‘Lessons in Heterosexuality’ was a 3 week film programme at Arcadia Missa in January and February 2013 curated by John Bloomfield, Douglas Brennan, Ben Cornish and David Edgar.
The Screen Shadows Arcadia_Missa Project
Lessons in Heterosexuality: Looking At The Love That Has Never Bothered To Speak Its Name
Studies of gender and sexuality typically begin with both feet on the firm and familiar ground of heterosexuality before launching outwards to analyse and explore other orientations and practices. Our season of films, discussions and accompanying body of writing will take the uncommon step of looking downwards to ask what it is exactly that we are standing on. Rather than a fixed, solid centre by which to orientate explorations into the unknown, heterosexuality is itself shifting, unstable and, in its broad form as a set of practices and ideologies, a much more recent phenomenon than is commonly believed.
Pro-creative heterosexuality is but one part of the whole: in this case the synecdoche of ‘baby making’, and the biological explanations for it, cast a shadow over the larger matrix of cultures, social structures and systems of identification that the term encompasses. As Louis-George Tin puts it, ‘even supposing that one acknowledge the heterosexual imperative that is implicit in biological reproduction, it is more difficult to account for the essentially heterosexual structure of human society’. Animals don’t all mate for life. Neither do they go dancing on a Saturday night, write songs about falling in love or pack into cinemas to watch films about teenagers trying to lose their virginity. Certain aspects of heterosexuality then, cannot be accounted for biologically, and are arguably as constructed as aspects of race, nationality and class.
One goal of the season would be to look at heterosexuality in relation to the moving image. Jonathan Katz, for instance, places ‘the invention of heterosexuality’ at the beginning of the 20th Century. To accept this thesis would put heterosexual history in parallel with that of film history. Like other components of modernity, the moving image has a complex role in its constructions, shifts and developments: on one level film records, registering social, cultural and historical change. As the norm shifts, the dominant media of the 20th and 21st century – Cinema, Television and then the Internet – are there to note it down. This same position of dominance means that the moving image also has the power to encode behaviour. Whether it accurately reflects what girls and boys do to each other, or whether it simplifies, invents, distorts or omits, it does instruct us and does inform our behaviour.
Our development process began with discussing why we thought heterosexuality was such a blind spot. If it is fair to say that queer studies was initially driven by pride, protest or celebration, then these are not factors that were ever likely to motivate a study of a sexual orientation that is in no danger of being driven underground. Similarly, is it reactionary, or might it be considered so, to bring the conversation back to straight men and women? ‘We want a straight film festival!’ ‘We want straight pride!’ No. Nothing as fun as that. We want a long, hard look at the world’s most popular sexual orientation.
Lessons in Heterosexuality
All sessions would be accompanied with an introduction, talk or discussion in addition to program notes
Friday 11th Jan – How to Become a Heterosexual – 7pm Start (Free)
Deliberately contrasting films from wildly different historical moments, this session would look at two forms of ‘becoming’: the historical emergence of the heterosexual at the beginning of the 20th Century through People on Sunday and the transition from sex-less pre-teen to sexed teen in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. On closer inspection however, these films offer more than a heterosexual propaedeutics, pointing towards less obvious ways in which one can be heterosexual.
Looking at a group of Berliners as a whole society ‘becomes heterosexual’, this session will read People on Sunday for clues behind this transformation. What is distinct about this form of heterosexuality and what preceded it? Like Fast Times, People on Sunday is a film that gives lessons: lessons in metropolitan heterosexuality (how to be heterosexual) to its contemporary audience and lessons about the same phenomenon (how did it come to be) to us. Having used People on Sunday as an opportunity to unpack a culture of heterosexuality richer than the sex act focused on in teen films, we might take a closer look at Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the significance of Stacy and Mark ‘becoming heterosexual’. How can we use one film’s lessons about heterosexuality to deconstruct the other’s lessons in heterosexuality?
People on Sunday (1930) – Siodmak
A proto-realist film showing the leisure time of a group of Berliners. Two men and two women leave the city for the lakes and forests that surround the city. New leisure practices are depicted and explored as potential sexual activities: flanerie and window shopping become girl watching and public flirting, swimming evolves into semi-naked frolicking and cinema-going is reimagined as erotic looking and a source of grooming tips.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) – Heckerling
Blowjob demonstrations, dating advice, virginity coaching, abortion and what happens when you don’t lock bathroom doors. Fast Times offers a series of lessons about love and sex through its narrative, through comic set-pieces and through diegetic character-to-character pep talks.
Tuesday 22nd Jan – How to be a Heterosexual…And Make Homosociality Work For You
Another two-parter this week, examining the relationship between heterosexuality and homosocality: how hanging out with male or female friends is intimately linked to having sex with female or male lovers.
We have again chosen films from vastly different historical periods, which, although having multiply commonalities, do more to emphasise all sorts of divergent aspects of homosocilaity: the romantic rivalry, the jealousy, the ruined pride yet triumphing friendship and perhaps love in A Girl in Every Port and the validation, talking through, problem solving and of course cocktail drinking in Sex and the City. Both these texts highlight just how important the single gendered group is to the life and loves of heterosexuals and how their subjectivity, sexuality and security depend on such groupings.
A Girl In Every Port (1928) – Hawks
Two sailors chasing each other around the world, seducing women, getting in fights, and fucking with the locals. Here we see a burgeoning romance but it’s not the one you might expect, but after all who needs chicks, right?
Sex And The City: Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl (2000) – Thomas
Perhaps this is not your typical SaTC episode. Gender bending, cross-dressing, bisexuality: a whole sexual panoply. Manhattan as the cynosure of the 21st century sexual revolution. Lucky the gang have each other to provide shelter from the storm.
Tuesday 29th – How to be a heterosexual who has sex with other consenting heterosexuals
In previous sessions we’ve looked to the lifestyles and behaviours around heterosex, the invented culture that grew out of the procreative act. But now its time to return to the act itself – though crucially with a view to seeing how the heterosexual complex has stage-managed its performance.
We’ve already seen how film teaches lessons on various codes, etiquettes, rituals and behaviours associated with heterosexual life…now lets see how film teaches breeders how to “do it” for fun, when romance is dead and heterosex is
a recreational right. The film as sex manual – and self-help book.
Romance (1999) – Breillat
So-called “auteur of porn” Catherine Breillat spins a tale of sexual self-discovery – a bildungsroman of boning – as she charts one schoolteacher’s disillusionment with her supposedly perfect marriage, and her quest for fulfillment elsewhere (with sexy results). Delving into the kind of arthouse erotica of Cronenberg’s Crash or Egoyan’s Exotica, it shuns heteronormative myths of monogamous and fertile romance, and of female desire – meeting pornstar Rocco Sifredi on its way to an explosive climax.
Impaled (2006) – Clark
A hilarious yet incredibly insightful short doc from the director of Kids that examines the effects of the ubiquity (and homogeneity) of pornography. If a generation of guys see hundreds of hours of fucking before they actually fuck, how does it teach them what to expect and what they want – and what neuroses does it give them?