Here’s an interesting series of youtube videos I found while procrastinating. (Its definitely different from our academic focus this quarter) What do you all think of it?
In this article, Somerville analyses both the text of and national reaction to the 1952 US Immigration and Nationality Act.
In the text of the act itself, it is important to note the lack of explicit language about minority groups within the United States. There are completely no mentions of race, even though its policies would re-enforce white hegemonic power structures by enabling European immigration over Asian and African immigration. Instead the word “race” becomes replaced with “national origin” in order to keep systematic racism based on country of origin, and the idea of “good moral character” can be used to further isolate nonconforming people. Also, the only explicit terms used against homosexuality are in reference to “psychopathic personalities” which utilized the Public Health Service to diagnose citizenship candidates as homosexual in order to explain how they were unfit to apply for citizenship. Even though explicitly it appears that the act is nondiscriminatory, its effect stop most people who are queer and/or of color.
However, the debates facilitated by Congress provide a much more descriptive explanation of what the creators of this act planned to do. Throughout these debates, “homosexuals” and “adulterers” became the new focus of national exclusion as an alternative to race. Lawmakers concluded that the mentioning of psychopathic personalities encompassed homosexuals, adulterers, and other sex perverts when addressing reasons why homosexuality was not addressed specifically. In effect, it is explicitly clear that the creators of this act believe that all people who want to live in the United States ought to conform to certain standards and identify with certain ideals in order to have the privilege of living in the United States.
As I was reading this, I enjoyed the way Somerville took time to describe certain elements of this act over others. When adultery is defined, the true intent of this act is really exposed. Originally, only a woman could be an adulterer. An adulterer was defined as a woman who had a child with a man other than her husband. It refers to the contamination of a bloodline. In this sense, it is clear that lawmakers are concerned with the “pollution” of their nation and are resorting to time periods of historic eugenics. Their prejudice is finally exposed permanently when this is described because it shows how the lawmakers are not really concerned with the welfare of the country but instead the “purity” of their nation. It is also important to note that President Truman vetoed this bill because he believed it was discriminatory. This is important because, although his veto was overturned, it is clear that not all people supported discrimination. It gave me some hope that the United States can one day move forward from prejudice and become a more inclusive nation.
- How do race and sexuality intersect within the context of what is happening socially in this time as this act becomes law?
- How does the transformation of the wording of “race” to “national origin” change the way the United States speaks about issues of immigration?
- Why do lawmakers in the 1950s have so much anxiety towards minorities of different races and sexualities?
- How does McCarthyism and the fight against Communism influence this act?
- How does this Act influence future immigration policy?
- Have the current alterations to this act effectually ended discrimination or re-appropriated the act to simply redefine the way white heterosexuals can discriminate against people who are queer and/or of color?
BoJack Horseman, a new cartoon series on Netflix that was released in 2014, is about a washed up actor who was once a 90s sitcom star on a wholesome family show. The story focuses on BoJack’s attempts to become a star again by writing a memoir about his life with the help of a ghost writer. This series ultimately provides a conscious, relevant, and progressive commentary on American society and individuals today (and I would definitely recommend that you watch the series in its entirety on Netflix).
Episode 3: “Prickly Muffin” focuses on former child actor turned pop star Sarah Lynn who becomes an out of control drug addict that can no longer sell music like she used to. The episode begins with the element of flashback, ultimately comparing two pop stars of two different generations. The girls are teen stars who use sexuality to promote their music. Both Sarah Lynn and Sextina Aquafina produce songs that are focused primarily on their vaginas and express their desire to have relations with men, promoting physical aspects of their genitalia as desirable. As queer critics, we must decide whether or not the messages of these songs are subverting or supporting the already dominating structures of Heteronormativity and Patriarchy.
These songs and their lyrics provide a commentary on how society places such importance on the appearance of genitalia, which made me think about the article “Cultural Practice or Reconstructive Surgery” by Cheryl Chase. In the article, Chase compares western and eastern practices of circumcision and asks important questions about why the west can perceive the eastern female circumcision as barbaric but western genital altering of the intersex child is seen as necessary and proper. She ultimately comes to the conclusion that the treatment of intersex genitalia is in fact unfair and irresponsible. These rules about genitalia make it clear to everyone in society what features are seen as desirable and which one are deemed as inappropriate.
In the BoJack Horseman episode, however, both of the teen pop stars choose physical features of the vagina that are seen as undesirable. Sarah Lynn, talks about her “Prickly Muffin” which describes the process of pubic hair growing back after it has been shaved. In a society that idealizes hairless vaginas, this seems like a contradiction. Sarah’s vagina would normally be designated as undesirable in today’s mainstream media, but within the world of the cartoon, this is seen as something to be proud of. Also, Sextina Aquafina’s song, “My Clitoris is Ginormous” has an explicit enough title. As we know from reading Chase, an enlarged clitoris is seen as undesirable and is often surgically altered. Sextina’s song would not be as openly accepted in the real world as it appears to be within the society of the cartoon. These two songs prose questions about the messages that the creators are trying to announced to their audience.
At this point, as we have in the past with the film “Paris is Buring”, we as the audience and as queer/feminist critics need to analyze whether these characters are created to be subversive against Heteronormativity and Patriarchy or are only reinforcing the values of these systems. There can be arguments made supporting both sides on the front of what the creators of the show were attempting to do.
If one wants to believe that the actions of these songs are in fact subversive, we can look at how other characters react to these themes. If we look at the character of Diane Nguyen, BoJack’s ghost writer, we can believe that the creators in fact are making motions to disrupt Heteronormativity and Patriarchy. When asked about her opinion on Sarah Lynn, she provides a detailed analysis of female pop stars “as a third-wave feminist” and proposes questions about whether or not the intentions are said female stars are subversive or not. This small monologue can be seen as very insightful to people who are not actively analyzing society through a feminist lens. So, in effect, we can create the argument that the creators of “BoJack Horseman” are dismantling mainstream societal ideals because of their inclusion of the female perspective on female sexuality in a somewhat objective format.
However, we can also argue that this episode is in fact not submissive and further supports Heteronormativity and Patriarchy through the actions of female characters in the episode. The show itself is still structured around a story about a male and presents each female character in relation to him. First, BoJack enables Sarah Lynn and allows her to do whatever she wants in his house. Throughout the episode, Sarah Lynn is seen as irresponsible and manipulative, and ultimately all of her actions are blamed on society and remove her agency as an individual. Secondly, BoJack’s agent, Princess Carolyn, is portrayed as a desperate businesswoman who only focuses on her job and as an agent who only competes against other women. Third, Diane Nguyen can be seen as a stereotype of the “nerd”. As this stereotype, she mostly keeps to herself and observes what is going on while only expressing her opinion when asked by BoJack.
Through these interpretations of women, can we still see the songs of the pop stars as subverting the ideals of vaginal desirability, or just mocking female genitalia as trivial and unimportant?