Sex Radical Cinema
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Sex Radical Cinema


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147 pages

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In this provocative study of cinematic and televisual representations of "sex radicalism," Carol Siegel explores how representations of sexually explicit content on film have shaped American cultural visions of sex and sexual politics in the 21st century. Siegel distinguishes between a liberal approach to visual representations, which has over-emphasized normative equal opportunity while undervaluing our distinctive erotic selves, and a radical approach to visual representation, which portrays forbidden sexualities and desires. She illustrates how visual media participates in and even drives political policies related to pedophilia, prostitution, interracial relationships, and war. By examining such popular film and television shows as Mystic River, The Wire, Fifty Shades of Grey, Batman Returns, and the HBO hits, Sex and the City and Girls, Siegel takes the discussion of radical sex in the movies out of the margins of political discussions and puts it in the center, where, she argues, it has belonged all along.

Introduction: Recent Changes in the Representation of Sex and Politics in American Cinema
1. The Sexuality of Minors: Family Values and Mysteries of Pedophilia
2. Sex Trafficking Films, Or Taken for a Ride
3. Sex and Anti-Militarism
4. Interracial Sex and Architectures of American Horror
5. Tim Burton's Films, Children, and Perversity
Conclusion: The Future, No Future



Publié par
Date de parution 18 novembre 2015
Nombre de lectures 36
EAN13 9780253018113
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

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Introduction: Recent Changes in the Representation of Sex and Politics in American Cinema
1. The Sexuality of Minors: Family Values and Mysteries of Pedophilia
2. Sex Trafficking Films, Or Taken for a Ride
3. Sex and Anti-Militarism
4. Interracial Sex and Architectures of American Horror
5. Tim Burton's Films, Children, and Perversity
Conclusion: The Future, No Future

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Carol Siegel
This book is a publication of
Office of Scholarly Publishing
Herman B Wells Library 350
1320 East 10th Street
Bloomington, Indiana 47405 USA
2015 by Carol Siegel
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The Association of American University Presses Resolution on Permissions constitutes the only exception to this prohibition.
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z 39.48-1992.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Siegel, Carol.
Sex radical cinema / Carol Siegel.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-253-01801-4 (cl : alk. paper) - ISBN 978-0-253-01806-9 (pb : alk. paper) - ISBN 978-0-253-01811-3 (eb) 1. Sex in motion pictures. 2. Erotic films-United States-History and criticism. 3. Motion pictures-United States-History and criticism. I. Title.
PN 1995.9. S 45 S 547 2016
791.43 6538-dc23
1 2 3 4 5 20 19 18 17 16 15
For Gerhard
Introduction: Recent Changes in the Representation of Sex and Politics in American Cinema
1 America s Virginity Fetish and the Mysteries of Child Molestation
2 Sex Trafficking Films, or Taken for a Ride
3 Sex and Antimilitarism
4 Interracial Sex and Architectures of American Horror
5 Tim Burton s Films, Children, and Perversity
Conclusion: The Future, No Future
O VER THE TEN years I worked on this book many people have listened to or read my ideas and provided me with helpful suggestions. I am especially grateful to Kathleen Rowe Karlyn, Josh Erdahl, Garry Watson, and, my editor at Indiana University Press, Raina Polivka, for reading and providing detailed comments on the entire manuscript. Jill R. Hughes is my dream copyeditor and Nancy Lightfoot is a truly inspirational production editor and I thank them both. I also thank Robert Richardson, Jorge Guadalupe Liz rraga, Jeffrey Weinstock, Wheeler Winston Dixon, Tamar Jeffers McDonald, Steffen Silvis, Geoff Cannard, and Amy Kahrmann Huseby for their invaluable help with sections of the book. I will always be grateful for the support and encouragement, as well as useful recommendations provided by Laura Frost, Ellen Berry, Don Anderson, Thabiti Lewis, Gina Hermann, Desiree Hellegers, Chris Tucker, Donyell Roseboro, Kristoffer Forslund, Luz Maria Gordillo, Pavithra Narayanan, Dene Grigar, Terri Geller, Rebecca Gordon and Joe Austin. The insights of anthropologists Jordana Smith and Clare Wilkinson-Weber were also very helpful to me. I thank my great department chair, Todd Butler, for his help in getting me the time and support I needed to finish this manuscript. My gratitude goes out to William Hamlin, our absolutely wonderful director of graduate studies, for his friendship and moral support-and for helping me work with so many brilliant and intellectually stimulating graduate students. I wish my dear friend Peggy McCormack, the former organizer of the American Literature Association panel on film, were still alive to receive my thanks for all her help and love through the years, but I know she will never be forgotten. Our fantastic IT guys, Chris Rhoads and Greg Philbrook, deserve the highest praise for helping me with the book s production, as does Jenna Whittaker at Indiana University Press. And I also thank Lusijah Marx for keeping me at least semi-sane through it all. Gerhard Magnus has earned the most thanks in that regard, however, because as always he makes possible everything good in my life and consistently renews my faith in both sex radicalism and cinema. We saw Derek Jarman s Jubilee on our first date, attended a Russ Meyer film festival at San Francisco s Strand Theater shortly after that, and have shared our love of movies for thirty-five years now. I remain more grateful than I can say for the database he created in which we save our impressions of the thousands of films we see. The Internet Movie Database is a fine source of factual information, but our own personal one serves as a sort of private cinema journal.
And although they are no longer here to read this, I thank my parents, Dave and Marcella Siegel, for their complete lack of any sense of what was suitable for children s viewing, which, along with their eagerness to discuss movies with me, helped make my childhood and adolescence fun. Who thinks James Whale s Frankenstein is appropriate viewing for a three-year-old? Parents of a future film professor who works with horror, that s who!
Washington State University provided me with a semester s sabbatical in fall 2009 to allow me time to finish my initial research for this book and draft two chapters, for which I am thankful.
Part of chapter 1 s discussion of films about the loss of virginity first appeared in my essay Irreconcilable Feminisms and the Construction of a Cultural Memory of Virginity s Loss: ma soeur! and Thirteen , in Virgin Territory , edited by Tamar Jeffers Macdonald (2010). I thank Wayne State University Press for permission to reprint it here.
An essay I previously published, Metaphoric Architecture: Race and Real Estate in Panic Room and The People Under the Stairs , in QRFV 30.1 (2013), forms part of chapter 4 and is reproduced here by permission of Taylor and Francis Group LLC .
I thank Palgrave Macmillan for permission to reprint material from my chapter Tim Burton s Popularization of Perversity: Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, Batman Returns , and Corpse Bride , in The Works of Tim Burton: Margins to Mainstream , edited by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock (2013).

Recent Changes in the Representation of Sex and Politics in American Cinema
T HIS BOOK BEGAN several years ago when I was asked via a telephone political poll, Do you identify as a liberal or a conservative? I was shocked by the pollster s annoyed response when I said, neither-I m a radical. He informed me that he could not continue the survey unless I chose one or the other position. Subsequent calls during voting seasons have led me to realize that I no longer have a position within the American political spectrum that is recognized by those who analyze Americans investments in politics. Relying entirely on call screening to avoid being polled seemed one way for me to deal with how much this unsettled me. Because my politics lean much more toward the collectivist than the individualist, which is part of what radical means to me, writing a book to clarify what radicalism might mean in my field, cinema studies, seemed a better way to go. And in any case, I am not just a radical; I am a sex radical, a position that generates even more confusion, not just when trying to have my opinions included in political polls but also when trying to explain the reasons I value some films more than others for reasons directly determined by my politics. However, the point of this book is not to make me personally more politically comprehensible, but rather to bring a new perspective to the ways politics that are left of center relate to cinematic representations of sexuality. I am particularly interested in articulating what it means for a film to be pro-sex and at the same time supportive of gender and sexual equality, which is precisely what the term sex radical cinema means to me and to many other feminist, gender, and queer studies scholars.
The difficulty of articulating a comprehensible politically radical position on sex in cinema is not merely personal; it is a problem for everyone concerned with the politics of sex, gender, and cinema, as well as with the ways they intersect with American constructions of race and the mappings that place us in our rapidly deteriorating physical world. Such issues are intricately tangled up with each other, as this book will show. All discussions of the representation of sexuality in film include analysis of the films politics, and most of them center on those politics. But the most typical method of relying on sexual conservatism and sexual liberalism as contrasting categories blurs the significant line between liberal and radical sexual politics. This tendency in film analysis may seem necessary in our times, because political polarization has resulted in popular media frequently collapsing every political position other than conservatism into liberalism. Still, an approach that seeks to define film depictions of sexuality as either conservative or liberal is limited in the extent to which it can support the sex radical aims of contemporary feminist, gender, and queer studies. This book does something different through focusing on distinguishing between what is liberal and what is radical in cinematic representations of sexuality.
In each chapter the discussions of what I deem sex radical cinema (and what I do not) comprise an effort to address this problem by bringing to bear on cinema a sex radical feminist vision that can renew our sense of what radicalism is and can be, and to differentiate it from a liberalism that merely solidifies the very systems of gender binarity and sexual prejudice that spoil many efforts at progress toward a more just society. The representation of sexualities on film concerns more than how sexual desires, object choices, and acts are depicted. It also concerns how these depictions fit into a worldview determined by beliefs and anxieties that may initially seem only tangentially relevant to sexual politics but on closer examination are inextricable from them. To look at how the politics of cinematic representation of sexuality inform and reflect other areas of political life takes discussion of sex in the movies outside the margins of political discussions and puts it into the center, where it belongs.
First I will provide some crucial definitions that are rooted in feminist thought because of its pertinence to this project. I use the term sex radical feminist to refer to feminists whose political position is that women and men have the right to express their sexualities freely as long as the expression takes place between those who are capable of meaningful consent to participate. This expression includes treating sex as a pleasure in its own right, independent of whether the sexual desire is complemented by a desire for an ongoing relationship. In other words, like B. Ruby Rich, I write as an old-time outlaw girl (41). That turn of phrase should help us keep in mind that by taking this position, sex radical feminists are also challenging the view of some other influential feminists who believe it is impossible for women to freely consent to engage in sexual activities that many consider demeaning. These other feminists often attribute to false consciousness assertions of agency by minors who choose to have sex and by women who engage in sex work, and who dismiss as delusional their accounts of finding pleasure in their choices. Such feminists describe the position of sex radical feminists as reactionary in that they see it as endorsing a return of women and adolescents to subordination as objectified victims of patriarchy. To understand this conflict and how it informs the reception of cinema, it is necessary to untangle the meanings assigned to political radicalism both as it concerns sexuality and in a more general sense. So I begin with a little history that might serve to establish the legitimacy of a position on sexual issues that is neither liberal nor conservative, but is both radical and feminist, before going on to explain why this can be a useful position from which to approach analysis of representation of sexuality in film.
It has become impossible to think productively about sexual politics without acknowledging the vast differences between understandings of the general political spectrum at the height of the sexual revolution and today s popular, dominant definitions of terms like radical and conservative. The old political definitions were as follows: Reactionaries desired a return to an idealized past when authority was respected and laws were obeyed. Conservatives wanted to preserve the status quo. Liberals worked within the extant system to give all law-abiding citizens equal opportunities to compete for the advantages our capitalist system offers. Radicals attempted to do away with the reigning political system in order to replace it with one that would provide fulfillment of basic needs to everyone.
Classic political positions have undergone drastic redefinition. The traditional scale from left to right is no longer charted as radical, liberal, conservative, reactionary, but instead, for the purposes of media description as well as polling, Americans are allowed only two possible, mutually exclusive descriptors: liberal or conservative. Reactionary appears to have fallen out of ordinary discourse entirely. The status of the term radical is more complex. Radical used to mean extreme and different from the mainstream in the 1980s, when it was used interchangeably with excellent, because being different from Republican Reagan supporters was considered good by people who styled themselves hip. Now, however, it is regularly used in political rhetoric to describe significant difference from what the speaker considers ideal. The word radical can thus designate extremist political positions on both ends of the spectrum. A good illustration of the current instability of the term radical came to me in an email sent August 14, 2012, from with the subject line 10 things about Paul Ryan s radical agenda. The email was designed to stir up alarm about Ryan s plans, frightening liberal voters into taking action against him and his supporters, or at the very least into making contributions to opposing candidates. Among the agenda items the email designates as radical are eliminating Social Security, denying Pell grant support to low-income college students, opposing gay rights, and criminalizing abortion. Similarly, the Southern Poverty Law Center attempts to mobilize its supporters with regular reports on what are described as the radical political activities of neo-Nazis. In contrast a typical report from is headed Obama s Radical agenda for America extends far beyond EPA proposal and goes on to describe the presidential policy on carbon emissions as a lot like everything else the administration is doing, in producing a society in which government rather than individuals controls our production of everything, and thus our lives (Morici).
Two main forces unsettled the old political terminology. The most obvious was the fall of the Soviet Union, beginning in 1985, which created a category crisis in political reporting. During the early 1990s, when the Central Committee of the Communist Party had relinquished power but was still popular with many Russians, the US media began to call supporters of the former regime reactionaries. This made some sense in that the pro-Communism Russians did want to move backward in time politically, but it disturbed the official cold war discursive practice of equating leftism, radicalism, and communism. And it challenged the Left s discursive practice of equating reactionary politics and fascism.
A less obviously resignifying but perhaps even more influential event was the late 1980s rise of American Republicans who defined themselves as radicals. These new radicals spun their mission as one that would return America to an imagined uniformly conservative 1950s as a rebellion against a power structure that they claimed dominated politics at every level and was held in place by liberal media and the public educational system. For example, by representing the Fairness Doctrine s rule that opposing political views be given equal airtime as a curtailment of freedom of speech, Rush Limbaugh was able to describe his own program as revolutionary and thus radical. 1 Newt Gingrich became minority whip in 1989 and speaker of the house in 1994 and acted as the leader of the Republican Revolution that led to the federal government shutdown in 1995. The concept of the radical Republican was born. Liberalism had to be redefined as preservation of the status quo, while conservatism, which literally has that meaning, had to be redefined as a radical rejection of the current state of affairs.
This change has some similarities to the views of the cultural revolutionaries of 1968, because, as Michel Foucault devoted much of his work to pointing out, liberalism frequently works to shore up the status quo through a regime of discipline. In Discipline and Punish he contrasts regimes of punishment with those of discipline. The regime of punishment acts upon those who transgress the law only after they have transgressed, but in the regime of discipline training and gratification are employed to encourage obedience to laws so that punishment might be rendered unnecessary (180). The regime of punishment is concerned with controlling groups through each member s fear of the application of the law to wrongdoers, while the regime of discipline works to create a sense of individual allegiance to a norm that ideally will ensure proper behavior through the consent of the governed (193). And within the regime of discipline, the judges of normality are present everywhere (304). Doctors, educators, and social workers all maintain the universal reign of the normative, creating a society that seems gentler and more open than that under the regime of punishment but is in fact carceral, modeled on the prison as reformatory (394).
As a result, as Foucault explores in his lectures on biopolitics, liberalism belongs to the regime of discipline, in which the interests of individuals and their desires to act freely in their own best interest are always seen as potentially threatening the maintenance of a societal norm. Thus, he says, liberalism condition[s people] to experience their situation, their life, their present, and their future as containing danger ( Birth of Biopolitics 65-66). In Foucault s view, because consumer capitalist governments have only one true and fundamental social policy: economic growth, American liberalism can treat citizens only as human capital to be bred and developed in such a way as to give a good return on the investment in them of their parents and social institutions, such as schools (144, 228-30). Consequently, although American liberalism is presented as a mode of giving citizens greater freedom, in actuality it is a consumer of freedom (63), enforcing a whole way of being and thinking in which the whole of the social system is understood through the model of monetary exchanges (218, 243). The result is a political approach with a foothold in both the right and the left, above all resistant to that which might undermine economic stability, such as nondomestic expression of sexualities (218).
In his study The History of Sex in American Film , Jody W. Pennington explores how films made during the 1960s and 70s reflected the threat posed by cultural radicalism to those elements of liberalism that cohered with conservatism to form an uneasy consensus on sexual matters (45). However, this analysis is hampered by his view of leftist radicalism as stressing individual autonomy rather than the collectivism foundational to the era s identity politics (57). The emphasis on what would later be called public sex cultures, of which film viewings became an important part, is thus lost.
In contrast, this book looks at film as a site of sexual representations that can either reinforce or resist the disciplinarity that is crucial to attainment of the American dream of individual material success. As the discussions of films in each chapter show, cinematic, and especially American cinematic, representations of sexuality are always contextualized, although not always obviously, through reference to the fear of departures from the norm that might undermine the current American ideal of a family, legally bound to each other, whose lives are structured in such a way as to maximize their income, accumulation of material goods, and ownership of real estate. Gilles Deleuze s books on cinema and his writings with F lix Guattari on capitalism help provide a framework for my analysis of the rhetoric of cinematic resistance to this sort of regime of discipline. Because Deleuze and Guattari frequently identify a specific type of art, the minor/minoritarian, as opposed to the maintenance of norms that are foundational to maintaining consumer capitalism, I draw on their concept of majoritarian and minoritarian art. According to Deleuze and Guattari, minoritarian art forms stress the specificity of each experience and thus oppose the construction and maintenance of universalized identities that always serve to keep in place the dominant powers, and that are supported by majoritarian art ( Thousand Plateaus 100-110). 2
Deleuze explores this idea in his two books on cinema. He argues that imagery in film has traditionally been used to create an easily interpretable world through an accretion of clich s. And such cinema has been seductive in that it makes sense of human experience. Hence continuity editing and immediately recognizable characters as well as strong, familiar plot lines are perennially popular. How can one not believe in a powerful organization, a great and powerful plot, which has found a way to make clich s circulate? ( Cinema 1 209). Yet in order to resist movement which is increasingly military and policing, which drags puppet-characters into rigid social roles, forcing us away from a desire for limitless becoming and into an acceptance of fixed being, film must smash clich and so offer lines of flight away from the webs of meaning that ordinarily confine our understanding (100-101). This is achieved through a turn to the body as that which plunges thought into the unthought, that is life. ( Cinema 2 189). At one time we seemed to know this; now we do not. What happened? In order to answer that question we must deeply investigate the representation of sexuality within popular political discourse.
To the extent that discourse determines what is intelligible and, consequently, what can be said or imagined, the millennial changes in political terminology are particularly significant for the representation of sexuality. The confusion generated by the designation of leftists as reactionaries and Republicans as radicals has made it more difficult to represent sexual radicalism as a distinct and describable political position. Added to these difficulties is the confusion over how the politics of sex radical feminism are to be understood.
A brief overview of some twentieth- and twenty-first-century changes in widely popular American representations of sexuality can help to establish where we were at the end of the 1960s and how we came from there to where we are now. If one were to generate an etiological narrative of changes in America s dominant sexual ideologies during this period, it might sound something like this: Sexual revolutionary theory was initially provided by neo-Freudians like Herbert Marcuse, in Eros and Civilization (1955), and Norman O. Brown, in Life against Death (1959). These ideas were seized upon by young people of the 60s counterculture who read these texts as asserting that free expression of sexuality is revolutionary and brings about larger political change. 3 Such change was observable in everyday life.
From the mid-1960s through the 1970s American women, and many others in industrialized countries, experienced far greater freedom from punitive repercussions for exercising sexual freedom than women had previously. Feminists were instrumental in bringing about many of the changes. New widely publicized and available birth control technologies and the legalization of abortion meant that sexual activity outside marriage need not result in the birth of unwanted children. The proliferation of shelters and crisis centers for assaulted women and feminist work with law enforcement ultimately eliminated the previous common understanding that women who consented to sexual relations with one man then belonged to him to do with as he liked or that women who consented to sexual relations with multiple partners implicitly consented to be generally sexually available. And affirmative action hiring practices and policies demanding equal pay for equal work resulted in more women being able to survive financially without a man s support. All of this meant that women were freer to engage in sexual activity for pleasure alone without fearing reprisal. Because women were freer to choose sex partners based on physical attraction or affection rather than economic necessity or the need for protection, men could enjoy a sense of equality with their female sex partners. This greater freedom for both sexes led to a revolution in sexual behavior, with significant numbers of people choosing to have sex outside marriage-often with multiple partners-as a form of self-discovery or as a mode of entertainment. Popularization of the Freudian theory that sexual repression resulted in discontent and, if severe enough, mental illnesses and social disorders, including institutionalized violence and abuse of the weak, led many people to believe that the sexual revolution would make people happier and gentler with each other and populations less supportive of military aggression.
But developing alongside these new ideas were contrary movements in one strand of feminism. Throughout the 1970s, and thereafter, a vocal minority of feminists promulgated various sweeping critiques of heterosexuality, all based on the idea that men s and women s sexualities are irreconcilably different due to biological, social, and cultural factors. Among the beliefs that characterized this way of thinking was that heterosexual women could reach orgasm only through sustained clitoral stimulation. Consequently, women who wanted satisfying heterosexual sex lives would have to negotiate with a lover who was willing to spend substantial time learning about his female partner s specific, complex system of responses. Thus all heterosexual activities without male commitment were exploitive of women. As Pennington notes, Commitment and meaningful relationships became buzzwords associated with sex (65; emphasis Pennington s).
These beliefs brought some feminists into an unanticipated alliance with the rising religious right as they worked together to suppress pornography, maintain criminal penalties for sex work, and force youths (male and female) into psychological treatment if they sought casual sex rather than concentrating on forming loving, chaste relationships. 4 One result was the exponential growth of therapy cultures that disseminated the idea that mutual pleasure in sex can be achieved only through working with a partner to build feelings of trust and safety. This frequently entailed guidance by a therapist or an instructive manual. 5 The advent of the AIDS pandemic in the early 1980s coincided with a growing panic about the diminishment of economic opportunities for the generation entering the workforce, and both of these situations fed into the new monogamy-centered vision of sexuality. The safe and empowered person was the one who formed a two-income family with a disease-free partner committed to marital chastity.
Throughout the 1980s Americans were pressured by therapy culture, law enforcement, media, and new social mores to understand sexual behaviors as means to ends rather than pleasurable ends in themselves. Self-help books that taught a predominantly female audience how to use their sexuality to find and keep status-enhancing marital partners proliferated (Siegel, New Millennial Sexstyles 29-57). Feminism, both when it supported that idea through favoring committed relationships and when it contested it through critiques of heterosexuality, became popularly associated with repressive attitudes about sex. Feminists were often caricatured as antisexual. But panics about child molestation made repression increasingly socially acceptable, 6 as did constant repetition in popular media of the idea that men shared a single sexuality that by its very nature was exploitive of women.
Images of female sexual freedom in popular media, such as music videos and advertising, depicted that freedom more and more often as prostitution or as calculated manipulation of men for material gain. The underlying assumption seemed to be that because women could not enjoy heterosex for its own sake, they should use it to advance their material status, a view that was not so different from the traditional justification of female deployment of sexuality as a means of securing a wealthy male protector. Indeed, the pop star Madonna s material girl persona signified for many the new sexually liberated woman. Nina K. Martin notes how pop feminism of this period, and after, envisioned the active sexual woman as one who markets her sexuality, and she deplores the millennial enthusiasm for selling sex in the name of female empowerment and self-growth ( Sexy Thrills 70, 65; emphasis Martin s). In hip-hop videos, as Patricia Hill Collins explains, the theme of the materialistic, sexualized Black woman [became] an icon (126). She contends that in the songs and videos of this popular music form, many women not only represented themselves as sexual objects, their bodies on sale for male enjoyment, but also regarded with contempt women who did not use their sexuality to make money (126).
The latter is an important component of the sexual system that Collins astutely identifies as the new racism, in which sexual spectacles present, in a refreshed and compelling form, oppressive ideas that had become outdated, such as that African American women s worth derives exclusively from the market values of their bodies as objects of sexual exchange (31-33, 42-43). This movement toward a newly racialized concept of the sexual body as commodity developed concurrently with a concept of a pristine and delicate white body as the ultimate symbol of purity, the white magnolia that a touch would despoil. As Henry Giroux argues, In the 1990s, the new cartography of race has emerged as the result of an attempt to rewrite the racial legacy of the past while recovering a mythic vision of whiteness associated with purity and innocence (138). Richard Dyer explains that in America to be sexual has long meant to be like a black person as envisioned by racists, a bestial being who preys upon others without reason or restraint ( White 26). Because the sexually active were conceptualized as dark and dirty, tainted with the savage immorality attributed to minoritized races, and purity was code for whiteness, the intensity of traditional American racism energized the media s new mission to discourage sexual adventurism.
By the end of the millennium, the rights of virtuous (white) women-and adolescents-were considered by many Americans to center on protection from involvement in others sexual expression that was seen as synonymous with exploitation. Desire was reinterpreted as assaultive, the desire to spoil purity. The impact on popular media has been extensive and is perhaps most obvious in changes in the usual story lines of genre films so that the pursuit of sexual pleasure outside marriage is now often portrayed as indicative of emotional illness or predictive of physical illness. The most striking example of the new attitude toward sex displayed in film is provided by the Twilight franchise, based on the novels written by Stephenie Meyer. In earlier vampire films, a vampire s virtue was shown by its resistance to the urge to kill people by drinking their blood, as is illustrated by Louis (Brad Pitt) in Interview with the Vampire (dir. Neil Jordan, 1994). In the Twilight films, as in the young adult novels on which they are based, although the romantic hero Edward (Robert Pattinson) has given up murdering for blood, what establishes his virtue is his insistence on strict sexual abstinence until marriage (Siegel, Twilight of Sexual Liberation 270). The bad vampires are promiscuous, which indicates their subhuman status. In other blockbusters about teens, such as the Hunger Games franchise, chastity is also the premier signifier of virtue, and sexual interest in others is the sign of villainy. But chastity (as abstinence before forming a long-term relationship and monogamy thereafter) is not presented as being only for kids. The Jason Bourne spy series, in contrast to the old James Bond films, is almost as negative about casual sex as the young adult films. And speaking of James Bond, in Skyfall (dir. Sam Mendes, 2012) Daniel Craig (who was only forty-four at the time) plays him as a worn-out old man who has sex only once that we are shown and possibly on another occasion, while his nemesis Silva (Javier Bardem) signifies his evil nature by referring enthusiastically to the pleasure he finds in a wide-ranging sex life that includes female-dominant S / M (sadomasochism). Science fiction heroes, like Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Inception (dir. Christopher Nolan, 2010), are often paired with attractive female costars, but no extramarital sex transpires, because they remain true to their one great love. Apparently only bad guys can find sexual comfort in casual encounters. While the Julian Assange bio-pic, The Fifth Estate (dir. Bill Condon, 2013), steers clear of addressing the rape charges against him, it depicts his interest in casual sex as a profound character flaw that casts doubt on his credibility.
If male heroes cannot be sexually free and still heroic, women certainly cannot. Linda Ruth Williams documents the frequency with which American films in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century show a nonmonogamous woman punished by death for her erotic excesses ( Erotic Thriller 401). Cinematic and television depictions of women pursuing sexual pleasure with multiple partners frequently frame this activity as excusable because it is necessary to hunting down a wealthy husband, as in the television series Sex in the City (1998-2004) and later films Sex and the City and Sex and the City 2 (both directed by Michael Patrick King, 2008 and 2010). If it is not excusable, it is often punished by the promiscuous woman developing cancer, as happens in Y Tu Mam Tambi n (dir. Alfonso Cuar n, 2001), and, of course, Sex and the City . The last TV season of the HBO series features as a major plot element Samantha (Kim Cattrall), the most sexually uninhibited of the women characters, being diagnosed with cancer and beginning a committed romantic relationship as a response to her new emotional neediness. While the relationship she forms is based on sexual compatibility, including a shared interest in experimentation, this is implicitly related to the more normative resolution of the sexual and romantic problems of Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), the heroine, through the willingness of Mr. Big, the man she adores, to rescue her at long last from the need for casual sex or affairs. Henceforth, her sexuality will be domesticated and restricted to their relationship. In an article defending Sex and the City , Emily Nussbaum concedes that Carrie s marriage to Mr. Big at the end of the series pulled its punches and showed a failure of nerve in its submission to conventional romantic expectations (67). But even this disappointing conclusion is less typical of the trend in representing sexuality in visual media in the aftermath of the sexual revolution. The way the 2008 film version of Sex and the City centers on Carrie s wedding to Mr. Big is typical of how most relatively recent films contain sexuality within marriage. We see less representation of affectionate and pleasurable consensual sexual intercourse outside marriage and more negative representation of sexual desire and activity as dangerous and even indicative of bad character, especially when it is nondomesticated-as this book shows.
Many feminists fought back against this sort of negative representation of desire and sexual activity. Sex radical itself is a term that emerged out of the fragmentation over sexual issues of feminism s second wave. Initially radical feminists defined ourselves, and were defined by the press, as women working for profound changes not simply in the laws but also in unlegislated aspects of daily life and thus in the culture itself. As discussed by historians of the feminist movement like Alice Echols, many of the early radical feminists supported without reservation women s attempts to express their sexual feelings. 7
But cultural feminism, which developed as a movement in the 1970s, took a prescriptive attitude toward sexuality. Cultural feminists, who often called themselves radical feminists, opposed all sexual relations they deemed hierarchical and thus derived from the patriarchal model, including in some instances heterosexuality of all kinds. Pornography, including forms that do not use photographic images, was targeted as not only an incitement to rape but equivalent to it as well, and the alliances cultural feminists made with the religious right to criminalize pornography incited the decade of disagreement often referred to by feminist activists as the sex wars. 8 Out of this struggle emerged two competing groups of self-proclaimed radical feminists: on one side the most extremely prescriptive of the cultural feminists, on the other the sex radicals. 9 As Melissa E. Sanchez explains, sex radical feminists oppose policing or pathologizing desires that do not readily conform to ideals of mutuality, cooperation, and egalitarianism (497). She argues that sex radical feminism is closest to queer studies as a critical position of resistance to the tyranny of the normal, which she, among many others, sees as being unwittingly supported by the prescriptive strand of cultural feminism through its insistence that women are less attracted than men are to all forms of sexual aggressiveness and experimentation (504).
The early and continued feminist insistence that women s voices must be heard is in its essence radical. Radicalism fosters the representation of views that disrupt the normative. Consequently, radical representation of sex in films must include the voicing of views that have not been heard or, if heard, not given serious attention. Thus a sex radical film is one that represents sexuality in anti-normative ways, ways that are representative of minoritized voices. As Linda Williams puts it, The question that now faces both feminists and sexual minorities is the political one of whose sexual desires and pleasures will be permitted on/scene now that we no longer conceive of sex as containing a hard core of obscenity ( Second Thoughts 173). But while few feminists would argue that sex is per se obscene, not all feminists support the sex radical position that it is good that some films represent views that might undermine the mission to protect women and children from the potential harms arising from sexual activity. Their position against such films is laudably rooted in concern for the majority of vulnerable people, but it is not a radical position. That women s desperate desire for love and their need for economic support put them in danger of sexual exploitation by men is a traditional cinematic trope. The dominant cultural ideology holds that men want casual sex for its own sake and women do not, and moreover, that what everyone, male or female, truly needs for complete sexual fulfillment is a long-term, committed relationship. The even less controversial views that minors will be damaged by sexual contact with adults and that prostitutes are hurt by the very nature of their profession are frequently represented in both popular and art media, thanks in large part to feminist advocacy, over the last half century, for formerly silenced victims of sexual abuse.
The many films that portray the pain of those who are subjected to unwanted sexual attentions that they lacked the power to reject are liberal, not radical, because radicalism calls into question dominant cultural ideologies. The official position of the United States, codified into laws on age of consent and on sex work, upholds the view that intergenerational sex and prostitution are damaging to those who experience them. The relatively small number of films that represent the position that casual sex is beneficial to those who engage in it and for society, let alone those films that represent the views of people who feel they were not damaged by childhood experiences of intergenerational sex or by doing sex work, are radical in that they oppose the majoritarian discourse on these topics. Because films that advocate for those who have been damaged by nonconsensual sex often do fit popular definitions of radicalism, in that they are confrontational and frequently include explicit or implicit attacks on the traditional family or religious institutions, the distinction between a majority and what Gilles Deleuze calls majoritarian is central to my use of the term radical in this study.
For the purpose of reducing confusion in terminology, this book equates majoritarian and minoritarian representations of sexuality in film, as defined by Deleuze, with, respectively, liberal and radical ones. Such an equation allows for the reality that films, like feminisms, are rarely truly conservative, let alone reactionary, in their depictions of sexuality, because prudishness does not sell well outside of religious right markets. The equation I am making underrepresents the radical aspects of some films that mainly support liberal views of sexuality while still calling for major changes to established institutions. However, it does so in order to increase recognition that, in terms of their overall presentation of sexuality, some films promote new thought more than others do. In brief, according to Deleuze, the majoritarian forecloses fluidity of identification by assigning fixed meanings to states of being in order to protect the financial, temporal, and emotional investments of powerful groups. Those who take a majoritarian position in art or politics place themselves into a group with preset boundaries and limited membership. Though they may conceive of their group simply as human beings, that state of being is limited by their exclusionary definitions of what humanity can mean. Majoritarian political groups, writings, and works of art are not necessarily the majority in any particular time or place, but are always in support of the major centers of political power and what is most valued in the dominant discourse. In contrast to the majoritarian, the minoritarian fosters unlimited becoming, with the addition of each new member expanding and revising the meanings attached to that group. There can be no sexuality more human than any other to the minoritarian.
Considered thus it becomes clear that the feminists of the 1960s second wave began as political minoritarians. They refused finite definitions of womanhood or even femaleness, insisting on the fluidity of identity, and they challenged woman s traditional definition as man s other. They fought sexism in laws, society, and culture, and they supported unrestricted expression of consensual sexuality. Happily for feminism, these positions have continued to be strongly represented within feminist movements and seem to be supported by the majority of us. The smaller group of self-described cultural feminists of the 1970s became majoritarian by promoting equally sweeping changes in laws, society, and culture, but always in the name of narrowly defined women s cultural values. The majoritist feminist position that the sexual revolution failed women derived from a set of assumptions about (universalized) female sexuality and emotional needs that were majoritarian in that they fit well with traditional concepts of gender binarity. These assumptions included the idea that women experience sexuality as a means to the end of being loved and supported in committed monogamous relationships. As a consequence, freedom of sexual expression must be restricted, since it allows men to hurt and oppress women who consent to sexual relations only because they see no other route to being loved. As feminist historians Alice Echols and Carolyn Bronstein discuss throughout their excellent studies of the feminist sex wars, protecting women s right to refuse interpersonal sexual activity (as opposed to masturbation) was seen by such cultural feminists as one of the most essential aspects of women s liberation.
In order to believe that expression of sexuality that is unrestricted by anything other than the imperative that all partners be capable of consent can be liberating, one must also believe that sexual freedom is intrinsic to untrammeled self-expression-that is, that one s sexuality is a vital component of one s self. If sexual expression is seen as a luxury that can easily be foregone with no ill effects, then it scarcely seems liberatory, and to prioritize its freedom as the equivalent to other sorts of freedom does seem decadent. Moreover, if sexuality is understood mainly in terms of its potential to inflict damage on others, then freedom of sexual expression will be seen primarily as infringement on the rights of others and as a means of politically disempowering those who are already weak due to marginalization. I think the latter vision, which is liberal in its intent to protect the disenfranchised but conservative in its concept of undomestic sex as inherently harmful, has come to dominate American representation of the intersection of sexual expression and politics. In my view, majoritarian feminism failed the sexual revolution, not least in supporting regulatory legislation that appealed to conservatives. And this failure led to political (and cinematic representational) developments that no feminist can endorse.
Failure to recognize crucial differences within feminism can result in misreadings of the politics of specific films, as is the case with Pennington s interpretation of Annie Hall (dir. Woody Allen, 1977) as both sexually radical and apparently supportive of feminism because it questions whether sexual pleasure should be contained within permanent relationships (71-73). Ignored is that the efficacy of this questioning depends on audience agreement with the traditional-and cultural feminist-belief that male and female sexualities are incompatible because sexual relations are always a means to an end for women while they are of primary importance to men. Sex radical feminists in the late 1970s were deeply engaged in combating Woody Allen s jocular message in Annie Hall that by her very nature a woman cannot enjoy sex in the same way as men can. But such resistance to traditional views has not been easy for many feminists, as numerous personal accounts testify, because of the way most people are taught about sex.
In the introduction to his polemic Gaga Feminism , J. Jack Halberstam contends that the adult filters his or her response to sex, love, emotions through the thick haze of training that has installed shame and guilt as appropriate barriers to unfettered and antisocial explorations of the body (xxiv). The title of another recent queer studies book, Lauren Berlant and Lee Edelman s Sex, or the Unbearable , is explained similarly: We are taught as children to feel ashamed of our sexual feelings and that their very expression is an antisocial act. Thus, according to many theorists in sexuality studies, guilt and shame become inextricable from the experience of sex. But what about those of us whom this we does not describe? The unconventional way I was raised, as much as my experiences as an adult, leads me to question the inevitability of this discomfort with sex and to believe that there is considerable value to paying attention to the autobiographical accounts of the experiences of those who were not so trained or who somehow successfully threw off the influence of such training. This, too, provides a framework for my analysis of the cinematic representations of the politics of sex.
My parents were the sort of working-class political progressives who identified strongly with the leftist countercultural movements of their times in so far as they represented sex-positive and antiracist beliefs. For them these two political positions were closely connected. Their marriage was seen in its first two decades (the 1940s and 1950s) as interracial due to the racialization (and minoritization) of dark-skinned, kinky-haired Jews like my father, especially in the impoverished communities into which they were both born. (As Richard Dyer observes, The Jews have constituted the limit case of whiteness, always with the possibility of being minoritized as nonwhite [ White 53-54].) Committed to defying social mores that outlawed consensual sexual relations-and indeed any societal attempts to regulate sexual expression that did not directly hurt others-my parents fought first against antimiscegenation laws and later for gay rights, a movement they saw as analogous to the civil rights movement. As self-described bohemians in favor of free love, they enthusiastically supported the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, believed that adolescents should have the right to choose sexual experiences they wanted, and so stood by ready to smooth my path as I ventured into sexual experience in the mid-1960s. I attribute the success of my sex life largely to this upbringing, which departs markedly from the norms of mainstream America, let alone the religious communities that have so large, and unrepresentative, a voice in determining sexual management policies such as the millennial emphasis on abstinence-only sex education in the public schools.
Because we all arrive at our adult sexualities from different upbringings, determining positions on how sexuality should be managed is difficult. When I look back on how much pleasure, self-confidence, and optimism early sexual experience gave me, I am tempted to support lowering the age of consent. The many accounts given by the victims of coerced intergenerational sex, however, make me acutely aware that policies based on the assumption that children can choose freely in the realm of sexual expression would entail ignoring the realities of our world. Moreover, it seems obvious that even sex between minors, as opposed to sex between minors and adults, is unlikely to have good results for most people in the misogynistic, patriarchal, heteronormative, and generally sex-phobic world we currently inhabit.
Finding a radical position on sex work is similarly complex. When I think about the sex workers I have known and many of the accounts of sex work I have read, I tend toward endorsing the removal of all criminalization of sex work. I have known street prostitutes, massage parlor prostitutes, prostitutes in brothels, call girls and call boys, escorts (both private and managed by agencies), dominatrices, providers of Internet and phone sex, people who sell their used underwear online, strippers, lap dancers, live sex show performers, nude and fetish models, and actors and actresses in pornography of all kinds, as well as sex surrogates working with licensed therapists. Without having ever been paid for sexual services or having paid to receive them, I have as extensive an experience of sex work as it seems possible for an academic feminist to have. And that experience leads me to say that sex work is not necessarily something its practitioners need to be protected from. However, looking at the ever increasing mass of literature produced by the victims of forced prostitution brings me to recognize that terrible injustices are likely to arise if we decide to lift all legal restrictions on sex work at this time.
The complexity of just these two controversial issues indicates that what is most urgently needed in productively addressing the management of forbidden, outlawed, and even merely culturally disapproved of sexualities is to begin by examining in depth how contemporary sexual beliefs are generated. If we can see why current conditions prevail, we will be better equipped to change them in ways that will make positive experiences of sex more available to us all. This book begins that work through focus on one facet of the representation of sex in cinema: the distinction between liberal and radical sexual politics.
The easiest way to understand what sex radical feminist politics might now mean in relation to cinema is to begin by looking back to what that relationship was like in the 1970s-an era defined by radical expressions of sexuality, expressions that broke through mainstream mores, challenging previous concepts of propriety. For a succinct comparison of past to present, one of many useful places to look is at Breck Eisner s 2010 remake of George Romero s 1973 film The Crazies . As the following discussion illustrates, Romero s film is radical in depicting sexual pleasure as the most important aspect of a romantic relationship, while the remake is liberal in its depiction of ideal romantic love as domestic and procreative rather than centered on sexual pleasure. The point of the example is to show that the sexual politics of films are relevant to a more general political analysis of films, that representations of sexuality are not a side issue in political analysis.
The DVD special feature on the making of Eisner s version points out that, as is typical of Romero s work, the film has a strongly leftist political slant, as it questions US institutions and the status quo. The story concerns a biological weapon developed to drive enemy populations insane but accidentally released by a plane crash into the water system of a small town. The central characters are a couple-David, a fireman, and Judy, a nurse-who struggle to survive the disaster but ultimately fail as the result of the chaos that ensues when the military makes a series of terrible mistakes in their attempt to contain the contagion. Another main character is Colonel Peckham, the African American officer in charge of the containment operation, whose attempts to balance individual rights against the dangers to the country (and world) as a whole are also doomed to fail. Here, as in Romero s more famous zombie films, tragedy is the result of an American mind-set that glorifies violence and resistance to authority but simultaneously normalizes investing so much power in our military and the related research science institutions (what 60s radicals called the military industrial complex ) that they have become a threat to life on Earth. In short, if the townspeople were willing to obey the soldiers who are trying to round them up to wait for the arrival of sufficient supplies of the vaccine, many of the townspeople would have survived and there would have been no reason for a strategic nuclear attack to sterilize the area.
But because the town s citizens do not trust the government and fight fiercely for their independent right to flee the town, even though that will inevitably result in spreading the disease, the scientist who has developed an effective cure is killed and the vaccine destroyed, the fireman whose immunity would have led to a cure gives up trying to help when his girlfriend is shot to death by uninfected townspeople who are violently resisting being rounded up by the military, and so everyone in town dies and the virus is guaranteed an unchecked spread. The moral of the story seems to be: do not give the government free rein to embark on projects that can kill us all, but if you must, then follow their directions when they intervene to try to save you from one of the disasters you yourself have funded and implicitly voted to support. (As Walt Kelly s cartoon character Pogo famously quipped, We have met the enemy and he is us! ) The film s sexual politics include, as I discuss below, two focal ideas: (1) normal healthy people want erotic pleasure more than anything else, and certainly more than they want legal marriage, property, or even offspring, and (2) men who conceive of themselves as patriarchs are a danger to others because they disregard the needs and feelings of their subordinates-that is, women and children, as well as other men who have less social power. In Romero s film these messages combine to express a radicalism that was typical of the 1970s.
Eisner s version of The Crazies simplifies these politics considerably. Had the remake kept the character of the embattled Colonel Peckham and retained his role as the only consistently logical and reasonable force against the freedom fighters -whose actions make them ultimately indistinguishable from the Crazies and as much as a threat to national health-a lot of the audience might have seen Peckham as symbolic of President Obama facing off against the Tea Party over health-care reform. The elimination of Peckham in the remake results in quite a different picture of our national contentions over health. Governmental intervention is no longer represented by developed characters who have to make hard choices. There is no vaccine, and there is no ethical leader of the military operation.
Instead, Eisner s film presents the government in Reaganesque/libertarian light, simply as the enemy of any free-thinking American. From the beginning the government intervenes only to begin killing everyone in the town. As in Nazi Germany, people are herded into cattle cars and transported to their deaths. While in the original version of the film a simple blood test reveals whether or not the citizens are infected, in the remake there is no way to determine whether they are infected, so all must die. Government testing of the citizenry is done only for nefarious reasons. Since fever indicates the virus is already active, those with elevated temperatures are taken away to undergo Nazi-like medical experimentation. Because pregnancy raises body temperature, pregnant women horrifically become victims, conveying the Tea Party message that government intervention into health care must be resisted because it threatens the unborn.
Eisner s film also changes the male protagonist from a rather lazy fireman to a conscientious sheriff. And here is where sexual politics first enter the story. In Romero s version the patriarchal small-town sheriff is one of the first casualties, shot by soldiers because he refuses the colonel s order to relinquish his weapon, despite the well-warranted concern of military leaders that the crazy-making virus would make the town s heavily armed citizens (including the sheriff and his deputy) dangerous to one another. Thus what was initially the tragedy of a population caught up in and finally destroyed by power struggles among those empowered to protect them is revised into a covert plea for local governmental power as a force against federal power. The balance is shifted away from a critique of patriarchal power to an endorsement of traditional masculinity as figured by sheriffs and soldiers. Yet ultimately Eisner s film seemingly reverts to liberalism, at least in the alternative ending, included as a choice on the DVD , which depicts the sheriff s personal, independent triumph over the federal government as leading to the spread of the disease since he himself has contracted it. All of this revision is very political, though sometimes contradictorily so, in ways that reflect the millennial reconfiguration of concepts of the political right and left in America. At the heart of revisionary representation of politics in Eisner s film is its depictions of sexuality and gender, which emerge as inextricable from its general politics, whether we read them as libertarian, due to the ending shown in theaters, or liberal, due to the alternative ending offered on the DVD .
Romero s film begins, like his most famous, Night of the Living Dead , with a boy teasing and frightening his little sister. The cruel game is interrupted by their deranged and consequently murderous father s appearance, putting the boy s aggression into a context of gender inequities, which is reinforced by the girl s discovery of her murdered mother s body. Romero s film returns to this theme later when a virus-infected father rapes his daughter, resulting in her wandering mindlessly until she is killed by soldiers.
Eisner s remake, on the other hand, does not depict male power over women as a social problem that complicates the town s emergency situation. It begins with a lone infected gunman disrupting an all-American baseball game and being shot in self-defense by the sheriff. It removes the questioning of gender politics that is central to the original and substitutes an apparent endorsement of local authority, presented as the answer to which powers Americans should trust. In fact the remake casts the angry, resentful wife of the gunman as one of the villains, as is her son, because they both inappropriately resent the sheriff s actions. As long as the patriarch is local, it seems his authority should not be questioned. While patriarchy is always bad in Romero s films, here its possible evils are almost completely lost in implicit condemnation of federal government intervention into local affairs.
Romero s film goes from the father s massacre of his family to the bedroom of the fireman and his nurse girlfriend, who joke and play with each other amorously as she tries to persuade him to have sex with her rather than answering the fire call. He reminds her that the doctor has told them that sex at this time could endanger her pregnancy, but she laughs that off, saying she knows she should not risk losing the baby, because he would not marry her otherwise. Nonetheless she shows herself quite willing to risk it. In contrast, in Eisner s film the central couple is respectably married. She is pregnant and focused on the coming child, to the unbelievable extent that in the midst of the crisis, with death all around her and danger closing in, she stops to mourn having to abandon the expensively decorated nursery room she has created in their house. So from the onset it is made clear that the protagonist couple in the remake has bourgeois family values that center on married reproduction and possession and improvement of real estate, not on sex and pleasure.
In addition, it is somewhat incorrect to refer to the couple in the remake as the protagonists, since the role of the male protagonist s sex partner has been downgraded from that of a heroic nurse to that of a stereotypical woman in peril. Romero s fireman and nurse are dual protagonists fighting the Crazies side by side until her infection incapacitates her. Part of the tragedy is the way the disease transforms her from a tough and capable heroine into a weak, childlike person he must try to protect. In the remake the sheriff is the protagonist and his wife is merely his wife. In one dramatic scene the sheriff saves her from pitchfork impalement by a rampaging Crazy. Symbolically, this is an obvious thwarting of a rape attempt. But even stronger than the suggestion that men must protect women s sexual integrity is the message that the family is in danger from those who attack society s most important members-fetuses-because both characters are focused on their desire not only to preserve the life of the unborn child but also to provide for it a comfortably affluent life in a large, beautifully appointed house amid ample consumer goods.
In the DVD extras for Eisner s film, he remarks that his intent was to preserve the politics of the original. However, this view seems based on misconceptions about the politics of Romero s film. Eisner s film strongly conveys two messages usually associated with American conservative politics: (1) that regional governments should make all the decisions for US citizens because the federal government is evil, and (2) that women need strong men to provide patriarchal protection as they fulfill their reproductive mission. If this is what we now think of as preserving sex radical leftist politics, like Romero s, in cinema, we are in big trouble. And as this book goes on to show, we are in big trouble.
A major purpose of this book is to track the rhizomatic connections between current confusions over the meaning of the term radical and over the meaning of sexual freedom as they pertain to the analysis of film. Robin Wood rightly observes, Liberalism and radicalism can never be entirely discrete conceptually, there will always be areas of overlap, yet it is important to distinguish them as much as possible when analyzing the politics of film (184; emphasis Wood s). These two contested terms converge, touch, and inform each other in myriad ways that do much to determine our responses to some of our most urgent crises, although not always in readily apparent fashion. Examining their relations in contemporary visual media can provide a new perspective on the curious failure of Americans to address our most pressing problems in any effective way. These problems, which have reached crisis level, are the baby boomers failure to protect later generations from a wide array of life-threatening dangers (including the destruction of the natural environment), the instability of the economy (especially as it affects housing), and the growing gap between the wealthy and the rest of the country s citizens (particularly the way this gap disproportionately affects people minoritized by racialization). These crises are transforming what has been known as the American way of life into a frantic scramble to hold on to a world that is disappearing, but few of us seem interested in making changes that could preserve any of the advantages that once made life in America at least intermittently pleasant for the majority. Instead, like the Crazies, we seem bent on running wild, killing each other, and setting the stage for our country s collapse. How have we taken such a wrong turn and why? I believe that it is only by thinking about sexual politics not as a sidebar issue but as a-and perhaps even as the -central defining political structure of America that we can begin to find some answers.
As we academics have been acknowledging, at the very least, since the appearance of the first volume of Michel Foucault s History of Sexuality , sexuality comes to us always already politicized. And the politicization always concerns whether or not sexual pleasure is to be understood as a necessary part of a satisfactory life or a luxury that should be foregone if it interferes with more important things. 10 Academics examining the representation of sexuality in cinema have much to learn through attention to the reception of gay and lesbian films by their own target audiences. As B. Ruby Rich points out throughout her fascinating study New Queer Cinema: The Director s Cut , gay and lesbian films have consistently been critiqued by gays and lesbians for their politics, with many reviews focusing on whether they are liberal or radical. This focus has arisen, no doubt, because films made for homosexual audiences are assumed to be made to appeal exclusively to liberals and radicals, since conservatives do not generally support gay rights. For this cinema the question is not whether it transgresses sexual norms, but how much and to what extent. In Rich s view the answer seems to be not enough . She complains that the majority of queer publics want films of validation and a culture of affirmation: work that can reinforce identity, visualize respectability, combat injustice, and bolster social status (41). Queer publics are not alone, by any means, in preferring a cinema that upholds cultural myths while reassuring the audience that allegiance to these lies will win them a place at the capitalist table.
In an essay on the continuing evolution of the romantic comedy, John Alberti provides ample evidence that much work in this genre reflects a growing cultural suspicion of the ability of patriarchal heteronormative marriage to contain sexual energies in ways their participants will find satisfactory (163). These films still present monogamous marriage as necessary to the attainment of a respectable position in adult life. As Alberti shows, the only real change is that films in the genre once treated concluding marriages as happy events while now weddings are viewed much more cynically, even in some films as a sort of necessary evil. This change is understandable because of the pervasive devaluation of undomesticated sexual pleasure in popular culture. But popular culture is not alone in supporting that view.
Notably, many leftist public intellectuals and activists seem to agree with spokespeople for the Right that recreational sex is at best a distraction from serious political activity and at worst a form of decadence that is available to only the most economically privileged and that undermines useful political action. To argue that engagement in sex for its own sake, solely for the pleasure it has to offer, is a political act is often treated as a sort of betrayal of political activism, a frivolous undermining of the seriousness it deserves. This attitude persists in people who would do well to remember the emphasis in the 1960s on the transformative power of sexuality used as a means to connect lovingly to others, without submitting to majoritarian cultural dictates that sexual expression should be part of a movement toward monogamous commitment. Because in America the ideal for monogamous couples has always included building material assets and acquiring private property, especially real estate, and prioritizing the nuclear family s interests above all else, one might think that Marxian theorists would be friendly toward lovemaking that has as its only aims pleasure and increasing the amount of affectionate activity in the world. But this is not usually the case. Interest in nonnormative sexualities is particularly subject to censure and scorn.
One might look, for example, at Terry Eagleton s discussion in After Theory of the way structuralism, Marxism, post-structuralism and the like are no longer the sexy topics they were. What is sexy instead is sex. . . . There is a keen interest in coupling bodies, but not in laboring ones. Quietly spoken middle-class students huddle diligently in libraries, at work on sensationalist subjects like vampirism and eye gouging, cyborgs and porno movies (2-3). Here Eagleton replicates the antisexual vision that is typical of past communist dictatorships, perhaps especially Maoist China, seeing eroticism as bourgeois/decadent and opposed to leftist political engagement, as individualism inherently at odds with collectivism. And it is interesting to note that his assumption that all of us involved in sexuality studies are middle class ignores the reality that the relatively generous student aid packages and low tuitions of the 1970s resulted in a flood of scholars from the working class, like myself, who have passed on to our own students an interest in the revolutionary sex and gender politics that made our own entry into the academy possible. Such attitudes as Eagleton s reinforce the Right s determination to keep any politicizing discussion of sexuality out of public discourse (don t ask, don t tell). So it has become especially urgent that progressive-minded academics continue-like Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, Gayle Rubin, Judith Butler, Dagmar Herzog, Lauren Berlant, Lee Edelman, and J. Jack Halberstam, to name a few of the most prominent theorists in this field-to ask and to tell how concepts of sexuality, concepts of sexual identity, and sexual practices connect to concepts of politics, political identities, and political practices in lieu of assuming that an interest in sexual expression and radical leftist politics are fundamentally opposed. The works of these writers and other less famous pro-sex commentators on sexual politics inform this book.
The comparisons of films (and sometimes television series) that structure the chapters that follow were inspired by my recognition that one of the most important questions scholars of sexuality can ask is as compared to what? 11 Cinematic or television representations of sexuality are often praised as landmarks of liberation, yet one must always ask, as compared to what? Certainly, for example, as a television series Sex and the City was revolutionary in its depiction of mature women pursuing sexual pleasure and frequently enjoying that pursuit. Astrid Henry praises the TV series both in her book Not My Mother s Sister , in which she says it represents the way a new breed of sexual woman is being celebrated in our culture (109), and in an essay titled Orgasms and Empowerment, in which she describes as one of its greatest virtues the series provision of four different perspectives on contemporary women s lives through the main characters. Henry claims this amounts to a portrayal of feminism in all its diversity (67, 69).
But other feminist and gender theorists take other positions on the series and the spin-off films. Halberstam is particularly scathing about the series and its two film versions, describing it as romantic comedy that is typical of those in which whiny women are desperate for love and randy men are desperate to escape both and that offers its audience only misogynous stereotypes of single women ( Gaga Feminism 115, 117). Sex and the City does not seem particularly liberating compared to, for instance, Catherine Breillat s Brief Crossing (2001), in which a mature married woman seduces a handsome youth and enjoys casual sex with him on a short boat trip, not in order to reassure herself that she is still attractive, a frequent concern of the Sex and the City characters, or to find an economically successful life partner, as Carrie ultimately does, but with no other intention than receiving pleasure. After the boat docks, the woman leaves without experiencing heartbreak, let alone cancer, or having to choose between sexual freedom and love. We see her at the conclusion returning happily to her loving husband and child, refreshed by an experience that she will probably repeat. In this comparison the television series seems liberal to a degree in its insistence that women can enjoy sex and have the right to experiment to find what sort of relationship commitment is right for them, but Breillat s film is clearly sex radical in its refusal of obedience to any societal laws dictating appropriate sexual behavior. The protagonist, Alice (Sarah Pratt), takes the pleasure she wants without repercussions or even learning a lesson. Her sexual experience is not a means to any end, but an end in itself.
It seems useful at this point to say what this book is and what it is not. Unlike many books that bring together sexuality studies and cinema studies, it foregoes focus on aesthetic issues in favor of focus on the politics of representations. This is not an encyclopedic overview of films with sexual content, and because aesthetics are not the book s primary concern, it does not provide commentary on every highly regarded film that might be considered relevant to a discussion of the presentation of sexuality in cinema. Nor is it a sociological study in support of recommendations for legislation. Instead the book is grounded by a definition of sex radicalism that, true to the term s origins within feminist politics, is closely aligned with the political left through its concern with society as a whole, not simply individual freedoms. While I argue that we must attend to the voices that question current laws, because those laws are at odds with their sense of their own experiences, I leave it to my readers to decide how public policies can be formulated so as to protect children from abuse within a society where they have little recourse to oppose adult authority, or how laws can work to protect the poor from sexual exploitation by a capitalist system that aggressively resists the organization of any sort of workers into unions. But I do not draw the line only by refusing to advocate removing all laws prohibiting prostitution and intergenerational sex. This book does not suggest specific policies for the regulation, or freedom from regulation, of any sort of sexual expression or practice. Its purpose is to provide material for thought about how the sexual politics of visual entertainment media participate in the development of such policies through the ways they reflect, inform, promote, or contest various visions of sexual desires and practices. Within this context sex radical cinema is cinema that disrupts the majoritarian scripts or dominant discourses about sexuality and their subtle, as well as overt, relations to other aspects of our lives.
Each of the book s chapters deals with a group of films on a topic that has been especially popular with American audiences in the past two decades. And each shows how the topic is articulated either with a predominantly liberal approach or a predominantly radical one related to the sexual politics of our times. A radical approach does not mean that the film necessarily depicts sex acts in an unprecedentedly graphic manner or that it depicts or references sex acts that are generally seen as perverse. A sex radical film may not show any sexual activity at all and may only obliquely suggest the possibility of such activity. A sex radical film is one whose approach belongs to the minoritarian, as Deleuze describes it-that is, a film that presents sexuality in a manner that disturbs the liberal concept of a norm, that introduces ideas about sexuality and its impact on society that disrupt majoritarian views of how sex fits into human lives.
I devote considerable attention to the representation of children s and adolescents sexualities because of the centrality to the public management of sexuality of ideologies concerning the protection of the young. As Judith Levine astutely observes: The notion that youthful sexuality is a problem pervades our thinking in all arenas. If images of desire appear in the media, critics call them brainwashing, and sexual images as well as activities that involve the young are widely considered coercion and abuse, pathology, a tragedy, or a crime, risk behavior, and, of course, sin (137). As with what role, if any, sex should play in the life of the young soldier and whether interracial attractions should be allowed sexual expression or neighborhoods should be kept racially pure to prevent this expression, the core issue dramatized in films about the young is who should be allowed an active sex life and under what conditions. And this issue is always related to the question of who has a rightful place within America s protected enclaves and the economic systems on which they are mapped, who belongs to the human family, and who must be dehumanized and exiled to a lawless wild zone because of her or his forbidden desires.
Chapter 1 , America s Virginity Fetish and the Mysteries of Child Molestation, begins the book s consideration of the naturalization of behaviors that support the current economic system by looking at how differing visions of the first sexual experiences of girls marked as white relate to cinematic attacks on or affirmations of bourgeois family values. For many liberals these values determine whether to consider a person a worthy human or a worthless monster. For that reason, the chapter goes on to examine the use of pedophiles (America s most despised monsters) as a key plot element in the mystery genre and its relation to changes in the enforcement of child molestation laws. Here we have competing visions of the pedophile-always monstrous, but sometimes, shockingly, not perceived that way by the child who interacts with him or her. The liberal, protective, but totalizing vision of the effect of intergenerational sex is disrupted by the inclusion of films that represent the voices of those who are still generally silenced: young people who chose to have and enjoyed such experiences. The chapter argues that by attending to radical cinematic representations of young people s sexuality, we can gain useful understanding of the complex issue of how best to protect minors from being damaged by sexual experiences.
Chapter 2 , Sex Trafficking Films, or Taken for a Ride, examines several of the enormous number of recent films and television series that reflect, but also influence, attitudes about the international sex trade. In these films the image of the prostituted child segues into the figuration of the prostitute as child. Again my analysis foregrounds the films liberal desire to protect children. However, I also discuss the problems that result when, by depicting prostitution as inherently damaging to women and children, filmmakers fall back on a discourse on sexuality that infantilizes adult sex workers by denying any validity to their claims to have agency. Chapter 2 also examines the positioning of Muslims as the evil other to a Western liberalism about sex and gender that is predicated on protecting the weak. Included is an analysis of how specific visions of women s and children s sexual vulnerability have traditionally been linked in film to portrayals of the Middle East as the premier locus of sexual oppression and Muslims as its primary villainous perpetrators, and how they continue to be linked in most films about sex trafficking.
Chapter 3 , Sex and Antimilitarism, expands the examination of ways that current views of sexuality promulgated by many films feed into our age of seemingly endless war with Muslims. I looks closely at war films in this chapter because of their relevance to contemporary American politics in this age of Middle Eastern conflicts. But the main focus of the chapter is on how the sexualities that that cinematic representation helps to construct relate to the development of strategies for political resistance to nationalistic, and even fascistic, bellicosity. During the sexual revolution, sexual freedom was considered vital to a collectivist mind-set, also seen as a love of humanity, which would lead to the support of social justice that in turn would make nonviolence possible. And films often reflected this association. Now sex and violence are often conflated both in liberal discourses and on film, undercutting the possibility of representing free love as an alternative to love of war. This chapter traces the development of that new viewpoint through analyzing representations of sexuality, and a new and disturbing absence of reference to sexuality, in antiwar films, including those that avoid a strong political stance but do depict war with less than jingoistic approbation. The chapter examines the implications for gender relations of this shift in perspective on the relation between sex and militaristic aggression. It also notes the contrast to American sexual ideologies offered by foreign films that portray adolescent sexuality as a powerful force against fascistic militarism.
Chapter 4 , Interracial Sex and Architectures of American Horror, brings analysis of representations of the relationship between sex and war to the domestic front through focus on depictions of interracial contacts as battles over who will occupy what territory and how the economic value of that territory can be maintained or increased. At issue is how interracial contacts, especially as they involve adolescents, might lead to the formation of interracial families whose presence could threaten community property values. It sets the stage for what the rest of the book focuses on: how films reveal the ways that fear of changes in America s racist-and otherwise hierarchic-social structures influence concepts of children s and adolescents sexuality and how these concepts give shape to liberal and radical politics of cinematic representations of sexuality.
Chapter 5 , Tim Burton s Films, Children, and Perversity, goes more deeply into American views of children s sexuality through consideration of the critical and popular reception of Tim Burton s films. While the previous chapter examines films, both American and international, that advocate for or against protecting children and very young adolescents from all sexual experiences, chapter 5 looks at the substantial divide between the liberal position on the issue and both professional and ordinary adult viewers general acceptance as suitable for children Burton films that depict forbidden sexualities in decidedly sex radical ways. In doing so it discloses many contradictions in how childhood sexuality is construed by the people engaged in the production and consumption of cinema.
All of these chapters draw on theories about how concern for children can mask liberal, as well as conservative, political agendas. Chapter 1 addresses the elision of the movement to preserve white girls virginity as long as possible with the expansion of concepts of child molestation. It also considers how this elision is achieved at the expense of attention to accounts that might prompt us to ask what conditions in society magnify the effect of sexual abuse on the victims. Chapter 2 looks at the literal and metaphorical figuration of the prostitute as child in films about sex trafficking. Chapter 3 addresses films that depict sexual freedom as the antidote to an otherwise poisonous militarism and fascist ideals being inculcated in the young. It also looks at films that oppose this vision by denying that sex can function as anything more than another arena for aggression. Chapter 4 examines films that demonstrate the idea that the American real estate market is a battlefield where the appropriation of all available housing by the economically powerful is justified by a national imperative to protect white children s putative purity. Chapter 5 continues the examination of complexities in the relationship between adults efforts to protect children and efforts to exploit them. The chapter uses a close reading of how sexual perversity is associated with child vision in Tim Burton s cinema along with the apparent determination of most adult viewers, as represented by popular media and academic critics, to ignore this content in the films. However, the attention given here to representations of children is meant not to position them as the only important subjects of the official management of contemporary sexualities, but rather to draw attention to how those sexualities are constructed to the detriment of fostering an increase in sexual freedom that could be beneficial to us all. The guilt and shame that so often hamper pleasurable expression of adult sexualities have their origin in narratives that overwrite children s sexualities and reduce their complexity to one story, a story that supports the liberal agenda of allowing all humans who, according to majoritarian ideology, are deemed to be deserving of the name human a safe place within our current social structures. Because we insist that children are the future, our representations of children determine whether that future will take liberal or radical form.
In its concluding chapter, The Future, No Future , this book directly engages Lee Edelman s highly influential work on the political effects of such reproductive futurism s reliance on a symbolic child figure. Edelman s polemic No Future is brought into dialogue with Miranda July s film The Future and several recent apocalyptic films in order to demonstrate how even the peripheral presence of a child figure informs the ideological constructions of space and time that contextualize our views of sexuality. The chapter finishes with a departure into the film and television work of Lena Dunham, whose contemporary sex radical feminism offers a way to understand sexual life without giving in to the pressures of a liberalism that is heavily informed by reproductive futurism. Lauren Berlant s, Jos Esteban Mu oz s, and J. Jack Halberstam s utopian calls for queer world-making-what Halberstam calls a queer project of reimagining life worlds by understanding the history of the present ( Gaga Feminism 125)-contribute to my reading of Dunham s work as suggesting how a sex radical feminist queering of heterosexuality could inspire a vision of a future that does not depend on misrepresentation of, or one-sided narratives about, children s relations to sexuality. Dunham transforms the child as a linchpin of sexual ideology into a defiant adult daughter who is determined to express her sexuality without restraint by what anyone-conservative, liberal, or cultural feminist-thinks she should do.
Just as some criticize Dunham for commercializing her sexuality by insisting on showing us what her autobiographical characters do with their bodies, both in her film, Tiny Furniture , and in her television series, Girls , many people trivialize the meaning of sexual presentations on film and television. They dismiss the topic of sex in cinema by remarking that sexual content in a film is simply a means of increasing the film s commercial appeal. They apparently feel that because sex is a marketable component of visual media, it need not be taken seriously. But this book shows the dangers of that position. The way movies depict sex is a major determinant of the expectations, understandings, and even the laws that govern how we live our lives. As Martin Scorsese recently said, Whenever I hear people dismiss movies as fantasy and make a hard distinction between film and life, I think to myself that s just a way of avoiding the power of cinema. Of course it s not life-it s the invocation of life.

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