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Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Kate Perry: Experimental lesbianism is not subversive

Kate Perry has a pop song with a very catchy tune. It’s about how she “kissed a girl.” Supposedly, this is something she’s very proud of and feels is subversive or bucking the system: It’s not what / Good girls do / Not how they should behave. On the contrary, Kate, it’s quite how good girls are supposed to behave. You talk about experimenting and being curious. You talk about how you hope your boyfriend won’t mind.

Believe me, if he’s like most typical het guys out there, he won’t. That’s his fantasy. The traditional male fantasy is that women will be bi-curious and ultimately heterosexual. They’ll play around with each other, but in the end they just need a penis—that’s the real way to get fulfilled.

Nope. You’re not subversive. You’re not rebellious. That’s exactly what you’re supposed to do, Kate. I’ll be impressed when a male pop star who does not identify as gay says he kissed a boy and he liked it, and he was curious and experimenting and hopes his girlfriend doesn’t mind. That’d be subversive. Then again, people would just think he was closet gay.

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Christianity Movies Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

For the Bible Tells Me So documentary is subversive

As you may know if you’ve read my post from four years ago “Subversive” Saved!? I get annoyed when people use the word subversive inappropriately.

Well, I just saw a movie called For the Bible Tells Me So, and I have to say it’s pretty subversive. Unlike Jesus Camp and Hell House, this film doesn’t have as its primary purpose the making fun of “those crazy Christians.” In fact, rather than seeking to appease anti-Christian non-Christians, For the Bible Tells Me So seeks mainly to educate Christians about Biblical interpretation and the theological dangers of selective literalism.

And where it doesn’t get you on an intellectual level, it also presents the real humanity of the situation: even if you do want to be anti-gay as a Christian, how can your heart not cry out for people with gay children having rocks being thrown in the windows of their houses? How can you not feel compassion for gay people being beaten to death?

But, apart from one badly written and juvenile animated segment, the film really is quite educational and should be a must-see for any Christian who is anti-gay. I can’t guarantee you’ll change your theological views on sexuality after seeing this movie. You should still see it, though. It’s great exercise for the mind and the heart.

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Movies Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Ode to Jason Segel’s Penis

A few months ago, I marveled at the ability of Beowolf‘s animators to hide the title character’s penis, despite the fact he was naked and jumping and moving every which way.

Well, I just saw Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and I have to say I’m impressed. For a bawdy sex comedy featuring a male protagonist, it was a bit subversive in making the male nudity far more prominent than the female nudity. Sure, you briefly see a photo of Mila Kunis flashing her breasts (and you’re not even 100% sure it’s her breasts in that photo), but you see Jason Segel in the buff numerous times throughout the film and see his penis very clearly at least three times. I’m amazed that got past the MPAA (which typically has an inexplicable fear of the penis and no qualms about female full frontal nudity).

Even though Segel’s body isn’t fun to look at, in my mind, this is cinematic progress.

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Christianity

“Subversive” Saved!?

I’m not one of those Christians without a sense of humor. In fact, I was excited to see Saved! I know some Christians will judge a movie before it’s even been released (The Last Temptation of Christ, for example, which turned out to be offensive to me more in how boring it is than in any of the content of the film–I actually thought a lot of the film had theological value, particularly Satan as an attractive girl “angel” and Christ’s last temptation feeling so real). I thought Saved! would be a good laugh, and it was. I wasn’t offended by the many (many, many, many) puns and ironic jabs at Christian culture.

I am, however, offended by people’s reactions to the film. This MTV interview with Jena Malone (star of the film), uses the word subversive three times. If you do a Google search for “saved subversive” (obviously, the results will change depending on when you read this essay), a good fifteen of the first twenty results have to do with the movie Saved! In fact, the movie’s (official?) description seems to be the following: “In this sweetly subversive comedy, a group of outsiders band together to navigate the treacherous halls of high school and make it to graduation, ultimately learning more about themselves, finding faith in unexpected places, and realizing what it truly means to be saved!” The other words that get thrown around in discussions of Saved! are irreverent and satire. The movie is certainly irreverent. Irreverence is where 99% of its humor derives from. It is also satirical in the strictest sense of the word; though, satire generally pokes fun at universally recognized human folly, as opposed to unfamiliar, “straw man” human folly. Does the church have hypocrisy, intolerance, judgmentalism, and scary cult-like features to it? Yes, of course.

The movie doesn’t seem to get at the heart of the real manifestations of church problems, though. There are few Christians like Hilary Faye, who will do almost anything (even deface their own school) to get someone expelled from school. There are few kidnappings of friends to perform exorcisms. Yes, yes, yes, I know. The movie is supposed to be campy and exaggerated. It’s not meant to be taken literally, but just what is it supposed to be exaggerating? What comes even close to kidnapping your best friend in order to exorcise demons from her just because she hasn’t been spending as much time with you recently? The truth is the movie reaffirms the prejudices and misunderstandings of the Christian community that the secular communities in the United States already have, and it ridicules practices and faults that the church doesn’t have.

According to dictionary.com, subversive means, “Intended or serving to subvert, especially intended to overthrow or undermine an established government: ‘Sex and creativity are often seen by dictators as subversive activities’ (Erica Jong).” A movie that reaffirms prejudices against a not-too-well-understood outsider group is not subversive. It is not undermining anything. It is reinforcing barriers that already exist. It is further polarizing the non-Christian and Christian camps in America. Just look at the Yahoo! movies user reviews section for the film. Most people aren’t able to judge the film objectively. People who want to ridicule Christianity love it (lots of A’s and A+’s), and people who view the film as anti-Christian hate it (lots of D’s and F’s). The truth of the matter is the film is in the B or C range–it’s mediocre; funny but formulaic, flat, and (ironically) preachy.

The effect of a work of art is what matters most, not the intent of its creator. I’ve tried to tell my English students this over and over again. The running (and erroneous) joke being, of course, that English teachers read too much into literature, that such-and-such an object is a symbol that is the secret to unraveling the meaning of a book. The author later comments that the object was incidental. Last laugh on the English teachers, right? No. The author doesn’t have the last say. The author’s intentions aren’t the last say; the author’s work is. Works of art, particularly cinema and literature, are forms of communication. If the audience or critics misunderstand your intention, it’s not because they are defective or unable to appreciate the genius of your craft—it’s because your craft needs reworking.

Many members of the cast and crew have been quite defensive about the movie, writer/director Dannelly himself claiming “[u]ltimately, it affirms faith.” I’d like to know just what about the film affirms faith, and faith in what? It is one thing to say, “Look at those morons who don’t truly understand the beauty of Jesus and the Christian message; they’re so caught up in Christian culture and feeling superior,” but if you don’t have any characters who do appreciate and understand Christianity, how is your movie faith-affirming?

A truly subversive film wouldn’t, as this film does, leave non-Christians thinking, “Ah, those Christian weirdos—they just need to lighten up and get with the times.” Non-Christians already think that. At the same time, a truly subversive film, as many Christians wish this film would do, wouldn’t make Christians feel comfortable, either (“Yes, that’s how we truly are; that’s a fair portrayal of modern Christians”). I’d love to be able to laugh at Christians, and I did while I watched Saved!, but I’d love even more to see a truly subversive film, that undermined conventional wisdom on both sides of the Christian/non-Christian barrier. I’d love to see a film that made non-Christians think, “Wait, maybe Christianity isn’t so bad” but that also made Christians think, “Wait, what the hell are we doing? We need to shape up.” If one film could elicit both of those responses… that film would be truly subversive.