It was suggested in a class recently that us post-post-post viewers/consumers of art wouldn't quite “locate meaninglessness” when there’s an intense clash of signs in modernism-era images, the kind that critic Griselda Pollock identifies in her analysis of Rosetti’s “obsessively repetitive” paintings of women so dominant in the nineteenth century, because we’ve been taught, at this point, to hold a lot of different kinds of information at once. It’s also possible we don’t hold similar conceptions of meaning now. We get and make mash-ups everywhere, pleasure from entertainment is incredibly difficult to parse.
This is coming from someone who, with all my suspicions about decadent, commodity-driven, late-capitalist culture, finds pleasure in locating meaning where there was no authorial intent, particularly in pop culture. Even if it’s supposed to be mindlessly consumed in big old greasy gobfuls, even if there’s no Brechtian device asking me as a viewer to pause over it’s constructedness, even while it’s chock full of complicated commercial agendas, I find something like Glee, which could very easily be read as just emphasizing a lot of empty platitudes while creating and suggesting how to fulfill all of the “pseudo-needs” that Guy Debord loathed so much, such a great embrace of absurdity, non-static identities, and a space of both hyper-seriousness and hyper-camp, extremely pleasurable. It’s possible I should be more apprehensive about this pleasure than I am. What exactly is it speaking to? I love clashes of signs, but really only when each one seems to signify something I have an extremely idiosyncratic relationship to, and I’m the author constructing it’s meaning for my own use and delight. This next episode supposedly contains, of all things:
A guy who played Harry Potter
in an internet meme video
of a college DIY version
of a harry potter *musical*,
playing a gay character,
in a private, all-boy school’s show choir,
singing a love song
in the general direction of the show’s primary queer character, in a show full of queer characters,
in an all-boy showtune style,
in the form of a cover of Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream (that kewpie-doll re-inscriber of gender-identity, kind of, except she married Russell Brand, who does nothing but trouble gender-binaries, in his manic gypsy dream boy way).
It’s practically slash-fiction! Actually, it doesn't even function in the way slash-fiction does: queering hetero-normative representations of relationships (for an awesome sort of sample please see video artist Elisa Kreisinger's amazing remix series editing Real Housewives of New York and Sex and the City into lesbian love stories at http://www.popculturepirate.com/) where there are none, because it's supplying, first hand, queer storylines (especially in the case of the Santana/Brittany relationship which feels like the most honest, least stigmatized, least hysterical portrayal of bisexuality I've ever seen in any televisual medium). It’s a giant fantasia of queer subversion, and DIY aesthetics, and playfulness with the rules of the commercial world, and it also speaks to every “guilty pleasure” desire in my heart of hearts that is essentially a really odd mix of someone who grew up loving showtunes and musicals, feminism, punk music, DIY culture, fashion magazines and MTV in equal measures.
Maybe I’m a sucker? Are there things I’m missing here? I really want to read it as simultaneously the most popular, ostensibly mainstream entertainment, but also, the queerest thing that ever existed, and I don’t think those things have be thought of as mutually exclusive at all. In fact, the closer they get, the more hopeful I want to feel about mass culture and where our values sit, but there’s also the very real potential that just because I’m reading it the way I want to, others are reading it very very differently- one of the major troubles of our post-author-death world, I suppose.