Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sex in Europe: Gender and Sexuality in European Popular Culture

 What is European popular culture? And how does it represent gender and sexuality? These are some of the questions explored by a recent special issue of the Journal of European Popular Culture (5.2) which I’ve had the pleasure of editing with my colleague Claire Jenkins. 

Borne out of a strand at the 2013 European Popular Culture conference in Turku, Finland, the articles collected in the special issue collectively explore aspects of distinctly European popular culture, moving away from a focus on culture produced by or consumed in North America. A snapshot of current research on sex and gender taking place in Europe, it discusses aspects of popular culture as diverse as the British musician Morrissey, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series (that inspired the TV show Game of Thrones), popular romance literature, the reality TV show Geordie Shore, Sam Mendes’ Skyfall, representations of transgenderism in European cinema, and the British comedian Beryl Reid.

Check out the journal here. And here’s a full list of the articles and their abstracts:

 Amy Burge, ‘For you are a man and she is a maid’: Performing masculinity in Orientalist medieval and modern popular romance fiction’. 

Dominant, virile, brooding: the alpha male is quintessential in modern western popular romance published by companies such as Harlequin Mills & Boon. One persistent iteration of the alpha is the Middle Eastern sheikh, whose hypermasculinity seems initially at odds with the ‘feminine penetrability’ of the Oriental east with which he is connected. Yet, the modern sheikh romance was not the first genre to persistently represent eastern romantic heroes; in late medieval England, the most popular secular texts were romances, several of which contained Orientalist heroes. This article scrutinizes the masculine performance of the sheikh hero in light of the romance genre’s medieval history. I consider how the masculinities of modern and medieval eastern romance heroes are inextricably connected to their eastern surroundings. Focusing on the Middle English romance Floris and Blancheflour, I identify two contrasting models of eastern hypo- and hyper-masculinity that make overt deviant gender performance and the associated anxiety and effect on heterosexual gender relations. Finally, I re-examine the presentation of the hypermasculine sheikh hero, arguing that these romances too exhibit anxiety about male gender identity in the east. These romances, medieval and modern, thus acknowledge and deny Said’s effeminate Orient and its destabilizing potential.

Anne Grafer, ‘‘Charlotte makes me lafe [sic] sooo much’: Online laughter, affect, and femininity in Geordie Shore’. 

Highly successful structured reality television shows such as Geordie Shore (UK), The Only Way is Essex (UK), Made in Chelsea (UK) or Jersey Shore (US) draw audiences wide beyond their regional and national appeal, thereby exerting a considerable influence on contemporary popular culture. Lying at the intersection of documentary, soap opera and drama, reality television’s specific form – its immediacy and its emotionality – invites viewers to judge and moralize the lives depicted on screen. In this article I explore the affective ways in which ‘Geordie Shore’ produces ideas about femininity and how comic moments in the show influence this emotive process. By analysing online comments on the show’s official Facebook page I argue that the humorous quality of the text does not merely reinforce the disciplining white, middle-class gaze through which ‘Geordie’ femininities are produced as hypersexual(ized) ladettes worthy of social derision. Rather, the online laughter that I found in some online comments highlights that these representations are also animated through feelings of joy, affection and emotional attachment. Attending to online laughter can help us to further understand the movement between connection and disassociation through which audiences make sense of reality television.

Ruth O’Donnell, ‘M is for mother: Skyfall’s Kleinian phantasies of maternal destruction’. 

In the Bond film Skyfall (2012), director Sam Mendes offers an interpretation of gothic horror that explores 007’s maternal ambivalence. Exploiting the genre’s tropes of the persecutory double, psychotic son, and monstrous feminine/mother, the film provides a ‘working through’ of the oedipal terror that is so redolent of the gothic. Taking as a reference point the work of Freudian theorist Melanie Klein, Skyfall can be seen as presenting ‘M’ (Judi Dench) as the Kleinian ‘bad mother’, one half of the ‘split’ that the infant conceptualizes to explain the inadequacy of the mother in meeting his needs, phantasizing his revenge in terms of oral aggression. Bond (Daniel Craig) and villain Silva (Javier Bardem) are each victims of exploitation by the British secret services – and by extension the figural mother M. For Silva this means being given up to the Chinese government for torture and likely death. It is this previous act of maternal mistreatment that serves to ‘explain’ his (sexual) perversity, i.e. renunciation of the phallic, which includes his perverse attachment to M (other). Silva serves as 007’s shadowy counterpart – as well as cautionary tale – in granting the phantastical wish-fulfilment of both sons: revenge upon the mother.

C. Patel, ‘Expelling a monstrous matriarchy: Casting Cersei Lannister as abject in A Song of Ice and Fire’.
In the fantasy genre where the female characters are so often in the minority, it is disturbing that George R. R. Martin chooses to reinvent the traditional male fantasy hero with female characters that are presented as monstrous for attempting to gain power in a patriarchal society. This article will be discussing Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (1999–), examining the character of Cersei Lannister and the reasons as to why she cannot gain power in a patriarchal system. In the first part of this article, I will depict how Cersei gains power by creating what I term ‘political prostheses’, which serve as substitutions for her female body and create a masculine armouring through which she can take part in the political field and patriarchal society. As I will demonstrate in the second part of this article, unlike the other mother characters, Cersei’s monstrosity comes about through the amalgamation of incompatible images of womanhood, which is complicated further by incest. Consequently, as I will emphasize in the last part of this article, Cersei is expelled from society at the end of the last published book through a ritual that can be read as one of abjection.

Aileen Dillane, Martin J. Power And  Eoin Devereux, ‘I Can Have Both’: A queer reading of Morrissey’. 

Using the song ‘I Can Have Both’ as a case study, we examine the ways in which Morrissey’s creative output has consistently recognized the fluidity of sexual and gender identities. We demonstrate how Morrissey’s work invites a deep textual reading that reveals a complex counter-hegemonic stance on the issue of gender and sexuality. Queering and queer discourses play a fundamental role in achieving this. Our study adds to the emerging body of scholarly literature on Morrissey and contributes to our understanding of how queering processes occur within a popular culture setting.

Rosie White, ‘Beryl Reid Says… Good Evening: Performing queer identity on British television’.
Beryl Reid Says… Good Evening (1968) was a comedy revue series broadcast on BBC television in the late 1960s that showcased the talents of a renowned British character comedy performer. Beryl Reid’s career spanned music hall, variety theatre, dramatic acting, radio comedy, film and television. She was a celebrity figure from the 1950s to her death in the 1990s but never became a ‘star’ as such. Reid’s work is addressed as a form of queer performance, both in roles that reference lesbian sexuality and roles that depict eccentric femininities. This television series was one of the few attempts to showcase her talents, and it is discussed here as an example of how character comedy queers heteronormativity through its camp attention to the everyday.

Keeley Saunders, ‘Gender-defined spaces, places and tropes: Contemporary transgender representation in Tomboy and Romeos’. 

Recent trans-cinema releases, Tomboy (Sciamma, 2011) and Romeos (Bernardi, 2011), present compelling alternatives to the traditional representation of transgender characters and issues in mainstream Hollywood productions. They are just two of a number of films in the last decade that challenge the lack of attention given to the complexity of individuals’ identities and the neglect of trans-subjectivities in mainstream representation. These contemporary European independent productions exemplify a shift towards a clearer sense of films being about transgender life: depicting elements of real-life experiences, and transitions, of trans-identities. Utilizing the work of academics Marjorie Garber, John Phillips and Judith Jack Halberstam and the now-out-of-date ‘canon’ of trans-cinema (including Mrs. Doubtfire (Columbus, 1993) and Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960)), this article explores the evolution of fictional cinematic representation of transgender identities. Focusing on a common trope developed in the earlier ‘classic’ Hollywood films – the depiction of urinary segregation – this article will argue how the theme of gendered spaces and places is reappropriated in the contemporary films and used to portray transgender lives and experiences more adequately.

The image of the European Union flag is public domain via Wikimedia Commons.