Re-wiring the “Circuit Boy”: The advertising industry’s hegemonization of muscles and the consequences for a gay subculture

In this paper I explore the evolving and overlapping relations between a queer subcommunity—gay male circuit participants—and commercial advertising, with a particular emphasis on the fashion industry. The new territory I chart is in establishing the relationship between circuit and hetero/sexist commercial advertising as reciprocal, rather than unidirectional. To explore the particularities of this reciprocal influence, I borrow an assertion from Filiault and Drummond (2007) that hegemonic, heterosexist masculinity can be performed through both somatype and attitude (the two of which, together, constitute aesthetic). I employ commonly recognized sexual identity categories to distinguish between a presumed majority heterosexual market—a “phantom general audience”— and the gay male market segment. The reason for this, as I posit, is that the phantom market and the gay male market segment often consume popular imagery in different ways. As a gay-identified, cisgender, male, white, educated, toned, upper-middle-class 21-year old man, I possess many of the prerequisite markers for a masculinity that would have been hegemonic in the late 20th century and remain so today. As a genders and sexualities scholar as well as an activist, I feel the tension between my queerness (including encounters with and on the circuit) and engagement with hegemonic masculinity, as gender oppression and homophobia have been primary sources of shame, drivers of performance, and shapers of desire in my life. Throughout, I reflect on a few but relevant personal experiences. In intertwining these retrospectives with academic discussion of media consumption, I call other men to reflect on their complicity and potential moments of victimhood in a hegemonic society with hopes of fostering empathy and underscoring the “interdependence of our struggles for justice.”

Ach – VIS 369 Final

Dancing as Political Intervention? Comparing “This Is America” and “This Is Me”

In the following post, I draw upon popular works from two distinct genres for analysis of dance as both a narrative form and as a political intervention. Childish Gambino (a.k.a. Donald Glover) released “This is America” in May 2018, the official video for which has received 454 million views on YouTube at the time of this post.[1] In December 2017, Michael Gracey, with assistance from Tony Award-winning songwriters,[2] directed The Greatest Showman—”a kaleidoscopic [on-screen] musical about P.T. Barnum”[3]—which features a track called “This is Me” (Keala Settle).[4] While the blog posts we have written so far have focused primarily on a work we have looked at in class, I would like to do a comparison between “This Is America,” which we watched as a group, and “This Is Me,” which we did not. I believe that contrasting the messages and effects of these two productions strengthens analysis of Gambino’s piece, and was a way of putting into practice critical viewership in my own consumption of The Greatest Showman recently.

The titular similarity between “This is America” and “This is Me” was a determinant for the entrance of these two works into dialogue. It is their likeness only in name that underscores a juxtaposition in form and message, and problematizes white conceptions of individual agency backed by glorified self-reliance. “This Is Me,” despite its performance by a collective of ‘freaks,’[5] obediently projects white (particularly male) expectations of command over his station, positing independence and oppression as mindsets rather than embedded features of institutions. Indeed, Jennifer Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) toasts P.T. Barnum with a summation of his character’s arc: “he is proof that a man’s station is limited only by his imagination.”[6]

This message is far more empowering for some than others. I thoroughly adore this movie, despite the criticism it has received, because a) I think the singing, choreography, costumes, and “celebration of humanity” are wonderful; and b) because I find Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron very handsome. While it is meant to be a fantastic and historically inaccurate montage of anthems, its major shortcoming is not in its depiction of P.T. Barnum and the circus as having positive social power. Rather, it is more the extent to which the movie simplifies (or omits mention of?) constraints on social mobility by persons deemed abject. By overemphasizing the power that an individual’s pride in their own existence has to provide escape velocity from a socially stratified orbit, the power of the musical ensemble—and therein the sociopolitical collective—to “flatten everything within a 50-mile radius”[7] with their voices is unfortunately undermined.

If one were to deal with the pieces chronologically, “This Is America” can be read as a racial-political rejoinder to “This Is Me”—an empowerment anthem within a populist film. While an appealing celebration of visual diversity—along axes of identity like gender, race, body shape, etc.—the non-abject, white viewer is subtly but suddenly abdicated of democratic responsibility to ‘other’ countrypeople as members of the freak collective assert: “I won’t let the shame sink in.”[8] This works as part of a feel-good narrative for a largely white, socially enfranchised audience, as the individuality conveyed by the lyric assigns the marginalized the task of inwardly negotiating terms of their existence­–“who [they’re] meant to be” as individuals. Speaking to the vocal power of the ensemble in The Greatest Showman, one critic noted,  “these are refrains configured to flatten everything within a 50-mile radius.” While sonically the chorus may be greater than the sum of its individual vocalists, depicted are marginalized people merely articulating internal negotiations simultaneously, not collectively interrogating the social conditions that define “who [they’re] meant to be.”

The dissonance between the palatable, familiar message of individualism and the subversive vocal and corporeal performance by a freak collective is shocking. Negotiating shame-inducing experiences and making meaning for oneself—quietly, inwardly—is significant here because of the threatening possibility of its opposite. Collective negotiation, assertion, and action does not look like a bearded lady-led troupe in The Greatest Showman; it looks like Ferguson, Missouri. Baltimore, Maryland, Dallas, Texas. It also looks like Charlottesville, Virginia. Indeed, this is America.

Gambino’s embodiment of America, as “both the caricature and the ring-leader,”[9] acts as a noteworthy backdrop to the political moment in which The Greatest Showman was so well-received. First, dancing functions very differently in Gambino’s work. When done by him, dancing historicizes blackness as other, simultaneously internationalizing[10] oppression of black people and calling to the fore the double-bind of living as black in America (e.g. being held responsible for comparatives shortcoming in a system laden with intentionally oppressive socio-economic and cultural structures[11]).

Violence is not merely a running theme in Gambino’s video, but more so a constant. The jarring execution of the guitar-soloist-turned-shackled-prisoner early on and the massacre of the church choir (both alluding to real incidences of violence against black people) show direct interaction between American [ring]leadership and victims. Between those two flashpoints, however, the video relies on mise-en-scène to create layered relationships, an example of which are the schoolchildren dancing behind Gambino. I read the schoolchildren’s performance as a means of survival in a hostile environment—a metaphor for most marginalized Americans’ patterns of consumption and labor in a socio-racially stratified system. Only possible to grasp with the long shots is the situation of the schoolchildren between [ring]leadership and the violence constantly unfolding in the background; as a collective, they are an enabler of violence caused by leadership’s behavior. Thus, their dancing extends commentary on the aforementioned double bind with which (especially racial) minority groups are faced: survival in an oppressive system renders one complicit in the oppression of other minoritized groups, even one’s own people. As if it were not obvious, “This Is America” sonicizes and visualizes the shattering of individualism as a potentially defiant force (as in “This Is Me”), implicitly calling for a collective politics.

As riddled with entendre as Gambino’s body expressions are, the mise-en-scène of “This Is America” both repeats and varies the meaning of Gambino’s choreography, erecting visual/sonic structures of feeling which recognize societal systems as paramount. With the choreography for “This Is Me” being its only source of meaning, the potency of asserting pride and place is not understood by any on-screen characters beyond those using trying to use it as a tactic. In making the spectacle the only point of emphasis, “This Is Me” actually undercuts the power of pride as a factor in social progress by making it the only one considered. In spite of criticisms that Gambino’s failure to make (black) social dance the point of the video,[12] I argue that it is precisely this choice—deploying dance as a tool of visual interruption rather than as a cohesive research method—that makes the video profound portrayal of blackness in America.

Just as Nguyen argues the “visual logic” of viewer identification with the top (in gay male pornography) is “staged from the bottom’s point of view,”[13] “This Is Me” encourages identification with historically white, individualist agency narratives from the perspective of the minoritized. “This Is America,” through its acknowledgment and recreation of the social conditions under which blackness is lived, confounds the binary of victim and perpetrator. Avoidance of such a binary negates the possibility of existing an inverted privilege/identification scheme (i.e. through the oppressed, the viewer still identifies with the already privileged oppressor). Gambino presents a counterexample to a privilege-reinforcing identification scheme and, therefore, creates an effective political intervention where “This Is Me” does not. The presence of a privilege-reinforcing identification scheme can thus be used by viewers as a litmus test for a failed political intervention in other media.

Popular media, especially that coming out of Hollywood, is dealing increasingly with themes of identity, diversity, and representation. This makes such media inherently political. Like in formal politics, messages must be crafted to address and resonate with varied constituencies. On the production side, the inclination is to interlace visual conversations of political themes with “shared/American values,” which may work to unintentionally reinforce privilege rather than create new spaces for representation of minoritized identity categories. On the consumption side, I call for more widespread use of the previously described litmus test for political intervention effectiveness among media’s viewership, and encourage critics to incorporate such arguments about films’ messaging into discussion of structural elements.

[1] Hiro Murai, “Childish Gambino – This Is America (Official Music Video),” YouTube, 5 May 2018,

[2] David Sims, “The Astonishing Success of The Greatest Showman,” The Atlantic, 22 Jan. 2018,

[3] “The Greatest Showman,” IMDb, 2017,

[4] “The Greatest Showman Cast – This Is Me (Official Lyric Video),” Atlantic Records, YouTube, 11 Jan. 2018,

[5] Sims, “The Astonishing Success of The Greatest Showman,” Jan. 2018.

[6] Michael Gracey, The Greatest Showman, 20th Century Fox, 8 Dec. 2018.

[7] https://wMichael Hahn, “The Greatest Showman was derided by critics. So why has its soundtrack shot straight to No 1?” The Guardian, 7 Feb. 2018,

[8] Michael Gracey, The Greatest Showman, 20th Century Fox, 8 Dec. 2018.

[9] Alana Yzola, “Hidden Meanings Behind Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’ Video Explained,” Insider – YouTube, 9 May 2018,

[10] In addition to many viral dance moves appropriated by the video, the schoolchildren and Gambino perform the Gwara Gwara, a South African dance move, on several occasions, creating room to liken racial hierarchies persistent in the U.S. to Apartheid South Africa. See Yzola, “Hidden Meanings,” Insider, 2018; Additionally, in the final bridge, Gambino says: “You just a black man in this world,” thus broadening the scope of discourses around racism, which typically focus on the features of one nation’s political system, to the international.

[11] As in “Get your money, black man (black man).”

[12] Thomas DeFrantz, “b.O.s. 7.3 / This is America,” ASAP Journal, 27 Aug. 2018,

[13] Nguyen Tan Hoang, A View from the Bottom (Duke University Press: 2014), 10.

“Life, Not Lifestyle”: Framing the closet, AIDS ACTivism, and Empathic Response

“[W]hat we want the right to exist—not the right to privacy; the right to a life, not to a lifestyle.”[i] I read this line of Maxine Wolfe’s from Women, AIDS, and Activism many times over. Usually I reread to break down—to take stock of what I know and what blanks must be filled in later. For this singular line, though, I reread to accumulate—to develop new feelings and to imagine under what conditions people were living to feel compelled to articulate a threat to life.

Notwithstanding my own attraction to the excerpt’s message, it raises a critical question of whether we define life as something higher than the ways people live it, and whether the answer to that question is circumstantial, as it would have been for, say, a queer black male during the height of the AIDS epidemic.

The onset of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and its height in the 1990s is a source of great fascination for scholars in fields ranging from medicine to feminist and queer theory, for producers of culture, and, most importantly, for those who survived it. All told,  I’m none of these; I’m neither a medical professional nor recognized sociological authority, still trying to figure the best way to take a good selfie, and was born in 1997. That said, our unit on HIV/AIDS activism and memory in this course has provoked quite a bit of thought over the last few weeks.

The most intense period of the (ongoing) HIV/AIDS epidemic seems to be such a unique chapter in American history because it existentialized differing identities in a way that had not been done so overtly before. For example, urban housing crises have disproportionately affected communities of color for our the entirety of our nation’s history, resulting in conditions that threaten health, and thus undermines the possibility of achieving longevity parity between people of color and white people. As sad as I am to say, however, there are enough dots one has to connect in this example that some do not bother thinking through its intersectional oppressions, and the physical harm that socio-economic stratification eventually causes. While I wish not to entrench the myth that the queer community was or is the only affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the fact that queerness (particularly male homosexuality) was so commonly associated with AIDS, and that “AIDS = Death” was not an opinion, meant that the epidemic created two Americas in the American imagination. One was queer and the other was straight. In the former, people were dying and in the latter they were not. In the former, life was lucky. In the latter, life was a right. The gulf between the worlds was (is?) a traumatic one, and oftentimes seemed non-traversable from either side

As Thomas Keenan notes in “The AIDS Crisis Is Not Over,” there is both the catastrophe of death, especially within networks formed around identities, “[a]nd then it happens again, when the value of the witness in the testimony is denied, and there’s no one to hear the account, no one to attend or respond.”[ii] The beauty of activism, the most renowned of which was done by ACT UP, was not just the light it shed on the “shrouding of information” by institutionalized authorities, but also that it produced information relevant to the “convenient populations” within which the epidemic was most rapidly spreading.(3)[iii] “People are hungry for information that respects their lives,” Diana Diana wrote.[iv]

This hunger, however, can empower groups of varying motivations. As stated, it empowered activists to force truth through whatever cracks in mainstream media and insulated politics they could find. But for those that viewed homosexuality as a (poor) choice, and who viewed homosexuals as evil, duplicitous, and cowardly,[v] queerness disrespected their lives (hey, @mike_pence). So there developed a craving among those who possessed this ideology for information that respected their prejudices. The precise size of this base is not determinable and only somewhat relevant, for it is the intensity of the demand, in this case for information, that defines the force and quantity of the supply. “The biggest problem with even thinking about audiences is that one usually begins with some completely absurd fiction of generality,” Bordowitz said. “The general public is a market, a [phantom] market,” Crimp extended.[vi] Invalidating the identities of those who bore witness to the catastrophe, those who are associated with the AIDS community, necessitated their replacement with those who were not connected to it—witnesses from the phantom audience.[vii]

I do not feel compelled to dwell on why I think problematic the substitution of actual witnesses to the AIDS catastrophe with those who could parrot back headlines about the public health crisis it produced. Deserving of more analysis is the allocation of empathy and the firming of identity politics. In moments when queers were given airtime, their “characters” were discredited (I ask out of genuine curiosity: Was there another possible result?). In conceiving of a phantom audience-market, the invalid witnesses’ “characters” were substituted out for valid “witness” identities so audience members would recognize themselves in the “authorities” on issues at hand of life or death. But for whom, really, was this life or death?

Unless you were born radical (hint: you weren’t), we have all, at some point, used identity to decide what information is important to us, and information circulation facilitated by technological evolution has only automated this tendency. Thus, we use our identities, or relational identifications, as Crimp would say,(8)[viii] to learn the information that exists and is most relatable. I’m guilty; I’m using my own queerness as a guide in reading these texts, watching United in Anger, and in writing this response.

Because identity is that thing of which we imagine ourselves to be most certain ,and because “it [was] difficult to maintain an identity in this crisis,”[ix] identities operated as stand-ins for understanding. The result? Many a conversation that would otherwise have moved beyond identities to shared values was aborted. Witness replacement described by Crimp and Bordowitz[x] during the height of the AIDS epidemic went a step further. General audience witness surrogates utilized identity as a means of creating information that was not there before through an entitlement to narration. “[T]his phantom—the general public—is the most traumatized of all. It’s having the nightmares, suffering from the flashbacks, uncertain about what has happened to it…but it can’t identify the event.”[xi] Just as most identities are formed through negation, so, too, are the narrations by those who hold the right to narrate. The implied for the replaced witnesses becomes: [Queers and POCs and any other group most heavily hit by the epidemic] are causing the nightmares, responsible for the suffering, and know what is going on. The right to narrate gives license for abdication of responsibility.

ACT UP, and other AIDS advocacy organizations, were right to identify the need to narrate based on the stories of authentic witnesses and subsequently inject those narrations into the veins of the phantom audience—to expose the cover-up. I don’t think that the rapidly identified need to control the narrative nor the deft deployment of strategies to do so is coincidental in the slightest. The closet is discussed primarily in relation to the AIDS epidemic as a site of tragedy, and correctly so. The shame induced while in the closet and the emotional harm inflicted by outings of people on their deathbeds killed spirits before the disease killed their bodies.

But the closet, from an activist standpoint, was also highly productive.  While in the closet, one doesn’t simply imagine a life with privilege, but lives one until their moment of reckoning—when they step or are forced out of it. Every queer person that became part of the movement, regardless of race or class, knew what it was like, at some point, to live a life where they had felt entitled to a narrative and, with hyper-caution, manipulated it. The collective familiarity among activists with navigating the dark space of the closet fostered dreams of a world where HIV/AIDS seropositive friends could live, where queer witnesses to the catastrophe could live authentically, and where they could participate in narrative formation after having been forced to choose between that right and living their living lives.

Losing privilege, and oftentimes health and sometimes life, for living an authentic life answers the question begged by Wolf’s one-line manifesta: under the circumstances of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and into the 1990s, rights—including that to life—were granted based on lifestyle. As a society, claiming to uphold a shared set of principles, we are still in desperate need of therapy to process the traumas we have wrought on and still cause one another. Even as wars being fought over narrative control only intensify on some fronts, other modalities of media may present opportunities for both individual catharsis and collective, cross-identity healing.

[i] Wolfe, Maxine. “AIDS and Politics: Transformation of Our Movement.” In Women, AIDS, and Politics. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1998.

[ii] Caruth, Cathy and Thomas Keenan. “‘The AIDS Crisis is Not Over’: A Conversation with Gregg Bordowitz, Douglas Crimp, and Laura Pinsky.” In American Imago. 48:541. 1991.

[iii] Hubbard, Jim and Sarah, Schulman. United In Anger: A History of ACT-UP. YouTube. Directed by Jim Hubbard. United In Anger, Inc. 2012.

[iv] DiAna, DiAna. “Talking that Talk,” In Women, AIDS, and Politics. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1998.

[v] Crimp, Douglas. “Right On, Girlfriend!” In Social Text. 33: 8. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1992.

[vi] Caruth and Keenan. “‘The AIDS Crisis is Not Over’: A Conversation with Gregg Bordowitz, Douglas Crimp, and Laura Pinsky.” 545.

[vii] Ibid. 546.

[viii] Crimp. “Right On, Girlfriend!” 12-13.

[ix] Harris, Gail. “AIDS and Politics: Transformation of Our Movement.” In Women, AIDS, and Politics. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1998.

[x] Caruth and Keenan. “‘The AIDS Crisis is Not Over’: A Conversation with Gregg Bordowitz, Douglas Crimp, and Laura Pinsky.” 547.

[xi] Ibid. 547.

An Eye on Consent: The male gaze and female pacification in Michael Gordon’s “Pillow Talk”

Women playing to male desire was thematic in Hollywood, and was a phenomenon catalyzed by commercial films in life off the screen. Surges in eating disorders, for example, evince internalized beliefs—most often by women—that they have aesthetically failed to ‘play’ to a male sexual appetite. “In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact is that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness. Women displayed as sexual object is the leitmotif of erotic spectacle: from pin-ups to striptease, from Ziegfeld to Busby Berkley, she holds the look, plays to and signifies male desire” (Mulvey 1975).Women in such films as Pillow Talk are cast to ‘hold the look’ directed upon them by heterosexual male subject, but it is worth noting that such male subjects are cast to have their held by the female object, even if it is not held by her eyes. (As the average male identifies with the casted one, the expectation develops that the object of the average male’s desires will also hold his gaze.) In question was not whether the female object in Hollywood films would fulfill his scopohilic desires, among others, but how much of ‘a fight’ she would put up in between first gaze directed toward her and the two winding up horizontal, limbs entangled (even if such an ending is only implied as in Pillow Talk).

Of course, there are moments Pillow Talk, other films, and in lived lives where a lack of awareness that the male gaze is being cast upon her renders the female object powerless in managing it. The one-way gaze signifies desire, which, according to Mulvey, “allows the possibility of transcending the instinctual and the imagined” (1975).2 While desire may transcend the imagined through its capacity to bring us actual pleasure (at least temporarily), such transcendence does not make the desired situation any less of an egotistic projection nor figment of the imagination. Notwithstanding a loaded performance by Doris Day, casting Rock Hudson as a bifurcated character (Wojcik 2010)3 makes any potential female desire for male attention conflated with desire for attention from someone like Rock, neither fully Brad nor fully Rex. When (fragile) masculine identifications with Rock’s performance—a performance that encodes facility in wooing the object and in manipulating himselves to do so—compounds with female desire for like-Rock male attention, male confidence is built higher on contradictory assumptions that she is both passive and secretly ‘wants it.’

Assumptions that occur within the film, as well as those produced and implied by the film for gendered sexuality performances in society, beg important questions about consent. Is the male gaze an act that creates desire he might later act upon sexually? Or is the male gaze a nonconsensual (but private) imposition of desire on another body—an experience from which he derives pleasure from her without her knowledge? If the male gaze creates a desire that cannot be fulfilled by gazing, later action by the male (of which the female must be aware for his masculinity to be affirmed) becomes requisite. For example, after eyeing Jan in front of his mother, Harvard man Tony Walter offers to drive Jan home. Shortly thereafter the shot cuts to a parked car, inside of which Tony is attempting to sexually dominate Jan.  After having verbally denied Tony repeatedly, he says: “it’s your word against mine.”4 While such an utterance elicits observable cringes from audience members steeped in today’s political climate, this scene and this phrase indicate that the film was conscious of consent to sexual advances in a way that Wojcik (2015) claimed it could not possibly have been.5

Alternatively, if the male gaze uses a female object to fulfill desire (by bringing the gazer sexual pleasure), then her say in an act of arousal is considered irrelevant and she is further pacified in the male imagination. When Brad is sitting at the dinner table with his date and sees Jan dancing, we get a vertical panoramic of Jan’s backside (apparently we had seen enough go her front-facing beauty) from Brad’s perspective. Pleasure here is implied as Marie, his actual date, becomes the butt of the joke. Suddenly, the carnal pleasure Brad would receive from the evening’s activities on his rotating bed with Marie pale in comparison to that which he is receiving simply from observing Jan’s corporeal movements. Despite relying on Jan for its production, the gaze here operates as auto-erotic response to Brad’s narcissistic projections of how he imagines he will “score” with Jan once he flips the switch on an automated process(es). It would be impossible to argue that auto-eroticism requires consent from an arousal-inspiring body. Nonetheless, the extent to which the male gaze pacifies its object lowers inhibitions to actualization of objectifying behavior in inter-personal interactions, as when Brad carries Jan from her bed and then through the streets against her wishes. Brad literally setting his sights on Jan is pleasurable because of the sexual fantasy that him gazing can produce, but additionally so because he subconsciously exaggerates his own agency in transferring this situation from imagination to reality.

The male gaze thus doubles as a pleasurable act that fulfills desires and as motivator to act later in ways that satisfy (more sexually ambitious) desires. Both depend heavily on the objectification, pacification, and sometimes manipulation of a sexually desirable female by a male subject. Brad “court[ing] the lady through a wicked pretense” (Crowther 1959)6 violates Jan, and the film is far more self-aware of this violation than scholars like Wojcik credit it to be. Such a reading of the film is supported by (relatively seldom) manifestations of female agency. Chief among them is inclusion of the redecorating trope at the end of the film. Not only do Jan’s redecorations fly in the face of the Playboy bachelor pad aesthetic, which spacialize and insulate Brad’s masculine identity (Wojcik 2010),7 but they also flout his personal tastes. In a non-sexual fashion, Jan’s revenge conquest similarly requires her to bypass Brad’s consent.  To “get the girl” with her consent, Brad must accept emasculation, rendering female consent and ideals of masculine control mutually exclusive. Post-war urbanity rewove a web of oft-intersecting masculinities and femininities, and the space of the apartment created an opportunity for males and females alike to assume a more multiplicitous set of public, private, and private-public hybrid identities. This reading is far from retroactive, as it was this kind of urban life—single females and males alike occupying their own apartment-closets—that brought to the fore a clash between male and female agencies that had been expanding in parallel to one another.

To conclude this discussion, I would like to comment on the camera’s relationship to the audience, and particularly its male subset. It is obvious that the camera is an instructive mechanism; its positioning and focus notify viewers of where they should direct their attention. However, the concept of the camera is internalized by audience members during the formation of their relationships with characters in a film. That is to say, viewers relate aspects of their identities (i.e. heterosexuality, masculinity) to aspects of characters’ performances—performances which are done for the camera. While some readings of the film queer Rock’s performance of masculinity or otherwise compromise it, most scenes of the film crystallize a then-formative urban, masculine heterosexuality. The average male’s identification with Rock’s putatively masculine desires parallel an identification with his performance; it is with the notion of Rock’s masculinity coming under constant surveillance in mind that male viewers conceptualize and idealize their future behavior. (Let the record reflect that societal forces like Helen Gurley Brown encouraged the same occurrence, if not more overtly, for women at the time.8) Utilization of a split screen and the eventually failed bifurcated identity suggest a collapse of public and private, as well as according expressions of gender and sexuality. At a formative historical moment for urban male identities, Pillow Talk and other films assisted with the installation of a panopticon, of sorts. The camera’s material representation of a felt panopticon affirmed the necessity of gendered and sexualized performances to actively rebuke anxieties and threats to hegemony, even if for men that frequently came with the cost of emotionally or physically violating women.



  1. Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism: Introudctory Readings. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP, 199: 833-44.
  2. Ibid. 837.
  3. Pamela Wojcik, “We Like Our Apartment,” The Apartment Plot: Urban Living in American Film and Popular Culture, 1945 to 1975, 107, Duke University Press (Durham and London), 2010.
  4. Pillow Talk (Michael Gordon, US, 1959).
  5. Pamela Wojcik, “Teaching Pillow Talk,” The Cine-Files, Issue 9, Fall 205,
  6. Bosley Crowther, “The Screen: ‘Pillow Talk,’The New York Times, Oct. 7, 1959,
  7. Pamela Wojcik, “We Like Our Apartment,” The Apartment Plot: Urban Living in American Film and Popular Culture, 1945 to 1975, 88-138, Duke University Press (Durham and London), 2010.
  8. Laurie Oulette, “Inventing the Cosomo Girl: class identity and girl-style American dreams,” Media, Culture, & Society, SAGE Publications (London), 21:3(359-383), 1999.