Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Untitled (2)

Early this morning, a blood orange sun like I've never seen before and thick fog. And yet I can't truly enjoy the view. All I can think of is how deeply corrupted it feels. Because I'm not just passing by, this is my prison. A temporary prison, but a prison nonetheless. Is this what life is? Exchanging one prison for another? I wish I weren't such a bad student, I wish I could learn freedom from bell hooks.

And now, listening to Simon Joyner's Grass, Branch & Bone. The perfect soundtrack to my mood.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Ugly and Unfuckable

Of course someone like Jamie Dornan wants to be seen as more than just a pretty face. But it's exactly because of that pretty face that he's given the chance to prove he can be more. 

Girls like me, ugly and unfuckable (+), have no other choice than to be more than a face, more than a body. So what to do when you can't rise above mediocrity? When you stay stupid. In more ways than one.

Reading interviews like this one with Meredith Graves of Perfect Pussy doesn't help either. When beautiful people talk about their insecurities, on one hand, like Fariha Roísín says, you don't wanna be dismissive of their feelings, but on the other hand, it's always hard to suppress an eye roll. Because if they're so insecure, then how the fuck should I feel? I should just lock myself in my room, shouldn't I? (Well, I guess I sorta did that for 3+ years, on and off.)

I've been driving myself crazy thinking of this. I wrote my fucking thesis on body image issues. I should know better than to give in to this negative self-talk. At that time, doing the research, writing about media representations, and focusing on ED and plastic surgery - I'd never felt that had anything to do with me.

I now realized I had been downplaying my insecurities for years. I think I was actually proud of myself for being able to look at women's magazines, wishing for a second I looked like those girls / women, but being aware it was their job to look like that, never feeling like I needed to go on a diet or to a beauty salon. But while I was telling myself all these things, the girls around me - already pretty - internalized the message of all those images all too well and they did go on diet after diet and they did subject themselves to expensive,  time-consuming beauty treatments. So now I don't even have to look at photos of models and actresses to feel bad about myself. It's enough to look at the girls / women around me, or on my tumblr dashboard, or on Instagram, etc. (Basically, my thesis has become, in a really short time, a historical account of media representations of the female body and its effects on girls / women. It's completely out of touch with what's going on now.)

I feel like all those insecurities that have been somewhat dormant have now come back with a vengeance.

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"You get the face you deserve." I can't even pinpoint the origin of this quote, I've heard it in so many places. And no matter how many times I hear it, it still has the power to destroy me. It's a reminder of how stupid I've been about my face. Not taking care of it. Playing it tough and saying "it doesn't matter." 

And it really wouldn't matter IF -

If I were a good writer. If I were a better reader. If I had a job that I liked / were good at, or: If I knew how to do the freelance thing. If I were financially independent. If I had my own place in Cluj. Etc. etc.

"Good" would still not be good enough but at least it's not "bad" / "mediocre."

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(+) I guess I stole this from Jessa. Besides some random posts at The Hairpin and The Toast, she's the only one who talks about the women that interest me. Spinsters. She's also the one whom I can count on to provide a list of inspirational reading material. A collection of books and quotes that I hope will turn "ugly and unfuckable" into fuel. Fuel to push me further. To become a good writer, to become a better reader, to think more, to think better.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

An Addendum to Psihopați, Fifty Shades și anxietăți feministe (3)

Do you trust me?

The hottest moments in Fifty Shades of Grey are merely tangential to the sex. The moment before he ties her hands for the first time, when he asks her "Do you trust me?" and she nods affirmatively. Her leaving after the negotiation. In the Red Room, when he hits her for the first time and asks "How did it feel?" and: eyes downcast, a naughty smile on her lips, she answers "Good, Sir."

*

Dakota Johnson's performance outshines Jamie Dornan's, there's no doubt about that. And after having seen him in The Fall, his performance here is rather disappointing but I wouldn't go as far as to say it's a disaster, like most reviewers seem to suggest. In fact, I think he brings to surface smth essential, that I don't know how many people have noticed. At the end of the third book, there's some bonus material: scenes from Christian Grey's perspective - from his childhood, but also the first two times he meets Ana. It's where we finally see his insecurities (Is she gonna be into what he has in mind? What's the best way to approach her, let her know he's interested? Is she interested in him?). I don't know how much this might have informed Dornan's performance, or how much of the credit is due to Sam Taylor-Johnson's notes, but I do think he's played Grey's vulnerability really well. Moreover, when he's about to take her to see the playroom for the first time, his hand is shaking. And I'm sure that's just Dornan's body reacting to sleep deprivation, or whatever, but it's one of those details that makes all the difference. After coming across like such a cold lover ("I don't make love. I fuck. Hard.") the light shaking of his hand allows me, as a viewer, to think he's still nervous about revealing his secret.

Dornan is tall, he's 32, and yet there are moments in this movie when he almost looks like an insecure teenager falling in love for the first time. It's as if the suits he's wearing are the suits the teenagers from 80s movies are wearing - a symbol of adulthood and nothing more. Fifty Shades of Grey is, in spirit, a teen movie. In the same way Sofia Coppola's movies, even those with adult characters, are inherently adolescent. Naturally, Fifty Shades of Grey doesn't reach the level of sophistication of Coppola's movies (mostly b/c of the source material). But the thread that connects this movie - that so many are quick to dismiss as junk - to Coppola's work (besides Jamie Dornan) is the lack of cynicism and condescension. It was only when I read Sylvia Day's Bared to You, which did contain a considerable dose of cynicism, that I realized why I responded more positively than negatively to 50 Shades. How rare it is to find smth devoid of cynicism these days! Even the irony in the movie - directed at the source material - is so light that on screen it's translated into sweet playfulness.
 
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It's certainly been interesting to see how people have reacted to the movie. To see who's willing to do what I call "an exercise in intellectual humility," and who's forgotten to leave their 21st-century cynicism at home. Who's gotten stuck at a first level of feminist interpretation, and who's willing to acknowledge the ambivalence and the gray areas that come with diverse expressions of female sexuality.

The best text that I have read is by far Richard Brody's The Accurate Erotics of "Fifty Shades of Grey." Thoughtful and nuanced. Critics that take their work seriously will write like this no matter how much they like or dislike a certain movie. I was particularly impressed and moved by the reference to Godard. How generous. And how appropriate - since Godard's Nouvelle Vague films are so much about blurring the line between high culture and pop culture.

I suspect this review is also an attempt on Brody's part to acknowledge the good work of female directors. And Sam Taylor-Johnson did do a good job with this one considering - again - the source material. I don't think this has been a bad career move, as other reviewers have said. I do hope she gets the chance to direct movies based on better material, though. I see her directing movies like Point Break, or Women in Love. Movies about strong male bonds. Men who love each other but who are ultimately incapable of expressing their love.

On feminist blogs, the best text I've read is this one from Bitch.

As for jokes on 50 Shades, most of them are so tired. Seriously. If you're gonna make a joke about a mass phenomenon, at least make an effort. I mentioned the Vaginal Fantasy book club in the first part of this addendum. As Kiala said in the latest episode, she talked about 50 Shades when she was a guest on this podcast. I laughed so much listening to this. Once you think of Christian Grey as a hoarder, it's impossible to go back. I mean, can you imagine him on an episode of Hoarders? That would be hilarious.

As a rule, when writing a review, it's maybe a good idea not to insult the audience of that movie in like every single paragraph. I'm refraining from linking to a review that does exactly that because then I would have to quote one of my favorite writers, and I guess part of me thinks it would be insulting to quote her in such a context. Also, when reviewing a BDSM-themed movie, do not use the word "perversity," even if you don't mean it in a negative way. Just don't.

*

As it happens with obsessions, one becomes more attuned to things one wouldn't normally pay attention to.

Like this Anne Sexton quote that I stumbled upon:
About three weeks ago, he said to me, "Were you beaten as a child? I told that I had been, when I was about nine. I had torn up a five-dollar bill that my father gave to my sister; my father took me into his bedroom, laid me down on his bed, pulled off my pants and beat me with a riding crop. As I related this to my doctor, he said, "See, that was quite a royal strapping," thus revealing to me, by way of my own image, the intensity of that moment, the sexuality of that beating, the little masochistic seizure - it's so classic it's almost corny.
(So far, I've thought of spanking as infantilizing, but what if it's the other way around? What if spanking is essentially sexual, and parents - clueless as they usually are, and in denial about kids' sexuality (Guy Maddin's movies would be relevant here) - don't even realize they're doing smth seriously fucked-up?)

Or like when I clicked on this link - I didn't pay attention to the main article, because my attention was drawn by what was in the sidebar: Nick Broomfield's Fetishes, about a BDSM dungeon in New York. (I haven't had the chance to see it in full as it's already disappeared from youtube. Digital ghosts and all that.)

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The only genuine alternative to 50 Shades is actual BDSM erotica. Like Maria Beatty's films. I discovered her a few years ago, reading the Wiki page for John Zorn (whose music I still haven't really explored). What I've seen from her films is definitely more extreme than 50 Shades (pretty much everything that's on their list of hard limits), but at the same time so elegant. It's odd that I've mentioned Guy Maddin earlier, because now that I think of it, their style is pretty similar. Imitations of German expressionism, silent films, and all that.

John Zorn's music for Maria Beatty's film The Elegant Spanking


*

I wish I had insisted more on female agency / sexuality / desire / gaze. And maybe for a minute I actually thought I could have done that. But the truth is I still have so much to read. I'm particularly interested in the female gaze. Is it truly possible? And when does it become a lesbian gaze? Do these questions even make sense? I guess my problem with feminist theory and gender theory is that the more I read, the more confused I get about certain concepts.

*

I'm not done thinking and writing about and around 50 Shades, but to end this three-part addendum (an unintentional trilogy):



You're suspending me up
With a feeling
From up here
I do surrender
In the trust that up high
Lie here together

Sunday, March 1, 2015

An Addendum to Psihopați, Fifty Shades și anxietăți feministe (2)

Secretary seems to be at the top of the list when it comes to alternatives to Fifty Shades of Grey. I have no idea why. These are two very different movies. Secretary is a quirky odd little movie, so I get the appeal. I get why people would root for the indie movie and not for the blockbuster. My biggest problem with Secretary is exactly what I've said in the previous post: a professional power dynamic reproduced sexually makes me want to vomit. Then: what year is this supposed to be? It is so retro-sexist. The secretary who gets spanked for typos. One thing that 50 Shades has managed to do is make me accept that spanking can exist in an erotic context and not be sexist. Up till reading the book, I could not get past the association of spanking with those sexist ads from the Mad Men era, which encouraged men to spank their women if they weren't the perfect housewives. When Lee first gets spanked, the whole thing is rather infuriating - even though she's into it. There's no discussion whatsoever about limits or safewords, and the bruise she's left with is appalling.

One of the things 50 Shades gets criticized for a lot is the fact that it seems to suggest that only people with some sort of past trauma or who are damaged in some way can be into BDSM. But then why not extend the same criticism to Secretary, and Nine 1/2 Weeks (as read through Ingeborg Day's biography), and The Story of O, and Sylvia Day's Bared to You, and so on? Is 50 Shades getting singled out b/c of its massive popularity? I guess so.

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50 Shades is primarily a feminine fantasy. But it's also a masculine fantasy. There's the materialistic aspect - the cars, and private jets, etc. There's the power, obviously. And then there's the waiting. Having a woman waiting for you. Doing nothing else but waiting for you. That's the thread that connects 50 Shades, Nine 1/2 Weeks and Secretary. In 50 Shades, this is not so transparent. It's just for a few minutes, in the Red Room, and mostly just to build up the anticipation. He doesn't make her wait for an entire day (Nine 1/2 Weeks) or for days (Secretary). These two movies - Secretary & Nine 1/2 Weeks - instantly made me think of Don Draper, in the 6th season, asking his new mistress to stay at home and wait for him. He doesn't even allow her to read a book! What an a-hole. (I kinda have a problem with this male, sexist perspective on waiting because "waiting," as a theme, is very important to me.)

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I suppose I took my text for DV to a rather dark place with the whole bit on psychopaths, and I almost took it to an even darker place. What stopped me was my memory. It is so frustrating to be so sure of a memory and then discover that oh, actually... no, you're not remembering it right.

The first BDSM scene I've ever read (well, as far as can I remember; now I'm not sure of anything) was in Paulo Coelho's 11 Minutes, back in high school. Coelho was really popular back then. Everyone would recommend The Alchemist. I even had that book on my reading list for the universal lit class - the result of a negotiation between us and our (female) teacher (I was glad my suggestion, Wuthering Heights, got on that list.). We didn't get to discuss The Alchemist because by then we had a new (misogynistic) teacher who gave us a new reading list made up only of male authors. So anyways, I wasn't really into The Alchemist, I didn't get what all the hype was about. But 11 Minutes... yeah, I definitely remember liking that one. Except for this one scene that made me feel extremely uncomfortable.

Re:reading it now I've noticed that it's actually really similar to the first scene from the Red Room. (I've just googled "cravaşă" just to make sure it's the equivalent of "riding crop" and I've got one question: does one buy riding crops from the horse shop for their BDSM needs? Oh, this reminds me of that scene from Nine 1/2 Weeks in which he's buying a riding crop and hits her right there, in the store. Their vulgar exhibitionism was yet another thing I hated about this movie.)

Getting back to 11 Minutes: at the time, I was also reading quite a bit on torture methods. I was more interested in witches and the Inquisition (and read the only book I could find at the school library; I don't even remember its title or author) but I also read a bit from Procesul de la Nurnberg. So my memory was that the BDSM scene from 11 Minutes made me feel really uncomfortable because Maria finds pleasure in a sexual act that was also a method of torture used on women in Nazi camps. In the weekend when I finished my fragmentary text for DV, I must have spent two or three hours on the floor, mostly on my knees, flipping through Procesul de la Nurnberg, crying, but also getting angry at myself because I couldn't remember where I had read about a riding crop used to torture women. Which is fucking insane. How can you cry reading about torture and at the same time feel detached enough / so self-centered as to worry about your failing memory? Then I started a googling session that contained some seriously fucked-up search terms. And I finally found it. The testimony of a woman in which she describes getting sexually abused with a riding crop. It was 1940s Poland alright, but her torturer was a communist. I'm not linking to the testimony because meanwhile, I've forgotten her name again and I don't want to look for it. I couldn't stomach another search like that again. Now I wonder: where the hell could I have read about this in high school? Have I heard of it in a tv documentary? Where?

Reading the scene with the riding crop in 50 Shades might have reminded me how the same scene from 11 Minutes made feel ten years ago, but it also made it clear that in my head there was finally a distance between BDSM scenes and torture. Even so, the question still remains somewhere in the background: how can a woman's torture be another woman's pleasure? And here's smth I don't think men really understand. I've heard plenty of lesbians saying that the greatest thing about being a lesbian is knowing you can give another woman pleasure. That's where the real power resides: giving a woman pleasure. Not in controlling her or dominating her. So men who think that humiliating and degrading a woman equals power make me sick. They make me lose faith in humanity. They make it difficult to trust other men. Yeah, that Andrea Dworkin quote (#NoShortageOfKitchenKnives).

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I do wonder if BDSM is maybe easier to make sense of in a lesbian relationship. Yes, even in such a relationship there might be a power imbalance, but at least they're free from the historical weight of misogyny. That's why I'm looking forward to seeing The Duke of Burgundy. If you want an alternative to 50 Shades, this is it. Although I could argue that the first 50 Shades book / movie falls a little outside of heteronormativity, The Duke of Burgundy is the real deal. It's queer desire in its purest form.



(To be continued...)