The Other End of the Rainbow: Narratives of Youth and Gay Culture in Post-Soviet Society

22 October 2008

CRASSH

Speakers: Hilary Pilkington (University of Warwick) and Dan Healey (University of Swansea) 

Hilary Pilkington
The weight of the Vorkuta sky: Young people's visual and verbal articulations of 'place'

This paper explores the – material and symbolic - significance of place in young lives (Nayak 2003: 175). Theoretically it is rooted in the Chicago School principle that we can make sense of social phenomena only when we locate them in time and place (Abbott 1997: 1152). It draws also, however, on Michel Maffesoli’s (1996: 22) notion of ‘aura’ to explore a particular place not in conventional sociological terms (as ‘neighbourhood’ or ‘city’) but as a physical, emotional and mental space whose ‘unique colouring’ is found in the imprint of time on its ‘trivial examples of sociality’. The paper argues that, notwithstanding globalizing processes, youth cultural practices remain profoundly located in time and place but that this ‘time and place’ must be understood as including not only the ‘here’ but the ‘elsewhere’, not only the ‘now’ but the past and the future. ‘Place’, it concludes, might best be understood as the location of the material traces of an emotional community while the ‘aura’ of that place is the expression of its emotional community as captured in our encounters with it. 

Empirically the paper draws on fieldwork in a deindustrialising city in the Russian far north (Vorkuta) undertaken under the auspices of a transnational European project (STREP-CT-CIT5-029013) on ‘Subcultures and Lifestyles’. It outlines key tropes of young people’s narratives about ‘place’, highlighting: the natural [landscape and territorial isolation]; the social [norms of ‘mutual extraction’ (Pilkington and Sharifullina 2008)]; and the cultural [prison camp and criminal gang culture]. The paper pays particular attention to interrogating the ethnographic method of the production of ‘data’ by comparing and contrasting: respondent and researcher representations of urban space; the fusions and dissonances between the visual and the verbal articulations of place among respondents; and the changing representation of their engagement with urban space by respondents over a period of four years of research. The paper’s narrative thread is directed by the evolution of the meanings attached to this place by the researchers and the young people they hung out with, and the emotional bonds that allowed those meanings to be shared and contested. 

Dan Healey
Erections that prove the rule: The Russian national idea in gay men's porn

Despite two decades of “sexual revolution” and some significant reforms (notably, decriminalization of male homosexuality in 1993), the place of gay citizens in Russian society remains hotly contested. While popular culture explores homosex avidly, Russians confine gay desire to the private sphere and refuse it public space, as disputes over gay pride parades have shown. Scholars have explored the meanings of straight pornography in Russian culture, but have overlooked gay porn as apparently non-existent, or as objectionable from a dated feminist perspective.

Using an archive of print and film this paper argues that gay pornographers have tapped national and global trends to inject gay visibility in Russian culture in startling and novel ways. In 1990s gay periodicals, Russians evolved a unique porn aesthetic that celebrated the allure of the military and the sex appeal of submission, endurance and vulnerability. Foreigners making porn films in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s brought a globalized aesthetic but were not merely “colonizing” an innocent Russia. The 1990s print-based gay aesthetic is now celebrated cinematically in domestically made gay porn, which also shows the hallmarks of its makers’ awarness of the global market, and a determination to knit gay desire into the national story. Gay porn is making a significant, but little understood contribution to the politics of gay visibility in Russia.

Some recent writing on Russian (straight) porn:

Borenstein, Eliot. Overkill: Sex and Violence in Contemporary Russian Popular Culture. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008 (especially chapter 2, Stripping the Nation Bare: Pornography as Politics”, 51-76.)
Goscilo, Helena. Dehexing Sex: Russian Womanhood During and after Glasnost. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996. See chapter 6, “New Members and Organs: The Politics of Porn”.
———. "Porn on the Cob: Some Hard Core Issues." In Eros and Pornography in Russian Culture, edited by M.  Levitt and A. L. Toporkov, 553-72. Moscow: Ladomir, 1999.
Beaudoin, Luc. "Masculine Utopia in Russian Pornography." In Eros and Pornography in Russian Culture, edited by M. Levitt and A. Toporkov, 622-38. Moscow: Ladomir, 1999.
(These are two chapters in this excellent, bilingual, wide-ranging collection that refer specifically to gay porn; the volume contains many other fine essays on pornography by a stellar group of historians, cultural and literary studies scholars, sexologists etc.)

On gay porn studies generally:

Richard Dyer’s seminal essay:
Dyer, R. (1985). "Male Gay Porn: Coming to Terms." Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media(30): 27-29. Online at: http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC30folder/GayPornDyer.html#2

Some links to Thomas Waugh’s publications online at:
http://www.ryerson.ca/library/subjects/sexdiv/waugh.html


Referred to in this paper (these websites contain explicit material):

Zigmar Anatof’s output (Military Zone series) partially summarised:
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2804880/

Michael Lucas’s website:
http://www.lucasentertainment.com/

To Moscow with Love pages:
http://store.lucasentertainment.com/movie.asp?MerchandiseID=14
http://store.lucasentertainment.com/movie.asp?MerchandiseID=19

Kristen Bjorn website:
http://www.kristenbjorn.com/

Moscow: The Power of Submission:
http://www.kristenbjorn.com/shop07/product_info.php?cPath=23&products_id=96

Behind the Curtain: The Making of Moscow:
http://www.kristenbjorn.com/shop07/product_info.php?cPath=23&products_id=79

Kalina Studios website:
http://www.spshop.ru/

Kazaki (Cossacks):
http://www.spshop.ru/cat_view.php?id=sp-1222&series=%E3%E5%E9+%E2%E8%E4%E5%EE&sid=88

This event is part of the Contemporary Russian Culture Studies Group Seminar series.

Meetings are held on alternate Wednesdays during term-time, 5pm to 7.00pm at CRASSH.

All welcome.  No registration required. 

Click on the link on the right hand side of the page to see the full programme for Michaelmas and Lent Terms 08-09.

For administrative enquiries please contact mm405@cam.ac.uk.