Category Archives: Affect
“The things one does! The things one believes in!” Commodity Culture, Gay Play and the Thringing of Addiction
Some queen told me that a selfie I took reminded them of Frank Thring. I had no idea who that was so I got busy googling and learnt, to my delight, he was a flamboyant Australian actor born in the 1920s who, among his many gay achievements, invented the clapperboard, did stage to great acclaim in London, and in his film career played Pontius Pilate in Ben Hur (1959), a gangster in The Man from Hong Kong (1975), The Collector in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) and voiced the part of Zeus in Hercules Returns (1993). So far so good.
But I struck inter-web gold when I came across this 1976 commercial he starred in for Martins Cigarettes which may well be one of the gayest things I’ve ever seen:
“This is a commercial, as you may have guessed,” he announces, following a nonplussed eye roll, “and this…” – he gestures dismissively to the bedazzled chorus line – “was the advertising agency’s idea”.
“Totally unnecessary!” he exclaims.
‘I am simply here to tell you about Martin’s, the new King Sized cigarette,’ he explains, and proceeds to do the job he was paid for and spruce the product.
‘Martin’s in the handsome gold packet has a quality,’ he recites, ‘a quality you can trust!’ before a glamorous blonde dancing partner decked in gold is thrust upon him, prompting an exasperated cry, ‘Must we dance??’
The whole production is delivered in such a withering, caustic tone as Thring goes through the motions of advertising Martins cigarettes, all the while serving up generous lashings of fey manner, camp asides and persistent ennui at the genre he is compelled to work within.
But the queer epiphany occurs in the final moments of the ad, when Thring incants what could be taken to be an aspirational lifestyle fantasy slogan, but into which he sneakily smuggles a sighing meta-commentary on the market genre he’s just participated in:
The things one does!
The things one believes in!
It’s easy to read this little gem of a phrase as a wry parody on consumer culture; lines that echo Adorno’s claim that consumers see right through the promises of the commodity-process, but go on to buy things anyway, producing an affective climate of cynicism.
But what delights me most is the distance and critical reflexivity his camp manner engenders in relation to the commodity itself, literal investment in which was conceived by Frankfurt Scholars as a perpetual re-creation of frustration in terms remarkably reminiscent of addiction.
The things one does! The things one believes in! The slogan works on at least two registers: a literal celebration of the glamour of doing and believing in things, and believing what one is doing when one is doing the consumption thing… and a parodic performance that ridicules the thing that one is doing, and the beliefs one must entertain when one does the things one does when one does the commodity-thing.
In our hygienic, smoke-free days, the retro-activity of almost any cigarette advertisement might come across as camp in the extreme, but I like to think Thring’s irony sets in motion a novel conceptual feeling. In playing the signifier so gaily and so drolly he multiplies possible manners of relating to the fetishized commodity-form, the object of compulsion and source of possible addiction.
We need not enslave ourselves to the tyranny of literal meaning: we can play with meaning and signification; and in such play we conjure a modicum of agency. We are not merely slaves to the order-word (the original Latin meaning of addiction).
A very cultural studies thought-chain, if ever there was one.
Those who are cynical about of the critical possibilities of creative consumption, symbolic re-appropration and camp pleasure will object that whatever critical distance camp irony creates has become so fashionable that any critical purchase it might once have had has been lost. Indeed, hip irony and detachment only serve to congratulate the consumer for their cynicism, but in the end works just as well to sell things, all the while palliating whatever anxiety the commodification provokes. Thring might even be acknowledging this: “The things we believe in!” he exclaims triumphantly, depressively.
But I think Thring’s performance undercuts direct investments in the addictive object in a more generous way, sparking the possibility of new forms of eventful reflexivity, multiplying possible relations to the fetishized thing.
Indeed, he Thrings it!
In the end, Thring’s ironic, gay, destabilising performance may work just as well to sell the fetishised commodity, but in thringing it, he produces it expansively, not as a fixed and determined thing, but as a problematic object, which is to say, an object available to the pleasure of problematisation.
Dance, we must : )
But in qualitative play we trust.
This scene, from Ana Kokkinos’s brilliant (1998) film Head On, astutely demonstrates how the drug search has emerged as a key technology for the instatement of white heteromasculinist sovereignty. But before watching, please be warned it’s disturbingly violent and depicts police brutality against vulnerably sexualised, gendered and racialised bodies.
“This room is so white!!!”
From the underpants inspections that NSW police used to conduct to harass cross-dressers and transgender people over the 1950s and 1960s in Sydney, to the NSW police use of sniffer dogs that continues to this day, stripping people bare – down to the bios of bare life – has a long history of use as a strategy of coercion, humiliation and violence, deployed most often against queers, blacks, immigrants and women in bids to assert particular forms of sovereignty and abjection.
To me, Kokkinos’s take on the intersections of nationalism, policing, ethnicity, sexuality and gender in this scene is incredibly incisive. It eloquently demonstrates why the police use of drug and other laws to intimate and harass people they don’t like the look of (with sniffer dogs for example) must be brought to an end now …..and why it requires an urgent counter-response from anyone concerned with the violent operations of racism, homophobia and transphobia in present day Australia
On my recent trip to Chicago, I met the wonderful young scholar and performer Ivan Bujan, who introduced me to @openengagement @pansyguild‘s project ABUNDANCE: Ancestral crops as performance, research and healing.
@pansyguild describes themselves as a group of indigenous and black queers who grow things, based in Chicago, and ABUNDANCE is a seed bomb project spreading the word that queers are abundant, rooted and thriving.
Ivan gave me a seed bomb from the Abundance project and asked me to plant it somewhere significant back home (N.B this involved breaching Australian customs regulations….but for this cause I was quite happy to transgress the law…)
This weekend we had plans to catch up with a bunch friends at St Mark’s Park, which is a beautiful spot just south of Bondi Beach, where our dogs all hung out to do doggy things, play and frolic.
St Mark’s Park is located in the ancestral lands of the Eora people. You can read about the far-reaching and extraordinary indigenous history of this area here
After white invasion and the British colonisation and settlement of Australia, this secluded park on the precipice of a cliff just south of Bondi Beach became a popular spot for men looking to hook up with other men for sex, fun and whatever else. It was one of my favourite spots to cruise over the 1990s and early 2000s, and I had quite a few hot times there myself.
I was unaware that over the 1970s, 80s and 90s, dozens of men were assaulted, beaten, and numerous men have been found dead at the bottom of the cliffs below the park. It has since emerged that these men were the subject of brutal homophobic violence and murders carried out by local youths – murders which were neglected (and in some instances allegedly perpetrated) by officers of the NSW Police force, recent investigations have revealed.
Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) produced an excellent and very disturbing documentary on the topic last year, which you can access here to find out more about this horrific and violent history of homophobic violence, official neglect and police corruption.
So, as we headed out to the park this morning, I thought this would be the perfect spot to SEED BOMB with queer abundance. I got my friend Brent Mackie to film the occasion. Check it out lovers! xx