CFP: [Gender Studies] Sex with James Spader: Impotence, Deviance, and Images of Male Sexuality in American Film

full name / name of organization: 
Sharon Becker
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Sex with James Spader: Impotence, Deviance, and Images of Male Sexuality
in American Film

Papers sought for a proposed special session for MLA Annual Meeting, 2008.

In the 1986 teen movie Pretty in Pink, Molly Ringwald’s Andie Walsh is
pursued by three high school boys: Duckie, Blane, and Steff. It is Steff
who is simultaneously the most threatening and the most thrilling of her
suitors. Played by James Spader in all of his blonde glory, Steff stalks
the high school like a sexy, grown up beast. Resplendent in t-shirts and
suit jackets, Spader’s Steff looks more like a brooding adult male than
the smooth-faced teen he is supposed to be. In comparison to Andrew
McCarthy’s bland Blane and Jon Cryer’s spunky Duckie, Steff is clearly a
threatening presence: angry, smoking, and very ready for sex. The
character of Steff was clearly written to be the boy teen girls would
love to hate, but the role is given more edge by Spader’s all-American
beauty and the undercurrent of perversion that beauty ultimately brings.
His good looks are unsettling and his palpable horniness, read as
disturbing by Ringwald’s Andie, is for adult viewers watching the film
now, exhilarating. His performance is a tiny patch of sexual brightness
in an otherwise sexually safe film.

In understanding attitudes toward filmed representations of male
sexuality, Spader’s career proves to be instructive. Whether he is the
cruel drug dealer suggesting Robert Downey, Jr. pay off his debts in a
certain bodily manner in Less Than Zero (1987); the impotent filmmaker in
Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989); a man sexually aroused by car crashes
and their victims in Crash (1996); or an S&M inspired boss in Secretary
(2002), Spader plays the American male as a gorgeous, sexually obsessed,
complicated animal. What can Spader’s roles teach us about approaches to
male sexuality in American film? Why is Spader often cast as a
disruptive counterpoint to more tame examples of male sexual expression?
What about him is so challenging or unsettling? And how can we use
Spader’s work as a way to understand contemporary formulations of
American masculinity in general?

For this proposed special session, papers can include but are not limited
to the above-mentioned films. Investigations of Spader’s roles on The
Practice or Boston Legal will also be considered. Interested panelists
should submit 250 word abstracts via E-mail by March 10, 2008 to Sharon
Becker at Claremont Graduate University ( Queries
welcome. All panelists chosen for participation must be members of the
Modern Language Association by April 7, 2008.

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Received on Mon Jan 07 2008 - 11:14:51 EST