Through the Keyhole of Ideology:
Or, My Favorite Shapes as Queer Critical Theory
Julio Torres, the waifish, thirty-two year-old, yet still epicene Salvadoran stand-up comedian, has released arguably the best queer comedy special of the last couple years, My Favorite Shapes (2019) (henceforth “MFS”; all unattributed quotations are from MFS). Torres’ show is in a class apart from recent contemporary queer comedy—whether in the form of slick specials like Ellen DeGeneres’ Relatable (2018), Hannah Gadsby’s Nannette (2018), and Cameron Esposito’s Rape Jokes (2018), or the smaller-scale Comedy Central and late night sets of Mateo Lane, Joel Kim Booster, and Jaboukie Young-White—and not simply because it can be couched, too neatly, frankly, as “prop-comedy.” These comics, despite the centrality of queerness to their bits, nevertheless still play it straight when it comes to the very problematic to which comedy emerges as an uncanny response: that of experiencing what is relatable as unreliable, which, by turning the expectations of the audience for resolution (what Gadsby calls “the tension”) into the butt of the joke, allows playing with trauma as it is inflected by “the relation between aggression and pleasure.” To “play it straight” with relations of aggression and pleasure in a comedy act is to leave very little room for ambiguity and the affective, ideational, and associational movement it enables, which is always accompanied by certain risks, to be sure, but also the potential for what Torres calls “release.”
On the Banality of Not Bearing Witness
On May 5, 2020, anonymously leaked video brought the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Georgia into the light of the public realm. It is devastating footage and I was overwhelmed when I truly comprehended what I was witnessing. As I did, I cried out of grief, shame, and anger. I looked to my husband and confessed, “I did not want to see this.” But, the fact is I did not see much, even if what I had witnessed was just enough to understand how the destructive machinery of white supremacy works in an America still emphatically riven by the “color line” that W. E. B. DeBois, writing in the context of Atlanta, Georgia in 1905, in The Souls of Black Folk, so presciently identified as the defining crisis of modernity.