Queering Pornography

It is hard to say that The Attendant and The Song of the Wind and the Trees are very similar but there are threads that they do share in regards to theme. In my opinion they both reflect on the subtleties of queer intimate relationships; elements that are not necessarily portrayed in mainstream societies’ conceptualization of queer identities.

The Attendant is an art film that suggests the relationship of anticipation and physical contact in S&M relationships but it also portrays the give-and-take and fluidity of male-male BDSM. The two main characters are both shown in alternating positions of giving and receiving lashes from a whip. This flies in the face of mainstream portrayals of S&M that purport fixed roles for participants. It posits that these relationships are more complex than they may at first seem and the films use of color grants the audience perspective into the views of these characters. The color changes seem to reveal to the audience that there are things that are only understood and perspectives only granted to in-group members that are not obvious to the out group (i.e. the woman with her ear to the wall).

In The Song of the Wind and the Trees, young boys at a boarding school are swept up in romance and intimacy. A few of the main characters are described by Welker in “Flower Tribes and Female Desire” as beautiful boys- “lithe” feminine adolescent boys who according to scholars like Chizuko represent a third gender because of the ambiguity of their features. This challenges the norm for gender relations, namely ideas about power differentials in relationships. It also subverts heteronormative standards for romance by producing popular homosexual narratives that do not treat the subject as deviant or taboo. It allows individuals to create communities of acceptance and appreciation.


Audiences of The Attendant and The Song of the Wind and Trees

Both The Attendant and The Song of the Wind and Trees are media portrayals of male / male homosexuality that are arguably pornographic in nature. However, as much as they are similar they are vastly different. The Attendant is a short film built around sadomachism, or the anticipation of pain on oneself or others. It features an attendant in a museum who sees all around him homoerotic sadomachistic images. The Song of the Wind and Trees is a manga featuring a traditional role or character, the beautiful boy, a character meant to depict innocence and gender neutrality. Sadomachism is less extreme but visible here, too, between a dominant more powerful man and the beautiful boy.

The Attendant queers sexuality in a very different light from The Song of the Wind and Trees, the first being the target audience. I think that the sadomachism in The Attendant is geared towards an audience that is more typically homosexual men who fantasize or participate in sadomachism. The Song of the Wind and Trees has a very different target audience. While it has been argued that it is designed strictly for homosexual men who enjoy the image of the beautiful boy. But there is significant evidence that can’t be ignored indicating that women are traditionally just as if not more interested. James Welker discusses how this genre was born out of female writers, “…the shōnen’ai narratives that followed were penned by a large number of professional female artists during this period” (212) and that they would go on to “…depict romantic and erotic relationships between beautiful males for female consumption” (213). The reasons for this are another matter. After all, because the beautiful boy is such an effective method of queering heteronormative standards, I think that this figure serves as a role model for readers who queer heteronormativity themselves.

The Attendant vs. The Song of the Wind and Trees

The Attendant, a 1995 short film directed by Isaac Julien, paints a creatively abstract image regarding queer sexuality and sadomasochistic culture. The Attendant take us inside the mind of a museum attendant whose fantasies involve men, clad in leather and chains, serving as participants in erotic S/M scenes. The use of black and white images in contrast to those in color and the incorporation of a clock ticking in the background are examples of key concepts in S/M culture, according to Elizabeth Freeman’s “Turn the Beat Around.” These key concepts include, but are not limited to: the idea of the suspension of time (anticipation), the importance of the concept of waiting, shifts in positions of power, top/bottom dynamic, trust, and (especially in the scene where the attendant is whipping the white male) a “syncopation by reward and sometimes punishment” (Freeman, 247). Though explicit in some senses, The Attendant also successfully leaves room for interpretation, which is a critical function in queer theory: an openness for personal interpretation and the ability to explore one’s own needs and desires.

Similarly, The Song of the Wind and the Trees, a Japanese manga, uses its form of media to create ambiguous and blurred lines of sexuality that allow both the author/illustrator to express him/herself and the reader to manifest their own fantasies. The comic brings to life the idea of Boys’ Love, as the main character, Gilbert, serves as a “beautiful boy,” with long blonde hair, effeminate features and no straight forward depiction of genitalia. The “beautiful boy” is one whose gender is rather unclear or how James Welker puts it, “creates a third sex/gender.” The use of Boys’ Love is important in Japanese culture as it made room for women to explore nonconventional forms of sexuality that they, otherwise, may have felt ashamed of exploring. Though different in many ways, the manga and short film successfully work as platforms for a queer counter public which challenge gender binaries, go against heteronormative culture, and highlight the key point of queer theory: it’s subjectivity and freeness to interpretation by the individual consuming it.


Queer(ing) Pornography

Regardless of how queer pornography or sexuality is expressed in media, it always does one thing simply because it exists–which makes the viewer to see something that is not hetero-normative. In The Attendant, the focus on homosexual desire associated with sadomasochism are two things brought to the forefront of the film that are not typically represented in media. It is not typical that mainstream media depicts men fantasizing about other men, let alone fantasizing about men in a BDSM environment. In The Attendant, queer sexuality is portrayed in a way that relates to the ideas of how waiting can increase sexual pleasure and the fact that the attendant is always waiting draws on what Elizabeth Freeman discusses about time in “Turn the Beat Around.” The film also shows how the roles of dominance play out in sexual activity and is focused on male desire. What’s especially interesting about this short film is that it is completely visual — meaning there is no dialogue whatsoever. Everything is portrayed through an action.

Although in The Song of the Wind, the homosexual relationship between two boys is depicted, this male desire is portrayed differently than what was shown in The Attendant. There is not really an emphasis on masculinity and power dynamics in The Song of the Wind, like there was in The Atttendant. Instead the boys are described in ways that are not so much in line with the stereotypical characteristics of males. For example, their youth, beauty and the way they don’t completely identify as male as their gender, rather a third gender, is much different from and challenges the societal norms about gender. Also different from The AttendantThe Song of the Wind is a manga animation, which I think allows for a more whimsical feel that is appropriate in this context.

Queer(ing) Pornography

In class, we viewed two films that may be categorize in the field of pornography to some people. Both The Attendance and The Song of the Wind and Trees display queer sexual relations between males. These films and manga both present queer pornography in their unique ways that several people will have different thought. Reasons why some people will have different thoughts of these genres depending of the people’s cultural society exposure to this type of queer pleasure. Some countries would be accepting of these field of pornography while some countries would frown upon these fields of pornography.

The film The Attendance shows a great theme of sadomasochism. Sadomasochism is defined  by feeling pleasure by receiving or giving infliction of pain. Isaac Julien, the author of The Attendance, used dulls colors to display boring surroundings of everyday life. However, when it features theme of sadomasochism, the environment brightens and display more colorful aspect. The music also changes from slow boring music to more alive tone. Sadomasochism focuses on the rougher explicit side of queer pleasure.

In the manga and film, The Song of Wind and Trees, it features a theme of Boy’s Love. Boy’s Love is a theme display a relation between two males. Boy’s Love concentrates on the youth and beauty of the relationship. In this specific manga, it features males that have feminine which people would be accepting for male audience to view. features Within the Boy’s Love genre, there are sub-genre that caters to various type of audience. A few of them are Bara and Yuri. Bara display relationship between males who has the physical feature of tall, muscular toned, and handsome looking. This sub-genre is mostly viewed for sexually interested males. Yuri is known for female to female relationships that caters to the female and male audience.

Queer(ing) Pornography and its binaries

From both pieces, The Attendant and The Song of the Wind and Trees, they portray a different view that not only challenges that norms , but also goes against the binaries that are made across many cultures. The two pieces really embody the queer sexuality and queer theory that we have been studying. The Attendant depicts a very unique version on queer theory, such as its use of color distinction between color and black and white. It brings a new perspective and delves into the sadomasochism culture. Referring back to the color distinction, for the “normal” people, the director filmed them in black and white. In contrast, the director filmed with color for the members of the sadomasochism culture. After watching the video, the director wanted to show viewers that sadomasochism, heterosexuality, homosexuality, queer culture, etc, can be envision queer theory in a whole new perspective altogether. This can relate to Freeman’s piece where she focuses on how time is an important part of sadomasochism-the use of clocks and the passage of time in The Attendant.

The Song of the Wind and Trees is similar to The Attendant in that way where it breaks the binaries within its culture. We notice in this BL text, the main male embodies many characteristics that make readers assume he is female. However, when he takes off his shirt, it is clear that he is a male. This shows that even with female “outer” physical features, it does not immediately signify that you are a female, the author really emphasizes that with the characters in his BL comics. Thus relating back to Welker’s text, where he makes a point to understand that things do not need to be put into these binaries, specifically the male and female genders.

SM and BL in QT.

The very short film feauturing Sadomachism, “The Attendant” and the Boys Love Comic “The Song of the Wind and Trees” both portray queer sexual relations between men. In both media forms, the relationships shown appear to be casual and based on lust. Also, they both feauture an intergenerational sexual encounter where a younger male is seen with a noticably older individual. Other than the obvious distinction between drawn cartoon and human acted roles, one element that set the comic apart was its cast of beautiful boys. Almost every character was drawn with delicate features mostly associated with women, giving them a pretty/”feminine” look rather than a burly/handsome/”masculine” look. The pictures shown in The Attendant displayed groups of men posing together naked, and highlighting their muscular or “manly” physiques. An element both pieces presented was an emphasis on time. Clocks were both seen and heard ticking or alarming throughout the entirity of each art form. The different times signify different realities. Time spent with a lover is limited to a specific time frame, once that window is over characters in both the film and comic move on to different relationships and sometimes different identitites. I believe that this is reflective of Queer Theory’s relationship with Sadomachism as whole. While discourse on SM in relation to queerness exists and is accepted in the queer community, it is marginalized, and kept almost as a secret for only those who are involved, just as the relationships in the aforementioned art forms are. The relationship between BL and Queer Theory is more complex as there are those who still argue that the genre is not “real homosexuality,” rather just an artistic tool to liberate women’s fantasies. Regardless of intention, the portrayal of various sexualized relationships between men, or third gender individuals should be recognized by QT.