Category Archives: HIV/AIDS

Discussion: Alison Bechdel’s The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For 


Veronika wrote: 

I really like the comics I dipped into. The way she captures every day politicising in the slice of life format is compelling for busy adults… I like the sustained way she did comic too! It’s not easy to create an appealing comic strip that panders exclusively to adult tastes. I mean, I usually associate comic strips to anthropomorphic animals or hyperbolic characters so at first flip it took a while for me to get used to reading unusually dense language for comic strips. I kinda see why XKCD strips the artwork to stick figures now, cause the dialogue is the focal point. For this, there were times when I felt a little too overwhelmed at the cramped drawings and dense text in the comics. Aaron did point me to a rather poignantly done comic strip in 2004 following the 9/11 event, and it was nice to see the art carry the weight of the message for once. I agreed with Aaron’s point that he finds the depiction of the fat or non-standard beautiful characters interesting. It adds to the raw, Real feel of the comics. Aaron thinks it is problematic that the text itself while promoting diversity, fails the inverse Bechdel test. However, I personally don’t think it’s problematic.


Aaron wrote: 

These are some of the discussion questions that I have prepared: 

1. In our discussion on Fun Home, we didn’t like the narcissistic nature of the graphic novel. In the introduction of DTWOF, Bechdel confided that she submitted a manuscript of a novel to Adrienne Rich. Rich rejected to publish  the novel because she, like us, found the storytelling narcissistic. But DTWOF comes in episodes, not a whole coherent narrative. Do you think DTWOF is narcissistic too? Or does the episodic form make the comics more inclusive and universal? 

2. The Bechdel Test originated from DTWOF. Think of your favorite movie and apply it to the test. Do you think the test is accurate or reliable? 

Now apply the inverse to DTWOF. Are there more than 2 male characters interacting with each other, talking about nonsexual topics? How are men generally portrayed in DTWOF?

3. In this interview, why did Bechdel feel uncomfortable about her characters being role models? 

4. In the same interview, she stated that she stopped DTWOF after more than a decade because it was no longer profitable. Does this affect the artistic integrity or the advocacy element of the comics for you? 

Also you may want to relate it to the characters in the comics who stick to their principles and those who don’t. 

5. In the interview, what is the “homosexual agenda” according to Bechdel? How is it reflected in her comics? 

6. Bechdel is constantly worrying about the homogenization of the world because big corporations are taking over the world. How does she negotiate that in her comics? 

7. What are some of the things that shock you in the comics? If you’re a gay man, what is the difference between the lesbian scene and the gay? 

8. Bechdel prides herself for being a feminist, which to her also means being antiestablishment. Is there a contradiction publishing things to make money?

9. Fat studies / disabled lesbians. Discuss. 

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Filed under Alison Bechdel, Class, Disability, Family, Graphic Novel, HIV/AIDS, Lesbian, Love

37th Discussion: Comme Les Autres (2008)

We were too lazy to stick around for an in-depth discussion and decided to do it online. Here are some questions that you may want to consider and leave a comment. If you have other questions or other ideas about the movie, please feel free to comment too.

1. Why is the French title “Like the Others” change to “Baby Love” in translation? What is the significance?

2. There is a straight sex scene (to which the female movie-goer who sat behind me turned to her friend asked, “So he is straight?”). Why do you think there is a straight sex scene?

3. The gay sex scene is only implied while the straight sex scene is rather explicit and long-drawn. Is it homophobic?

4. Is it believable that a man would give up his long-term stable relationship for an unknown (in this case, the unknown is a future baby)?

5. Who else thinks Philippe is hot as hell?

6. What is the portrayal of class issues in this film?

7. What is the portrayal of family in this film?

7a. Every time the young boys ask difficult questions at the dining table, they are asked to leave. What do you make of this?

8. How would you characterize the love between Emmanuel and Philippe?

9. When Cathy asks Emmanuel to sit in her office, he first suspects that he has HIV before he figures out he is infertile. Is this homophobic in any way?

10. Emmanuel lives in Belville, a district with various races but how many non-White characters are there? Why?

11. Why is an illegal immigrant the surrogate mother? Do you think she’s being used by Emmanuel or even the director just as a plot device? What issues of illegal migrancy are brought up? Putting the film in Singapore context, do you think the director is for or against migrants?

12. What is the depiction of gender in the movie? Are there any caricatures of women?

13. In the last scene, it is suggested that Cathy sleeps with the black man. Is

14. Do you find this film funny? At which scenes and why? Are we laughing because of the loss in translation or is the humor universal? If you think that the film is funny, why do you think the director injects humor in a film with a serious theme?

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32nd Discussion: Michael Cunningham’s By Nightfall (19 Apr)

Moderator: Timmy
Attendees: Raj, Timmy, Victor, Alex, Alexius, Glenn, Amit, Aaron, Har, JM (Coetzee?), Ernest

Although there are some hot scenes (shower scene and straight sex) and although we all agree that the stream of consciousness/monologue is complex, many of us found the novel depressing in its mediations on death, and some of us found it boring.

Themes

1. Autobiography/Art: Aaron argued that the novel is Cunningham’s veiled autobiography on his relationship to art and life, which is why the characters are stock characters and the plot is predictable, and the predictability is what Victor called “a lazy way of writing.” The importance is not in the characters or plot but in objects of art and beauty. For instance, the names of the characters are mostly biblical or famous literary names: Peter, Matthew, Daniel, Rebecca (from Daphne du Maurier); Beatrice (from Dante). Or how the scenes in the novel are straight out from paintings. Or in the chapter “Art History,” Peter mediates that every art show “might have moved a fraction of a centimeter forward. Aesthetics? Art History?…What about the unending effort to find a balance between sentiment and irony, between beauty and rigor, and in so doing open a crack in the subtance of the world through which mortal truth might shine?” (69). This sentence–especially the emphasis on literary terms “sentiment and irony”–is obviously mirroring Cunningham’s thoughts on his craft. Furthermore, Uta says, “Taking on an artist you don’t love who sells a lot of work helps pay for the artists you do love who don’t sell a lot of work” is pointedly talking about the publishing world (before there are literary agents). What the novel is is a mediation of Cunningham in positioning himself in relation to other writers (hence, the extensive intertextural references to other great works of literature like Madame Bovary, Dante, Jane Eyre, etc). But most of the members disagreed with Aaron, thinking the thesis is too far a leap.

2. Sexuality:

a. “Is it possible to be gay for a person?” TImmy asked. Ernest quoted movingly a line straight from Jodi Picoult’s Sing You Home to answer the question.

b. Incest: Alexius brought up that Peter is in love with his brother, Matthew, and Matthew and Mizzy are always naked (theme of corporeality/bodies). Aaron thought the nudity is to emphasize their ethereal nature, a nature untainted by societal norms. Alex claimed with bodies that beautiful, he’d want to walk around naked every opportunity he has too.  Alexius thought the book–in particularly the relationship between the men–emphasizes on Greek love.  Tying part (a) and (b) together, Alex stated that Peter is not in love in men per se but in love with beauty and Peter treats them as art objects. Seen in this way, Raj claimed that the ugly urn symbolizes Peter–an object of ordinary art–while Mizzy is the beautiful urn that substitutes the ugly urn at Carol’s country house.

c. Homophobia: Timmy asked if this novel is homophobic since the gay characters either are manipulative or die of HIV/AIDS. Most of the members said no because the gay characters are portrayed in a sympathetic manner.

3. Sex

a. Alex brought up an interesting point that we didn’t go into: why does the straight sex scene turn us (gay people) on?

b. Alexius asked why there is no sex between Mizzy and Peter. Raj wondered if sex is what is on Peter’s mind while Aaron claimed that if we follow the argument that Mizzy is a piece of art and beauty, one should never touch beauty because one would defile it. Building on, JM said that the purpose of the interior monologue is that art exists in the mind and if it is expressed, art loses that beauty.

Raj likened that: if Peter has sex with Mizzy, it would be like how a torn painting reveals its worthless second-rate painting underneath. Ernest asked why the metaphor sounds like the tearing of hymen. Alexius said, “But there is interactive art. They can interact with each other.”

The unfulfilled desire, Alex argued, is befitting and ties in with the theme of death.

4. Marriage: Mundane existence.

5. Love: Victor explained that Peter reaches for the forbidden fruit.

Characters

1. Peter: Glenn saw Peter as someone who needs to be appreciated for whom he is. JM said that the book is about a mid-life crisis, an urgency to be special; if not, Peter will be like the shark, suspended in mid-life. And being with Mizzy, Alex added, is that something special.

Raj suspected Peter is hallucinating the entire encounter with Mizzy in his head.

2. Mizzy: “A hot scumbag,” according to Alex. While Timmy hated Mizzy for his complete waste of his intelligence and potential, Mizzy is Raj’s favorite character as, according to Raj, Mizzy is manipulative. Aaron, however, cautioned that we are seeing Mizzy from Peter’s point-of-view and Mizzy may not be manipulative. In fact, JM found Mizzy innocent and pitiful because he cannot and doesn’t want to assimilate into society and is thus an outcast.

Alexius couldn’t fathom why Mizzy would fall in love with Peter because, to Alexius, a younger man loves an older man for his security and knowledge. Alexius also disliked that the others continue calling Mizzy Mizzy and not Ethan, because it would reinforce Mizzy’s own mindset.

3. Rebecca: Aaron defended Rebecca when claims were made of her being bland, saying that her personality is inaccessible to us because we are seeing her from Peter’s point of view. She does show sparks of complexity, such as the witnessing of the threesome and seeking revenge for her sister, and calling Peter “Charlie” during sex.  “Why Charlie?” JM asked. Alex replied, “Calling someone else’s name during sex is insulting and may be a turn on. Sex is a mixture of insult, pain and fantasy.” Of course, Alex knows best.

4. Uta: Favorite character of Har, Aaron and Timmy because, as Timmy succinctly puts it, Uta is like Uma Thurman in The Producers, funny, down-to-earth, busty and blonde.

5. Beatrice: “Why does Beatrice hate her dad?” Timmy asked. Har and JM pointed out that she cannot fulfill the potential of the Dantean name. (A parallel could be made of Cunningham’s works in relations to other great works.) Peter cannot get over his superficiality and there is an “unspoken disdain” (Alex’s words).  That’s why Mizzy is a substitution for Rebecca’s and Peter’s parental affections. Raj, Timmy and JM believed that Beatrice is lesbian while Alex and Aaron didn’t. Perhaps the ambiguity is to highlight how un-important sexuality is in a liberal society: we don’t need to know and shouldn’t need to know her sexuality.

Style

1. Monologue: While many of us found the style boring, Har liked the long meditative paragraphs, especially the description of a party, which Alex pointed out, is modeled after Mrs Dalloway. Furthermore, defending the ennui, JM argued that the stream-of-consciousness is to mirror the boredom in Peter’s life.

2. Setting: Raj claimed that the novel ruins New York for him, depicting the city as melancholic, while Aaron thought the descriptions are spot on.

3. Last Chapter: JM liked the way the last chapter ties things up.  Alex liked the endless possibilities of the ending.

4. Motif:

a. The significance of the rare human touch, we discussed, is a signal for human connection.

b. Shark:  Alex noted that Peter has a hubris when he associates himself with the shark. JM said that the shark could be an indication of the fearlessness when facing life and death. Aaron thought the shark represents the terrible beauty that is in the epigraph of the book while Alexis said that the shark could represent Matthew, suspended in his prime.

c. Animals: Prevalent mentioning of animals including death of a horse, which Har brought up, a foreshadowing technique, demonstrating Cunningham’s craft.

5. Doppelganger: Why does everyone melt into everyone else? For instance, Uta has been compared to Rebecca; Mizzy to Rebecca and Matthew; Peter to Bette. JM suggests that perhaps the novel isn’t about the characters, that it’s a story for everyone.

The book club concluded with a sad note, as sad as the book. We usually appreciate the book better after the discussion but not in this case. Har and Amit were the exceptions who liked the novel. Aaron and Alex were neutral. The rest hated it as it is, in Glenn’s, Alexius’s, Timmy’s words, “boring, pretentious, pussified” and in Amit’s words, “fatalistic as the novel sets the characters up to fail.” Ernest won’t be reading the book, fo’ so’.

PS: Thanks, Raj, for hosting us and providing drinks and curry puffs.

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4th Discussion: Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story (17 Dec 2009)

Present: Caleb, Issac, Timmy, Bay, George and Aaron.

1. Stylistically, Bay dislikes the novel because he feels that the metaphorical quality of the prose is juvenile and antiquated; the non-linearity of narrative isn’t suited for autobiography; there is no resolution; and the characters move in and out, defying Chekhov’s gun rule (viz. “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there”). But Isaac doesn’t have a problem with the metaphoric language; Aaron claims that the non-linearity follows a queer tradition to counter the heteronormantive, heterosexist writing; and characters’ moving in and out of a person’s life reflects very much the norm in real life; George says that there needn’t be a resolution.

2. Although there are some poignant portions which allow us to identify with the nameless narrator, some of us couldn’t do so and we point out that it may be a class issue and that of a generation gap.

3. Much is made of the narrator’s selfish behavior but we also say that it may arise because of his insecurity and adolescent angst.

4. Sex: Timmy, who remembers Chuck has the biggest cock and who-sucks-whom in the novel, shrewdly notes that the sex gets less and less graphic as the story progresses while the emotional aspect increases, showing a maturity of sorts.

5. Love: Aaron brings up Lip Sin’s point that the novel is idealistic in its portrayal of love, that “love is possible.” Aaron defends Lip Sin’s point that the idealism of love in the novel seeps in in small amounts and unexpectedly, hence it goes almost unnoticed. It is the narrator’s relentless pursuit of a perfect love, that childlike tenacity, that makes the novel idealistic, despite how the narrator is such a brat.

6. Family: George brings up that despite the narrator’s coming out, the father does not disown him; this is a tolerant gesture in 50s, the setting of the novel. Aaron further realizes that the narrator does not get along with his blood-relatives (Dad, Mom and Sister) but with his step-mother; he actually identifies with her. Strange. George claims that this may be because of the short time of interaction between them.

7. Helen Paper, the object of the narrator’s affections, is nothing but a body, pendulous breasts, breasts and breasts, Aaron suggests; she has no personality. Bay argues that this may be the narrator’s perception of Helen, or in other words, Helen may have character but his lust for her prevents him to see it. Caleb says that the narrator is mimicking a straight boy’s view of Helen so that to see with heterosexual eyes means that he could be popular and fit into society easily.

8. Kevin, Tommy, Chuck. We don’t really have much to say about them, narrator’s crushes.

9. The Scotts are a funny family. All pastors are pedophiles.

10. Howie, narrator’s frenemy. He’s a cowboy, a Nazi, and he is dead.

11. The psychological mumbo-jumbo of the book, which is the prevalent thinking of that time, proves to be outdated, and pisses Bay off.

12. We discuss in detail the ending and agree–finally one thing we can agree on!–that the narrator feels like being an adult is being in power (George’s point); that is, one has to be in control of the situation, coming into a consciousness, an awareness of the circumstances.

George and Bay left and when we locked up, Isaac suggested at the last minute that we go for drinks. Books and booze – we decide to make this a tradition.

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Filed under Classics, Coming of Age, Edmund White, Gay, HIV/AIDS, USA