The Perfect (Wedding) Assimilationist

‘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.

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Twin Personae: Teen Wolf, Sexuality and Split Identity

Something I’ve been meaning to write about are the twins on Teen Wolf.

So, meet Ethan and Aiden:

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These guys are amazing additions to the Teen Wolf pack in season 3. Season 3a saw them more as enemies, whilst season 3b saw them more as companions for Scott and the gang. Back story aside, these guys are interesting for several reasons, and the primary reason to focus largely upon is their portrayal of split sexuality, bi-erasure and their ability to conjoin.

First you have the gay twin Ethan who has been coupled with the only other gay guy on the show Danny:

 

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Meanwhile you have his straight counterpart Aiden and his coupled partner Lydia:

 

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And then you have the powerful combination of Aiden and Ethan united:

 

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When they combine, they literally punch through one another’s bodies and pull themselves together to form one super Werewolf. They are definitely a force to be reckoned with in this show.

But interestingly, this transformation or morphing into one super werewolf provides a different insight into bisexuality. Considering the blatant focus on sexuality within the show’s narrative and its parent company MTV, these twins represent something far more queer than their overt hetero- and homonormativity would suggest. It is as if the bisexual yin-yang, in order to operate sufficiently, must remain separate and active at all times.

Their constant sexualisation through the camera’s oft focus upon their semi nude bodies suggests they are sex symbols; that they are there for visual pleasure a la Laura Mulvey (1973); but, they also represent something newer and less represented in the contemporary mediated form: the male bisexual.

There is a whole host of academic literature surrounding the notion of bi-erasure, which, in simple terms, suggests that bisexuality merely does not exist. It is uniquely a transitory phase towards homosexuality or a return to heterosexuality. Additionally, it suggests that bisexuality is merely experimental in nature and helps one self-identify as rather gay or straight and nothing in between.

I think what MTV and Teen Wolf have done is extremely fascinating and progressive should you read Ethan and Aiden as two parts of a single whole. Their transformation then suggests that bisexuality is something that, when looked upon from an outsider’s perspective is both monstrous and unlikely (thus the only time they combine is when they have already transformed into a werewolf and further morph into a super werewolf). It is something only supernatural transmogrification can permit and not something modern, natural society accepts; thus, we have a great dichotomy between the supernatural world and the normal world in Teen Wolf, and that is why it does remain that way. Moreover, upon de-transforming, the twins separate into their own disparate selves and [accepted] sexual identities. That is further when they become symbols of sexiness and powerfully lust-inducing figures.

My final observation of their symbolic status can only be explained through an immense spoiler. So, my warning to you, is that if you haven’t seen the finale for Season 3, and you intend to watch it soon, please do not read the next paragraph. This is your ending here. Take away what you will from my bisexuality observation of Ethan and Aiden and question the manner in which these two characters live in tandem with one another (they can even feel the other’s physical pain!).

As for those that will not have the following information spoiled, what I find extremely intriguing is that the straight half (Aiden) dies. Why I find this extremely telling is that, the old saying about bisexuals is that bi women end up with men and bi men end up with men. That maxim (for want of another word) is one that was also taken from the fabulous MTV soap opera Undressed. If that is the most common claim about bisexual men, then it only makes sense to read Aiden and Ethan as such and that the straight half must die upon entering into a relationship with a male partner. Now, this may be pure speculation, but, in terms of bisexuality, I would argue that the same-sex attraction would never leave even during an opposite-sex relationship; however, I would not argue the same for the opposite situation. But like I said, I may be perpetuating a negative stereotype or may have a completely skewed understanding of bisexuality, but it might be 100 percent accurate or hogwash for that matter.

 

Anyhow, if you have any comments or suggestions, please do so!