April 18, 2009

Heterosexuals: who are they?  How do they live?  What do they look like?  Let’s explore!

Actually, this started off as a multiple-sided goof when I was clearancing Harlequin romances where I work.  The cover art involved a great deal of semi-clad men either clutching or being clutched, and I wondered what it would mean to take all that clutching and put it together modernist grid style:


What does it add up to?  Not much, besides a kind of pastiche of the stock in trade of about 8 name-brand contemporary artists.  But the glance between one of the couples pictures above caught my eye, and I decided to enlarge it to 20×30″ and give it a helpful label.


There’s nothing textually funnier than the blatantly obvious.

This did get me to thinking, though, that while we’re all cool postmodern kids and we know that heterosexuality is the exnominate state of visual depictions of both men and women alone or together, actually naming the obvious might lead somewhere interesting.  Queer images (or images of queers) often get heavily coded and tagged as such, both by artists and by far-right wingnuts, because representation’s fickle relationship to ontology is at stake: everybody wants to be reassured that they know queer when they see it.

But besides being the status quo, do people see “heterosexuality” when they see it, or is it always just assumed?  What happens when, in trading with visual imagery of heterosexuals, you stop making that assumption?  I don’t have any clear answers to that, but I think it bears thinking about as a strategy for representational queer art that isn’t simply shoring up the fragments of the public/private queer self.  Not that I have an issue with making “queer” visible and visual, it’s just that, as with everything, people fall into habits like making sub-Mapplethorpe underwear model photos and calling it queer ’cause the dude pictured is a nude dude or otherwise it’s somebody visually queer (this is sort of Catherine Opie’s stock in trade though she has a light touch about it that makes you sort of forgive her).

So, to sum up: old habits = bad, heterosexuality = quizzical.  Thoughts?


One Response to “Heterosexuals”

  1. I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Does it have something to do with the continuum between blatant and coded information? Oddly, the top collage of book covers I wouldn’t have recognized; they’re cropped so much, I thought they could be taken from adverts for clothing or cologne. My memory of romance novel covers is that they have some sort of dynamic going on. The couple may be passionately kissing, but they’re clinging to a cliff or there’s a house burning behind them.

    The second image works for me, but it has less to do with the text than with the blatant heterosexuality; she also appears to be the aggressor, which brings up a whole other issue.

    I can remember a handful of times in my adolescence when girl was coming on to me, and I felt suffocated by the heterosexual obligation. I’m sure straight guys have felt it on occasion when they’re not in the mood or into their partner; unfortunately for men, you can’t fake an erection. There have been times when I would have rather fucked someone so they would go away rather than explain all the complicated reasons they weren’t floating my boat.

    Perhaps this is TMI. My point is that when I first saw a certain Mapplethorpe, or Cathie Opie’s picture of a naked dyke pissing, I was at some level horrified. The same holds true for some Mike Kellys or Paul McCarthys. As a homo, I feel sort of implicated by queer work–both the freakish and cliched. In a similar way I feel this sense of obligation as an enlightened individual to watch some video of a breeder artist rutting and talk about the work dispassionately.

    Of course over time that first visceral impact wears away, and it’s fairly easy to become blase. I’m remembering when I showed the IR pictures I took in the porn theater while the audio track of the chain analysis interview played. It was in Ben Weisman’s class. There was so much overt homosexuality in the work that it shut down the conversation, and even freaked out the undergrad homo twinks in the room.

    (excuse me if this rambles, but I’m high on antihistamines right now)

    The other night I watched Pasolini’s Decameron, and it was refreshing for the lack of contemporary heterosexual social norms. In one vignette, a couple of virgin teens get together, and she asks him for her fist kiss. After sex, he tells her. How refreshing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NmX3d9_LM48 That’s the way it works in homo-culture; you fuck somebody, and if they’re any good, you might kiss them.

    So for me, I guess it’s social norms (hetero or homo) = obligation; and blatant (overt, visible, freakish) = OK–as long as there’s something behind it after the shock fades away.

    Now I remember the photos from you last post (as separate panels) I like them better combined.

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