10.04.2012

The aesthetics of misbehavior



Above: rogue feminist academic Camille Paglia, posing with an Egyptian tombstone in the first segment of Monika Treut’s documentary Female Misbehavior (1993).  Treut’s film is comprised of four short profiles of badly behaved women, the last of whom has “defected” from the female gender altogether.  These consist of Paglia, whose contempt for mainstream second-wave feminism is unabashedly vitriolic (“these women are losers […] let them suck raw eggs and eat my dust!”); porn star and performance artist Annie Sprinkle, who turned the exhibition of her cervix into a wildly popular stage show in the early ’90s; Carol, a lesbian dominatrix who explains her attraction to the art of bondage; and Max, a transgender man who candidly details the history of his transition from female to male. 

I have little to say about these films other than that each one is fascinating in its own way, and that the personalities of all four subjects are so strong that they could each carry a full-length documentary feature of her own.  But the fact that these four portraits have been knitted together into a single feature, as it were, speaks to the aim of Treut’s work, which is to create the effect of a queer mosaic.  There is certainly some thematic overlap among the four portraits: all four interviewees discuss, in frank detail, their sexual habits, histories, and desires.  All four have also been accused of having betrayed the feminist cause in various ways (this was back in the day when S&M, wildly misunderstood by many, was seen to be the ne plus ultra of female victimization, a notion of which Carol goes to great lengths to, um, disabuse us.)  But the point seems to be that the individual pieces of the compendium don’t go together; they’re stuck together at odd angles (Treut’s visually jarring shifts from video to film footage heightens this effect).  Misbehavior, after all, could be defined in terms of anachronism—the thing or the person who constitutes a hitch, who doesn’t sit flush.  An intrepid feminist filmmaker, Treut actively seeks out the people who blight the landscape of mainstream ’90s feminism and makes an entire garden out of them—a patchwork garden of mismatched, orphaned flowers.   

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