Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
The main theoretical thrust of my project involves the political uses of parodically performing shame and shaming rituals in resisting normative regulation. I argue that parodic performances of this negative affect—traditionally deployed to erase, obscure, and regulate queers—can expose how shame regulates the gender/sexuality performances of straight people as well as queers. I view this project primarily as a tactical shift from the parodic performances outlined by Judith Butler in texts like Gender Trouble, and I feel that the shift is important as a counter measure to increasing homonormative inclusion of (white, middle class) gays and lesbians into straight or neoliberal society. The first section of my thesis is dedicated to exploring theories of homonormativity. I work primarily from Michael Warner’s The Trouble with Normal, which is a queer polemic, and Lisa Duggan’s The Twilight of Equality, which contextualizes homonormativity in the cultural project of neoliberalism. Homonormativity is, in essence, the opening of cultural space in mainstream society for a certain group of gays and lesbians—those who are “the most assimilated, genderappropriate, politically mainstream portions of the gay population” (Duggan 44). As Warner discusses at length, the shift from queer to conservative gay interests has shifted attention from issues like HIV/AIDS research and physical protection of queers to gay marriage and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which are causes that primarily benefit the gays and lesbians already most assimilated to straight culture. Section II focuses on the work of Judith Butler and other theorizations of parody. Butler’s theory suggests that gender and sexuality consist of a set of continuously repeated performances, and that by performing gender one is constituted as a subject. Butler argues that it is impossible to step outside gender—to stop performing, as it were —because there is no agency prior to the imposition of gender. She locates the only possibility for resistance to gender as a socially regulatory myth structure in the failure to properly perform gender, or in performing in such a way that gender is exposed as always already performative. I have paired Butler’s theory with Linda Hutcheon’s A Theory of Parody, which examines the uses, limitations, and value of artistic parody. These two theorists, of course, have different goals, which complicates the potential for combining their work. In the final section I develop my own theory, which largely takes its cue from Butler’s notion that we can resist gender/sexuality regulation through parodic performance. But, whereas Butler argues for parodic performances of gender/sexuality, I suggest the usefulness of parodying shame and shaming rituals. Shame—the social imposition of it, as well as the desire to avoid it—has long been a force maintaining proper behavior in the largest sense, but I am concerned specifically with the regulation of gender and sexual performances. Queers (understood broadly) and women have long been the targets of shame, while straight males have long been the performers of shaming rituals—mockery, brutal laugher, violence. What I suggest is that through an appropriation and parodic reinterpretation of these shaming rituals and shame itself, queers can expose the centrality of shame in repressing not only queer existence and performance, but in restricting the performative possibilities of straight people. This new notion of performative resistance is especially important as some gays and lesbians enter straight society and become subject to its shaming restrictions, but also become complicit in shaming those queers still outside the realm of homonormative possibilities
Zapkin, Phillip, "“Culturally Homeless”: Queer Parody and Negative Affect as Resistance to Normatives" (2011). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 245.