Thursday, July 31, 2003

Have I mentioned I've been reading books lately? Last night I finished reading Michael Bronski's "Culture Clash: The Making of Gay Sensibility" - what a great book! I was concerned that being 20 years old, it could be outdated, outmoded, or just plain uninteresting. But I can't tell you how many times in the past few days I've been nodding "uh huh, yup!" while racing through this book. The "blurb" on the back cover gives you a general idea of what it's about - "Culture Clash explores the dynamics of gay liberation and homophobia, of change and backlash, and reveals the radicalism of the challenge that gay men and lesbians, as cultural adventurers, have offered to American society." - but for someone like myself, who hasn't really explored the history of gay/queer art, let alone given a lot of thought to its importance, it's a great read. (And it's also reminded me I need to find that Oscar Wilde paperback I bought a few weeks back)

I've certainly seen his name around for years, linked to his excellent article on the Mathew Limon case - The Other Matthew, even sent some friends his fascinating article regarding the Harry Potter phenomenon - What Is It About Harry? - that explores the evangelical right's problems with the series, as well as the appeal of the books to both children and adults.

Anyhoo.... while excerpts can't really give you a feel for a book, I did find this passage near the end of Culture Clash to be very thought-provoking:

"Perhaps the cheapest charge leveled against gay liberation and the gay community in general is that of decadence. The decadence charge is usually leveled by people who refuse to see the issue of sexuality as important. (Sex is a private, bedroom activity, and nothing to shout about in the streets.) It is also proferred by those who think gay people, especially gay men, are irresponsible and immature, since mature sexuality requires procreation and support of the economic structures of heterosexual family life.
The root of this stereotype is located in the fact that our culture is extremely production-oriented. Effort (usually called work) must produce results. Art does not exist in and of itself, but to produce some (usually moral) effect. Sex does not exist for pleasure, but to produce children. The production model affects all aspects of our lives. Its source can be found in religiion, capitalism, family structure, and established gender roles. Because gay men have aspired to material comfort and emotional acceptance and have used upward mobility as a strategy for escaping oppression, they have becaome associated with the upper class in people's minds. Gay men are seen as idle, uproductive dabblers. This stereotype is further complicated by the fact that in the past 20 years the commercialization of the 'gay lifestyle' has projected this very image. The popular stereotype of the urban gay man and the 'Advocate lifestyle' are identical. The difference is that the stereotype supposedly applies to all gay people, but the truth is that only a small percentage of gay men actually conform to it."

See, this all speaks to my own little worldview - the odd way that I interpret Marxism: the need for capitalism to succeed in making the means of production effecient enough so that each person only has to work a small portion of his day, freeing him to pursue his real interests in his "leisure time." (How funny that 'leisure' sounds so much more acceptable/respectable than 'pleasure'.) And, of course, the individual must be free to decide what that is - reading, fucking, whale-watching; perhaps, if lucky enough, all of that. I have another book of his books, Pulp Friction, in my small stack of "to-read" books. But having finished this one, I am most anxious to acquire a copy of his more recent The Pleasure Principle - a book I remember vaguely when it came out, but dismissed. I misunderstood what the book would be about; I had ASSumed it would be denigrating the idea of pleasure, not articulating an argument for its pursuit. (Well, it's much more than that, as I hope to find out). I have to keep my eye open for more stuff from this writer.