Class started off in chaos. People were changing up their usual seats, it was total mayhem. I had to sit by the lights, which was totally uncool because I can’t handle any more responsibility than the none I already have. Once trauma was over, Bruno jumped right into the swing of things with a clip from Nick Broomfield’s documentary on Aileen Wuornos.
Aileen Wuornos was, as the media depicted her, the first female serial killer. I’ll leave out the blood and gore details for the squeamish, but suffice it to say she would lure men in as a prostitute and then literally catch them with their pants down (by murdering them). What makes Aileen interesting and relevant to this week’s lecture is her sexuality.
Aileen was a closeted lesbian. As a result, the media felt no shame in vilifying her as a “Monster” (not coincidentally, this is the title of the film in which Charlize Theron won an Oscar for portraying Aileen). The class discussed whether Aileen’s actions could be considered a lashing out against heteronormativity.
Once the class grew tired of talking about serial murder, we moved to a lighter conversation topic: Independent Cinema. Bruno asked us if there is a way to tell if a film is independent just by watching it. Some future Nobel Prize winner suggested that you check the credits to see if it was produced by an independent studio. Other ideas were tossed around as well, such as signs that reveal a film’s budget (indie films generally have lower budgets) which the class agreed was probably the best indicating factor.
Bruno segued into a clip from the film “Happiness.” If you missed class, I will not post the clip here for your viewing pleasure because it was extraordinarily weird and uncomfortable. Trust me. The weirdness of the clip created a dialogue about the presence of independent cinema as a means of producing films intended for a much more specific audience than mainstream movies like the blockbuster era.
Next up was Stevo’s presentation on Brenda Cooper’s “Boys Don’t Cry and Female Masculinity: Reclaiming a Life & Dismantling the Politics of Normative Heterosexuality.” Needless to say, Stevo killed it. At the end of his presentation, we were all a little wiser, a little happier, and a little better as human beings, thanks in no small part to this clip:
After Stevo’s presentation, the class talked about one of the main points of his presentation/Cooper’s article: the four ways in which the film promores female masculinity:
1. It dismantles the heartland of America. This is done simply by the fact that the setting of the film is an all-around awful, backwards, white trash utopia. And the people there are conservative and heartless. 2. It problemizes heteromasculinity. This can be seen in the characters of Tom and John, who are straight up dicks. If you don’t hate those guys, there is something seriously wrong with you. 3. It centers female masculinity, by giving Teena/Brandon a female love interest and portraying her as the guy going after the girl. 4. It blurs the lines of female masculinity. This is achieved by Lana’s acceptance of Teena/Brandon as a man, even after she knows he is biologically female.
From there, we moved the discussion to Girl Power. The consensus was that it sucked.
Boys Don’t Cry, however, was very beloved by our class. Immense praise was given to Hilary Swank’s performance, and also to the ways in which the film accomplishes the four concepts discussed in the Cooper article.
The final topic of conversation was the audience’s ability to identify with Brandon. Everyone agreed that because the character is so likable (which is contrasted by the shitbags who surround her), Brandon becomes a real hero in the eye of the viewer. The scene of Brandon in jail expounds on this by giving us a voice-over of Brandon, allowing the viewer to fully inhabit his thoughts for the first time in the film. This adds greatly to our identification with Brandon, which helps create the strong affinity between viewer and character that makes the film as emotional powerful as it is.