Inner Smile - Deconstructing the Heterosexual Matrix

Inner Smile - Deconstructing the Heterosexual Matrix

Length: 6111 words (17.5 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
Inner Smile - Deconstructing the Heterosexual Matrix

An issue that is gaining in political and social importance is the issue of homosexuality. Reports of homosexuality and societal responses to homosexuality are brought up again and again in media coverage. These past few decades have seen a large increase in awareness of issues concerning homosexuality. Gender is intricately linked to homosexuality and numerous theorists have explored gender and sexuality under the umbrella term of Gay and Lesbian studies or Queer theory. In the music video of their song Inner Smile, the pop group Texas have seemingly adopted a radical image change when the groups front-person, Sharleen Spiteri, appears in drag as Elvis. The director of this video, Vaughan Arnell, utilizes Brechtian techniques of alienation to bring issues of gender to the forefront of a viewer's consciousness. The portrayal of a female singer in the persona of the legendary male sexual icon of Elvis, invokes an awareness of gender and sexuality issues through the subsequent alienation effect on the viewers, as the video, through editing and cinematography, makes it clear that Spiteri is actually a female in drag.

The video by Arnell features Spiteri on stage performing the song Inner Smile, she adopts the entire Elvis persona, from the dressing to the actions and movements that she does on stage. In this video, Arnell recreates the Comeback Special that Elvis himself performed in 1968 ("Elvis"). The significance of this lies in the fact that despite the blatant idolization of Elvis, there are signs indicating that the pop group Texas are still performing this video. The vocals are themselves of a female voice, that of Spiteri's, and numerous other signs are present, such as the huge backdrop of a lighted sign with the word Texas and a few shots of the feminine Spiteri interspersed within the stage performance.

This evidence of the group's identity as Texas serves as a reminder that the impersonation is not complete. This is not merely a duplication of Elvis' performance. Spiteri does not completely become Elvis, she merely adopts his persona in order to bring to the fore issues of gender. This is reminiscent of Brechtian concept of alienation. The concept of alienation was conceived by Bertolt Brecht, a politically active playwright who popularized epic theatre in the 1930s. Brecht's Epic theatre is one that aims to increase social awareness, and has Verfremdungseffekt, or alienation effect as its cornerstone.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Inner Smile - Deconstructing the Heterosexual Matrix." 26 Feb 2020

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Reality In The Matrix And The Allegory Of The Cave And The Matrix Essay example

- Does what one sees and hear in life really mean that it is true. Just because one sees a dinosaur in the shadow, does it mean it is real. In the Allegory of the Cave and “The Matrix” one may question what is real and what is fake. The Matrix and “The Allegory of the Cave share a lot of different aspects based on their chracters. First they share the need of knowledge of the truth. In The Matrix, Neo, described by’s “The Matrix Trilogy” as being the protagonist that is there to lead Morpheus and his followers who has to gain his responsibility and abilities while leading his crew....   [tags: The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded]

Research Papers
847 words (2.4 pages)

The Movie ' The Matrix ' Essay

- The Wachowski brothers wrote and directed the movie The Matrix. These brothers write about a very complex world that is unparalleled to anything our minds can grasp through mere thought. That is the purpose of the characters portrayed throughout the movie. Thomas Anderson, Neo, is a very distraught man. He knows there is something more to the world he senses, but he cannot quite get there without the help of others that once struggled this same battle his is internally struggling. That is where two of our other characters come into play, Morpheus and Trinity....   [tags: The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded]

Research Papers
1121 words (3.2 pages)

The Matrix Of The Monomyth Essay

- The Matrix of The Monomyth The amount of hero stories and films created is nearly infinite. A simple meaning of hero provided by Merriam-Webster is “a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities.” Additionally, a hero is thought to be a relatable, influential, and versatile character as they can be presented in a plethora of ways. The physical attributes, motivation, type of situations faced, and number of heroes in a story may change from one book or movie to another. However, the main plot of each hero story almost always includes a variation of the tried-and-true elements of the monomyth created by Joseph Campbell....   [tags: Morpheus, The Matrix, The Matrix Revolutions]

Research Papers
1978 words (5.7 pages)

Matrix : The Matrix And The Allegory Of The Cave Essay

- “There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path,” a quote by Morpheus in The Matrix. Reflecting on both The Matrix and The Allegory of the Cave, the storyline goes deep into the knowledge of enlightenment. Putting what we think of enlightenment into a new perspective. Both of these profound stories go into a topic about what is real life or is all of it just a dream. Starting off in the centuries ago text, Allegory of the Cave, Plato goes in depth about what his thoughts on politics, understanding of human experience, and knowledge....   [tags: The Matrix, Morpheus, Simulated reality]

Research Papers
1568 words (4.5 pages)

Essay on The Movie ' The Matrix '

- Depersonalization, the feeling that you are always trapped in a dream, one may think that they have a full grip on “reality”: but how do you decipher between reality and a forged reality. The matrix is a captivating Sifi that seems to break the boundaries of what we as humans see today. In the movie Thomas Anderson or as he is known in the computer world Neo finds himself to be perplexed unable to depict the difference between his dream world and so called reality. This all changes when he is contacted by an unknown user via his computer....   [tags: Morpheus, The Matrix, Redpill, The Matrix Reloaded]

Research Papers
1247 words (3.6 pages)

The Matrix Of The Cave Essay

- “ They see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave”(Plato 1). This is from the article “ Allegory of the Cave” and there are oppressors in the story who are hiding the truth from the people who know nothing but what they are taught by them. In the film The Matrix, it shows a man named Neo who gets help from a man from the real world to help him escape. Neo finally sees the truth of the world he was living in and realize it was a lie and a illusion to him and the others who still don 't know the real world....   [tags: Morpheus, The Matrix, Redpill, The Matrix Reloaded]

Research Papers
1325 words (3.8 pages)

Allegory Of The Cave And The Matrix Essay

- The quote “The power and capacity of learning exists in the soul already” comes from the Greek philosopher, Plato. He hints at the fact of knowledge residing within a person from birth (Plato 288). However, he also goes on to say a person must achieve enlightenment to reach full potential of learning. The Allegory of the Cave, by Plato, explores the concept of enlightenment through the abstract image of releasing lifelong prisoners from a cave. Once released, the prisoners achieve enlightenment through their experiences in the outside world....   [tags: The Matrix, Morpheus, The Matrix Reloaded]

Research Papers
1321 words (3.8 pages)

The Matrix Directed By Lilly Wachowski Essay

- In The Matrix directed by Lilly Wachowski and Lana Wachowski, existentialism and determinism are explored leading one to question what reality truly is through the use of various thematic techniques. Existentialists is the believe that an individual determines their own development through acts of free will whereas determinists believe that all events are determined by causes external to free will or fate. The main character Neo is presented with these conflicting beliefs when he becomes aware that what he believes is reality is merely an illusion, an alternate reality created by a computer program where laws of nature do not apply....   [tags: Morpheus, The Matrix, The Matrix Revolutions]

Research Papers
1409 words (4 pages)

Essay on Epistemology In The Matrix

- The Matrix, directed by the Wachowski sisters, is a film that discusses free will, artificial intelligence and poses a question: ‘How do we know that our world is real?’ This question is covered in the philosophical branch of epistemology. Epistemology is a component of philosophy that is concerned with the theory of knowledge. The exploration of reality is referenced in the film when Neo discovers he has been living in an artificial world called ‘The Matrix’. He is shocked to learn that the world in which he grew up is a computer program that simulates reality....   [tags: Mind, Artificial intelligence, The Matrix]

Research Papers
764 words (2.2 pages)

The Matrix Essay

- The Matrix The Matrix is a science fiction movie about artificial intelligence computers replacing mankind. I believe that this movie is a common type of display from the media is common paranoia so that they can get a reaction from people and sell their story. In the case of The Matrix, the movie dazzles people with awesome special effects using modern computer technology, which I find ironic. I find it self-conflicting and hypocritical for the media to use modern computer technology for their own good to show people how bad technology is....   [tags: Argumentative Movie Film Matrix Essays]

Research Papers
1061 words (3 pages)

Related Searches

This alienation serves to distance the audience from the character portrayed on the stage. The actor then, does not become the character, and is confined instead to merely quoting the character (Brecht, "On" 18). The alienation felt by distancing the viewers from the persona of Elvis created on the stage informs the audience of the issue of gender roles in society.

Dressing in drag has been around for a long time, but has always been seen as a parody or a theatricalized joke played on the heterosexual conventions of dressing. In this video, it is addressed in an obvious way and yet glorified. Drag, or cross-dressing has since been offered up as an example of deconstructing the socially constructed nature of gender. The idea of gender as socially constructed was proposed by Judith Butler, one of the pioneers of queer theory. Queer theory, or gay and lesbian studies, arose in part from Butler's notion that gender is performative and socially or culturally defined. Gender as performative would refer to the fact that gender is an "utterance that accomplish[es], in their very enunciation, and action that generates effects" (Parker). The effects of calling someone male or female then would create a reaction or a mode of thinking towards such a person. This reaction is socially determined and in traditional society, would be restricted to the binary masculine-feminine classifications. Butler contests that biology and the materiality of sex, i.e. physical characteristics, do not in fact play a part in gender, and that instead, gender is discursively chained to sex. In her book Gender Trouble, Butler seeks to undo the oppressive hold that society has over gender identities. She would instead argue that gender is fluid and should be individually interpreted and explored.

The video Inner Smile, then, might be seen as a vehicle or an expression of such ideas. The traditional social norm of heterosexual dressing is questioned by getting up in drag. Moreover, this video portrays a female in a man's clothes, and takes it even further as Elvis, who holds great significance as a male sexual icon. Spiteri appears as a drag king, a female who dresses in clothes typical of a man. Drag comes under scrutiny by Judith Halberstam, proponent of the idea of female masculinity. Female masculinity may be considered the domain of male-identified women and common examples would be tomboys, butches, nineteenth century tribades and sapphists, drag kings, inverts and many others. Spiteri's sexuality is not in question here, as it is probably well publicized that she is engaged to marry and therefore a heterosexual. This alienates us further from the idea of her dressing in a man's clothes. Apparently the idea was inspired by Spiteri's mother's love for Elvis, and Spiteri herself acknowledges both her gay fans and her mother by saying "my gay fans won't be disappointed by my new look...and neither will my Mum!" ("Elvis"). Her mentioning of her gay fans holds significance on two levels. One would be the fact that gay fans of hers would be able to identify with Spiteri as a gay icon on a theatrical performance level. Another would be that her gay fans are appreciative of her acknowledgment of the gender issues brought up by her portrayal of Elvis.

Analysis of Inner Smile
At the start of the video Inner Smile, we see a figure dressed in black leather walking around the stage. The image is blurred slightly and the first clear frame we see is one where the figure has its back turned to us and with the right arm raised. It is at this point that the familiar persona of Elvis comes to mind. The highly masculine and sexual stance that the figure assumes merely reinforces the idea that this is a portrayal of Elvis. The short hair with the now famous Elvis puff and prominent sideburns also clue us in to the identification of this figure with the legendary Elvis. Throughout the entire video, there are shots of the audience watching the performance interspersed with the Elvis figure performing on a raised stage that is surrounded by the audience on three sides.

The shots of the audience, although numerous, show no sign of men. All members of the audience are female and in their twenties. Their dress and behaviour are typical of young women who lived in the sixties. There are shots of females wearing classic sixties clothes, with big eyeglasses and funky flowery prints associated with the sixties. Hairstyles too are typical of females living in the sixties, the backcombed hair, the sixties bob and the flip are all represented by different members of the audience. Noticeable too, is the fact that all of the close up shots of the audience show that these members are typical of the conventional notion of femininity, with actions and facial expressions that one would normally associate with the female sex.

The female concert go-ers fawn and scream and touch their palms to their cheek, signs of adoration and adulation. They cheer loudly and raise their hands in an attempt to touch the figure on stage. They willingly submit to the powerful masculine sexual power that is typical of the Elvis persona. This video plays along with the general notion of heterosexual spectatorship, with female audiences subjugating themselves to the male masculine power represented by the Elvis persona. This situation is typical of traditional rock and roll concerts, where silly screaming girls swoon at the feet of the powerfully masculine performer. By emphasizing the masculinity of the Elvis persona and even by using the Elvis persona itself is a sign that masculinity is an important issue in this video. The dichotomy between feminine and masculine is very apparent in this video. The feminine is portrayed as weak while the masculine is portrayed as strong. This is typical of traditional heterosexual conventions and is only beginning to be studied and critically questioned.

There are also a few shots of various audience members looking up at the figure on the stage. Although there are several seating levels in the audience arrangement, the camera does not focus upon those members of the audience who would be looking at the figure on stage at eye level. Instead the only close up shots of the audience are those that show members looking up to the figure on stage. According to Turner, "if a camera is, as it were, looking down on its subject, its position is one of power" (60). Although the camera angle of the audience shots show that the camera is on the same level as its subject, the fact that the camera shows the act of looking up at someone else represents the lack of power and submission in its subject. The audience here are not diminished or oppressed by the figure on stage, but willingly allow themselves to look up and acknowledge the power that the figure on stage holds. This serves to further accentuate the subjugation of femininity to the masculine power embodied by the Elvis persona in the video. So not only do we have the glorification of masculine power, but also the subjugation and relinquishment of feminine power to the masculine individual. This is also typical of the conventional heterosexual idea that the weak female always needs a strong male to protect her.

There are numerous black and white still shots of the Elvis figure in various poses and positions on and off the stage. These black and white stills are shots of the figure in positions that the real King might have been in. These shots remind us of the legendary King himself. Turner mentions in Film Languages, that "often black and white film stock is used to signify the past; […] and to offer a nostalgic tribute to the past" (59). This is a reminder that the historical Elvis persona is of importance and is regarded highly in this video. This reminder holds historical significance when we remember the life that the real Elvis had led. He was a major sexual icon of the sixties, and earned world-wide notoriety for his hip thrusting and gyrations on stage. The masculinity embodied by his persona is undeniably one of the greatest in all of American rock and roll history. His sexually charged performances are unrivalled even to this day. Elvis was also one of the first performers to use sex as a tool to sell himself and his image. This was uncommon in the fifties and sixties and his performances were the cause of a nation wide controversy over the excessive use of sexual connotations in stage performance.

The combination of these various shots serve to illustrate the overwhelming masculinity of the Elvis persona. This video blatantly glorifies the male form and its inherent masculinity. There are, however, contradictions within the video itself that sets out to instead question this masculine power. Most noticeable of course would be the singing itself. Spiteri's voice is distinctly feminine and cannot be mistaken for a man's. Thus the figure on stage might seem strange when it first sings to us in a feminine voice. The feminine voice combined with the masculine figure, whom we identify with as Elvis will come across as confusing at first instance. Most shots show the Elvis figure actually singing the lyrics that we hear and this might at first seem strange and unbelievable. The masculinity combined with the feminine voice goes against the convention notion of deep male voices and this is emphasized when the audience doesn't seem to mind and instead is enjoying the performance.

Secondly, the huge backdrop with the word Texas made up of little red lights gives us another clue to unraveling the mystery of the Elvis figure. This backdrop features prominently behind the Elvis figure. The viewers of the video are likely to be aware that they are watching a video performed by the group Texas, but this backdrop serves as a reminder of this fact. For those unfamiliar with Elvis' actual Comeback Special, there is also a similar backdrop of red lights that spell out Elvis in the original 1968 performance. The backdrop in the Texas video reminds us of the original performance whilst making us aware that this is in fact a recreation of the original performance. The word Texas however, when combined with the Elvis figure on stage, poses a problem when we remember that the lead singer of the pop group Texas, Sharleen Spiteri, is in fact a woman, and not the highly masculine figure on stage. The masculine figure is somehow placed in question once we rethink this fact.

Certain shots within the video also lead us to further question the identity of the figure on stage. Fleeting shots of the actual feminine Spiteri are artfully interspersed with regular shots of the performance on stage. In all of these feminine Spiteri shots, she is shown with long hair flying but still wearing the same leather clothes as the Elvis figure. There are a total of four shots within the video that the feminine Spiteri makes an appearance. The flying hair is a typical sign of femininity and comes across in direct contrast to the short hair of the Elvis figure. Towards the middle of the video, there is a black and white still shot of the Elvis figure in the blurred background holding a belt with the letters 'S', 'H', 'A', 'R', which we recognize as the first four letters of 'Sharleen', Spiteri's first name. It is through these few shots that the viewer might begin to realize that the Elvis figure might actually be Spiteri herself.

Later on towards the end of the video, there is a shot of the feminine Spiteri and the Elvis figure coming together as though to kiss. This shot is superimposed over a shot of the Elvis figure on stage and as such, has a softer focus than the background shot of the figure on the stage. Turner notes that "soft focus on a character or background may pursue a romantic or lyrical effect" (62). In this video, the effect is not focussed primarily on romance, but the way in which this shot leads us into thinking about the identities of the figures on screen is almost poetic. The slow creeping realization when we put the pieces of the puzzle together is fully complete as it is at this point that we fully identify the Elvis figure as Spiteri. The coming together of the two is symbolic of their mutual identity.

The absence of total clarity in this parting shot might show that the audience is not supposed to fully identify the Elvis figure with Spiteri on a conscious level but rather on a subconscious level. The video does not explicitly state that Spiteri is Elvis, but instead leaves clues for the viewers to question the true identity of the Elvis figure. The viewers know that they are watching a recreation of a performance that was originally held in 1968, and they also know through various signs that Texas are the ones performing in this video. This brings to mind the alienation effect and Brecht, who in his essay "On Chinese Acting," remarked how the Chinese actor is able to "make it clear that he knows he is being looked at" (16). This is pertinent because Arnell makes it clear as well that the Elvis figure is also Spiteri in drag by leaving us subtle clues as to the figure's real identity. Thus, Arnell, through cinematography, makes it clear that the Elvis figure is actually Spiteri in drag, not dissimilar to the performance of a Chinese opera actor. The Brechtian concept of alienation has certain influence on this video when the audiences are 'alienated' into questioning the role that Spiteri plays as Elvis.

The alienation effect within Inner Smile
The initial instinct of Brecht, as reported by John Willett in the book Brecht in Context, was to "shatter illusion and stop the reader or spectator from getting swept away by the story, the characters, the actors who represented them on stage, and/or the naturalistic devices with which that stage set out to make their representation truly life-like" (235). Brecht developed epic theatre as a response to this impulse. He was always aware that the stage was a vehicle through which social issues and pressing concerns could be given voice to the public. He was concerned that German theatre in the early part of the twentieth century was bourgeois and obsolete, and considered them incapable of "treating the complexities of modern, tumultuous Germany" (Martin 1). Brecht had wanted theatre to be "politically engaged, economically viable, and aesthetically 'entertaining' " (Martin 2). Epic theatre was to Brecht a way for theatre to "disclose its sociopolitical circumstances" (Martin 2). His theatre was a combination of playwriting, dramaturgy, acting and singing. All these elements of theatre were necessary in Brecht's eyes to be able to produce in the audience the effect he wanted. Brecht thus was the first 'total theatre man', able to combine all elements of the theatre in a seamless way to convey a politically and socially important message.

Mei Lanfang's performance in Moscow embodied what in Brecht's mind was his theory of acting (Martin 3). This confirmed his idea that "disturbing the distance between actor and character was an effective technique for resituating spectators' sympathies" (Martin 5). Brecht rejected the notion that theatre was an occasion for emotional catharsis (Martin 2), and thought that theatre should "try to contribute to the great social task of mastering life" (Brecht, "On" 20). He considers the 'alienation effect' necessary to "underline the historical nature of a given social condition" (Brecht, "On" 22). The alienation effect was thus the core concept behind Brecht's epic theatre ideology, a necessary element in creating a critical awareness in the audience of the social issues discussed by the play. Against the notion that the audience should always empathize with the characters on stage, the alienation effect was the solution to make the audience instead question the actions and motives of the characters and to realize that there were other possibilities open to the characters.

The historification of the events portrayed on stage are necessary for the audience to critically question the motives behind such an event occurring. Historification nullifies the idea that Man is eternal and unchanging and instead a variable quantity and master of his surroundings. The context and background of the events on stage must be presented for the audience to be able to question the validity of the motives for an action taken by the characters. It was thus necessary to "play up the 'bearing' of the environment upon the people living in it" (Brecht, "Theatre" 24). Brecht's idea was to make a common everyday event special and thus open to questioning and criticism such that it "provides a key to the whole social structure of a particular transitory period" (Brecht, "On" 21). By judicious use of props and background imagery, Brecht was able to simultaneously show the audience the various social conditions or various contradictory evidence that might support or vilify a character's actions. He was thus able to highlight the environment and conditions within which a certain character had taken a course of action and thus provide the historical context within which such actions were taken. The audience is then left to decide for themselves the validity and justifications for such events. It is this critical questioning of issues that was most important to Brecht.

What has today become known as Brechtian epic theatre is a combination of dramaturgical, staging and acting methods that have as its aim, the critical questioning of a social or political condition. In Brecht's own words, he describes the epic theatre.

"The stage began to narrate. The narrator no longer vanished with the fourth wall. Not only did the background make its own comment on stage happenings through large screens which evoked other events occurring at the same time in other places, documenting and contradicting statements made by characters through quotations projected onto a screen, lending tangible, concrete statistics to abstract discussions, providing facts and figures for happenings which were plastic but unclear in their meaning; the actors no longer threw themselves completely into their roles but maintained a certain distance from the character performed by them, even distinctly inviting criticism" (Brecht, "Theatre" 24).

These methods and techniques are all vital to the creation of a work of art that would simultaneously provide the alienation effect and the historification of the events presented on stage. This is necessary for epic theatre to become a truly didactic theatre. These Brechtian techniques have been used by modern day playwrights and directors to discuss social issues. Brecht is a major influence in theatre and his influence can be felt in many productions that are not only limited to theatre. His techniques of producing a critical awareness in the audience have been adopted by most socially aware directors and producers in some form or another. To this date, his influence can still be felt in television, film, theatre, and most other genres of public performance.

These notions of alienation and epic theatre have particular significance in the video Inner Smile. The alienation felt through the portrayal of the Elvis figure by Spiteri combined with the directorial work of Arnell, offers the notion of gendered roles in society up for criticism. The numerous shots of the audience and the way in which those shots were filmed construct the context within which the events in the video are shot. The dichotomy between feminine and masculine is offered up to the viewers for questioning. The event of a seemingly masculine performer on stage being idolized by a feminine audience and who eventually turns out to be a female herself, questions the roles of masculinity and femininity within societal structures. The conventional heterosexual idea of female pandering to male is overturned when through impersonation, a female subverts the status quo and is idolized by other females. The commonly held belief of the normalcy of heterosexual relationships is questioned when here we have an example of the direct opposite.

Inner Smile is epic in the sense that it is also a vehicle through which a social message is being conveyed. The medium through which epic theatre and Inner Smile are conveyed are different and as such, their production may differ. For example, the particular dramaturgical, staging and acting techniques of traditional Brechtian epic theatre are not seen or even possible in Inner Smile. The philosophical motive behind both are however, still similar. The imperative to offer up a social condition for critical understanding holds within Inner Smile. The didactic nature of epic theatre is however, not seen in Inner Smile. The video does not seek to instruct. It does not enter as didactic theatre does "the province of philosophers […] the sort of philosophers who wanted not only to explain the world but also to change it" (Brecht, "Theatre" 26). Inner Smile offers the situation up for questioning, but it does not give any steps in which the social condition may be changed. Due to the length and nature of the video, instruction would be unnecessary or even impossible to achieve. Music videos as a genre have to uphold certain levels of entertainment value, and are delimited by marketing and image construction strategies.

Gender and Sexuality in Inner Smile
By displaying the subjugation of feminine power to the masculine performer, Inner Smile seeks to put the idea of gender on trial. Gender is conventionally seen as inexplicably linked to anatomical sex. If you were born a male, you would then necessarily be seen as having to be masculine, and similarly vice versa. This seemingly innocuous deduction breaks down however, when we talk of homosexuality. How are we then to consider a female who dresses and acts like a man within this system? Are we to classify her as feminine or masculine? This is where conventional roles break down. Gender is commonly defined as the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits normally associated with a particular sex. But what if these traits were to be adopted by one of another sex? Or as is more common, a blend of these traits that cannot be classified entirely under either heading? There exist a myriad of possibilities between the two binary opposites of masculine and feminine, and the commonly held conception of male and female do not do these other possibilities justice.

Judith Butler, an academic at the Rhetoric Department at the University of California, Berkeley, is a notable feminist theorist who in her book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, first proposed the idea of gender and sexuality as a form of "enforced cultural performance" (Butler, "Gender" 109). Butler argues that gender and sexuality only gain what stability they have within the normalcy of the "heterosexual matrix" (Butler, "Gender" 109). She writes that "compulsory heterosexuality sets itself up as the original, the true, [and] the authentic" (Butler, "Imitation" 20) and that it is through this compulsory heterosexuality that determines gender as a "repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance, or a natural sort of being" (Butler, "From" 87). She argues that "gender is neither the causal result of [anatomical] sex nor as seemingly fixed as sex", rather gender is "a multiple interpretation of sex" (Butler, "From" 80). Her idea is one where gender is "a kind of improvisational theatre, a space where different identities can be more or less freely adopted and explored at will" (Butler, "Gender" 111).

Gender then should not be considered an inherent result of a person's sex but instead as determined by society and culture. It is only because of society that heterosexuality is seen as the norm and anything else is seen as a deviation from the norm. The oppressive nature of this heterosexual matrix produces the notions of masculine as only attributed to male and feminine as attributed to female. Through repeated acts within this structure of thinking, one assumes a gender that is unquestionably one of the binary pair of male-female. This refuses acknowledgment of other possible genders and predisposes that gender is linked to anatomical sex and not to personal identity. Gender is a construct of personal identity and through identification with a sex other than his/her own, a person may have a different internal identity from that which his/her anatomical sex may allow. This poses an insurmountable problem within the heterosexual matrix that can only be solved through a rethinking of what gender really means. Butler would rather gender be individually determined and a fluid and undefined characteristic that may be adopted or 'performed' according to an individual's wishes. This allows for multiple interpretations of gender and sex, and is an advance over the rigid structure of the heterosexual matrix.

Butler contends that the "structure of impersonation reveals one of the key fabricating mechanisms through which the social construction of gender takes place" (Butler, "Excerpt" 119) and offers up drag as an example of the performative nature of gender. Drag "fully subverts the distinction between inner and outer physic space and effectively mocks both the expressive model of gender and the notion of a true gender identity" (Butler, "Excerpt" 119). By getting up in drag, one parodies the common construction of gender as linked to anatomical sex and assumed to be natural and necessary. Drag "plays upon the distinction between the anatomy of the performer and the gender that is being performed" (Butler, "Excerpt" 120). Drag is seen by Butler to be an example that exposes the socially constructed nature of gender. Those who subscribe to the ideology of the heterosexual matrix will find drag uncomfortable because it does not conform to the conventional notions of heterosexuality. It plays upon our preconceived notions that male should be dressed a certain way and females another. It shows us through the possibilities of cross-dressing the higher nature of cross-gendering as a norm rather than as a deviation.

As in the case of the video Inner Smile, Spiteri is clearly shown to be in drag, and does not hide the fact of her anatomical sex. By assuming the Elvis persona she subverts the inherent masculinity associated with the persona. It plays upon the distinction between her sex and her assumed gender. Spiteri assumes the male gender, but it is not an "appropriation that assumes that gender is the rightful property of sex, that "masculine" belongs to "male" and "feminine" belongs to "female"" (Butler, "Imitation" 21). Rather, Butler holds the idea that "all gendering is a kind of impersonation and approximation" and that there is no ""proper" gender, a gender proper to one sex rather than another" (Butler, "Imitation" 21). When the notion of "proper" is used, it is always and "only improperly installed as the effect of a compulsory system" (Butler, "Imitation" 21). It is because of the alienation effect used in the video that this idea comes across more effectively. There is no complete impersonation presented as certain other drag kings do when they get up in drag. These drag kings fully adopt the male form and easily pass off as male to unsuspecting eyes. The clues left in Inner Smile allow the viewers to see through the impersonation and reveals the illusory nature of gender.

Another feminist view that operates in the video Inner Smile, is the notion of female masculinity. The phrase was coined by Judith Halberstam in her book of the same name. Her notion of female masculinity "disrupts the contemporary cultural studies accounts of masculinity within which masculinity always boils down to something like "the social, cultural and political effects of male embodiment and male privilege" " (Halberstam par. 4). Her book examines the history of cross-identifications, from nineteenth century male-identified women to the 1950's stone butches and the 1990's drag kings. In it she seeks to group together a "number of different gender affiliations and expressions transhistorically" (Halberstam par.18). She argues that what it means to be a masculine woman is partly a result of "being recognized as non-feminine or unwomanly" and repeated gender misrecognition (Halberstam par. 21).

Halberstam also feels that drag king culture enables a rethinking of masculinity. When talking about an interview with the Dodge Bros, a drag king band from San Francisco, Halberstam mentions that the Dodge Bros see "drag kingdom as a place to celebrate the success of their particular presentations of masculinity" (Halberstam par. 39). She also says that "while this plays into the most stereotypical forms of masculine competition over women, it also does rewrite "butch" as powerful and attractive" (Halberstam par. 39). It is this rewriting of masculinity that is shown in the video Inner Smile through the adoption of a persona that is obviously masculine and furthermore plays into the normal heterosexual roles of feminine subjugating to the masculine power. However, it later turns this on its head and shows that this is in fact a parody of gender roles by revealing that the masculine performer is actually female.

This subversion of the conventions of masculine sexual power is played out by the fact that a drag king may effectively adopt the Elvis persona and yet the audience with full knowledge of this impersonation, still idolizes the performer. It effectively parodies the subjugation of feminine power to the masculine that is so typical of the rock-and-roll era. It questions the necessity of femininity always giving in to or idolizing the male form. Here we have an example of a female masculine figure who is able to garner applause and appreciation from a feminine audience. It nullifies the conventional heterosexual idea that only male masculinity is to be desired by females. This video shows the viewers that female masculinity is not one that is ugly or a pathetic imitation of the original masculinity of males. It also denounces the idea of heterosexuality when it opens us to the idea that there are other possibilities outside of the heterosexual matrix that are worthy of appreciation and adulation. Inner Smile also provides a sterling example where heterosexuality is not the norm and the possibility of homosexuality is acknowledged and even glorified to a certain extent. It glorifies the drag king aesthetic and proves that the male masculine form is not the only sexually desirable possibility.

The influence of Inner Smile
Through the medium of film, Arnell has appropriated Brechtian techniques of alienation to produce a socially aware expression of gender roles in society that is entertaining as well as critical. Film as a genre differs in production and technique from the theatre, but Arnell, with excellent use of editing and cinematography, is able to produce an alienation effect in viewers, much the same vein as Brecht himself might have. He is able to appropriate Brechtian techniques for film in a way that brings across the message and yet is still entertaining and fully within the boundaries of music videos as a genre. It is commendable that within the short space of four minutes, Arnell has brought up the issue of gender subtly but yet, forcefully enough to leave an impression on the casual viewer. Arnell's addressing of gender and sexuality in Inner Smile is on one hand entertaining and on the other is able to portray situations that may lead the viewer into thinking more about gender in society.

The issue of gender is one that is fiercely contested by queer theorists, and is one that is so deeply ingrained into society that only a radical rethinking of gender can break the oppressive hold that the heterosexual matrix has over gender. Gender is a symbolic interaction between two people and responses are socially determined according to the various emblems of male or female. However, only these two forms of gender are legitimate, and all others are sidelined as deviations. These deviant individuals are ostracized and results in a futile fight for recognition of their personal sexual identity. It is only through theorists such as Butler and Halberstam that such alternative sexual positions are actively taken into consideration and recognized. The heterosexual matrix itself must be deconstructed and rebuilt to allow other gender associations to be freely accepted. However, the views of Butler and Halberstam do not readily propagate to the minds of the general public due to their academic nature. Only through the mass media and videos like Inner Smile are these views able to be disseminated to a larger audience.

The question now is the efficacy of these forms of subtle questioning of societal norms. The conservative anti-homosexual factions are still very much active today, and any overt show of pro-homosexuality would be denounced as radical and damaging to the social fabric. The effect on those casual viewers who might be unaware of such issues would be greatly reduced by this subtlety. Moreover, very many still subscribe to the ideology of the heterosexual matrix, and would not assimilate such a radical point of view immediately. Granted that Inner Smile does play a part in the deconstructing of the heterosexual matrix, but to entirely reconstruct this vital part of society is a daunting task indeed, and is a slow painful process which will take many years before it reaches fruition.

Works Cited

Brecht, Bertolt. "On Chinese Acting." Martin 15-22.

---. "Theatre for Learning." Martin 23-30.

Butler, Judith. "Excerpt from Gender Trouble." Feminist Social Thought. Ed. Diana Tiejens Meyers. New York: Routledge, 1997. 112-129.

---. "From Gender Trouble." Gender. Ed. Carol C. Gould. Atlantic Highlands, N. J.: Humanities Press International, 1997. 80-88.

---. "Gender as Performance." A Critical Sense. Ed. Peter Osborne. London: Routledge, 1996. 109-125.

---. "Imitation and Gender Insubordination." Inside/Out. Ed. Diana Fuss. New York: Routledge 1991. 13-31.

"Elvis Lives!" Rev. of Inner Smile, by Vaughan Arnell. 5th Jan 2001. <>

Halberstam, Judith. "Masculinity Without Men." Genders OnLine Journal, 1999. 20th March 2001. <>

Inner Smile. Dir. Vaughan Arnell. Perf. Texas. 2000.

Martin, Carol, and Henry Bial. Brecht Sourcebook. London: Routledge, 2000.

Martin, Carol, and Henry Bial. Introduction. Martin 1-11.

Parker, Andrew, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. "Performativity and Performance." 18th March 2001. <>

Turner, Graeme. "Film Languages." Film as Social Practice. New York: Routledge, 1999. 51-75.

Willett, John. Brecht in Context. London: Methuen, 1998.
Return to