Week 2: (In)Visibility

Judith Butler is a critical figure in gender theory, and the way Robert Shail illustrated this “Butlerian” approach to emphasize elements of masculinity and queer theory was captivating. By pointing to actor Dirk Bogarde, Shail draws on the system in which masculinity is placed within cinema, especially as it was depicted through films of the 1960s. Bogarde’s appearance in The Servant deconstructed his masculinization as visualized by his fans and audience of the handsome, central male figure. This first read on Bogarde’s persona forced, or perhaps kept, his characteristics in constraints formed by traditional misconceptions of masculinity. While Shail insists on a second, contradictory read of Bogarde as an actor, he points to the misinterpretation of masculinity on screen based on visual representation that is embodied within preconceived cultural and social knowledge – which Butler specifies as part of her theory in relation to gender construction. These predetermined power structures are the causes for identity shaped by visual representation in cinema to automatically be perceived as one, proving that as an audience, one is culturally and historically conditioned to understand masculinity without an attempt to reinterpret it as that of another representation or meaning.

This also tied together with Sedgwick in her essay as she portrays the concept of the closet, an idea shaped by Western cultural ideas. Through examples of court cases and the comparison to Esther as a Jew, Sedgwick brings the ideas of sexual identity within a minoritizing versus a universalizing view. These two concepts relay that an erotic identity as an idea and a quality are perhaps not as stable and firm as they are portrayed. Sedgwick breaks that concreteness of homosexuality and queerness by arguing that defining gender is an example of social organization which will always imply discrimination. Instead, by proposing the minoritizing and universalizing views, Sedgwick strays away from defining sexual identity and instead explores and complicates its traditional views and misconceptions.

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