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2 trailers

September 20, 2011

Following Foucault, who, in the opening pages of volume 1 of History of Sexuality, argues that sex is structured and controlled in direct proportion to the number of ways we have of speaking about it (he supports this argument by demonstrating that the Victorian age’s alleged sexual repression coincided, by no means accidentally, with the emergence of sex as an object of scientific knowledge and an explosion of ways of focusing on sex discursively–the advent, as it were, of something called “sexuality”), I think that there is something interesting about the fact that the moment seems ripe for a series of movies (our visual discourse) about the Victorian age’s scientific treatment sex.

the romantic comedy

the thriller

It’s the Marxist in me that wants to figure out what, ideologically speaking, accounts for the desire that constitutes the present market for these films. I mean, why should it be funny (“hysterical”) to frame the vibrator, which we now consider a toy, as the serious medical-technological invention it was in its own day (so serious, the trailor suggests, as to be politically empowering for women)? And why should it be thrilling to frame psychoanalysis, which we now consider a laughably archaic pseudoscience, as the serious method that it was (so serious as to be “dangerous”)? 

There’s definitely a Frankenstein quality to each narrative:
lo! / lol! scientific man knoweth not what he hath unleashed! the animal that dwelleth inside himself! the autonomous political agent that dwelleth inside woman!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. linebrick permalink*
    September 23, 2011 9:08 pm

    We consider it a toy but we also consider it a weirdly castrated body part, right? I have never thought about the link between hysteria (wandering womb, a body part gone astray) and vibrators (the insertion of a cyborg phallus to replace the wandered-womb?)… I bet I can find an article about this and the Soviet body politic somewhere. Will post shortly if yes. Also your “hysterical” pun is very funny and quite evocative, Élan.

  2. nostalgebraist permalink*
    September 30, 2011 4:01 pm

    I can’t watch the first trailer you linked. Youtube says the video is “private” (ha ha). But about the second: are you saying that the origins of psychoanalysis don’t make great material for a saucy historical drama? And if they do, why do we need any more explanation than that? I’m confused when you ask “why should it be thrilling . . . ” Why shouldn’t it be thrilling? Big clashing egos, the promise of revolutionary new insights into the human mind, sex between therapists and their patients . . . I don’t really think one needs to some sort of special attitude toward psychoanalysis itself to think this stuff sounds exciting.

    Why do you think the “dangerous” in the title means that the movie views psychoanalysis as “so serious as to be dangerous”? To Godwin myself: I think Nazi pseudoscience was laughably inaccurate, but that doesn’t mean I don’t also think it was dangerous. (See also: various religious beliefs.) Being wrong can often lead to being harmful, for obvious (?) reasons.

  3. September 30, 2011 5:49 pm

    I’ve fixed the first link.

    What I’m presupposing here is that not just any content can be appropriated at any time to fill the paradigmatic form of a historical thriller–that only under certain conditions does the prospect for putting out a genre-film outweigh the numerous potentially prohibitive factors that play a part in determining what makes what end up in theaters: for example, our (whimsical, but not arbitrary) commitments to historical fidelity, or–and I’m not sure that this is unrelated–requisite cultural distance of the target audience from the film’s content to make the film work as a consumer good–some adrenaline, some laughter–but not a source of any sort of revolutionary energy, i.e. nothing as unsettling or unleashing as the experiences that the films are about. It’s the fact that the adventures and misadventures of early methodological inquiries into sex should be able to be narrativized within the formulas of these genres that I find so potentially telling.

    I’m reminded of the cinematic glories of 1998, which provided us with four films that, while comprising two sets of two very different, in certain ways antipodal, genre films, nonetheless obviously stemmed from a single set of cultural and technological conditions: On the one hand, “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact”: the two first blockbuster disaster films that featured micro-man’s vulnerability to mega-Nature (as opposed to aliens or dinosaurs). On the other, “A Bugs Life” and “Antz,” children’s adventure films that featured micro-Nature’s vulnerability to mega-Man. There’s a lot to be said about the correspondences here, but I just want to point out the thematic similarities and suggest that a widespread anxiety about mankind-as-a-whole’s relationship with Nature as such had come to generate the content for genres that had previously been filled by the scientific-political nightmares of the Cold War–and that the success of all four films depended as much on the burgeoning cinematic technologies that allowed for affective experiences of magnitudes otherwise too large or two small to be seen by the human eye.

    So I just don’t think that a comedy about anthropomorphized insects (not to be confused with Kafka’s comparatively genre-less Metamorphosis), or a thriller about an asteroid colliding with the earth (not to be confused with the comparatively serene sci-fi classic When Worlds Collide), could be successful at just any time. Likewise, it’s easy for me to imagine that the kinds of laughs and thrills afforded by a comedy about vibrators and a thriller about Freud and Jung’s relationship could be either too weak and eccentric or too threatening and uncomfortable to make their historical origins capable of successful cinematic appropriation. Why Freud/Jung and not, for example, Skinner and Pavlov? Perhaps because the fantasy of mechantistic-automation is less engaging right now than the fantasy of an unleashed, organic interiority. Basically, I’m arguing that there are current cultural factors at play here that are less obvious but no less important than those involved in the production of, say, 2009’s Darwin biopic, “Creation” ( ), a production that obviously moved on the tracks laid by the creationism/intelligent design/spaghetti monster craze of the years immediately preceding. Sure, Darwin is a figure about whom an engaging biopic could have been made at any time–but I think it’s still important to inquire into the broader factors that contributed to when in fact it was made.

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