2021 An Art Exhibit, Part II
The year continues and I have ingested more art (that I have a surprising amount to say about).
1. The Argonauts (Maggie Nelson, 2015)
You know, The Argonauts was an exciting experience for me. At times it’s a riveting stream of consciousness piece of personal essay writing that feels exactly like how my brain functions: long stories about experiences, quotes from other creatives peppered in, and an individual processing their conflicting thoughts over concepts that are ever changing. Though it sometimes leans a little too much on citation and analysis of academic texts — and it can sometimes feel like a series of essays that bounce between interesting and exhausting — some of the ways that Nelson approaches these theoretical concepts really speak to me as someone who spent a grand portion of their twenties unsure of what the word queer meant to me personally. There was once a time where anything that wasn’t simply “this has gay characters” wasn’t queer in my eyes, which, in hindsight, was dumb as shit. For Nelson, there’s a real interest in the malleability of the term and how it applies to everything she experiences (and not simply limited to “sex” and “gender”) and exploring that comes with its own minefield of possible ignorance.
To be honest, there were moments when reading The Argonauts that I found myself flat out rolling my eyes at the way she discussed her partner Harry because it reeks of a cis person trying to sort of garter sympathy for the way they are experiencing someone else’s transness. It doesn’t always happen in a “woe is me” kind of way, but there’s an undercurrent of that in certain passages that can get a bit annoying. That said: I have probably been that person in the past myself. Even now, having come out as non-binary, I still find myself prone to questioning myself and others about our genders or lack thereof and stumbling when discussing certain things.
Hell, the other day I was too anxious about clicking “I am a trans critic” on a Sundance application simply because I felt insecure about what it meant to be trans. Is the fact that I feel deep discomfort when people refer to me as a “he” (though still allow it in certain situations because it’s easier than exposing myself to jokes or discrimination within a work environment)? Is it the fact that I wish I had a big pair of boobs but still enjoy having a dick? Is it the fact that I find myself most comfortable when dressed like Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give? Yeah, sort of, but it’s a lot of other things too and I use my writing to explore those concepts (and I’ll probably expand on these thoughts in a later piece about some trans lit I’ve been reading).
It’s easy for me to not be as critical of the things she does as many individuals I know are (and as they have the right to be!) because I know that part of existing in a queer landscape is not always knowing what the best way to navigate that queer landscape is (and, in reality, there is no ideal way to navigate it outside of just respecting others’ identities and experiences). However cringe I find some of the things she writes (particularly the sort of excessive name dropping that happens throughout and the way she sometimes discusses her partner), Nelson is just trying to figure out how to navigate her own queerness and the queerness of those adjacent to her, and I respect that as someone doing the exact same thing.
I’m also very fond of the way Nelson approaches criticism in here, not just of her contemporaries and icons in numerous fields, but of her own follies. Is there anything particularly radical about the book overall? Maybe not, but I admire an individual willing to put herself out there in the way that Nelson does, even when I find some of the passages to be somewhat indulgent and endless. There’s as much pride in things as there is shame in others, all in service of learning how to grow-up as a queer person and as a mother and reflecting on every ounce of history that has come before us.
2. The Real Housewives of Potomac, Season 3 (2013)
Oh god, why did I commit to writing about everything I watch? I’m really fascinated by Potomac and the racial politics that are added to the show’s frequent discourse around class. From the get-go, there have been so many conversations among the cast about the way individuals who aren’t white are supposed to perform differently and having more honest arguments about colorism than any afterschool special attempt by a sitcom. And, yes, it’s easy to argue that much of these “reality” shows are molded (not scripted!) and “faked” by producers, but there’s a fascination sincerity to the arguments presented on screen that I can’t help but be drawn in by. It’s easy to dismiss these women as “rich folks with no problems” (and, let’s be real, they are mostly rich women with few real issues and the ability to just leave their lives behind to hop on a plane to Cannes), but some of them are navigating some very real and very familiar territory!
Tax issues, budgeting, having to work to raise your kids, toxic relationships, abusive parents, the loss of family, accusations of alcoholism, etc. Who among us hasn’t had a friend who has reached out to another friend about our drinking habits because they were worried? And got extra defensive because you thought it was a ridiculous accusation that had no merit? (No? Just me? Well, at least I watch my drinking now.) There’s even a playfulness to the way they approach some of these situations that are unreasonably compelling to watch. Take Ashley, Gizelle, and Robyn being suspicious that Karen didn’t live in the massive home she had in Grand Falls and deciding to dress up like fake pizza delivery folks and just sneaky outfits to ring the doorbell and check up on her. Dumb, but delightful.
3. Hypernormalisation (Adam Curtis, 2016)
Well, fuck me, this is depressing. This is my first experience with Adam Curtis’ work after hearing a number of friends discuss him over the years and I have to admit: the man knows how to create a work that keeps you totally fixated on what’s being presented. Yes, it’s nearly three hours and something of an onslaught of information and images being thrown at the viewer, but that’s exactly what makes it an attention grabber. It presents its arguments and ideas (conspiratorial and concrete) clearly, with a mountain of historical evidence to back it up. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t absolutely room for disagreement and discourse (in fact, I’d argue the film pretty openly invites it at times) as an agitprop piece with its fair share of speculation that is more than willing to condemn those in power who have exploited everything around us. (I’d say it’s most egregious accusation is saying that Jane Fonda abandoned socialism for workout tapes, which is sort of reductive and misogynistic, but whatever.) Anyway, I could keep talking about all of these things or you could just go watch the fascinating movie yourself. I’ll just end with “Gaddafi made some points.”