Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Harvey Weinstein & The End of Queer Theory

Though we have no reason to believe Harvey Weinstein ever directed his lust toward other males, he was the epitome of queerness. In all his luxurious depravity, Harvey Weinstein did exactly what queer theory expected queerness to do.

When the idea of queer theory emerged in the early 1990s, articulated by luminaries like Michael Warner, Judith Butler, and Lisa Duggan, it was a pagan uprising that crowned RuPaul and Madonna as its festival king and queen. Both were seen as transgressors in the best possible ways. On the one hand we had RuPaul’s “appropriation” (back then, a good word) of white supermodel culture in the spirit of black “contestation” of the white male patriarchy. On the other hand we had Madonna’s “deconstruction” of gender hierarchies, a thrilling new defiance of sexual limits that combined the profits to be earned by prurient boys and the plaudits of feminist, proto-feminist, and post-feminist writers ranging from Camille Paglia to the emerging women in the hot new field of the post-Frankfurt Birmingham School’s Cultural Studies.

I was there. I was completely part of queer theory, drifting from the Ivy League into the catacombs of New York City with my flimsy BA in Political Science. Nursed on Foucault but taught to apply his culturally archaeological approaches with ironic detachment, we were primed to view anything naughty as inherently revolutionary. In an increasingly dumbed-down translation of high French theory to American pop culture, we emerged from the 1990s assuming that the more behavior scandalized or disconcerted people, the better it was. Our a priori was an encrusted and sterile world stuck in a rut, needing to be jolted into a more dynamic set of possibilities by a brave erotic Kulturkampf.