The sensitive areas?

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So the whole “write about research in progress” deal has already paid off, thanks to some thoughtful pushback from the lovely fanspired.

In response to “Unbuckle Your Belt,” she wrote:

Maybe I’m misunderstanding Misha’s intent with this video but it doesn’t come over to me as ‘porn’ but as a serious political critique and, although I find it amusing (in a creepy way), it doesn’t strike me as sexy. It makes me very uncomfortable, and that’s the point isn’t it? Which makes me wonder if the use of the Destiel parallel isn’t distracting fans from the serious message behind the short.

Her comment brings up some interesting questions I’d not considered.

First, based on the text itself, who seems to be the audience for “Just Relax”? For TSA America as a whole (that is, as a body of three connected short films)? Are these audiences the same? Why or why not? What assumptions does each short (and TSA America as a whole) make about its audience, about the people who are watching?

Note: I am going to sidestep questions of intentionality, as I always do, because a) I don’t care as viva le morte d’author; and b) I’m more interested in what the audiences DOES with the shorts, rather than in what the films’ creators (Collins and his wife, Victoria Vantoch) might have expected or wanted the shorts to do. [Also, note to self: be sure not to talk about these films as if Collins created them on his own. According to him (speaking at DCCon, I think? Must find source), Vantoch wrote as much, if not more, than did he.]

That said, I hadn’t previously considered how “Just Relax” fits into TSA America more broadly, or how it sits in relation to the other two shorts. I need to give this some thought.

Second, fanspired’s comment suggest that I need to be careful not to universalize fans’ responses to “Just Relax.” Here my own experience at DCCon weighs heavy: because this project was inspired in large part by my own initial reaction to the short, coupled with the response of the room–at 300 people, just a small sub-set of Destiel fandom–and of some fans on tumblr, there’s a potential for me to cast my argument in terms that are too broad. There are some tangled fan politics at work here: fans of Supernatural vs. fans of Destiel vs. fans of Collins. And here, I don’t mean “vs” to suggest that these forces are in opposition (though one could make that case), merely that they are elements of fandom that at times overlap but aren’t always the same thing.

In addition, I need to come to terms with my own perving over the short—something writing my last post helped me start to do. Desire is a potent generator of research, but in my experience, it’ll only drive the car but so far. Maybe I’ll work some of those issues out by writing a slash fic. Who knows. Either way, acknowledging said issues upfront has been useful for me, I think.

To that end, as fanspired reminds me, just because I (and others) find the short incredibly fucking hot does not mean that everyone does—that should be a duh, right? Further, her comments point to other ways that fans can and do take pleasure in the short: as a satire. To me, the other two shorts in TSA America,Yeah, But Is It Ticking?” and “Suspicious Bulges,” read as more sharply satiric than “Just Relax”—particularly “Ticking,” in which a new TSA agent frantically tries to convince his colleagues that the man he’s stopped is a terrorist, with unexpectedly bloody results. [The short reminds me of a MUCH dark version of this Monty Python sketch, in which Michael Palin can’t get taken seriously as a smuggler despite his best efforts (and suitcase full of stolen clocks). But that’s me.]

That said, perhaps the critical edge of “Just Relax” is dulled, as fanspired suggests, by the introduction of the Destiel narrative into a satiric space, a move that complicates the short’s messaging. I don’t know. This assumes, I think, that all three of the shorts have the same (or very similar) purpose: to skewer the increasingly perverse pantopticon of security theater we’re required to submit to at airports. Certainly, the first and second short point straight at this idea, I think.

But “Just Relax,” the short that appears last in the the three-film sequence, does something different. Yes, it’s still playing in the political arena–in which we must submit to public groping in order to prove that we’re not a threat–but there’s much more emphasis on the relationship between the two main characters, not-Dean and Collins’ TSA agent. It’s a scene of seduction—although, as the audience and not-Dean discovers, it’s a false one—and in this case, satire takes a backseat.

That’s not necessarily a good or a bad thing, but I don’t know that I agree that the Destiel narrative is “distracting fans from the serious message behind the short.” I think Collins as a rhetor is generally damn good at knowing his audience(s), knowing how to get them to listen, and perhaps the introduction of Destiel here can be read as a rhetorical tactic [oh hello! yes. I like this] one in keeping with his decision to cast Daneel Harris, the wife of Collins’ Supernatural co-star Jensen Ackles, in the second short, “Suspicious Bulges.” That is, it’s a way of getting fans’ eyeballs on the films, fans who may not have otherwise chosen to settle in of an evening and watch some political—some TSA-related!—satire. Perhaps Destiel here is the cheese sauce that gets us eating our broccoli.

Heh! I don’t know. Clearly, I need to do some more thinking here.

(And thank you for the mental kickstart, my friend! I appreciate your willingness to share your discomfort with me.)

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2 thoughts on “The sensitive areas?

  1. I can’t stop thinking about this particular perspective, and why it doesn’t quite float for me as a piece of film criticism (though it’s obviously perfectly valid as an individual response and utterly worthy of being considered in that light). Au fond, I think it’s because all the cues for that scene are broadly comic (the drink, the music, the lighting, MC’s deadpan): the visual/diegetic rhetoric here is so overtly parodic of seduction that it invites us to view the scene as comedic rather than unsettling in any kind of profound Lynchian way—because, contrasted against these cues, a) the setting is unexpected (airport patdown) and b) the genders are…non-traditional? non-heteronormative. In this analysis, the scene isn’t out to disturb the viewer, only the Texan; we feel discomfort only as we partake in the Texan’s discomfort and/or identify with it, as fellow victims of privacy-violating TSA behavior. (I’m always reminded of Ann Richards’ anecdote about how she’s entering a security gate at Southwest Airlines when the alarm goes off because of the metal snaps in the crotch of her leotard; she has an extremely intimate patdown with various female security employees apologizing profusely for molesting the then-governor of Texas; and she reassures them cheerfully, “No, it’s great, trust me, this is more action than she’s seen in decades.”)

    Again I’m just talking about straight-up (heh) old-school film vocabulary, not anything more affect-theory related. If this makes sense which I rather doubt, because coffee.

    Also, not that any of them are *catchclaw* quality, but—fanfics appear! e.g.: http://archiveofourown.org/works/1573442.

    1. > all the cues for that scene are broadly comic
      Nicely put. Yes.

      >the visual/diegetic rhetoric here is so overtly parodic of seduction that it invites us to view the scene as comedic rather than unsettling
      Very well said! I may have to quote you on that.

      Ok, yes, we seem to agree on the interpretation, obviously. But I appreciate the way that you’re talking about the short here. I don’t speak film vocab, so your take was quite useful. Muchos gracias.

      And that fic you rec’d has not-Dean’s voice down COLD. Ha!

      ETA: “I recommend using the postal service for shipping things like…” his eyelids drop shut as he licks his lips. “…sausage. I love a nice gluten-free turkey chorizo.”
      *dying*

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