Spectacles in Transit: Reading Cinematic Productions of Biopower and Transgender Embodiment looks at transgender cultural production on film and video in order to theorize biopower at the intersection of medicine and mass visual culture. In the decades following World War II, the development of medical technologies like reconstructive surgery increasingly allowed for the human body’s modification and enhancement, while the commercialization of communication technologies like film cameras gave middle-class consumers greater expressive autonomy. Medicine and mass visual culture have notably influenced the U.S. popular imagination about the body, social difference, aesthetics, and identity. And the role of biopower—the power to induce or administrate all aspects of human life by state and corporate entities—has intensified in everyday life in part due to these developments.
This dissertation analyzes four cases from the past sixty years in which transgender individuals articulated their social, political, and economic self-determination through their self-representation onscreen. These cases are selected from four different cinematic genres: the transatlantic travel films of Christine Jorgensen from 1953; mondo films from the 1970s that graphically document genital reconstruction surgery; transsexual pornography from the early 1980s that probes the politics of heteronormative fantasy; and experimental video art from a post-9/11 feminist DIY media conference. This dissertation illuminates how biopower shapes and inflects self-representation of transgender embodiment in each instance and argues that every cultural producer responds with a cinematic assertion of social belonging. Thus, it explains how each cinematic production engages affect, values, aesthetics, and fantasy in relation to embodied intersections of gender, sexuality, race, class, and nationality. Spectacles in Transit shifts conversations about biopower away from the biopolitics of medical research, warfare, and population management and toward the cultural work of a social group defined by a medicalized mode of difference, a group that historically has signaled the sensational and the spectacular in the U.S. popular imagination.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. January 2011. Major: American studies. Advisor: Roderick A. Ferguson, Kevin Murphy. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 224 pages. Ill. (some col.)
Franklin, Michael David.
Spectacles in transit: reading cinematic productions of biopower and transgender embodiment..
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