Out Like a Lamb: Day 5: Putting the Me in Media
Most media does not agree with me. I don’t scorn anyone’s cheap pleasures, but the reality of mass media today is dire. Even as we’re saturated with media, distracted on all ends––not always badly, mind––the vast majority of what we consume is boring stuff made to pad a bottom line. The dreamlike, idiosyncratic quality of most art makes it especially allergic to commercialization. Art made schematically, mediated according to a dozen whims sighing in their boardrooms…this is what I’m talking about. And this form of media, the well-endowed bastions of television, mainstream online video, film, the lot, are starting to discover transgender people. Or so many fan sites would have me believe.
I won’t lie. For most of the history of mass art, transgender people––or gender nonconforming people in general, often not recognized as trans or otherwise summoned from straight and cis fantasias–– have been open season for the comic and easy fetish material for dramatists. Yes, it’s impossible to encapsulate the trans experience (TM) in any one work of art, if you even believe such an experience exists (and if it did, it would be terribly lonely). But for the most part, there aren’t even bits or artifacts of truth in these uncanny marionettes. Speaking for myself, the most tiring bit players cis people trot out are the Trap and the Sacrificial Lamb. Visions of either comic/violent deception or endless, graphic suffering seem to be of some comfort to straight and cis audiences. I don’t find any pleasure in these tropes, though, in particular because they appear far more often than more sensitive or complex portraits.
Even then, trans people hold almost no decision-making roles in the media machine––at least of any consequence. So while I certainly appreciate the fact that tastemakers try to make their trans characters more palatable and, dare I say it, recognizable as fictional representations, I am not excited. In a sense, the Hollywood machine has only, haltingly and fitfully, started to process and portray avowedly trans bodies in a legible, recognizable way. For the purposes of extracting money from audiences no doubt full of sympathizers and well-meaning cis people who see these films and TV shows as “quite educational, thanks.”
Therefore, when I walk into a movie theatre or engage with other forms of media, I am hyperattentive for hints and innuendo. There is a strong trans fan community for The Legend of Zelda, for instance, that has grappled onto the blank neutrality of the character of Link, transforming them into an unofficial transgender icon. These are, to some extent, expression of powerlessness, since nearly all mainstream, well-known characters were not intended to be trans. We have, therefore, gotten skilled at scavenging and subverting cis peoples’ intentions, learning to treat canon lightly and refashion as we please. This somewhat anarchic approach to continuity and intent can have some chaotic effects on “fandom,” generating heated fights once in awhile, but I take it in stride. It’s far preferable to the monolithic manufacture culture of hype and obsession that characterizes modern mainstream fandom.
In the end, I had a difficult time deciphering my general impressions of how I experience media. It’s mostly a vaguely defined blotch of “meh.” Even acknowledging the desperate state of most media today (despite the proliferation of outlets and distribution platforms), I do get a great deal of enjoyment from film, games, TV, and books. But it’s hard not to be jaded right now, especially at this hour. Excuse me, it’s time to wax poetic about Night in the Woods.
P.S. Night in the Woods reflections and ranting will be here soon!
The next three days of entries will be:
March 16: How I feel alienated from gender, and how it’s difficult to define an experience of being a certain gender for me.
March 17: My relationship to academic, my professors, and some classmates. Could get sharp, we’ll see.
March 18: How I’m seen by the state, my fear of crossing borders and going into state buildings.