14 December 2013

Book Review: Staging Hong Kong

Rozanna Lilley is an Australian anthropologist who previously lectured on anthropology and was the editor of the Australian Journal of Anthropology for several years. She has returned to school and is a Ph.D candidate in Early Childhood. She spent 10 years of her life (including her first Ph.D) studying ethnicity and gender in Hong Kong. Staging Hong Kong: Gender and Performance in Transition is a product of that period.

Written at the time of the handover, she does an excellent job of critiquing just about every position and doesn't align herself with any of the dominant positions in the late transition period: colonial apologists, neoliberal apologists, Maoist apologist, etc.,. The object of her study was Zuni Icosahedron, which continues to exist, as an avant-garde (I'd say Deleuzean) performance art company. Zuni, very self-consciously, has always attempted to be at the margins and therefore has attempted to not align itself with any particular ideology.

While there is much that can be chalked up to Chinese studies, this book is equally a LGBT studies book. While it is about "gender" the focus is mostly on masculinity and sexuality as opposed to any feminist interrogation. I fondly remember back to the transition period and the boys who were from Hong Kong, more on that can be found in my review of Amphetamine.

Quite interesting was the extremely extended review of Hong Kong politics and arts/culture politics and how Chinese related to Maoist-Leninist-Marxist thought in 1997. I recall the pain and devastation of Tienanmen Massacre I myself felt and most diasporic Chinese that I knew. The circuitous wandering on sexuality and masculinity was also fascinating but not quite as interesting. This is, in part, because I easily get bored with discussions of performance art if I myself didn't see it. She did a great job in trying to put the reader in the audience for Edward Lam's Scenes from a Man's Changing Room.

But what was most interesting, if I may say so, was her analysis and discussion of how a group that ascribes to the rhizomatic approach to theory, practice and creativity can easily slip into arborescent, hierarchical forms of authority (and how easy it is to rationalize and psychologize criticism). I would be interested to read a follow up of the group and how it functions now 15 years later. I did find out that Mathias Woo and Danny Yung are still in charge -- which sounds like ossification to me, but hey, I'm not Chinese.

In my creative capacities, I was very much impacted by the manipulation of "traditional" Chinese narratives and propagated "traditional" Chinese narratives to return the ideological forces back onto the manipulators or propagators. I feel that real creative work opens a dialogue with what exists and then interrogates it about existence.

If you aren't into analysis of performance art, it can get a bit dry at times. But its worth the suffering (or skimming) to get to the interesting stuff.

The version I read was in English at 256 pages in paper published by the University of Hawai'i Press (October 1998) with an ISBN-10 of 0824821645. The least expensive version I found online was at amazon.com

13 December 2013

India Reinstates 1861 British Law Outlawing Homosexuality

A division bench composed of two justices of the Indian Supreme Court has reversed the Delhi High Court, as reported here four years ago, regarding India's 1861 British law criminalizing homosexuality. Although this provision is rarely enforced directly, it has been used by the government and various authorities to harass, extort and bully LGBTs in a manner that should otherwise be unlawful.

While many people have the perception of a national supreme court being omnipotent and able to freely strike down laws, most national supreme courts are reluctant to enter into the realm of politics and will sometimes allow otherwise immoral legislation to stand in deference to the elected branches of government. India is not one of those countries. India's Supreme Court has ordered (motorized) tricycle drivers in Delhi to convert to natural gas. It has more or less shut down the iron mining industry because of rampant, systemic corruption and it has banned public officials charged with corruption from running for re-election. The historic battle between the Supreme Court and the Sansad (Indian Parliament) is so intense that it has regularly passed constitutional amendments to undo decisions of the Supreme Court.

But in this case, a two justice division bench of the Supreme Court ruled that only the Sansad had authority to repeal the criminalization of gay sex. And as if on cue, the ruling Congress Party has now announced that the Supreme Court decision's must be challenged! The government had not been the primary proponent of the Court's review but instead an even stranger (for India) coalition of Hindu, Muslim and Christian religious leaders. Apparently Hindus and Muslims savagely killing each other for no reason other than they are Muslim or Hindu is apparently part of the holy order, but gay sex is not.

Since this is such a bizarre and unexpected outcome, it will be interesting to see if the ruling government has the votes in the Sansad to decriminalize sexuality before the right-wing Hindu nationalist party (which recently made gains in local elections) takes over the national government again and moves India again to the reactionary right.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay (a former superior court judge in South Africa) said: "The Supreme Court of India has a long and proud history of defending and expanding protection of human rights. This decision is a regrettable departure from that tradition." She noted that criminalizing homosexuality violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights -- India is a signatory to the treaty. 

She hoped the Indian Supreme Court would use their own internal review procedures to recall the case before a larger panel of justices --  Justice G.S. Singhvi, who authored the decision also happen to retire on Wednesday, after issuing the opinion.

12 December 2013

Book Review: Packaged Japaneseness

Ofra Goldstein-Gidoni is a professor at Tel Aviv University in the Departments of Sociology and Anthropology and East Asian Studies. She wrote this book at the beginning of her career.

Now, this is not really an LGBT book. This is more about how compulsory heterosexuality functions at the most practical levels in Japan. However, I thought I'd mention it here since with the exception of India and Australia, there seems to be developments in same-sex marriage elsewhere -- including the U.S. Embassy in Manila announcing that they have started processing fiance visas for American citizens with same-sex partners.

As some may be familar, the entire process of a funeral in Japan is arranged and organized by funeral parlors that are run by "mutual benefit" associations or by corporations that were once "mutual benefit" associations. What is considered a traditional Japanese funeral today can be wholly unrecognizable before 1900. In fact, cremation was banned for a while during the Meiji period. In any event, I mention all of this because apparently what is considered to be a "traditional" Japanese wedding follows the same lines. Everyone was married in their village usually when the first child was born or when the husband's father retired from active life, etc.,.

But after World War II, there was a dramatic shift and the funeral parlor people started getting into the wedding business. I don't know how it is today, but as of the mid-1990s, the traditional Japanese wedding had developed a pretty standard protocol. Goldstein-Gidoni goes into this protocol with great detail and some humor. Because of my own interests in diasporic Japanese cultural practices, I found her extended discussions on the makings of "tradition" and cultural production to be highly relevant and useful to me.

And then on a more practical level, it made me think of exactly what the ritual of wedding will look like in my own life. What archetypes will be propitiated? What is the meaning of a wedding? What symbolic values will constellate? I guess this may have always been unconsciously one of my reasons to oppose marriage in general previously.

Her explanations and theoretical discussions were not too dry or academic and easy to relate to other ethnicities and cultures on a more abstract, theoretical level.

The version I read was in English at 216 pages in paper published by the University of Hawai'i Press (June 1997) with an ISBN-10 of 0824819551. The least expensive version I found online was at amazon.com

11 December 2013

Movie Review: Kumare

Okay so this is not a gay movie. At all. But since I do occasionally delve into book reviews that have really no connection to LGBT studies and are almost exclusively about spirituality, I thought I'd review this documentary, Kumare: The True Story of a False Prophet.

Vikram Gandhi, a child of Indian immigrants to the United States, decided to do a documentary about the yoga craze in the United States and critique the "gurus" as sophists. His position was similar to that of Marx's in his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right: "Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."

Guru Kumare
His trip to India to further explore this somehow gave him the idea to transform himself into a guru and do an experiment with unsuspecting Americans -- all the while videotaping everything. But as he develops a following of true believers, he cannot escape the interpersonal emotional bonds he has developed with these people nor can he ignore the responsibility that comes with being a guru -- because he isn't a guru.

Vikram Gandhi growing sadhu-beard

A number of critics felt his documentary was nothing more than a Sacha Cohen Borat mockumentary but with an Indian guru as opposed to a Kazakh journalist. Roger Ebert liked it and Stephen Holden said: "His impersonation was the biggest lie he’s ever told and the greatest truth he’s ever experienced."

 Vikram Gandhi unshaven

I obviously think the movie is great otherwise I wouldn't have taken the time to review it here. As it happened, there was a period in my life when I meditated several hours a day, performed ritualistic prayers to induce trance states and engaged in divination and soothsaying. Older now, I have a greater understanding of the psychological dynamics of the guru-student, but at the time, at some point if the guru vibe sticks, the student has a transformative effect on the guru. Because Vikram was not a "real" guru, the power of the students that flowed to him ended up having a very powerful effect on him. This is something that every priest, counselor, therapist, etc., must learn to deal with or be destroyed by. The scene in the bathroom at the unveiling was very tender and heart-warming, showing that Kumare was not another Borat and that a great truth about life and humanity is being shared.

10 December 2013

01 December 2013

Movie Review: Love Diagnosis, Shattered Wings (Ren Ai Shindan, Tsubasa no Kakera / 恋愛診断, 翼のカケラ)

I have to say that this story was poorly written. The first half of the movie is way too slow and incoherent and the coherent part of the story is the second half but its all rushed because of the time problem.

Plot: Tsubara is an art student whose father has just killed himself. He is bullied by some other teenager and the bullying is witnessed by Leo (who doesn't intervene). Tsubara stumbles through his school looking for a place to wash after being beaten. He runs into the unlocked studio of Kain. He takes a liking to Kain who takes a liking to him. Leo likes Tsubara but is weird about it. Kain and Tsubara grow closer but then its all crushed when Kain seduces Leo. In the end, it turns out that Kain is an archetypal villain who has used his fake innocence to manipulate the situation to try to separate Leo and Tsubara.

I did not enjoy the ending and the story was so jumpy that I'd probably take a pass from watching again in this life time.