In a lecture entitled The Reviled: Queer Monsters in Canadian Cinema, Concordia cinema professor Thomas Waugh dissected what he called society’s “terror of the anus” for a small, but near-capacity, screening room last Friday afternoon.
Showing excerpts from such varied films as David Cronenberg’s “Naked Lunch,” “Porky’s,” and the award-winning CBC docudrama “Boys of St. Vincent,” Waugh sketched out a pattern of negative imagery of gays, lesbians and the transgender in Canadian cinema.
“Authorship is one of the premises of my book,” said Waugh of his forthcoming book on the same subject. “I’m very interested in where images come from in terms of individual artistic sensibilities.”
Waugh argued that social anxiety over shifting gender roles and sexuality – particularly in the post-sexual revolution / Stonewall era – is reflected in popular cinema, often manifesting itself in monstrous portrayals of gays and lesbians.
“One of the ways they do this is by creating these monsters of transgression which they exorcise, very often through these spectacular bloodbaths,” Waugh explained.
Beginning his presentation with a clip of The Mark Hall Story, a documentary about Ontario teenager Mark Hall who recently won the legal right to attend his Catholic high school’s prom with his boyfriend, Waugh described (somewhat lamented) the current “normalization of homo-conjugality” in both queer and non-queer cinema.
In contrast, Waugh closed with a series of excerpts from films made by queer Canadian directors like Bruce LaBruce and Noam Gonick, who are “reclaiming” and “reveling in the monstrous.”
These filmmakers, according to Waugh, represent a “defiance of the new gay norm,” and a reaction to the increasing social acceptance of what was once a marginalized subculture.
“Bruce is obviously involved in undercutting this queer aesthetic of normal coupling, and relishing in undermining all of the assumptions about sexuality and social roles for queer people that we’ve inherited from gay liberation,” said Waugh.
Waugh wrapped up by briefly addressing a new obscenity bill currently before Canada’s parliament. The proposed bill, Waugh warned, could greatly curtail the freedom of Canadian artists – and particularly queer ones – in dealing with controversial subject matter by removing the artistic merit defence from the penal code.
“We can’t look at this imagery in the abstract. We must look at it in the context of a whole social, legal and cultural system which continues to de-legitimize it and, in fact, endangers its existence,” he cautioned.
Waugh’s lecture was presented by the Concordia Research Project Sexuality Series and the Minor in Interdisciplinary Sexuality Studies. His forthcoming book is expected to be on store shelves by Christmas, 2004.