Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Rocky Horror Picture Show and transphobia

My apologies for any poor choice of words in this text, haven't read that many political texts about trans* issues recently.
This isn't a book review, but rather an issue that I started thinking of because of something a friend said, and I felt a compulsive need to defend something I like (because if I like it, it must also be good, right?).

Is The Rocky Horror Picture Show derogatory towards trans* people? With its flamboyantly evil Frank-n-Furter as the main character with its stereotypical glitzy look and hypersexuality, it's definitely plays to a specific stereotype, and one that has been played on in several mainstream depictions of trans* people. In addition, the movie features a brutal murder of that trans* person by supposed authority figures, and that only a few years after the Stonewall Riots had trans* people being beaten up by police in the event that is seen as a start of the queer movement as a whole. Finally, when looking at the narrative of the movie, Frank-n-Furter's role seems to mostly be there to provide a seduction for the strait-laced white middle class represented by Brad and Janet, thus affirming the role of queer as something that can provide a bit of "spice," rather than affirm queer as a viable option.

Nevertheless, I am not comfortable with labelling The Rocky Horror Picture Show as transphobic (though the murder scene gives me qualms). Though it is most likely the most wide-spread depiction of a trans* person, and that the depiction is so stereotypical and partly negative, that is not really the fault of the movie. If the movie had been cynically produced to cash in on that stereotype, perhaps with John Travolta playing the hammy trans* person, then I would agree that there is a problem with the movie specifically. Instead, I identify the problems surrounding the movie to have more to do with the movie industry and mainstream society; the movie industry for not showing enough queer people as a matter of course, and mainstream society for only embracing the chintzy seduction of Frank-n-Furter and ignoring any other trans* person in the media.

As it is, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was made in the 70s by a director, Richard O'Brien, who has subsequently come out as a trans* person, and who did it as a way to come to terms with his experiences at the time. Though it was funded by a large Hollywood producer, it was by no means a big-budget item and not (as far as I know) an idea to cash in on anti-trans* sentiment. Though we should definitely discuss what the movie means in context and its problematic role, I do not think that the fact that it presents a stereotypical (and evil) trans* person is enough to label it as transphobic. It is, after all, the result of the life experiences of a trans* man and, given its embrace by many, a movie that has meaning for the trans* and queer feelings of many. During the 1990s, there seemed to me to be a glut of movies with lesbian themes that were depressive as hell and ended with the protagonists getting killed - were the movies themselves the problem? I would say no, the problem is a culture where alternative expressions are not funded and ignored by the mainstream while the preferred depiction is put on a pedestal to the detriment of the rest.

Thus, in my opinion, we should certainly keep discussing The Rocky Horror Picture Show and its position and status in society, but to label the movie itself as anti-trans (by which I mean an expression of transphobia by mainstream society) would not be a good development - in particular, it seems to suggest that only a certain kind of trans* experience is fit to be interpreted through media.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Richard O'Brien also said that, "trans women are not women." He's a bigot and an asshole.