaign created for the airline Air France in 2014. They depict mainly white women, except for one image (seen here), wearing what is thought of as ‘traditional’ clothing or costume of the places they are flying to. Right away these photos come across as wrong and uncomfortable, the first (above) makes me think that the people behind the campaign had seen Memoirs of a Geisha and stopped their education on Japanese culture there. It leads right into ideas of using cultures as costume, something this campaign tries to combat, and definitely steps into the realm of cultural appropriate and commodification.

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The image above is one that feels especially uncomfortable, as the makeup used seems to go as far as to change the eye shape of the model in an attempt that comes across as trying to make her look more ‘Chinese’. In an article by Jeff Yang (seen here) he calls these images and what is happening in them ‘racial and cultural drag’, which I thought was a very interesting way of putting it, especially with drag being typically associated with a parody or exaggeration of stereotype. This is certainly true for these images, however there could be further arguments made as to how drag as an art form is much more nuanced and complex than this simple putting on a culture as a costume. But at its base form this is drag, this is people who are not a part of these cultures and not that ethnicity or nationality dressing up in stereotypical garb and using it as an advertising platform for their own gain. They are exploiting these traditions and using problematic and racist tropes to do so, simply constructing caricatures built from their own imagination and not rooted in authenticity.

In the same article by Yang he states:  ‘It’s clear that your ad campaign may be running in the countries of my people, but you’re not actually trying to sell Air France to my people. You’re trying to sell my people to your people.’. I found this point really compelling and so in tune with the idea of the commodification, fetishization and exoticization of people and their cultures. This ad campaign could have chosen to use beautiful images of these countries or photojournalistic/documentary photography of people from these places to show a more authentic representation of the destination, but instead they chose to take, often misused or costume-like parts of these cultures and exploit them for themselves. They commodify the people who do live and are from these places and turn them into their costumes and characters. This puts across an idea that culture is something that can just be taken for personal gain and doesn’t present what travelling is supposed to be somewhat about, which is a sharing of cultures not an imperialistic style of appropriation and asserting dominance or an assumed right to be able to ‘put on’ these cultures and take them off whenever they please.

I also found it interesting that, as far as I know, this ad campaign features only women. Which brings it all right back to one of the basic facets of Orientalism as a whole, which is the feminisation of the ‘East’ by the ‘West’. Although the women here are presented as white, supposedly French, Western women, it still places an emphasis on these cultures as being solely feminine in their dress, art, and theatricality.

The the final image below is supposed to promote their flights to Africa and just really sums up how problematic and racist this is as a whole. All in all I found that this campaign is so misguided in what could have been a nice way of advertising the unique beauty of each destination but is instead one that is full of racism, Orientalism and a commodification of cultures for the benefit of this Western corporation and travellers.It perpetuates a base Orientalist hierarchy or the ‘West’ dominating, taking from and capitalising on the exploitation and sensationalizing of the ‘East’.

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9 – Black Lesbian Visibility, Visual Activism & Community

These images are by photographer Zanele Muholi, she is a described as a South African photographer and visual activist. She mainly works capturing South African lesbian women and hopes to create these images as a showcase for future generations to see what they went through. I found that this linked in a similar way to the idea of The Watermelon Woman as Cheryl, both in the internal narrative of the film and in why the film was made in the first place, tries to draw attention to a forgotten (or purposely excluded) part of history and shed light on the lives of these people.

The photographs show a lot of intimacy. The photos I have included in particular, whether posed or candid show the love and care between these women. The way in which they are all touching throughout the images, and not in a more ‘typical’ way, such as holding hands or kissing, shows more passion and intensity. And even in the image below wherein the women are kissing, this still works as an image that shows this defiance and fighting back against discrimination in a beautiful way. This goes hand in hand with the way in which Muholi states that she wants to show the ways in which these relationships still happened despite the very dangerous threats to their lives and hate crimes surrounding them in South Africa. This knowledge of social/cultural context brings more of a sadness and longing into the images, as the viewer is made aware of the situation in which they have to live and their bravery for publicly showing their love for one another. It has been said that these images show the ‘forbidden intimacy’ between black lesbian women and that these images are a defiance toward ‘those who would erase or destroy Black women’s same sex sexuality.’ (Article Link)

This is the first time I have come across the term ‘visual activist’ but I think its a great term to describe what these visual artists do, it could be applied to Cheryl in The Watermelon Woman and definitely makes sense to label Muholi as one. Activism and visual media are intertwined so greatly and works such as this that are both beautiful in their visual and artistic creation and make a statement and provoke aspects of political and social activism are so important in this fight to make sure no more people or groups of people are excluded from our history books and no one is oblivious to the dangers and difficulties people are facing across the world.

In April 2012 Muholi’s flat in Vredehoek in Cape Town, South Africa was robbed. Over 20 primary back-up hard drives containing photographs from the last 5 years of her work, along with her laptop, were stolen. Little else was taken during this robbery making it clear that it was likely motivated by the wish to have or destroy these images. This is a very sad but not all that surprising fact, as with the discrimination and violence directed toward South African lesbian women and black lesbian or transgender women in general it is no wonder someone wished to destroy the evidence of both beautiful happy and healthy relationships of South African lesbian women and images of the funerals of people subject to the hate crimes themselves.

Muholi states she stated this project to ‘to ensure that there is black lesbian visibility, to showcase our existence and resistance in this democratic society, to present a positive imagery of black lesbians.’ (Article Link). And she has been seen to move many people by doing so. After the robbery in 2012 an indiegogo campaign started by Palm Wine, a new Nigerian LGBT community group raised over $9000 for her to replace the equipment that was stolen. This show of support exemplifies the way in which a community can come together over the importance of the documentation of their own lives and history and showcases the power of these images and the beauty, activism and hope that is a part of them.

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8- ‘Performative Blackness’, RuPaul’s Drag Race & Reality Television

I came across this video a little while ago and was reminded of it after this week’s reading and class discussions. Kat Blaque, the person in the video, brings up some very interesting and, what I would perceive as, correct points in relation to racism, reality television and RuPaul’s Drag Race. One of the first aspects she brings up is the idea that when you have a black contender on the show ‘you already know what kind of queen they’re going to be’ and this is the same with people of other races and body types too, such as Puerto Rican queens and those considered ‘big’ queens who are almost forced into these roles by the editing of the show or through the interactions with other contestants and creators. However, she states that this is not something unique to RuPaul’s Drag Race and this editing of black people throughout reality television commonly happens in a similar way, with them being depicted as the villain or the stereotypical ‘sassy’ black person. This can be considered as being presented in a similar way to Paris Is Burning with Livingston’s choices to edit, present and lead her interviews in a specific way to garner the outcome she wished for, forgoing a more ‘truthful’ telling and taking the sensationalised route.

What is especially interesting however, and is something Blaque considers also, is the fact that RuPaul’s Drag Race is produced and run by a gay black man. Blaque even goes as far to call RuPaul himself ‘anti-black’. I found I agreed with most of things she was saying, especially with the exploration of the editing and then performative nature of ‘blackness’ on both Drag Race and other shows. However, what I did find a little confusing was the way in which she stated, in relation to RuPaul, ‘any time he tries to connect with his race it is done in this very contrived way and there’s this distance between himself and what he’s connecting to, he’s not trying to say, this is me, this is part of me, this is who I am, he’s saying this is some aspect of black culture that I’m going to wear and put on right now’. I feel as though maybe I’m misunderstanding something here, but what stood out to me was almost this feeling that she did not view him as being ‘black enough’ just by being black, there is this notion that he has to act in a certain way and relate to certain things to be considered as connecting to his race. However, she could be speaking more generally about the way he is on the show itself, with him pushing these tropes onto queens and making them into performative things done by both him and the contestants. It has been said that RuPaul constructs and presents this black narrative that is comfortable for his mainstream, majority white audience and, in this sense, I would therefore agree with the idea of him being disconnected from this culture and using it in a negative way that promotes stereotypes and commodifies them further. When comparing this show to the Paris Is Burning documentary and taking this line of thought, it can be argued that RuPaul, the same as Livingston, is almost working as an outsider looking in, just presenting things learnt through perpetuated stereotypes and choosing to work within those to create an image the white society wants and will accept.

This can be seen to relate to thoughts on the performance of blackness and therefore a kind of commodification that comes from it. This can also be considered in the relying on tropes, especially within ‘Hollywood’ drag, and these tropes being commonly not positive ones. An example of this can be seen within one of the most recent episodes of Season 8 of Drag Race wherein the challenge ‘RuCo’s Empire’ is seen. The challenge was set up as a parody of the television show Empire, a series that features majority black characters and is set in the music industry, you can see from the images below that it was one built within stereotypes from the way people dressed and held themselves and this was carried over into the acting as well. This has been criticised by many people as being said to ‘evoke blackface without the dark makeup’ (Article Link).The non-black contestants were instructed how to act to seem more ‘black’, taking on the slang, stereotyped behaviour and fashion of black women as they were scripted and instructed by coaches RuPaul and Faith Evans to do so. And the sketches were conducted and written in such a way that there wasn’t really any way out for those people who may not wish to be a part of it. In an article coincidentally written by Kat Blaque, the person in the initial video, in reflection of this episode she states how with this show being mainstream and it perpetuating these stereotypes it relates to ‘how certain ideas play into biases that maintain the status quo of white supremacy’. (Article Link)

This same idea is presented in bell hooks’ reading of Paris Is Burning and cross-dressing/drag in general wherein it is stated ‘Appearing as a “woman” within a sexist, racist media was a way to become in “play” that “castrated” silly childlike black male that racist white patriarchy was comfortable having as an image in their homes. These televised images of black men in drag were never subversive; they helped sustain sexism and racism.’ (Hooks, 146) This is mirrored especially within this sketch on Drag Race as the competitors are playing off, and instructed to play off, every stereotype of black womanhood they can find and therefore continue to present this damaging and cyclical depiction of black women in the media that filters into their everyday life and impacts all aspects of it.

7 – Queer Visibility & New Media

Within the readings this week I found I was most drawn to the pieces that considered the way in which new media, social media and how people access their media impacts visibility and the power of the audience. I found that throughout the texts there was both positive and negative thoughts of these changes and advances in technology. Lynne Joyrich in her article ‘Queer Television Studies: Currents, Flows, and (Main)streams’ considers this in an unsure or slightly negative way, as she considers the ‘splintering’ of the audience now that print media has been ‘replaced by a disparate combination of Facebook pages, the Twittersphere, and unpaid and uneven blog-style writing swamping us from all directions’. (138-9) The choice of the word ‘disparate’ particularly caught my attention as Joyrich uses it in a negative context whereas, in my opinion, this ‘disparate’ internet space is one of great diversity and celebration of those both adequately represented in mainstream media and those not. It may be difficult to navigate, and I will not argue with her description of it ‘swamping us from all directions’ (138-9) however, I personally do think of this social and digital media space as a positive space for education and representation. It also gives back some of the power to the audience, they can speak up when unhappy and as more of a collective. In ‘Queer Asian Cinema and Media
Studies: From Hybridity to Critical Regionality’ Audrey Yue talks of ‘the introduction of digital media technologies and their capacity to inform new self and group identities’ (149), this forming of communities online gives people, not only a safe space to be themselves and find others who feel similar, but also a community to stand by them and speak out against the mainstream in issues such as representation and diversity.

This selection of images by the artist Gabriel Garcia Roman showcases how social media can be used to bring visibility toward marginalised and under-represented groups of people and in such a way that how they are presented is under their control and not up to a group of usually white, cis, straight men in a Hollywood writers room. His images in this selection, entitled ‘Queer Icons’ are portraits of self identifying Queer and Trans People of Color (QTPoC) and mimic the set-up and style of portraits of religious icons. His series is said to have been inspired ‘by a desire to show the diversity of a population that often goes under-represented’ and showcase ‘icons’ within the community; ‘people who are working at gaining visibility with issues or simply the identity of being a Queer person of color’. (http://ow.ly/10dHoc).

The images are brightly colored as a way of showing a distinction from older religious iconography and the backgrounds, created by a silkscreen method, are unique to each portrait, reflecting the individual identity of the person. When the subject does some sort of artistic work themselves, such as poetry, Garcia Roman allows them to put a personal touch on their images, letting them hand draw or write on the image, he states, ‘I wanted to give them a canvas to speak about their identity, I wanted to amplify their voice’. (http://ow.ly/10dHoc) This contrasts greatly to the Hollywood way of working and representing Queer characters, wherein they have little say in the writing process and creation, resulting in damaging tropes and stereotypes being perpetuated in mainstream media about those that are marginalised by it. By giving these under-represented people a platform like this, that is unique and mostly under their control, Garcia Roman is fighting back against these mainstream spaces that do not allow groups such as QTPoC within them or do not do their characters and story-lines justice.

Using social media for this project’s main form of distribution and exhibition also shows a fighting against or a shift from a mainstream way in which the art world functions. Garcia Roman opts to step away from the ‘traditional’ forms of gallery exhibitions and print publication (which, as stated by Joyrich are ‘vanishing’ (138) as a whole and in their celebration of queer work) and instead presents his work online, in a space that is more accessible to a wider range of people and a space that could be argued to be in itself more ‘queer’. Social media, for the most part, benefits queer people and their work by not having the same limitations as traditional media, there is less impact from people such as showrunners, producers and companies that control what can and can’t be put on screen. With artists such as Garcia Roman using this platform as a space to ‘amplify’ the voices of those marginalised by other forms of media it becomes a space of celebration and visibility for those whose voices are silenced and misrepresented elsewhere.

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