BL Roundtable: Conclusions: On Dream Police, Cigars and Maybe Not Shutting Up Forever

Posted by on June 11th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Previously: Opening shots by Shaenon Garrity, Noah Berlatsky and Kinukitty; Sidebar by Dirk Deppey; and conclusions by Garrity, Kinukitty and Deppey.

I don’t have any serious disagreements with my co-roundtablers. Everyone pretty much agreed that, to varying degrees, Boys’ Love Manga was obtuse and poorly written. I was probably the most viscerally mean-spirited (to no one’s surprise), and Shaenon was probably the most forgiving, but at least from my perspective there weren’t stark differences.

So, since there aren’t big conflicts, I’ll quibble over minutiae. This quote is from Dirk’s essay:

Ladies and gentlemen — but mostly ladies — I give you the Dream Police, now ready to monitor your fantasies to ensure that you don’t get off on those handsome young lads rogering each other without, you know, properly respecting them and shit. Why, you’d almost think that there was some sort of objectification going on, here! Like you just wanted to fantasize about their bodies or something, and not think about their Bitter Struggle For Equality at all!

This is from Kinukitty:

My big, huge, festering resentment with this sentence, though, lies with the last part, about how fantasizing about rape must be a result of ambivalence and resentment. The conclusion here is that if I, as a woman, fantasize about rape, it’s the result of some sort of pathology. I reject that fairly strenuously. Women like to fantasize about all kinds of things, including rape. This does not have to be explained in the context of women being victimized by men specifically or society in general. It’s a case of a cigar just being a cigar.

And this is from Shaenon:

It’s fun when people get all intellectual about porn. I’m impressed by the level of research and familiarity with the subject matter in most of these papers—with a few exceptions, like Mark McHarry’s “Boys in Love in Boys’ Love,” which seems to think that yaoi is mostly shota—but at the same time there’s a running sense of the academic protesting too much. Do we really need to spill this much ink over the question of whether girls like porn?

In these quotes, Dirk and Kinukitty are strenuously, and Shaenon is lightly, pushing back against the idea that porn and sexual fantasy should be subject to (over)analysis, dissection and moral interpretation. People’s sexual fantasies are just cigars, should not be subject to the Dream Police, and probably should not be the occasion for too much spilt ink.

From Fumi Yoshinaga’s Antique Bakery Vol. 4

Dirk and Kinukitty are both, as they make clear, coming from a place of righteous fury powered by personal experience. They’re both queer, and they’ve both been told, throughout their lives to varying degrees, that their sexual fantasies are evil, wrong and/or shameful. They’re therefore both acutely aware that telling people that their sexual fantasies are evil can have extremely unpleasant consequences for the objects of your derision.

I don’t want to deny that that’s true…but at the same time, I’m coming from a somewhat different place. I’m a boring straight breeder — all my sexual kinks (big breasts! girl-girl action!) are so thoroughly typical that they barely qualify as kinks at all.

Moreover, my sexual fantasies are not policed in any meaningful way. On the contrary, they’re catered to. By everyone, everywhere, constantly, all the time. In fact, it’s not an especially large exaggeration to say that our culture — movies, comics, music and on and on — is built with the primary function of reproducing and/or encouraging the fetish material banging about (as it were) in my skull. My fantasies rule the world! Yay for me!

The point is that I know to an absolute certainty that the sexual fantasies in people’s heads have a noticeable impact on the world, and I know this because I look out from behind my brain and there are people dressing and getting surgical procedures and behaving in ways which are, not necessarily entirely caused by, but are nonetheless clearly intimately connected to, my boring porn imaginings.

This is the basic split between second-wave and third-wave feminism. Both waves believe, I think rightly, that sexual fantasies are tied to the outside world — that is, that they are political. Second-wave feminists, though, thought that said fantasies needed to be analyzed, discussed, placed in a moral context and (at least sometimes) censured. Third-wave feminism — drawing, not incidentally, on the development of queer theory — tended to argue (a la Susie Bright) that censuring sexual fantasies inevitably led to censuring the sexual fantasies of the folks with the least power, and that the best thing to do with said fantasies is, therefore, what Dirk and Kinukitty suggest; i.e., leave them alone.

And, again, I have some sympathy with that. But, on the other hand, if the stories we tell (and sexual fantasies are just another kind of story) are connected to the world we live in, then it seems worth trying to figure out what that connection is and how and why it works — both for insight into ourselves and for insight into the world. That’s the logic for doing criticism in general; I don’t see that it breaks down when you talk about sexual fantasies in particular.

From Mister Mistress Vol. 1

For me, then, the problem with Boys’ Love Manga’s forays into analysis isn’t that one shouldn’t analyze sexual fantasies — it’s that the analysis in question was fucking stupid.

Part of the reason I think it was stupid, as I tried to say in my first essay, is that most of the discussions in the book were too generalized. A cigar may not always be a cigar, but it’s hard to tell what it in fact is if you’re not looking at a particular, individual cigar, but rather at some general platonic cigar floating around in quasi-Freudian n-space. The rape fantasy of I Spit on Your Grave is quite different than the rape fantasy of Shivers, for example. Among other things: the first is explicitly feminist while the second isn’t; the first is committed to justice and a moral order, the second to anarchy; the first presents the fantasy from a female perspective, the second from a male. And both are really different from the rape fantasies in, say, Fumi Yoshinaga’s Gerard and Jacques, not least in that the first two have little if any interest in romance, while the third is obsessed with it.

I understand the urge, after reading a book like Boys’ Love Manga, to just wish that everyone involved would shut up forever. And maybe that is the best realistic outcome. But I can’t help but think it would be nice if we could get an anthology that actually thought about what particular works were doing and why and maybe even contrasted work A with work B, rather than just assuming every manifestation of boys’ love was part of a single monolithic sociological phenomena. If we can talk about superhero comics as if there’s a meaningful distinction between Blackest Night and Empowered, it seems like we could come up with a way to talk about boys’ love that distinguishes between Gravitation and Pam Nunn. And if we can’t…well, then, we really ought to shut up.

From Maki Murakami’s Gravitation Vol. 4

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