‘The aim of assimilationist groups was (and still is) to be accepted into, and to become one with, mainstream culture.’
(Nikki Sullivan, A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory, 23)
I’m doing something a bit different by starting out with a quote from some academic scholarship on general queer theory. Whilst its aim is to highlight the history, development and relevant debates within contemporary Queer scholarship, one of the dominating elements of contemporary queer (or gay-male) cinema deals with the notion of assimilation or liberation from the dominant ideologies prescribed by heteronormativity. Those are a lot of five dollar words that simply and complexly highlight the current struggles and battles for equal marriage rights and full acceptance into society. Assimiliationists believe that ‘ tolerance can be achieved by making differences invisible, or at least secondary, in and through an essentialising, normalising emphasis on sameness’ (Sullivan 23). (Bear with me and I will get away from the academic stuff). Contrary to this are the liberationists who believe that we should embrace our differences, shirk heteronormativity and demand our rights regardless of acceptance.
My own beliefs fall snugly in the middle of these two debates, as we need to be accepted based on our similarities, because, after all, we are just humans (though many anti-Gay org.s would say otherwise). Alternatively, there are major differences between us and our straight counterparts. There are even major differences between the many identity formations found under the umbrella Queer, which is what makes it so appealing for many.
Much of this seems tangential to my original statement about new Queer cinema, but the fact of the matter is that much of the independently released queer films centre on the notion of marriage, our obsession with sex and that’s about it. There is a plethora of films that feature an (ostensibly) all white cast, with a specific physical type (very, very rarely do the films deviate from this male figured formula) set into the narrative(s) and how everyone will have someone even though, the sad truth that it may be, this often does not happen.
What initially sparked this thought process was the film The Perfect Wedding (2012):
My initial reactions: bland, vanilla, conservatively queer romcom.
There are a lot of things to say about this film. Most of them are mixed. Some good, some scathing. But I think what I want to focus on most is how this film neatly fits into the pattern of assimilationist texts that have featured in readily available queer cinema. What I’m considering as readily available is that which is on netflix in the US or Europe, on AmazonPrime, or featured on LOGO. There are, of course, many counter examples that highlight our diversity and ability to forego heteronormative practices; however, these films, I would argue perpetuate a certain homonormativity that is predicated upon heteronormativity. In other words, The Perfect Wedding shows that ‘first comes love, then comes marriage…’ We dress the same, we act the same, we are the same as our straight counterparts. Also, the rule of thumb is, apparently, when two gay men enter the same room, they are naturally destined for each other. It also promotes a certain type of man all gay men must want: chiselled, smart, conventionally sexy (the Abercrombie model). This also positions western formations of identity and practice over alternative identities and partnerings.
I’m going to wrap this up as it’s not necessarily about the film, but what the film made me contemplate post viewing. Would love to hear some thoughts.