How to Use Gay Nazis in Job Interviews: Queer media, Striptease-Lectures, and the Art of Existential Sodomism.
One summer night of 2011, I was attacked by a mob of neo-Nazi thugs in a gay cruising park in Athens, the so-called Zappeio park. This attack took place only a few months after I completed my doctoral research on the aesthetics of crime (Papadopoulos, 2011): I had spent more than five years studying criminals who, through violence, sought a way of transforming themselves into works of art. Crime was a way of treating one’s self-image as a world of fiction, a cinematic spectacle and a celebration of gloomy glam. The historical context of this research was the so-called ‘austerity age’ in Britain, and primarily London, of the late 1940s. According to my argument, the motif of the criminal who imagined himself as a star was not limited in post-war London. The classical 1930s Hollywood gangster heroes — the idols of the English anti-heroes — also appeared on screen as fantasists, narcissists, and escapists. The English criminals’ dreams — the cinematic stars — were dreamers themselves. Their own dreams were staged on screen through acts of self-observance reflected through mirrors, newspapers, and advertising posters — displayed as screens within screens and frames within frames. The figure of the escapist criminal was at the core of the global industry of dreams and its workings extended backward and forward in time — across multiple images, texts, and stages. A broader archaeology of violent illusions was needed, one that would exceed strict disciplinary boundaries. This expanded study of the typologies of the ‘daydreaming criminal’ would eventually offer me the tools to discover continuities between the cinematic violence of the 1940s and neo-Nazi digital violence of the 2010s.
Several variations of the aforementioned dream-within-a-dream criminal scheme were circulated across diverse media platforms in the 1940s: Press, cinema, and (auto-) biographies allowed criminals to tell their stories, pose as stars and transgress the boundary between art and horror. The plurality of expression established what contemporary media theorists describe as a ‘transmedia’ mode of storytelling (Jenkins 2006; Scolari, Bertetti, and Freeman, 2014; Ibrus and Scolari, 2012). Multiple media technologies co-narrate a similar set of ideas, stories and spectacles — a story that begins in one’s imaginative mind is then retold (and reimagined) in newspapers, films, true-crime fiction, radio-shows, courtroom dramas, and popular magazines. The pattern of applied criminal fantasy does not simply circulate across various ‘media’ templates but also across different cultures, geographies, and temporalities. In the highly acclaimed documentary The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012), the main hero describes 1960s Indonesian gangsters as dreamers driven by Hollywood fantasies. Converging the act of killing with an act of self-observance, the ex-executioner of communists admits that before becoming a gangster he worked at the box-office of a cinema theatre. His journey into violence was the continuation of an urge to live like a film star. The documentary — through narration as well as a re-enactment of his journey into horror — acts out a final staging of this dream. This spectacle works is a tragically ambiguous triumph. The protagonist’s cinematic self-mirroring — the act of observing himself as a film star — reveals the utterly horrific ingredients of this glory. This highest point in the murderer’s dream ‘career’ becomes the most evocative exposition of his lowness.
My own experience of homophobic violence in Greece and what followed it in the UK allowed me to understand that similar aesthetic tactics underpin the contemporary cultures of transgression, which are rooted in the ‘austerity-age’ of the 2010s. This time the ‘spectator’ who violently turned himself into a spectacle was an Athens-based gay neo-Nazi who staged his explosive performance in the meta-cinematic stage of Facebook. He started flirting with me digitally a few months after the violent incident in Athens. At that time, I was living in Manchester, semi-employed as an hourly-paid teaching assistant and relentless jobseeker. My Facebook interlocutor, who described himself as a fashion designer and graphic artist, confessed to me that he used to have close ties with the neo-Nazi organization Golden Dawn. He had participated in gay-bashing attacks in the same park of my own attack). According to his graphic testimony, they used to beat up their victims, pissed on them, and forced them to have sex. Our dialogue was also a meeting point between sex and violence: declarations of lust shifted to death threats and descriptions of sex parties with ‘straight’ comrades, which mingled with gossip about ex-Nazi comrades who became ‘trans stars’. Our digital encounter turned from fight to flirt, from porn to political debate, and from stylistic advice to calls for violence.
I turned his dialogue into a creative essay for a Greek magazine called Lifo (2012) and then used this material for the creation of a video-performance called The Homonazi Effect (2014), which was screened in several international queer art festivals. In the video-performance and in its surrounding textual production (an academic article, blog posts, journalistic pieces), I underlined how the narration of neo-Nazi horror was a tactic of metamorphosis, a mode of ‘pornification’, or else a sexualized spectacle of selfhood investing in a story of fear (Papadopoulos, 2015). Horror in this context was a way of looking ‘sexy’ — a ritual of self-sensationalism — the posture of a ‘hero’ who aims to disrupt ‘history’ with his story. Just like 1940s criminal dreamers or the 1960s Indonesian Gangsters, this peculiar neo-Nazi posed as a star. Storytelling and public spectacle co-created a landscape of self-aestheticisation and a way of imagining oneself as a protagonist on screen: the cinematic experience now incorporated the multiple frames, interactive dynamics, and script-writing vocabularies of social media.
What remains to be shown is how this type of digital landscape, and more particularly a personal Facebook account, restaged the images of this video-performance to generate a new set of stories, meanings, and emotions. The imagery of this artwork suffused a new wave of storytelling experiences, abrupt encounters, and precarious styles of self-presentation. While The Homonazi Effect was a video-performance that drew on digital narrations, inversely, a set of digital narrations drew on a video-performance in order to trigger a new corpus of disclosures — and, ultimately, a new way of making art out of one’s self-image. Set in the same historical climate, self-transformation is relegated to a diverse repertoire of the austerity-age horrors — all of them unfolding on the ephemeral and addictively colourful stages of Facebook.
The Homonazi Effect was essentially a solo performance. I used my body to enact every character that participated in the disturbing encounter. Namely, these were the homonazi (portrayed in weird drag costume), the Nazi trans, the researcher, and the Nazi-‘lecturer’. In this new storytelling context, the roles performed are those of daily austerity-age horror: or else the role(s) of precarious-expat-gay-immigrant-unemployed-academic.
Daily accounts of unemployment, disorientation, and displacement come into play as ingredients of celebratory storytelling. These same conditions are now reused in a transmedia spectacle, jumping from the representation of a daily encounter to the performance of daily life. If this project were a research question, a blog post, or a tabloid sensation, it would have the following headline: What are the survival skills of a queer academic who is dressed in a tutu and impersonates gay Nazis online and offline? The attempt to answer to this question shows how daily uses of ‘new media’ give birth to diverse genres of spectacular personhood in the midst of fear, lust, and defeat. Here comes a short handbook on creative polemics. This is a list of suggestions on how to bend the boundaries between photo-textual narcissism, digital communication, and the queer politics of the everyday.
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