Category Archives: Space/Place

The Fool Speaks the Truth

From September 27-30 2012, the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies and the Harry Hay Centennial Committee sponsored “Radically Gay: The Life & Visionary Legacy of Harry Hay,” a conference to commemorate the 100th birthday of Harry Hay. I responded to the call for papers with a proposal to discuss how current Radical Faeries use or think of the queer past and archetypes. I wanted to put this in conversation with Harry Hay’s research motivations and his general interest in past queer figures. Through participant observation at 2011 Wolf Creek Samhain and an interview with Portland Radical Faerie and clown Michael Zero, I contest some queer theorists vision of queer space as “fragile” and “ephemeral” and instead begin to build a theory of sustained queer space and community.

This presentation is the second one I have produced out of this set of research. The first is here. The page limit was 10. I had to cut out some important discussions of clowning that I hope to put into the larger project, which is a dissertation tentatively titled “Sustaining Gay Liberation: The Practice of Radical Faerie Culture.”

Below is the abstract. Click The Fool Speaks the Truth for the paper. Thoughts, comments, and critiques are welcome. Please send feedback to mlecker at gmu dot edu.

The Fool Speaks the Truth: The Creation of Queer Archetypes in the Radical Faerie Community

Harry Hay asked of gay men, “Who are we? Where did we come from? What are we for?” and looked to other cultures (including Medieval Europe, Iron Age British Isles, goddess worshiping cultures, and Pueblo cultures) to validate sexually and gendered others as having a legitimate and important role within society–a role destroyed within contemporary patriarchal and capitalistic Western Culture. Hay theorized that men who loved men constituted a third gender, a minority within humanity that has its own language, culture, and skills. In 1979, Hay’s research turned to praxis through the manifestation of the Radical Faeries, a loose network of people who explore queer spirituality, community, and identity through gathering and consciousness raising. Using research collected via participant observation at various gatherings and through interviewing Radical Faeries, this paper documents how three decades after its inception, Radical Faeries use, but also distance themselves from, Hay’s initial teachings and approach, while creating new roles such as the “Stag King.” These roles legitimatize the Radical Faerie’s existence outside of mainstream gay and lesbian culture, while also creating multiple positions of power to contest and critique the Radical Faerie community and the broader culture at large. From these events and interviews what becomes clear is an expressed desire and need amongst participants to build, and plug into a queer genealogy or mythos, which ultimately sustains this queer institution and contributes to its longevity. The ethics of using figures from other time periods or cultures to ground Western same-sex or queer sexual identity has been debated with LGBTQ studies for nearly four decades. In this paper, I reject the good/bad judgment imposed by some scholars and instead conjure what David Halperin calls  “a sensitivity to difference [that] need not rule out identification… or form of queer multiplicity and solidarity.”

Leave a comment

Filed under queer, Radical Faerie, Space/Place, Subjectivity

Mass Culture and Urban Space Field

To become a PhD candidate in Cultural Studies at George Mason University, one must complete two fields—literature reviews of areas of study. My fields were “Mass Culture and Urban Space” and “Contemporary Theories of Sexuality.” Attached below is the “Mass Culture and Urban Space” field, but before that is my introduction. The only disclaimer I have is that the section of the Frankfurt School needs work.

 

INTRODUCTION

Mass culture theories vary in their perspective and object choice; each has its own history and trajectory. Within this field I limit my scope to mass culture theorists engaging with the relationship between structures and subjects. Most theorists acknowledge both as pertinent but thoroughly examine only half of the dichotomy. Cultural theorists define subjects’ existence and their agency within capitalist produced structures in wildly different fashions depending on which half is studied. Within this discussion, I explore how theories regarding mass culture’s production and consumption have informed (and have themselves been informed by) discussions of the production and consumption of urban spaces.  In this way, this field recognizes that the discussion of urban space has always played a significant and central role in larger discussions of mass culture, and has recently gained renewed attention within critical and cultural theory.  The first half of the field thus focuses on the major arguments within the structure/subject dialogue in mass culture theories. The second half then narrows in on the influences, trajectory, and impact of geographers within cultural studies, particularly around questions of the production, appropriation, negotiation, and transformation of not only cultural commodities, but also urban spaces and places.

I begin with Karl Marx’s account of industrial capitalism’s rise and the subsequent alienating of subjects from themselves, their labor, and their culture. I move to Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Siegfried Kracauer, and Walter Benjamin of the Frankfurt School and their diverse accounts of the way institutions influence population in order to create the (passive?) masses and situate the public for the exploitation of their labor. Jürgen Habermas breaks away from this trajectory by showing how reason could but fails to combat the irrationality of the system described by the Frankfurt School. As a backlash against studying structures, the Birmingham School, including Stuart Hall, Dick Hebdige, and David Morley, discuss mass culture as a site of ideological struggle between producers and consumers. Their models consider the consumer as active. Their influence within the field sparked others, most notably John Fiske and Ien Ang, into theorizing and investigating the audience and how they negotiate meaning. From here I examine political economists, such as Mark Andrejevic and Sut Jhally, who discuss how the industry transfers audiences into a source of labor. Other political economists, such as Robert McChesney, Vincent Mosco, and Herbert Schiller argue that economic strategies of monopolization, global saturation, and exportation of products and structures of thinking adversely affect political thought and cultural production.

The theories referenced above can easily be, and often have been, applied to the study of urban space. Capitalists produce both mass culture and urban space to suit its purposes, leaving subjects to navigate, acculturate, or appropriate within the systems provided. Marx, Benjamin, and Kracauer were early commentators on capitalism’s impact on space, either altering it to enhance productivity and reduce turnover times, or for the promotion and celebration of consumption. David Harvey draws upon Marxism and critical theory to examine the historical geography of capitalism and the inequalities, which result in the production of space suited to the needs of capital. His work began a long trajectory of other theorists, such as Neil Smith, Sharon Zukin, and Don Mitchell, each of whom examine the production of space and its impact on subjects on a global, national, and local scale. The work of these geographers contributes to questions raised by political economists. Differing in focus, cultural geographers such as Doreen Massey and Peter Jackson draw on the work of Michel DeCerteau, the Birmingham School, and feminists to examine how subjects navigate and alter spaces that seek to exclude them.

Mass Culture and Urban Space Field

Leave a comment

Filed under Frankfurt School, Mass Culture, Space/Place

Grant Application

I have been searching for grants to fund my dissertation for a few weeks. It has been a frustrating experience. Surprise, surprise, not a whole lot of institutions want to fund the humanities. I was ecstatic when I stumbled upon the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center’s Blanton Owen Fund Award. I have never applied for a grant and since I discovered the opportunity two days before it was due, I did not have a lot of time to revise. Please feel free to provide feedback on the proposal; this is part of my dissertation proposal and also any recommendations on how to write a grant proposal, if I erred, are welcome.

The proposal is to fund a trip to IDA, a Radical Faerie commune in central Tennessee.

Oral History and Communal Living at IDA Proposal

Leave a comment

Filed under Proposal, queer, Space/Place, Subjectivity

From Rust

I am from Erie, PA. A city failing so hard it hurts to go back. I was born during its destruction (1980s) and saw my father continually laid-off and rehired by the same factory (General Electric). During the periods he did work, my father worked as many hours as possible, removing him from the family. I mainly remember him as the man who slept because he worked long hours. Slowly more and more people were laid-off and never rehired. Amazingly, my father survived the numerous rounds and always returned to the factory. It was not until last year that my father left the factory; he was forced to retire at the age of 57.

Erie is a rustbelt town on Lake Erie. The pollution from factories still kills the fish and makes for beautiful sunsets. Two types of people live there: those who have resigned themselves to staying and those dying to leave. People do not stay for the jobs (there are not many) or the lifestyle (fast food, scary bars, and box stores). They know the situation. They understand the economy sucks, that the town is going down hard, but what are they going to do. It’s a quiet, sad reservation that makes drinking and/or gambling a serious pastime.

I write all this because I am amazed at how well Philipp Meyer’s American Rust captures the feeling of Western Pennsylvania and the people who stay and the guilt of people who leave. The novel centers on an accidental murder, but this one death seems insignificant when compared to what US capitalism has done to these people. The closing of the factory left a shell of a town; the inhabitants know everything changed, but do not know how to react. They stay because it is familiar and how much worse can it get: a local claims, “There just isn’t that far you can fall.” The comfort of failure is all around, so they scrape out a living through any service industry job they can find. Hoping for better seems silly and others have it worse, or so they say to comfort themselves.

What I like about this book is that there is no optimism, well maybe some, but not a lot. Life in this town will never be the same and neither will the people. The sadness is palpable. Young women sit around discussing the losers they ended up with and placing all energy hopelessly hoping that their children will have a better life. Shame-filled fathers knowingly emotionally distant, sons with potential who cannot seem to get out, and mothers whose sons’ failures wrack them with guilt. Those who left feel as if they abandoned their families, while they made a life elsewhere in more hospitable places. Even when they leave, they carry the “backwardness” and sorrow of their town with them.

In the end, most flee, but not without a sacrifice. The escape is not glorious. It is mournful. A person with a broken spirit, burning down their trailer home is not cathartic, but sad desperation.

Leave a comment

Filed under Review, Space/Place

Field Proposals

I doubt this post will have much use to anyone outside of my Cultural Studies Ph.D. program, but feel free to continue reading if you are not enrolled (you may be bored).

Below I have posted my two field proposals: “Mass Culture and Urban Space” and “Contemporary Theories of Sexuality.” Upon reading the proposals you will see how different they are. Dr. Tim Gibson, the chair of my “MC and US” field, wanted me to state what direction I was going and how it was a coherent field. Dr. Tim Kaposy preferred a more open-ended proposal where I raised more questions than answers. He was concerned with what I wanted to learn from the texts.

I have finished writing a rough draft of “Mass Culture and Urban Space,” so the bibliography following the proposal is complete. “Contemporary Theories of Sexuality” is  being written, so the bibliography is incomplete and more likely than not, going to change.

I hope this helps. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me.

Mass Culture and Urban Space Field Proposal

Contemporary Theories of Sexuality Field Proposal

Leave a comment

Filed under Frankfurt School, Mass Culture, queer, Space/Place

Rough Draft of “Using Helplessness to Reimagine the LGBT Community”

Here is a rough draft of a paper to be presented at Reinstating Transgression: Emerging Political Economies of Queer Space, American University on April 17–18, 2010.

This is a rough draft and I would love feedback. I would like to incorporate more of a political economy approach, so if you have any suggestions, please let me know. Click below to read.

Rough Draft: Using Helplessness to Reimagine the LGBT Community

3 Comments

Filed under queer, Space/Place

Racism in the GLBTQ

I recently joined a gay social group. Upon entering the room I noticed that all the participants were white and male. This is not surprising in the gay community. Gay white men have dominated the community for a long time. GLBT issues are white gay male issues, hence why gay marriage is a legitimate struggle and the inclusion of gender neutral bathrooms or fostering a GLBTQ youth community are not. We were discussing the work of Edmund White when the issue of marriage came up. Somehow this then led to discussing how Blacks and Hispanics are extremely homophobic, perhaps because GLBT groups blamed the Black community for Prop 8s passing in CA. Everyone was being a good  liberal and saying things like “well not to generalize, but…” or more accurately “I’m about to be real racist, but ….”  The members then attempted to justify their statements by blaming Black and Hispanic culture and not the individuals. How condescending and problematic is this? It treats racial minorities as passive idiots whose major fault is that their entire culture is corrupt. Oh, if only they could be better (read more white). The whole thing was absurd.

Within the same conversation, a member brought up the gentrification of neighborhoods and the work that gay men do. He then mentions how straight people follow gays to buy property and then sell it after property values increase. No connection was made between gentrification and the tension between the two communities. Gay men move into impoverished areas and remodel and renovate houses causes property value and taxes to increase. Remodeling is in itself not a bad thing. What is horrible is that the existing community is forced out of their neighborhoods because they can no longer afford rent or tax increases. Systemic racism and segregating housing practices mean that these impoverished areas with newly ousted communities are minorities. Displacing people may, shockingly, cause hostility. Even with this hostility, I am reluctant to believe or entertain the thought that certain racial and ethnic minorities are more homophobic than others. What does this argument do for us? Nothing. We live in a homophobic and racist culture. Blaming other minorities for our problems does nothing except divert our attention to the wrong places.

What to do? If racism and homophobia exist within a culture than alleviate it. Talk about it, remedy it. Franz Fanon had it right when he stated that attempting to see who is more oppressed is irrelevant as seeing where oppression comes from. The same person who hates gays, hates the black, hates the Hispanic, hates the transgendered person.  We need to take responsibility for the communities they may displace. We should go to  local officials and ensure that tax caps and rent control are maintained. The maintaining of a diverse community means proximity. Proximity hopefully leads to recognition. (Perhaps this notion is too liberal. I myself am not sure if I wholly agree with it.) GLBTQ people should not be complacent in the destruction of communities. How many displaced families is a boutique worth?

Leave a comment

Filed under queer, Space/Place