Todd Haynes: The public, the private, and the performative
Felschow, Laura E.
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In this paper I will analyze Todd Haynes' body of work through the application of Arendt's model of public and private spheres in conjunction with Judith Butler's theories of gender performativity as outlined in Gender Trouble and Bodies That Matter. With Todd Haynes' position at the forefront of queer cinema, his background in feminist theory and the political nature of his films, it is critical to understand what messages he is attempting to convey with his work and how that content fits within or disrupts the overall structures of Arendt's political construction of the public and private. I will investigate how his performative views on sexuality and gender and his seemingly contrary encouragement of strategic essentialism both undermine and support his liberationist aims. Utilizing Arendt's public and private distinctions, as well as performative theory in regards to both speech act and gender, I will be able to delineate how Haynes promotes the move of the private into the public sphere as action necessary for the queer individual to gain authority of their own identities and for the queer community to alter the existing domination of patriarchal heterosexuality in Western society. To do this I will outline the theoretical framework I will be working within and then employ those concepts to complete a close reading of two of Haynes' films, Safe (1995) and Velvet Goldmine (1999).