This time trying to figure out why. I was choking with happy/sad tears when Patrick goes down on one knee and sings Mariah Carey for David as a wedding vow.
All culture, including popular television, is a repository for memory and desire held in the mirror of language. The ‘Words’ (I use the term loosely here to capture the elements through which we construct language), we use represent what we hope to be / become. In other words, the expectations that we have from our lives are shaped by the way that language constructs them. In each of the words that we use is embedded an ideal Other- an apparition in which we try and fit ourselves. The word is on the other side of the mirror and we on this side see ourselves reflected in it. A line of desire reaches out to the image from our gaze and reflects back upon us. In language, every word is such a mirror- a utopian container. Social and economic structures are built by making a precise and and exact imagination on the other side of the mirror- in them we occupy specific places and identities, and we perform certain roles. We can’t fit into the image, but we try.
It makes one wonder why do we try? Is it merely to ‘fit in’? Does the architecture of society represent such a hegemonic presence that we can only see ourselves occupying it- or resisting it? We have encountered the exaltation of the small against the large in many hero myths. The diminutive David against Goliath, the turtle against the hare. The seduction of such tales is the investing in the powerless a quick-wittedness, a cunning by which it is able to destroy the more powerful oppressor. The subaltern in this imagination is a perpetual other resisting, fighting, subverting the structures that persecute it. Ah, if it were only that simple. A choice- to fall in line or to resist. To succumb or to confront.
This logic is so easily disturbed by our subjectivities, our desires that overspill these neat bifurcations of categories and choices. Our own subjectivities and experiences easily disturb all these simplifications. Often we fall in love with our oppressors, they are whom we see in the mirror- they are whom we want to be. Our lines of desire are entangled, complicated and confusing. They cannot so easily be held in place or frozen in time. They swirl in spirals, intersecting, dissolving, redirecting, contradicting each other. The language by which we try and capture them, make them concrete as a presence, as a ‘thing’ ruptures in contact.. The words, in other words, help shape and direct the desire and are simultaneously destroyed by them. These ruptures are the place of the erotic. But these complications don’t necessarily make for a great hero story.
In terms of gender and sexuality these tensions are exacerbated because they deal directly with the presence- the ‘Being’ of the body- the phenomenological inhabitation of it, and the tug of lines of desire pulling it apart. The body and its reflection in the words used to Gender it (woman, man, trans…), Sexuality and the way to describe it (gay, lesbian, bisexual…), Eroticism (what excites you, what stimulates desire), Sex itself (fucking), Love (romantic bonding), Intimacy (warmth and friendship) and Marriage (a contract) are all placed in an exacting relationship with each in the mirror of language- and society. And often they all are meant to neatly overlap with each other for the structure of society to be predictable and stable.
If we do place all of these one over the other we expect each to fall in line- neatly. Yet, our desires destroy that guarantee. Each stimulates the other in ways that we cannot expect. Love, Sexuality and Eroticism, Gender, Marriage and Sex. Intimacy, Sex and Eroticism. They may or may not collapse into one another. Most likely they disturb the other. The interstices between them become places of pleasure and danger whose presence is always felt in ghosts that haunt and stimulate desire. These are the phantasms of fantasy. Your ‘reality’ is embedded in them. Your ‘truth’ too.
It is through the act of Performance that we inhabit these truths. Performance embeds our bodies in specific space-time fragments. These events can be seen as isolated events that may or may not cohesively construct a coherent whole. Instead they seem like quick glimpses into a shattered mirror that we piece together in making our selves through Montage- picking and choosing, slicing and reframing, colour correcting and recontextualising, fabricating an autobiography of the self for ourselves and for anyone else who we think is watching us.
But. Back to Schitts Creek.
The small town utopia where Sex, Love, Marriage, Eroticism, Intimacy all exist, but not necessarily in the place you’d expect them to be. In a show like ‘Friends’ the humour lay in an embarrassment of these discordances. The jokes are about mistaking one for the other - sex for intimacy or sexuality for love, sex for intimacy, etc. The punchline is in the deviance- and this is what passed for progressive TV.
In ‘Schitts Creek’, the disentangling of each of these strands allows character to pursue complicated and fragmented identities without being judged. As a Utopia on the other side of the mirror it structures a new architecture for society that re-places the locations of the terms Love, Sex, Sexuality, Intimacy, Marriage, Eroticism. When Patrick realises that is attracted to David it is not couched in any complicated self examination or trauma. It is just something that he inhabits. It is in fact the pan-sexual David who has to confront this straightforward expression of love. And he is taken aback by its plain faced sincerity. The archness that David has developed over the years to protect him from the barbs of homophobic strangers falls apart, especially when he is serenaded by the unaffected sentiment expressed in the lyrics of pop songs. ‘You’re simply the best, better than all the rest’ or ‘You'll always be a part of me, I’m part of you indefinitely, Boy, don't you know you can't escape me, ooh, darling 'cause you'll always be my baby.”
The town of ‘Schitts Creek’ is an inversion of the world outside - a heterotopia (?). Strangers who enter here bring with them the values and the pretensions of the world outside. They proceed to either fall under the spell of the idyll of acceptance and love within, or are rejected and leave. These include the many ghosts from the past lives of the Roses. The Roses themselves are transformed by the town. They do leave at the end though, returning, it is presumed to a life similar to the one that they once had- but transformed substantially in many ways. David and Patrick though continue to live and love in the utopia.
I don’t know if they couldn’t survive in the world outside. I have been racking my brain to come up with other representations of queer love so straighforward and easy, with no homophobia and struggle of identity to contend with, I am drawing a blank. Does it take such a simple idea as the representation of unconditional love between men to appear radical or even revolutionary? (although I wouldn't count on it, although the shows success financially and critically might lead to a few imitators)) In a world where every queer love story of these has been framed as a coming-out journey of self discovery, or the conquering or succumbing to homophobia, it really seems like this might be some kind of radical. Growing up this image did not exist.
With the easy acceptance of both the institutions of family and marriage, Schitts Creek also confronts the simplistic presumptions of many subalternists that these are necessarily oppressive institutions that curtail the expression of the true ‘self’. By disentangling the presumptions of neat fits between sex, sexuality, love, intimacy, marriage and eroticism, it opens out the possibility of them as scaffoldings that can be used to make new possibilities for each. All we have to do is to allow them to be performed through our subjectivities, following our desires, rather than a script written in a rulebook. These performances can help navigate the hall of mirrors, releasing multiple selves of ourself that might not in turn like each other very much. They may in fact even get into arguments. The arguments reveal fissures that can become catalysts for new identity formations. The trick is to use these arguments as catalysts for change, to use them to make ourselves anew - reinvention as discovery.
With ‘Schitts Creek’ we may be standing in front of a new mirror, within which many mirrors lie happily scattered. I see a foot here and an eye there. I can make a self in between