Monthly Archives: May 2012

34th Discussion: Aska Mochizuki’s Spinning Tropics (17 May)

Terri came by to say hi while Henry was coerced into sitting in with us. We all wondered, how in the world did the book win an award? The complaints are: no depth in plot and character; simplistic language; fetishizes Vietnamese culture (Nick’s point).

Themes:

1. Love VS Lust: Nick believed that Hiro-Konno relationship is lustful while Hiro-Yun, love. Such a separation of love/lust is relatable to Nick. However, for Alex, love/lust come hand-in-hand: the fact that Hiro is troubled over breaking up with Konno means she loves him to a certain extent.

2. Time: Nick brought up the unspecific time period irked him.

3. Fluidity of sexuality in women.

4. Racism: Timmy talked about the contradiction of Hiro/Mochizuki’s confusion, how she escapes from Japan to other countries because she dislikes Japan, yet at the same time, her racial pride makes her put Vietnamese down as stupid, naive children.

5. Homophobia: p. 38 and p. 41 describe Vietnamese men as effeminate, which, to Hiro, means they seem gay. Hiro has a stereotype of connecting gay men with femininity. “Real” men, to Hiro, have to be super duper masculine.

Alex pointed that Hiro’s sex/gender notion is very wrapped and homophobic as Hiro needs a penis to remind her that she is a woman: another classic case of lesbianophobia, that women need to be fucked now and then and there cannot be a pure lesbian.

6. Mother-Daughter relationship/family: Nick suggested that Hiro’s relationship with her mother is reminiscent of many gay men’s relationships with their mother. “Is it because of a lack of father figure that Hiro gravitates towards masculine figures?” Nick pondered.

Alex cautioned that if we think that way, we are falling into the trap of Mochizuki’s sexist mind, of essentializing what is masculine and feminine.

Alex also pointed out how Hiro has slept with her mother’s ex-boyfriend as a form of juvenile rebellion.

Yamada and her husband’s dynamics are interesting but we were too lackluster to talk about them.

The only happy family seems to be the Vietnamese one but even Yun’s family isn’t very happy, with disputes over money. All Vietnamese are described as money-grubbing in the novel, obviously criticizing the country.

Characters

1.  Konno: We were all in love with the tall, broad-shouldered Konno except for Nick. Alex loves Konno for being able to “make a vagina quiver long after its absence” as described in the novel.

2. Yun: Another contradiction occurs here: sometimes Hiro claims that Yun and she are soulmates, yet at other times, Hiro thinks Yun is child-like and beyond comprehension, which goes back to the point on racism, of never knowing the racial Other.

Timmy hates Yun for being so needy.

Yun’s returning to men is reasoned that she thinks there is no future in a lesbian relationship. (homophobia)

3. Hiro: Alex hated her that she cannot reflect on her emotions and actions.

By the end of the discussion, we felt dirty and horrible. Timmy expressed our feelings best: “After reading the book, I feel hollow inside.” Alex said, “If I knew her email address, I’d write her a hate mail.” Writing this discussion notes incenses Aaron. What a horrible, homophobic, racist, sexist book. How did such a repulsive book ever go to print in the first place? Aaron feels like vomiting now.

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Filed under Aska Mochizuki, Family, Japan, Lesbian, Love, Politics, Post-Colonialism, Race, Religion, Time, Vietnam

33rd Discussion: Weekend (2011)

Touted as the great gay love story ever told. Although we neglected to mention that the power from this movie comes for its contemporariness–instead of drawing stories from the past such as Brokeback about 1950s cowboys–we did talk about how realistic it is. Amit called the film aptly “the gay Before Sunrise.” The disparaging remarks of the group on the film–slow and boring (Glenn and Javin); presents nothing new (Raj); too much dialogue (Javin)–were counteracted by Sudev who stated the importance of the dialogue is not in the words but more in the actions, a showing and not-telling, and by Aaron who claimed it takes great skills to transform a mundane every weekend to something of a moment of beauty. Instead of being pretentious, as most art films can get, Aaron commented that  the film is sublime and moving without being mawkish.

Themes:

1. Society: The theme of society is highlighted in the outdoor settings of the movie, such as in the carnival where families go. Three scenes that stand out on the film’s subtle critique of homosexuals and society are (a) when Glen–one “n” to differentiate from our member, Glenn, with two “n”s–talks loudly about his sex life in a straight bar and is confronted by two (straight) men. Are they homophobic or is Glen just talking too loudly because he’s insecure about his sexuality that he has to overcompensate?

(b) The kissing at the train station signals, Raj said, Russ coming to terms with PDA although Russ gets defensive at catcalls and being called “ladyboy.” This scene is a pointed critique of the homophobic society. The film suggests that the society is somewhat homophobic (scene b) but one has to be comfortable with one’s sexuality and not get aggressive like Glen in scene (a).

If gay people are comfortable with themselves–speak freely but not aggressively–then people will accept them for whom they are, as evidence–pointed out by Glenn–at the swimming pool where two men towel off each other.

2. Friendship: Javin noted that their friends reflect their characters as Russ, with his married friends, seems more well adjusted and ready for a relationship, while Glen, with his loud friends, is not ready to settle down. Furthermore, Jill–Glen’s good friend–is contrasted with Jamie–Russ’s good friend–as Jill is unsupportive, unlike Jamie. Javin thought that Glen’s relationship on Jill reflects that Glen cannot have a “real” relationship.

Aaron wondered aloud if it is that simple to typecast them according to their friends; after all Russ goes to clubs too and hasn’t gotten into any relationships before while Glen has an ex-boyfriend whom he loves very much but has to leave him because of his infidelity. The beauty of the film is that it doesn’t fall into cliches–why would the director typecast the characters via their friends? Russ’s stability and Glen’s loudness have more to do, Aaron thought, with the fact that they are both uncomfortable with their sexuality: Russ dares not come out while Glen’s constant loudness is overcompensating for his insecurity.

3. Drugs – Some of us felt that the drugs in the film are a (homophobic) stereotype of gay people but Aaron thought that the drugs is an unflinching realistic portrayal and besides, the film doesn’t take a moralistic stand on drug use; the film doesn’t show them using drugs to party or for wild orgies. What the film presents is that they use the drugs quietly in their apartment as a form of establishing a connection, affecting no one else.

4. Sex – Should a relationship begin with sex? Javin–and probably Ernest–said no; Aaron said yes; Raj said it doesn’t matter either way.

Is the sex real? Raj said the sex scenes–from the 1st one without any sex to the last one with penetration–show the progression of their love for each other. Aaron said the portrayal of such hot sex is important because how else can you differentiate a between a gay and straight relationship? Sex shows the opposite of homophobia.

Why do both of them record their sexcapades? Sudev said that the recordings represent insecurities about themselves and the giving of the tape to Russ means Glen is never coming back. Raj saw the gift that Glen doesn’t need the recording to remember Russ. Javin remarked that the sexperience has become so personal to Glen that he couldn’t include the tape in his art project. Aaron argued that sex isn’t about sex when it is so implicit: the sex shows the loneliness and the need for human connections, which is why the recordings of sex emphasize mostly on relationships, rather than the act (eg: Married Guy  and Paul Smith). While this may be a simple point, the film’s artistry makes you work hard to reach the point, thus making a statement against the stereotype of having ONS.

5. Love: While Javin said it is not possible to love anyone within 3 days, the other members more or less claimed that they love or have strong feelings in each other. Raj claimed that Glen’s not wanting a relationship will be a stumbling block should they continue. However, the general consensus is Glen wants a relationship although he says not; his saying so only shows his jadedness–like many gay men.

6. Social Class: Sudev said that their social class reflects on their attitudes towards life: the middle-class, trapped in the rat race, longs for sex alone, jaded about love while the blue collared wants stability. Aaron was concerned that the middle-class is the top, ie, the middle-class screws the blue-collared–abuse of social power?–while Raj saw their sexual positions as body images, the macho, taller, fit one is the bottom.  Thus it was concluded among us that the top/bottom, power/powerless dynamics don’t apply in this case.

We were also saddened that while such unions are possible in UK and USA, they are not possible in Singapore, with the amount of materialistic gay men in Singapore.

Motifs

1. Travelling: Many scenes show them on buses, trains and bicycles. Sudev decided that these public scenes contrast the intimacy and freedom they have at home while Aaron said that these scenes are metaphorical of a life’s journey. Sudev ties this usage of space to the time of the title, Weekend.

The three repeated scenes that show Glen walking away from Russ’s apartment, Raj said, demonstrate Glen’s growing affections.

2. Armpits!!!

After the discussion, Raj thought that the film is really quite good and we all have to agree with the journalist at The Independent: “Haigh’s picture is one of the few movies that capture modern attitudes to sex without falling into the cliches that come with the cinematic tendency to frame morals into a pseudo-religious spectrum of love, fidelity and marriage.”

This is a great film and if you haven’t watched it, you should. 

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Filed under Class, Gay, Gay, Love, Politics, UK