About the time I first encountered Robert McRuer’s Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability soon after its publication in 2006, I began to turn my research and teaching from queer theory toward disability studies and crip theory. Or, it might be more accurate to say that crip theory and disability studies began to infect my previous work in queer theory and dis-ease its trajectory. Rather than focus on carnality and desire as much as I once had, I began focusing on corporeality and vulnerability—what Emmanuel Levinas (2006: 64) describes as the radical passivity of being “for the other” without ever desiring such a responsibility, without having either force or intention, something I experience despite myself. Vulnerability, especially rather than capability or ability—with their links to energy, strength, power, and vitality—began to hold a more central place in my research and critical thought. I began rethinking what bodies do and what they do to us when we experience them, especially through screens.
Situating Screen Bodies
This cover of Screen Bodies features a photograph by Collen Mfazwe entitled “Love Has No Gender, Race or Sexuality. Boitumelo and Collen. (August 2017).” Mfazwe lives in Benoni, Gauteng, South Africa, and is a photographer at the South African platform Inkanyiso (Zulu for “the one who brings light”). In “Love Has No Gender,” we find a summary of Mfazwe’s response to South Africa’s drastically high rate of violent crime against womxn, lesbians, and bisexual and trans folk, a long-running pattern of gender-based violence that she confronts in a series she has been developing since 2017 called Imizimba (Bodies).
Consider two instances of screened bodies. The first comes from the article published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy where a group of urologists and radiologists attempted to “confirm that it is feasible to take images of the male and female genitals during coitus and to compare this present study with previous theories and recent radiological studies of the anatomy during sexual intercourse” (Faix et al. 2002: 63). In their well-illustrated study of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) screen shots—often simplified and clarified with keyed line drawings—they address the history of trying to imagine and depict heterosexual intercourse, the movement, shape, and position of engaged male and female genitalia, and the factors affecting arousal and orgasm. (The study can only suggest the possibility of two types of vaginal orgasm as the man climaxes once during the experiment while the woman does not. Clitoral stimulation is mentioned but not pursued in the study.) The researchers assert the parameters of “normal” private and sexual lives and echo “natural” expectations with regard to sex, gender, sexuality, and sexual positions and practices. They involve themselves in visual analyses of drawings, sketches, ultrasound displays, and MRI monitors—discussing the details and features of the various technologies and the advantages and drawbacks of the different experimental conditions. They make a special note of “the couple” not experiencing difficulty having intercourse during the four sessions and mention the man’s consumption of Viagra.
As this issue of Screen Bodies went into production, the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was concluding, and Vogue published a short online piece on Hillary Clinton’s sartorial choices for her acceptance speech. While Clinton had often worn brighter, bolder colors and styles for her major appearances, on this evening she donned an ivory suit—a simple canvas against which to continue painting an image of the woman behind the candidacy. At the same time, the Internet continued to disseminate more negative reviews of the rebooted Ghostbusters (2016)—starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones, directed by Paul Feig, written by Katie Dippold and Paul Feig. I think the film is (pace Lucille Ball) funny and brave. It hilariously reverses many sexist tropes and assumptions out of mainstream Hollywood films; it is crude and inappropriate in the best of ways; and responses to it—especially patriarchal, masculinist, heteronormative, and racist ones—continue to demonstrate the importance of critical comedic revisions for feminist interruptions of established paradigms.