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Abby's picture

Creating Our Own Spectacle (notes from 10/30)

  The theater addict in me got a good fix in our class on Tuesday, Oct. 30th.  We were made to assume the roles of the authors we had studied for that week (Judith Butler, bell hooks, Jeanne Livingston [filmmaker of "Paris is Burning"]) and perform a discourse between the three.  Fiercely opposing each other in viewpoint, our performative discussion between these women proved to be a delightfully heated one.

  Before the illusion actually began we were eased into the discourse with a bit of background on the evolution of the Gender and Sexuality program here at Bryn Mawr (formerly titled Feminist and Gender Studies) and on Judith Butler's theories of gender and performance.  From a Butlerian standpoint, we were told, all drag can be considered subversive.  Butler is vvery concerned with the idea that all gender is performative and therefore the blatant exposing of that performance via drag is disputing the "naturalness" of heterosexuality. 

  So, we went to our corners and hashed it out.  Here are some of the most important questions that I think were raised in our discussion:

 1. What gives Jeanne Livingston the right to do what she did?  To make a movie about this culture of which she presumably knows nothing.

 2. Why was more time not spent on Venus Extravaganza's death?  Is this a deliberate trivializing of the tragedy?

 3. Where (if anywhere) is the "real" in this world of performance?

  Representing Livingston was an interesting experience for me.  Originally I had agreed pretty strongly with the critiques of hooks and Butler, at least in part, but as I performed the response of Livingston I found some arguments I was not expecting to find.  The clearest example of this occurred when we, the collectice Livingston, were interrogated about the lack of attention paid to Venus' death in the film.  Our opponents had previously been chastising us for making this culture into nothing but a spectacle.  We then questioned their motivation is asking us to spectacleize Venus' death.  I think this particular disagreement is at the heart of the tension between the three viewpoints we examined and represented because it is concerned with importance of showing the "reality" vs. the "illusion."  As class continued we eventually came to a point of discussing if in fact the "real" really exists.  Some of us were invested in defending Butler's notion that everything is performance, that reality in fact is an illusion.  Others struggled with this notion.  In the rush of packing up to leave, to enter "reality" once again, we couldn't find a real consensus. 

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