Dancing, Drugs, and Dopamine

      Imagine a world where there is nothing but dancing, drugs, and dopamine. A world where you can snap your fingers and the most glamorous, exciting night is right in front of you. Parties, elaborate costumes, music; what can go wrong?  In the film “Party Monster” directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, Macaulay Culkin plays Michael Alig, a club promoter and leading member of the Club Kids of New York City, which hosted this glamorous lifestyle in the late 80’s and early 90’s that seemed to rise at the snap of Alig’s fingers. This euphoric and fabulous life was all Michael wanted, so he pursued his dreams and moved to the city to later establish the Club Kids, where he hosted parties and people came dressed in outrageous costumes. Mostly flamboyant and drag-like personas emerged. The Club Kids grew and grew until they were hugely prominent in the underground club scene. Alig learns to rules of fabulousness from James St. James (Seth Green), and he takes flight from there. “Party Monster” does a fine job in depicting Michael Alig and the Club Kids, and I believe it is a spectacle of queer culture that is important to take a look at.

Seth Green and Macaulay Culkin as James St. James and Michael Alig

     The darkness that was behind Michael Alig is something very important to understand “Party Monster” gives us a very accurate presentation of drugs that drove Alig to madness. Being an addict, Alig could never get enough. In almost every scene of the film, we see him high or using. It’s crucial to learn the role of drugs in this underground club life that Alig was basically constructing for himself. Some may argue the lifestyle wouldn’t even be sustained without them. Much of the plot is driven by his drug use, such as his overdose, being warned about them; his relationships are even sustained by them in certain ways. The phrase “dinner is served” is used multiple times throughout the film referring to the drugs he’s prepared for a large group or even an intimate night with James. Almost every action Michael performs in this film is under the influence of hard drugs such as heroine, ketamine, or methamphetamine.  

Macaulay Culkin as Michael Alig

      Murder is also a theme in this film. Part of Alig’s darkness is his real tendency to kill. He brutally murders his lover, Angel (while high) and dismembers his body. He stuffs his legs in a garbage bag and puts the rest of the remains in a box. Eventually he confesses and was sent to prison for manslaughter. This murder resulted from a long argument about drugs. He was so high he barely remembered his actions. 

Culkin and Green post-murder scene

      The culture and goal of this film, in my opinion, is not to just tell a story of Michael Alig and the Club Kids, but to really show darkness and pain that is behind the glitz and glamour of what often is, queer culture and practice (but not all). The culture of queer club scenes, underground drag, and practice cult-like groups, etc. There is a strong parallel between this film and “Pink Flamingos”. There are lines that both can connect to such as brutality and darkness, yet glamour and some sort of “perfect world”. Alig believed his club promoting and Club Kids was his perfect world, just like Divine did with her group. When actually, the reality of what they were engaging in was nothing but destructive. Like we discussed with “Shortbus”, and the actual existence of these kind of places, there is a certain set of “rules” and “norms” that govern these kinds of places always led by this great and fabulous leader. Justin Vivian Bond, Michael Alig, and Divine are all faces of their own “clubs” who really act as the eyes, ears, and especially mouths of these environments. “Party Monster” is a really important addition to queer film, in my opinion, and the true story of Michael Alig is something to take notice of when learning the history and culture of the queer club scene. 

Macaulay Culkin, Wilson Cruz, Seth Green

“Party Monster” movie poster

Spring Awakening: A Rock Musical

      Spring Awakening, adapted by Duncan Sheik, is a rock musical that follows the lives of young teenage students growing up in 19th-century Germany. We are taken on the journeys of these students as they discover themselves, things about each other, and most importantly, what sex and sexuality means to them and how it plays a part in their individual lives. Wendla Bergmann, Melchior Gabor, and Moritz Stiefel are the main characters that frame and guide us through these stories; they give the other characters incentive to step forward and bring us along their “coming-of-age” journey.

      In any form of performance art, whether it be film, television, theater, etc, it is important to have contrasts. Contrasts give the story and theme substance and elasticity as well as sharp, strong dynamics that grant the show the opportunities to be very impactful instead of just simple and blended. The contrast of setting and theme is something to be noted here. A time like 19th-century Germany being the place to carry the theme of sex and sexuality is extremely interesting to look at. The exposition of the show informs us of this strict, traditional, “no room for mistakes” culture in Germany where self expression and any mention of sex is taboo. In the very first scene of dialogue in the show, Wendla asks her mother the truth about conception and tells her she can no longer be fooled by the story of the stork. Her mother is so shocked by this and wonders where she even began to think of it. She can’t even look Wendla in the eye and goes as far as hiding her underneath her skirt to even before speaking. This discomfort in talk about sex reflects this contrast between this hard, stiff setting, and something apparently as wild and out of place as sex. The nature of this setting makes the overarching theme of sex and sexuality even more enticing to look at and follow.

“I Believe” Spring Awakening

   The songs are especially very cohesive with the theme of sexuality in the show: “The Word of Your Body” and “I Believe” are two major ones. “The Word of Your Body” is a ballad devoted to hinting at this overwhelming sense of wanting and desire of the other’s body and how these two bodies are going to have such an impact on each other, they’ll actually be each other’s “bruise” and “wound”.  “…haven’t you heard the word, how I want you?” This type of discourse reflects a lot of what we’ve talked about with “desire”. We discussed desire as this powerful force driving us towards someone. It is something that Whitman would even consider part of human nature. He sees human beings as one and desire as something that just comes with that exchange when the attraction is there. The essence of Whitman’s perspective of such inseparability between people really plays a part in this show; mostly in the case of Melchior and Wendla. Although they are taught that sex is sinful and almost deviant, they are still drawn together and engage in the act as “I Believe” plays in the background. “All will be forgiven…there is love in heaven”. This lyric in the song is reflective of the idea that sex is something that is too perverse for the world around them. It goes so far as to say it is something that needs to be “forgiven” in order to be okay.

      Freudian psychology and sexology can also be applied here because homosexuality is a part of this show as well. “The Word of Your Body (Reprise)” stars two male students sharing a love scene on top of a mountain while they both reveal their love for one another. Passionate kissing is involved as well as lustful dialogue and delivery of the lyrics. Freud would say this is a deviation of sexuality because it does not involve a penis and vagina. Homosexuality is considered way outside the standard of sex for Freud. This idea of sexual deviance and perversion pushes even further the contrast between the stiffness of 19th-century Germany and sexuality.

      

"The Word of Your Body (reprise)" Spring Awakening

“The Word of Your Body (reprise)” Spring Awakening

"Totally Fucked" Spring Awakening

“Totally Fucked” Spring Awakening

      I think this musical does an excellent job in approaching sex and sexuality in a very intriguing way. The restriction the characters feel by the adults and setting alone forces them to find other ways to discover themselves; thus creating this sort of “break out” attitude within the show. This can be reflected by the songs “Totally Fucked” and “The Bitch of Living”. The entirety of this show is incredibly powerful and really does an amazing job addressing the multiple themes of rebellion, sexuality, abortion, suicide, etc, that all play a huge part in the storytelling of these students.

Directed by Judith Butler

     What if straight were gay and gay were straight? The short film Love is All You Need? directed by K. Rocco Shields makes us think: what if? One might stop and wonder all the possibilities and frantically press play to get the answers to such a question, but this parallel universe may not be as complicated as we thought. In the film we follow a young girl growing up in a society where homosexuality is the norm. She is made fun of, ridiculed, and bullied to the point of suicide. Boys dance and do theater, while girls play sports and be tough. Her two moms even sustain the stereotypical “masculine and feminine” roles. One works and wants her daughter to play football, the other stays home and is more “emotional”. While this film is powerful in terms of emotional content, the film is not really telling us anything we don’t know. Stereotypical behavior is still present. The film just swaps the bodies playing the roles of society. It would look a lot different if one of the theorists we studied, like Judith Butler, was sitting in the director’s chair.

     The switch is cut and dry in this film. The world basically looks the same as it does in real life, only gender is swapped. But is gender really swapped? Gender roles play a significant part in this film and by the looks of the script, they don’t really change as we might expect from an alternate world. If Butler were the writer, the gender presentation of this script would not look so familiar to us. Butler tells us that gender is performative. It is a regulatory regime created by the effect of discourse norms. Butler talks about gender as a repetitive performance which gives it authority. With this idea in mind, Butler directorial vision would look pretty different. These gender performances we see in the film would not hold up in this parallel world. The discourse in the film is completely changed in regards to whom it is being directed, therefore according to Butler, stereotypical gender performance would not have authority. Women would not necessarily still look feminine. They would be performing the discourse in which was directed to them, and the same for men: men are soft and women are hard, according to the film. Butler would make sure gender performance was done “correctly” based on the discourse, the script, of the film. Women would not still be presenting feminine nor men, masculine. Women in the film might wear suits and ties while men would wear dresses and heels; the classic gender performance in which the script is giving us. This would make the film a lot more realistic and it just shows how impactful gender performance is.

     While the film, in my opinion, achieved great success in appealing to the audience’s emotions, it did not really show anything unfamiliar to us. Gender stereotypes and a very clear binary was still present. Thinking about Butler as the director/writer instead, offers us a completely different outlook and probably much more realistic look into what this kind of world would look like.