Friday, November 13, 2009

Class, Sexuality and the Other in Tampa

My friend, Jon, posted this story on his Facebook page.. It's about a marine reservist in Tampa Florida who was arrested for attacking a Greek Orthodox priest who had gotten lost and was wanting to get directions. According to the report

Marine reservist Jasen Bruce was getting clothes out of the trunk of his car Monday evening when a bearded man in a robe approached him. That man, a Greek Orthodox priest named Father Alexios Marakis, speaks little English and was lost, police said. He wanted directions.What the priest got instead, police say, was a tire iron to the head. Then he was chased for three blocks and pinned to the ground — as the Marine kept a 911 operator on the phone, saying he had captured a terrorist.

It would appear that Jasen freaked when confronted by a stranger and a foreigner, to boot. Be they Orthodox monks or mullahs, bearded foreign men in robes for Jasen, clearly fit the stereotype of the evil Other. This was Jasen's big moment of patriotic glory, defending the homeland against the terrorist menace. Except it would rapidly unravel when the authorities arrived in response to Jasen's emergency call.

When Jon posted this link on his Facebook page he made this observation "Don't you love how this defender of our way of life has a bob with THREE of the worst sins against the American Dream?" What Jon referred to is the fact that when Jasen realised he had not been locked in battle with Teh Terrorist Menace, he changed his story and began giving excuses for why he had acted the way he did. All up he gave three, and as Jon notes, all three relate in some way to crimes against the American Dream, and all involve some aspect of the Other. These are te three reasons he gave as listed in the report:

The man tried to rob him.

The man grabbed Bruce's crotch and made an overt sexual advance in perfect English.

The man yelled "Allahu Akbar," Arabic for "God is great," the same words some witnesses said the Fort Hood shooting suspect uttered last week. "That's what they tell you right before they blow you up," police say Bruce told them.

Given that Jasen had rung the 911 service, I suspect the last one listed is the first he gave. It clearly is rooted in the foreign Other, the Islamic Other. I'm not certain which order the other two fit but I was struck by the way sexuality, specifically homosexuality, was invoked. Did Jasen pick that when he found out the person he'd attacked was a priest? A foreigner with little English, did Jasen think he could make such an allegation against the priest with impunity? And what's more did he think the violence of his response would be understood and approved by his fellow Americans? Interestingly some of the comments made on the report indicate that many of Jasen's fellow Americans would do so. Several comments refer to the child sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic church ad at least one commenter is prepared to accept some validity to Jasen's allegation. According to someone called Floridadave most priests are pedophiles and faggots so Fr Marakis is probably one too. Fr Marakis is celibate and by all accounts a very gentle, caring man, which no doubt for those such as Floridadave, would be confirmation enough of Fr Marakis' faggotry. Certainly that's god enough for OddManOut (!) who says

2 wrongs don't make a right here. first, Jasen was wrong for chaseing him down, there was no emmediate danger to himself so that constitutes assult. second, a priest? celibacy? that only means that thay can't have sex with adults or females. wearing a robe, doesn't speak english and wonders why? the 'priest' needs to look in the mirror, I would have slugged him, but it was wrong to chase him down.

And, no doubt, that's where Jasen is coming from too. He's presented in the report as a type of guy best described as pumped, always working out; in Australia we'd say he's very blokey, A BLOKE! Even though Jasen had to eventually resort to the sanctity of private property, the great lynchpin of the American Dream (built as it was on theft on a grand scale), it's clear that Fr Marakis now enjoys the dubious honour of joining the stock parade of homophobic stereotypes.

But the plot gets even more intriguing when, in the comments, homophobia gets turned back on Jasen himself. Someone called Not Online has this to say:

This appears to be a boy raging against his gayness by lashing out at innocent, smaller citizens. Tarponmarc, .... This is NOT the kind of soldier that you want in a war zone. I wouldn't have liked depending on him in a combat situation...drugged up and irrational, and shooting anything that moved.

If there's a faggot here it must be Jasen! After all, he's such a BLOKE - or is it jock in the US? - and goes to great extent to hyper-masculinise himself that he can't be real. Such hyper-masculinity can't be real, it's a mask, a form of drag. So if it's not real then he's hiding something. What else could a man hide except his gayness. Jasen is the faggot trying to hide out in the marines from his true self, his outsider self. And that way, Jasen, who's hyper ignorance, xenophobia and homophobia have not only exposed the way these elements work US cultural forces (and not just US) but as a marine reservist has put the armed forces under the spotlight of ridicule at a time of heightened national solidarity following the Fort Hood shootings. But if Jasen is a faggot then he's as much an outsider as Fr Marakis or Osama bin Laden and certainly not representative of the military whose integrity is consequently preserved. Our boys aren't ignorant comic klutzes like that faggot Jasen but good clean all-American straight boys.

But I reflect that I have seen plenty of Jasens here in Australia and I have no doubt they are plentiful in the US too. They're young, they're poor/working class/underclass. They're very blokey, and they get themselves pumped and ripped. They're tight physically and emotionally too. But are they all closet queens burying their yearning desires for another man beneath a mask of hypermasculinity? And how convenient the closet and repressed homosexuality is for othering that which disturbs bourgeois niceties, that holds up a mirror to the underpinning ideologies of exclusion and dominance which have to be hidden to be effective. Not only does Jasen expose them but he holds them up for ridicule. If we all laugh too much we might realise just how ludicrous these ideologies really are and chuck them away.

So why do guys like Jasen get into their hyper-masculine drag, because drag is what it is. I think it's do with power and class. Jasen, and guys like him, is down towards the bottom of the hierarchy. He's not at the bottom, of course. That's where women and blacks and faggots are. Faggots especially, as Jasen's behaviour shows they can be beaten up with impunity. But as a low class and young male and subject to the power of the system, Jasen has to show them that he's as good a man as they are. The only way he can do that is by accentuating his masculinity. proving he's as much a man as the guys up the top. Because otherwise he'll be fucked metaphorically - well as a low class person he is fucked by the system - maybe even physically, because you can fuck faggots, they're not real men anyway. Just so long as you don't let them fuck you. And if Jasen doesn't prove he's as good a man as any other he will be taken as a faggot and fucked or worse.

Because the men up the hierarchy don't have to prove their masculinity. They have their power and privilege. I was struck by this just the other day walking along the river. Beneath the Story Bridge there's a cluster of old waterfront buildings and these are used for a variety of purposes. There's a rather interesting looking art space there. And walking past it the other day, I saw a group of men, probably in their 40s or 50s. They weren't suited but they were wearing their regulation dark trousers, light blue shirts and dark ties. All of them! This was their drag, their uniform of power. It's a middle ranking bureaucratic power but it's power nonetheless. There was not a woman amongst them. Now they don't have to get ripped or toned because there's no doubt about their status unlike the Jasen's of this world. And the further up the hierarchy you go the more the confidence they have in their masculinity. So that rather than accentuate it they can play it down in a shared sober uniform of authority.

So Jasen, and others like him, are not closet cases although they do lack confidence in their sexuality, or more correctly their masculinity. That lack of confidence comes from their lack of power, lack of status in the class (and age) hierarchy. Thus Jasen reveals quite tellingly the way class sexuality gender are interwoven to maintain these hierarchies of power (and a whole lot more). Consequently and ironically, Jasen must be enrolled alongside Fr Marakis in the grand parade of homophobic stereotypes.

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