Professor Lee Quinby – Spring 2012

Sexuality and American Culture 2012

A Girl’s Guide to Happiness (As Seen on TV)

Hey everyone!

Here’s  my video and write up. I’ll miss our wonderful class!!


Originally, I intended to create a visual representation of the deployment of sexuality described in Foucault’s The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1. I wanted to display the ways in which different discourses in the media have represented sexuality and influenced me (whether consciously or not). My initial plan did not have a sharp focus and so when I set out to create the final video project, things were not cohesive and my statement was not clear. I decided to revise my plan in order to incorporate my interest in the deployment of sexuality, but also add in Judith Butler’s theory of performativity as it appeared in my final essay.

It was evident as I began working on the project that, even though I wanted to use a hodge-podge of media sources (TV, film, ads, etc.) I should pick one source and one type of media reference in order to make a video that flows and makes a clear statement. I chose to look at television advertisements from 1991-2012. I wanted to use the creative project as an opportunity to reflect on my own immersion into an understanding of sexuality and gender performance, so I chose to start the time frame in 1991, the year I was born.

The process of finding and cutting down clips was fun and also very frustrating. I was interested to look at the ways that certain commercials so explicitly oversimplified gender roles and sexuality (e.g. the Barbie wedding commercial in the beginning). Also, as I began my search for clips, I realized how challenging it was to think of specific examples of sexuality within media, because it’s everywhere. Ultimately, I decided that the best way to keep things focused and show meaningful clips rather than an onslaught of unrelated images, was to think about my own growth into my idea of what a woman is, and how certain influences in the media may have shaped this notion.

I framed the final video so that the oversimplified ads of childhood led into more complicated notions of gender roles as they are related to appearance and gesture. I found this set up a good reflection of how I understand the deployment of sexuality in the media and the insisted performance of “woman.” I thought it was necessary to set up the same idealized notion of love and marriage that is presented to young girls before showing how those same girls are ultimately exposed to other images that suggest they have to act a particular way in order to reach that ideal. In many cases the images suggested by the media as the best female performance contradict the notion of a fairy tale wedding or lifestyle. At the end of the video I chose to take small parts of the clips I showed in full length to make a quick “review” of what it takes to be a happy girl (according to TV). I chose to show these clips without sound so that the suggestions could really set in without humorous words or outdated phrases, which can distract from what’s really being said.

Though the project could have gone more in depth, I think it was successful in terms of reflecting course themes as well as demonstrating how I’ve come to think about sexuality in different ways after participating in this course. Perhaps more strategic planning would have allowed for a more complex project, but all in all this video was a really interesting and thought provoking project to create. I realized just how immersed within sexuality as a part of many discourses I am and have been since a very young age.

Universe of Desire

My choice to reimagine scenes from The Scarlet Letter, Lolita, and Middlesex in the context of 21st century technology, specifically the internet, came from three factors. One is the “Universe of Desire” exhibit at the Museum of Sex, which showcased the collision of sex and internet and blurring of publicity and anonymous “privacy.” The exhibit showcased Google searches, uploaded images and/ or videos, social networking, new forms of narratives like blogs, and etc. engaging with the topic of sex and sexuality. My second influence is the BBC television show, Sherlock, which is a 21st century adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s turn of the 20th century stories and novels. In the original Holmes stories, the set-up fictional narrator is Dr. John Watson, Holmes’ companion, publishing his adventures with Holmes in magazines and what not. One of my favorite aspects of the 21st century adaptation of Sherlock Holmes is that the stories about Holmes that spur his popularity are presumed to be published through Watson’s blog. The last factor is the similar fictional set-up for the narration of The Scarlet Letter, Lolita, and Middlesex. In The Scarlet Letter, the narrator/ author is presumed to have found a cache of documents and the antiquated scarlet letter while working in the custom-house and formulated the novel the reader is reading despite the characters being long dead. In Lolita, it is set up that the main character, Humbert Humbert, has written a scrambled memoir under a pseudonym while he was in jail awaiting his trial for the murder of Cue Quilty. The novel the reader is reading was presumed to be published after the deaths of Humbert Humbert and Dolores Haze/ Schiller. In Middlesex, the narrator/ author is set up to be character, Calliope/Cal, writing a memoir that spans three generations of her/ his family. The fate of Cal is unknown, but it can be presumed from the novel’s recent relative publishing year that he is still alive in the alternate reality.

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Creative Project/Bye and Tanks!

Hi all!

I want to thank everyone for contributing to possibly the best class I’ve taken so far at Hunter/Macaulay. I was nervous at first that there were only five of us (7 with Lee and John), and that people would be judgmental or intimidating. You are all the best combination of smart, insightful, and respectful, and I’m grateful to have heard all your opinions and thoughts during the semester. This was the class I was always happy to to go because I couldn’t wait to hear what others had to say about what we had read that week.

Enjoy your summer and I hope to see everyone soon!

Thanks for a great class,


P.S.  Credits for the music in my dance:

Thom Henreich, “Tied Down”

Marilyn Monroe, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”

Tchaikovsky, “The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy”

Jun Miyake, “Lilies of the Valley”


Downloading Clips from YouTube

Hi Everyone, Here is the link to download the Firefox plugin that allows you to download clips from YouTube. You can then take these clips and add them to an iMovie project like you would any other clips you shot on your own cam. Please be aware of copyrights and be sure to provide attribution to the original owner of the clip you use!

Look for this icon next to the title of the video you want to use in YouTube, and click the down arrow, choosing what you want to do

It works on YouTube and other sites, as well…

And p.s. Bravi on your presentations today!

Biopower with a capital B

According to Michel Foucault, “biopower” emerged as the deployment of alliance and its complementary sovereign power over death (to allow or disallow life) shifted to the deployment of sexuality and accompanying power over life on the individual bodily level and on a larger population level (138-139). Foucault continues with that this power over life uses a vehicle for “political operations, economic interventions…and ideological campaigns” and for the purpose of The History of Sexuality, sexuality fits the bill as the means for biopower (146). As mentioned in my last post, I have been reading a number of pieces about beyond the gender binary. In a particular piece, “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough,” Anne Fausto-Sterling points out that biological sex has become a way to control life or enact biopower since the mid-20th century as more medical and biological knowledge about intersexuality and procedures to “correct” it emerged and became more widespread. After nodding with familiarity in coming upon Foucault in Fausto-Sterling’s piece, I am inclined to agree that biological sex has become a way to enact biopower with Cal’s narrative in Middlesex and the shift in the media’s presentations of Christine Jorgenson in David Harley Serlin’s piece in mind.

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Gender-Blenders: Detrimental to the Fantasies of Heterosexuals

The Christina Jorgensen case is a tragic example of how the media could either make or break you. It also reiterates the notion that when it comes to touchy subjects in America, there’s no such thing as an acceptable gray area (Abortion, for or against; Politics, red or blue and sometimes green).

As for the issue of sexuality in America, it’s been generally difficult to accept the lifestyle of a homosexual. Many heterosexual Americans, to this day, cannot fathom a man or woman having mannerisms associated with the opposite sex. With hermaphrodites and transvestites, where the gender-line is superficially blurred by the persons themselves, there is the obvious possibility of a heterosexual gaining a sincere, lustful physical attraction. More often than not, when the truth is revealed, the heterosexual with the attraction feels insulted by the deception and a substantial deal of shame, usually facilitated by his or her peers.

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Directions to the Inside

I think maybe all of the gender theory I have been reading for another class has gotten to me because I found myself increasingly frustrated with Cal’s characterization of gender and sex. I also, however, don’t have a solution for the ways in which society in general is stuck in the binary of male or female, heterosexual or homosexual. It is really fascinating to think about the limitations in language around sexuality and gender because of the social constructions of gender and language that exist in society at large. My frustration is not a criticism of Cal’s character or of the novel, but rather a general frustration with the realization that such a sweeping subject can be, at its roots, so limited.

Rather than get into a lengthy discussion of gender roles and stereotypes (I think that will be better for class discussion) I want to write a little about the power relations at play in Calliope’s middle school years. I found this part of Book Three really interesting and really telling about the ways that power structures form among adolescents. Cal’s discussion of the social hierarchies of the “Charm Bracelets” the “Kilt Pins” and the  “Ethnics,” the group Cal is a part of (299-302). Read the rest of this entry »

Ourselves, looking at others, looking at us

This week, reading Books Three and Four, I found that the story in Middlesex changes once Cal turns the focus on himself. “Up until now it hasn’t been my world,” he says in the beginning of Book Three (217). The story’s style and quality is right to change; it’s harder to talk about oneself than others, and people to tend to discuss themselves differently. Similarly, Cal is not making anything up (using his imagination to recreate Desdemona and Lefty’s experience), but telling us what happened to him. The book therefore loses some of its dreamy quality. Read the rest of this entry »

Deconstructing “The Norm”

So sorry for the late post!! Finals time is starting to take over!

I am absolutely loving Middlesex. I think it’s amazing that Eugenides is able to take such a powerful taboo right from the very beginning and make us (well at least me) root for the characters involved. Lefty and Desdemona’s relationship has all the qualities of a traditional romance, except for the fact that they just happen to be brother and sister. In Books 1 and 2, my favorite section of the text is when the two are on board the Giulia and deconstruct their identities internally in order to construct a socially acceptable relationship just in time for their arrival in America. Read the rest of this entry »

Calliope/Cal: A Trustworthy Narrator, Thanks to Eugenides

I really, really enjoy Calliope/Cal’s tone in Middlesex. Give the credit given to author Jeffrey Eugenides, Calliope/Cal has the ability to help the reader capture the full emotional value of images, actions and sequences without the excessive reliance of adjectives. I was beyond moved reading the passage when Dr. Philobosian was walking through his home on page 60, witnessing that his family has been murdered. I literally felt the monotony of working on an assembly line, like Lefty did (passage starting at the last paragraph of page 95).

Calliope/Cal also uses short sentences like paintbrushes to an oil canvas,
“The heat precedes the fire.” (pp. 58)
“Summer was abandoning the ocean.” (pp. 75)
“Desdemona bolts awake.” (pp. 121)

So far, the narrator has done a fantastic job describing events of her/his past. It’s pretty vivid for someone who was physically hanging out in oblivion for practically ninety-nine percent of the first two books of the novel. This brings up the question of validity, how much should I trust the narrator going into Book Three? Just like Humbert in Lolita, how much truth does a narrative told in retrospect hold? Calliope/Cal sounds very grounded, and pretty trustworthy thus far.

Since I just mentioned Lolita, Calliope/Cal is like a covert version of Humbert in terms of their narration methods. Calliope/Cal and Humbert both describe things very well, and both accurate get their point across. But while Humbert uses words to be very precise in his description, it feels like Calliope/Cal doesn’t need to use words that are absent from her/his vernacular. Her descriptions fly off the page like she/he’s not even trying very hard. Though we don’t know much about Calliope/Cal’s personal life, I still feel like I have a good sense of her/his personality.

One aspect of Eugenides’ writing style that I really love is how, at what feels like a random time, he would have the narrator go off on a tangent about chromosomes and the science of reproduction, then use it as a stepping stone to smoothly proceed with the story Calliope/Cal is narrating. It reminds me of a short story I wrote last year, where I used tangential paragraphs as breaks in the narrative. I’m in no way comparing my writing to a Pulitzer Prize winner. But as a novice writer, I think it works really well if used correctly. It adds a fresh dimension, or two or three, to the story.

Being that half of me is of Greek ancestry, I feel that I should be more inclined to appreciate that I’m reading a book that incorporates Greek culture. Honestly, if we substituted all the Greek with Italian, Brazilian, Mongolian, or anything else, I feel like my enjoyment wouldn’t be any less. Eugenides does something very anti-Greek in his prose. He doesn’t shove Greek culture in your face. He doesn’t abuse the usage of italicized Greek words. He practically abstains from coloring Calliope/Cal’s voice with a Greek tinge. He successfully sculpts the narrator as an American with Greek roots, not an Greek-American living in a Greek-American bubble in America.

I was dying laughing after I read this following quote from the top of page 29. I’m wondering if anyone else understood the humorous implications,

“What do you mean there aren’t any girls? What about Lucille Kafkalis?” … “Lucille smells,” Lefty answered reasonably. “She bathes maybe once a year. On her name day.”