Sex and the MLA

, Bethany Stotts, Leave a comment

Chicago, Ill— It seems like some professors simply can’t get their mind off sexuality and have allowed this fixation to the color their professional work. A teacher of Lesbian Bisexual Gay Transgender Queer (LBGTQ) studies at Santa Clara University, Professor Linda Garber asserts that she had, as an untenured professor, been nervous about teaching sex in class “and I decided, well, maybe for just a few years I could teach sexuality not sex.”

She added “It didn’t work that way, partly because you find that it’s so normalized you forget; someone’s masturbating in this book [and having sex in another]—well, you know,” she said to a crowd that definitely did. As a teacher of LBGTQ studies, Garber says “the stakes are simply too high to do nothing, to play it very safe and teach sexuality without sex, for example, and that certainly of course, feels safer post tenure.”

Other Modern Language Association (MLA) panel speakers found a queer agenda in children’s movies and the poetic structures of Christopher Marlowe. Noting that penguins typically mate through “heart songs,” English Professor Vin Nardizzi detects a sexual agenda behind Happy Feet protagonist Mumble’s decision to tap-dance for a little girl visiting the zoo. “[Mumble] is queer in the sense that he engages in a non-normative reproductive action,” asserts Nardizzi. “The film’s ending, I argue, endeavors to sway its theatre audience to concur with the human figure to interpret—indeed, to misinterpret—the meaning of Mumble’s tapping,” the University of British Columbia professor said. The Canadian professor added “At the aquarium, we see Mumble perking up when the little girl appears, that is, to the rhythm of the mating call. The film works to ward off the implications of this sort of reproductive encounter by translating a form of species preservation, [or] reproduction, into the conservationist efforts of benign humans” (emphasis added).

Professor Laura Dietz of Angelo State University argues for a sexual interpretation of Marlowe’s 16th century poetic structures, which match lines of equal length instead of a classical unequal male-female pairing. She argues that “Marlowe’s move away from the heterometric [poetic] structure is also a move away from the heteronormativity of the Amoré.” “Feminine and masculine become virtually indistinguishable without an extra foot—or appendage, so to speak,” she said. This change has long-standing social implications, Dietz argues, “create lasting consequences for sexual and gender politics…. Marlowe implies that epic and affairs of the state are shaped by the same erotic structures of elegy, and it is this embedded sexuality, the very structure of epic poetics—and thus of national poetics—that influences the destiny of nations” (emphasis added).

Lake Forest College Professor Christopher Reed expressed delight over the queer references found in Will & Grace “which were unmarked as such” because “so often in sitcoms you can see that they’re coming” and then they are explained to the viewers. Using the pleasure evoked by Will & Grace and a Liam Sullivan sketch titled “Shoes” as a model for improving higher education, Reed said “And I think its because that kind of compellingness [sic], that comes from the identification—whether we want to or not—with [Kelly’s] consumerist desires, but we also [identify with] the failure to successfully inhabit or embody those desires as they are conceptually presented to us in mass culture.” Referring to the cross-dressing, shoe-crazed protagonist, Reed said “Kelly is completely compelling.”

Detecting a sexual parallel between Russell Hoban’s writings for children and adults, Professor Graeme Wend-Walker, of Texas University in San Marcos, compared Hoban’s The Mouse and His Child and The Bat Tattoo, among others. In the latter book, a male pleasures himself before a porn video, which Wend-Walker compares to a children’s book scene where a bee circles around hibiscus proclaiming in ecstasy how “sweet” the flower is. Wend-Walker proclaimed that it is “impossible to entirely dissociate” the bee from the porn scene or a “mouse lustily nibbling on a confection”— even if the book was written for a child.

Bethany Stotts is a Staff Writer at Accuracy in Academia.