Realities/Realness: ‘Pose’ (FX)

 

With the finale of ‘Pose’ recently aired in the US and the second series already in the works, a UK release is still to be announced. Meanwhile streams are fairly easy to find…

The TV series Pose (FX) is part of a growing visibility of trans narratives in popular culture. This visibility of narrative is raising a number of concerns around the relationship between the contemporary and the historical. There is a clear attempt for Pose to read as informed and informing a present increasingly filled with cliches and appropriations of queer culture, specifically black/brown formulations that seemed to reach an apex in the 1980s. What is interesting is the predominance of style in this narrative, and its cultural presence in general. The focus on presence evades, or perhaps aesthetically develops, the discourse around representation. There is a feeling that the content, context and the possibility of Pose’s production arranges an ecology of historical interactions which works counter to presentist formulations of media representation that often feed neoliberal politics of ahistorical identity and commodification.

There are two points that Pose are working on at the point of convergence: performance and conjuncture. I speak of conjuncture here as something like the relationship between the discursive formation of trans-visibility and the cultural infrastructure in current formation. Specifically thinking of the TV-form Pose is working at the cross between showrunner Ryan Murphy’s Glee, producer Our Lady J’s Transparent, gritty urban dramas such as The Wire and The Deuce, Ru Paul’s Drag Race and the media presence of producer Janet Mock. The possibility of its production thus has a grounding in the current productions in TV discourse.

That televisual possibility of production converges with a particular idea of performance which is imbedded in vogue culture. The dynamic ensemble driving houses Evangelista, Abundance and Ferocity operates as social infrastructure providing the possibility of queer life. The balls thus are shown as a regular crystallisation of the social interplay and performance encountered daily.  Pose is pushing us to think of the daily ordinariness of the performance. This is a de-sensationalising move, which is mirrored in the general tone and fashion on show. There is a dappled, careful sensuality, which admittedly starts off a little boring until the characters are fleshed out. This is reminiscent of The Chi  or Moonlight, rather than the sensationalist voyeurism of David Simon’s The Wire or The Deuce, something which Janet Mock explicitly set out as a goal.

While some have described this as part of a sanitisation of queer culture, I would suggest the conventionality of social and familial navigation is both a strategy and a deconstruction of normative narrative. The motifs and genres at play are manifold and diverse: vogue ball culture in general; gay men romance in the case of Damon and Ricky, and Pray Tell; the navigation of the AIDs crisis for Pray Tell and Bianca in particular; the sex work narrative involving Angel and a token white family; a background of drug culture with the figure of Papi; and the navigation of gender reassignment and romance in the case of house mothers Bianca and Elektra.

And yet these are all told through an ecology of interactions occurring within the domesticity of a queer house. The conventionality and genericism of adolescent romance is undercut with the looming of HIV/AIDs and queer homelessness in the case of Damon and Ricky. Similarly the sex work narrative of Angel’s is flipped as the suburban white professional is made to be the interloper into her social environment, rather than the trans sex worker being the peripheral underdeveloped character. The vicissitudes and intensities of these relationships and navigations are woven into an ensemble cast centred through their house mothers, specifically Bianca Evangelista and Elektra Abundance. Queerness here is the deconstruction or desedimentation of conventional normative narratives of family. Instead the possibility of familial and joyous social life is shown, and present, through the building of a social environment.

This presence of such life, and its manifold dynamism, is what makes Pose groundbreaking. To end it thinking through the historical, we are met with this temporal relationship between commodification of a halcyon past within an ahistorical present, set against the ability of the historical to reveal the presence of the subaltern [that made unrecognisable in civil and political life].

In Episode 6 we find Pray Tell entering a period introspection after being diagnosed HIV+. In yearning for a time pre-epidemic he turns to replaying Love is the Message (1973) by MFSB. The musical takes the form of that prehistoric, that gesture of subaltern presence.

 

Berlin/Birdmen: Authentic Aestheticians

Originally published on Southern Discomfort Zine (5/5/2015)

 

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IMG_1337It all starts with nervous jaunty awakenings to a morning overcast with expectations and possibilities and probabilities. out the door double key-turn descending four flights out large wooden door into hof and the first taste of the day like a kinda wave, a slow introduction and double wooden doors again, maybe the polite friendly ‘hallo’ ‘danke’ ‘bitte’ to a neighbour and finally the day embraces like the perforation of a boundary striking through neurotic inertias.

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DSCN9462And so descend further into the brightly lit passages of the underground past the russian accordionist racking off a classic waltz and the sullen crusties right onto the platform dodging the pillars and motley crew of waifs dossing around, squinting to work-out how many frustrating minutes you gotta wait for the next u-bahn and then ur in and ur looking for the perfect seat hopefully not next to anyone strange and facing forwards ofcourse with a space for ur companion nearby wondering about people’s days at this strange hour….

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DSCN9530A break at alex; brezeltime pure Bayern and off to kotti’s krass khaos for brunch mmm breads and spreads and cheese and eggs and pepper pukka with the strange but oh so necessary unsocial eating of the alienated cold/buildings spiring above for massification but well the wall fell so let the ahistorical grovelling identities fester

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Spinning red and blue and purple refracted onto our proxies mirrored avatars Princes and Queens and Madonnas pure 80s glitz-er. Undulating socialities. /Ufer/ And ur off down the canalbank, bustling fleamarket a distant memory of a sunnier shining less humble time of glorious furnishings and tat upcycled for fantastical metropolitan visions. Thank god for the cold eh

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And in this setting you head centrally finding the East festooned with regalia of the latest Event – this one’s the Berlinale film festival – and enter the whirring coils of glitzy soviet bonanzas unsettling your stomache in grandiose strokes they call the film hall ready to watch one of Oscar nominees which caught your cos of its ‘foreign’ director – Birdman, that is.

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And woosh the swooning begins and images glide across our screen – crisp hi def pure – and its funny, hell its funny. You laugh, a lot. Its theatre actually; performing its clichés to perfect entertainment from metropolitan glamour to risqué innuendos, tragic heroes and broken cultures, postdigital fashions to simulated postmodernism. Its postcrash bliss, hitchcockian to the core, super realist off beat modernist angularity, moody Barthes meets tweeting teens – it’s the twentieth century laid bare, its film at its most complete – it smells like golden-era Hollywood oh before the crass banality… and you attempt to dissect but run out of symbols to impart; lay down your thoughts billowing…

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Berlin:  a cold city, wanders the spirits of Hobsbawm and Isherwood amidst the Berlin Forst; twentieth century lives haunting the ruins ready for a recomposed deployment, a re-embodiment of a time forgot a time deeply filled with stories of a future of frictionous  fictions cycling through hitches of the Pyrenees where Benjamin meets his mirror; Goytisolo clashing imperial languages, Hobsbawm’s stuck in Weimar 31-33 (aren’t we all really) and Auden fucked off corporeally with Christopher and Brecht and more off to the New World; Goodbye to Berlin; the old country withers under the invocations of St. George and dragons galore. Fassbinder as Franz Bieberkopf and behold Berlin Alexanderplatz 13 hours of glorious crumbling ‘80s theatre performing refractions those streaming Weimar ‘20s; decadent densities. Cos it all ends with a European trauma and a mint tea on futurist Moorish rooftops –Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Angst Essen Seele Auf / Ali: Fear Eats the Soul­­  (1974) – Juan Goytisolo, Count Julian (1970):

‘Penetrating deeper and deeper: wandering farther and farther into the quiet, cottony atmosphere, by way of the twisting turning paths of the urban labyrinth: as in the hall of trick mirrors at a fairground, unable to find the exit, laughing their heads off every time you take the wrong turn: paying to become an object of universal derision: finally managing to make your way out, amid scornful taunts and jeering laughter, with a rather sheepish, embarrassed look on your face: you spy Tariq walking just ahead of you and quicken your pace in order to catch up with him: dressed in his tiger-striped djellaba, his cat’s eye gleaming: the ends of his handlebar mustache curling up to a fine point: the streets are deserted now, the light from the street lamps make both of you cast giant shadows, thereby suddenly causing your own reality to appear precarious and threatened: isn’t the echo of your footfalls perhaps too loud?: dwellings are piled one atop the other like architectural scale models made of pasteboard, and the night sky dotted with clouds like a theatrical fly painted by an amateur: fake, fake: characters in a novel not yet written, both of you are mere fictions: doubt is your only certainty, yet you follow him, and will continue to follow him without a word of protest’[1]

Bodies coloured with rusting

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DSCN9245DSCN9214And the masculine performativities break crunch amidst the terrors of futures, Soviet Asiatic despotism crushing Mitteleuropa and the agony and ecstasy of the ruins – Walter Benjamin’s Westend schloss Charlottenburg monuments of a ruinous cold past, somehow ephemeral:

‘Vestibule

A trip to Goethe’s house. I cannot recall seeing rooms in dream. There was a line of whitewashed corridors, like in a school. Two elderly English lady visitors and a curator are the dream extras. The curator asks us to register in a visitors’ book that lay open on a window ledge at the far end of the passage. Stepping up to it and leafing through the pages, I find my name already entered in a large, ungainly childish hand.

Dining Room

In a dream I saw myself in Goethe’s study. It bore no resemblance to the one in Weimar. Above all it was tiny and had only one window. Opposite the window stood the desk, narrow end to the wall. Seated at the desk, pen in hand, was the writer, well on in years. I was standing to one side when he stopped writing and presented me with a small vessel, an antique vase. I turned it over in my hands. It was dreadfully hot in the room. Goethe stood up and together we went next door, where a long table had been laid for my kin. I sat down beside Goethe at the right-hand end. When the meal was over he rose to his feet laboriously and with a gesture I begged leave to assist him. As I touched his elbow I was moved to tears.’[2]

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Footworks comparable to Mailer’s handiwork on famed 1975 Rumble in the Jungle, the spectacle’s our future, the despots our reality, Mobutu/Ali/Hitler authentic aestheticians and the angularity of Berlin’s Judisches Museum stands empty– emptied margins ruinous buildings that swallow figures – figures as fixtures quietly living the new days in the café away from rupturous events. Mailer expounds:

‘Now the separate conversations had come together into one and he talked with the same muscular love of rhetoric that a politician has when he is giving his campaign speech and knows it is a good one. So Ali was at last in full oration. “If I win,” said Ali, “I’m going to be the Black Kissinger. It’s full glory, but its tiresome. Every time I visit a place, I got to go by the school, the old folks’ home. I’m not just a fighter, I’m a world figure to these people” – it was as if he had to keep saying it the way Foreman had to hit a heavy bag, as if the sinews of his will would steel by the force of this oral conditioning. The question was forever growing. Was he still a kid from Louisville talking, talking through the afternoon, and for all anyone knew through the night, talking through the ungovernable anxiety of a youth seized by history to enter the dynamos of history? Or was he in full process of becoming that most unique phenomenon, a twentieth century prophet, and so the anger and the fear of his voice was that he could not teach, could not convince, could not convince? Had any of the reporters made a face when he spoke of himself as the Black Kissinger? Now, as if to forestall derision, he clowned. “When you visit all these folks in these strange lands, you got to eat. That’s not so easy. In American they offer you a drink. A fighter can turn down a drink. Here, you got to eat. They’re hurt if you don’t eat. It’s an honour to be loved by so many people, but it’s hell, man.”’[3]

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Ruptures are the past.

And the ruptures need to be told and told again.

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Histories lineages genealogies need to be written, with honesty, through the textualities of our present – biding time as reinventions occur underfoot amidst secular crises and postcolonial fundamentalisms. Unhinged masculinities as the lathi strikes saffron vermillion structurally unsound ahistorical torpor and difference is neologised and identified and categorised into compendiums of paper-thin ‘theory’ entangled in the invocations of community.

We never were critical. We never were modern. And yet here we are waiting for boxing’s last hurrah with the eternally famed Pacquiao-Mayweather showdown.

Maybe we’ll find the beginnings of some answers writhing in our fantasies; whilst we keep up with the Kardashians; whiling away the hours.

 

[1] Juan Goytisolo, Count Julian (Serpent’s Tail, 1974) trans. Helen Lane, p. 73

[2] Walter Benjamin, “One-way Street” (1928), One-way Street and other Writings (Penguin, 2009) trans. J. A. Underwood, p. 48-49

[3] Norman Mailer, The Fight (Penguin, 1991) p. 78-79

[Images produced by Kashif and Anuka]