Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Lesbian Fantasy and Roller Derby - The Backlash!!! Part One

Right so last month I drew your attention to a questionable article by Jeremy Clyman, on Psychology Today.  The blog was titled 'Lesbian Fantasy, Disguised', and discussed the film Whip It! as a film really about lesbians and the pressures of coming out in the Deep South, and in doing so, branded Roller Derby as little more than a euphemism for lesbian sex.
Whilst he later published an apology - Lesbian Fantasy, Reconsidered - he still failed to be missing the point!

I'm gonna do this in three parts .....

First of all, here's what he had to say

Let's back up before we get into conspiracy theories. "Whip It" is directed by a female (Barrymore), its protagonist is female (Page), and the story is about a girl who becomes a woman in a female dominated world. There isn't a serious male character to be seen. Oddly enough, the film is also about sports and the Deep South. I know what you're thinking. I, as a heterosexual man, am incapable of watching an exclusively female story without conflating its straightforward coming-of-age purpose with some sort of secret, subversive sexual agenda. Why can't I just appreciate this movie as the female version of adolescent identity growth and discovery? Why force meaning in-between the lines and covertly degrade this story as only interesting if satisfying some half-cocked interpretation?

So, where is lesbian fantasy to be found in this film? Let's back up even further for a minute. What is the primary function that films serve? Escape. Specifically, escape into a desirable fantasy world from an undesirable reality. Let's imagine for a moment that you are a closeted lesbian in a suppressively heterosexual environment like Bovine, Texas. You are not coming out. You would probably rather die then come out. Thus, you are walking around with unmet needs. You have a desire to be truly known, sexually gratified and socially accepted, but society relentlessly disappoints. There is a convincing pile of emerging research that examines the specifics of this kind of misery. It is real. It is profound. If you are a filmmaker then you have the opportunity to, at least temporarily, assuage this kind of misery. But you have to be careful. If you make the story about something that is almost as "bad" as being a lesbian, and you tell a tale of adversity overcome, of strength, growth and freedom then you can indulge this fantasy of lesbian actualization without activating the anxiety of reality, that is, the shame of feeling different and the fear of being different in a prejudice society.

(T)here needs to be a wink-and-nod to the lesbian-in-hiding audience that sexuality is the real issue. A couple points here:
A. "Whip It" is about roller blading, which this movie defines as a group of half-drunk women, in tight athletic gear and rollerblades muscling each other for inside positioning, as a few key teammates weave in and out of the pack. Those that have finesse are chased by those that have strength, somewhat akin to the cat and mouse pursuit of a top and bottom sexual power dynamic (there's a reason the standard sexual position is missionary). In short, this game is a metaphor for sex.
B. The protagonist, Bliss (Page), behaves in the way that a lesbian might behave before she knows she's a lesbian. We meet her just as she's playfully dying her hair blue for a 
beauty pageant. Her inexplicable love for roller derby is incited by the image of three women pushing each other on rollerblades. She dumps her boyfriend with suspicious ease and celerity. She's an adolescent who likes to be different, is experimental and puts a boyfriend second to roller derby. Now, obviously none of these things makes her a suppressed lesbian, but as a lesbian in the audience you might be cued into the possibility of an alternative,unconscious sexual agenda.
C. A character named "Jaba the Slut" is definitely a lesbian. She winks at girls and offers them drinks and come-on lines. This is never made explicit, which signals to the audience that lesbianism is both present and not really present

Even copying an pasting this I have to stop myself screaming out at the many blatant mistakes ... but just quickly, before I start on my real argument .... Jaba the Slut only appeared once in the version of the movie that I saw, and that was simply to tell someone her skater name, and there are a heap of strong male roles in the film ....

ok .... enough of this .... lets see what you guys thought ......

Jet xxx

No comments:

Post a Comment