PhD Oral Exam - Brandon Arroyo, Film and Moving Image Studies
When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
This study accounts for what happens when a gay male identity politics centered around Western state power comes in contact with a pornographic aesthetic queerly subverting the markers composing this type of identity formation. While pornography has long affirmed and legitimized gay sexuality within a homophobic society, this dynamic requires reconsideration within a contemporary neoliberal media environment dictating the parameters of gay identity by showcasing gay reality stars, actors, and storylines. If this homonormative inclusion of gay identity aesthetics within mainstream media assures representation of gay camaraderie, affection, and even sometimes sexuality, then what role can pornography play in influencing gay identity today?
Despite these shifts, pornography remains an essential genre within gay communal formations because it showcases what the mainstream cannot: explicit sex. While mainstream media affirms and solidifies normative gay identity, I argue that this dynamic has meant that pornography has become a primary media mode actively destabilizing and confusing identity conventions. While an approach looking for ruptures in identity formation might typically situate itself within the foundations of queer theory as developed by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Judith Butler, and perhaps Michel Foucault, I instead highlight contexts where their queer conceptions of identity become too easily coopted by nationalist right-wing forces, or in the case of Foucault, does not allow for desire to exist outside of power relations. As an alternative, I argue for an affective understanding of individuation as understood by Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Gilbert Simondon, and Brian Massumi. What their understanding of affect theory offers queer thinking is a focus on process rather than stability.
This becomes crucial within a social media environment where most users are actively consuming, creating, and exchanging pornographic imagery of themselves and others across various media platforms, and within a multitude of social contexts. This is how gay identity becomes pornographic, by engaging in an active process where identity exists in between both a pornographic and non-pornographic assemblage. The three case studies analyzed here are instances where both identity and pornographic aesthetics are situated within a process of becoming. The first chapter considers how confession becomes pornographic. I do so by analyzing the amateur pornographic projects of Colby Keller and the Black Spark, who subvert both confessional and pornographic norms by utilizing masks as part of their pornographic aesthetic. These masks embody a type of queer opacity that makes one question the role of the face within a social media age of overexposure. The second chapter documents how a viral YouTube celebrity becomes a pornographic performer. Chris Crocker’s identity exists across media platforms where he is a singer, a television personality, a documentary subject, and a pornographic performer. Enacting the intensities of these various media forms points to the idea of a transindividual. Simondon’s notion of the transindividual situates identity as being relational rather than inherent. Such an understanding productively shifts gay identity beyond a “Born This Way” ethos. The final chapter considers how a Gay Village becomes pornographic due to the multitude of screens showing pornography as part of its architecture. This visualization of sexuality infuses the neighborhood with pornographic affects enacting the potential to turn any place into a pornographic space. These instances ultimately offer us an opportunity to shift queer identity formations from their traditional understanding within a discipline society, to ones circulating within a control society.