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01 September 2006 @ 04:51 pm
SV meta: Queer secrecy in Smallville  
hazywizard linked to this article on Queer secrecy in Smallville. It’s a good read if you haven’t seen it before (I think it’s been out a while?), though a little clumsy in places. I was particularly amused by the captioning (and miscaptioning) of the stills. (Um, should someone tell the writer that that bathtub scene is not from Smallville?) The article’s written for an audience not necessarily familiar with Smallville, so it covers some familiar territory for many of us (the Pilot’s echoes of the Matthew Shepherd case; Lex as patron buying the football team to win back Clark’s friendship). However, the writer, Jes Battis, offers several interesting statements and/or explorations that I think would be interesting to discuss further.

I particularly appreciated her argument that: ‘In fact, it is Smallville’s very innocuous nature as a family-oriented, Dawson’s Creek-like program that gives it an unexpected potential for reversing stereotypes and destabilizing some familiar oppressions on television.’ This neatly sums up one of the things I love about Smallville—-it’s unexpectedness. It appears so wholesome on the surface, but it also masks so much!

Note: Spoilers for Seasons 1-5 in the following discussion.

Pastoral paranoia
Battis looks at ‘Clark’s eroticism rooted in pastoral traditions, and Lex’s eroticism emerging from urbanity.’ So her essay begins with some reflections on the pastoral ‘site’ of Smallville. Again contrasting it with other shows which portray smalltown life as ‘dens of entertaining emotional dysfunction', she argues that 'In contrast, Smallville actually celebrates the physical site of the town as an alternative to the morally suspect realm of Metropolis, which looms less than three hours away.’ She takes this further by arguing that fans themselves ‘see the characters’ sexuality as being peculiarly embedded within their own public spaces and economic backgrounds’, with Lex as civic/urban Renaissance man and Clark as rural/pastoral/naïve. I’d agree that the show does give us this dichotomy, but I was also interested to see that Battis argues that Smallville the town is a site where the urban and the pastoral converge:
The paranoiac bonds within Smallville (and particularly those between Clark and Lex) emerge from the closed-in conditions of the town itself … the town of Smallville is an anxious fusion of pastoral and urban that produces both nostalgic and dystopic reactions from its citizens. They are in love with the close-knit atmosphere of Smallville, yet constantly straining against its boundaries and trying to penetrate into the wilderness beyond.
That’s a reading I hadn’t articulated myself, but which I’m drawn to agree with. I also think Lana’s one of the most interesting characters to explore in terms of her relationship to the pastoral and the urban. Her deepest longing is to see beyond Smallville (windmill!) but she can’t ‘escape’ her ties there. At the start of Season 4 we saw her pursue a more urban life in Paris, but she was drawn back almost against her will. Is it any wonder then that she is torn between the two men that represent the urban and the pastoral respectively—-Lex and Clark? This is one reason why I now find Lana interesting as a character—because like Smallville itself, she represents a ‘site’ where the pastoral and urban converge and engage in a continual tug-of-war with one another.

Lex as language
Battis explores the meaning of Lex’s name, outlining the obvious classical references but also the following:
If we want to stay within the classical tradition, then his shortened name, Lex, is also a version of the Latinate word for “language.” Lex himself is a word, and a word that is constantly being renovated and redacted, always changing, submitting to the ethical/editorial attempts of Clark and his friends.
Now, that’s an interesting reading! I haven’t seen very much written about this connotation before. (Anyone?) I certainly agree that Lex is in a constant state of flux, and more than any other character has shown a willingness to submit to the needs or desires of others—however, in the later seasons (particularly Season 5, but beginning in Season 4), Lex has seemed to ‘harden’ himself against this. He’s become more rigid and inflexible, less willing to concede—most notably with Clark, but also with others. In his lingual status, he is moving towards prescriptive rather than evolving.

Battis has this to say about Lex as language:
Lex, through a relationship of patronage that constantly wanders into the territory of erotic friendship, is in effect trying to teach Clark a new lexia, a new language, which will modify his wide-eyed and unfailingly optimistic view of the world outside of Smallville. Or, he is trying to replace Clark’s language with his own, to mold Clark into an utilizable tool. Either way, it is more a question of translation, and less a question of conquering.
She seems unwilling to call Lex’s attempts to influence Clark either well-meaning or malevolent. I’d be more confident and say that Lex began by thinking he could genuinely offer Clark something of value by sharing some of his more worldly knowledge/language. The relationship was made more equal by the fact that Lex appreciated and idolised Clark’s simplicity and ‘goodness’. However, as their relationship came under strain, Lex shifted into using language as a tool to persuade Clark, to manipulate Clark, and to ‘conquer’ Clark whether Clark wills it or not.

Silences
Battis also explores the importance of silences—-and it’s here that she, understandably, draws a parallel with ‘closeting’: Smallville thrives on what isn’t said, what gets left out, the blanks and dark spaces that its characters carefully step around. Yes! Where does that place Lex, as language, then? Lex’s use of language has often been more deliberate and overt than other characters, and it’s also made others uncomfortable from time to time. And he always wants the truth stated not just implied. In Season 5, I read Lex very much as knowing the gist of Clark’s ‘secret’ but being embittered that this has never been stated overtly. He wants to fill the silence, he wants control over it—-just as language strives to define, and thereby confine and control the universe.

On the matter of Smallville as concerned with silences, Battis concludes: ‘As such, it can never really be as "hip" as other shows because it isn’t actually trying to be hip — it’s trying to be allegorical.’ Well, anyone that’s read my SV meta would know that I agree on this point—-it’s in allegory that SV excels. However, as Battis points out, ’Smallville does its best to complicate that iconicity by insisting simultaneously that Clark and Lex can never be wholly "normal," yet they can never be completely allegorical, either.’ This reminded me of a discussion I’ve been having with frelling_tralk about her frustration with some of the literalism in SV. There are several tensions within Smallville that are never fully resolved and which periodically arise to frustrate viewers because it prevents one reading from predominating over another. Clark and Lex as allegorical figures versus Clark and Lex as ‘normal’ people is one of these. And at a broader level so is the allegorical/symbolic reading versus the literal—-although at times these intersect. Clark and Lex have unshakeable destinies and are responsible for those destinies-—sometimes it can be hard for us as fans to live with paradoxes such as this.

Where to from here
Battis’s article is most shaky when she looks to the future. The article was written after Season 4, but before Season 5, so she was naturally unsure of how far the show would go in the future in showing the gradual estrangement between Clark and Lex. Rather she argues, ‘Smallville may never tell us who the "real" hero and villain of this legendary friendship is, but the more we watch that friendship develop, and fracture, and mend, and fracture again, the less able we are to empirically separate hero from villain.’. That may be true for a long-term observant viewer of the show, but it’s not as true of the show written in Season 5 (and into Season 6)—-which is increasingly more confident in showing Lex as villain, even if it still casts doubt on that as his only possible destiny (Lexmas).

To end on a more positive note, Battis notes:
‘What is important is Smallville’s willingness to render these two male characters as vulnerable, as well as its willingness to celebrate their close friendship without shutting down its erotic potential through masculine stereotyping.’
I agree with that statement, and I think it holds true in Season 5, albeit in an evolved form. In Season 5, Smallville has still been willing to celebrate the importance and significance of Clark and Lex’s past friendship, and consequently its continued impact on them both. Smallville has always avoided typical male stereotyping and it continues to do so-—Clark is deeply anxious about heterosexual sex (Exposed, the entire Clana arc). Clark leans on girl-friend Chloe as his confidant, adviser, sidekick and emotional support. He has no close male friends any more, and his emotional landscape is dominated by the shadow cast by Lex. Lex is busy pursuing the other person with whom Clark has been intimate—Lana—-in ways which obviously parallel his earlier ‘courtship’ of Clark, and with a deliberation and manipulation that belie his confessions of genuine affection for and attraction to her. There’s a lot of displacement going on in this post-rift world! And the boys are still behaving outside of conventional male stereotypes. In part (part only, shippers, so please don't flame me!!) Chloe/Clark read as girl!pals and Lex/Lana read as catty-revenge.

Anyone else got thoughts?! *waits expectantly*
 
 
Current Location: work desk of doom
Current Mood: geekygeeky
 
 
 
chimosa: waitingchimosa on September 1st, 2006 07:15 am (UTC)
The relationship was made more equal by the fact that Lex appreciated and idolised Clark’s simplicity and ‘goodness’. However, as their relationship came under strain, Lex shifted into using language as a tool to persuade Clark, to manipulate Clark, and to ‘conquer’ Clark whether Clark wills it or not.

That really caught my attention. Very thought-provokingm thanks for sharing!
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex purple evilbop_radar on September 1st, 2006 07:51 am (UTC)
Oh, you're welcome! Thoughts are good! Perhaps these thoughts could even lead to fics...?! *winks*
Talitha: __paperdreams superman skytalitha78 on September 1st, 2006 12:01 pm (UTC)
I just had time to read through a couple of paragraphs, but this is interesting stuff. I especially love the "Lex" as "lex" correlation. How clever!
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex mysterybop_radar on September 2nd, 2006 03:49 am (UTC)
I know, right?! I really liked that too. I'd never thought of that angle before but it's given me lots to muse over.
Vicki: CK prettymyownghost on September 1st, 2006 12:14 pm (UTC)
how interesting. i don't know if i'll have the attention span to read the original article, but i'm glad to have read your synopsis and discussion thereof. it seems to me that she, and you, are right all down the line. the reason i'm interested in SV at all, aside from the luminous beauty of welling and the fascination of rosenbaum as lex, is the depth of allegory and the ambiguity that battis hints at -- yes, lex will become the villain, but he's not in the beginning, and it's the development of his villainy (and the hope of redemption from it) that drew me in. but SV's clark is not the unalloyed hero that i remember from comics and tv when i was a kid, either -- he can be petty and judgmental and just wrong.

the idea of Lex as language is intriguing. i'll mull that over a bit for the pleasure of it.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Bop_radar TWbop_radar on September 2nd, 2006 03:53 am (UTC)
the reason i'm interested in SV at all, aside from the luminous beauty of welling and the fascination of rosenbaum as lex, is the depth of allegory and the ambiguity that battis hints at
I totally agree. At first I was just 'oh shiny! pretty! yay!' but the real hook, the aspect that keeps me coming back for more and which means I'll watch to the end of the journey, is the allegory and the subtlety--most of which is brought out in visual metaphor or the actors' performances rather than in the script.

Like you, I love that neither Lex nor Clark is a stereotype of their future selves--but I also love those moments when we get glimmers (chilling or exciting) of how they will grow into those selves.

the idea of Lex as language is intriguing. i'll mull that over a bit for the pleasure of it.
hee! That is just how I felt. It was such a nice conecept to play around with.
(no subject) - myownghost on September 2nd, 2006 10:11 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bop_radar on September 2nd, 2006 10:29 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - myownghost on September 2nd, 2006 12:18 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - myownghost on September 2nd, 2006 12:22 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bop_radar on September 2nd, 2006 12:51 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bop_radar on September 2nd, 2006 12:50 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - myownghost on September 2nd, 2006 01:03 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bop_radar on September 2nd, 2006 01:54 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - myownghost on September 2nd, 2006 02:13 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - myownghost on September 2nd, 2006 02:14 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bop_radar on September 3rd, 2006 10:11 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bop_radar on September 3rd, 2006 10:11 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - norwich36 on September 2nd, 2006 07:30 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bop_radar on September 3rd, 2006 10:08 am (UTC) (Expand)
mystical van of doom: clex confrontationvoldything on September 1st, 2006 01:05 pm (UTC)
I don't think I have anything to add, but I'll be thinking about this and if I do I'll come back :D
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex mysterybop_radar on September 2nd, 2006 03:54 am (UTC)
*g* Yay! I'm just dusting off my meta brain after hiatus. ;-)
Nora Norwich: Chloe crankynorwich36 on September 1st, 2006 02:12 pm (UTC)
Damn! I just had time to skim through the original article and now I have to rush off to work, but I'm looking forward to seeing your thoughts about it.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Clex lovebop_radar on September 2nd, 2006 03:56 am (UTC)
Hee! I know that feeling so well. I was delighted to get breathing space to really consider the article yesterday. I'll be interested to hear your thoughts too--I've focussed above on what I liked about the article and skimmed over the moments that 'clanged' for me.

(Though I also confess to having been delighted that she honed in on Bound the way I did!)
(no subject) - norwich36 on September 2nd, 2006 04:55 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bop_radar on September 2nd, 2006 07:25 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - norwich36 on September 2nd, 2006 07:27 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bop_radar on September 3rd, 2006 10:32 am (UTC) (Expand)
tragicllyhiptragicllyhip on September 1st, 2006 02:21 pm (UTC)
I will bookmark this for later ,but I so missed this, I love the exploration of subtext within the show. Tell the people here that I can't work and have much more important things to do!
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Clex here with youbop_radar on September 2nd, 2006 03:58 am (UTC)
Yes, I missed it too! I was pleased to have something to discuss prior to Season 6, and I want to post a few more meta things in the lead up to the season kicking off again--but it is hard since I'm unspoiled but many other people are spoiled. I'm sure the spoiler discussions are interesting, but I prefer to hold back from them because I find they predispose me to view a certain way.

Tell the people here that I can't work and have much more important things to do!
Ohhh I know that feeling so well! Urgh! But you can come back any time. There's no expiry date on these discussions, even though it sometimes feels like it!
Naomi: Clex shirt rip by star dragonfrelling_tralk on September 1st, 2006 05:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks, that was really interesting!

Lex/Lana read as catty-revenge

I'd definitely agree with that, even as a shipper *g* Although I do want the writers too allow Clark to move on already, I still think the Clexana triangle could be interesting. It's not all about Clark and Lex fighting for Lana's love, a big part of it is also Lex and Lana both feeling rejected by Clark, and using their time together to complain about his treatment of them. Towards the end of season 5, it was constantly coming up, to the point where either Lex or Lana even say "let's not talk about Clark any more" :P

Then there's the angle of Lex wanting to become more like Clark. The Lexmas dream of Lex being loved by Clark's family and friends. Lockdown with Lex wishing he has hair, "Clark has really nice hair". Then finally Vessal with Lex outright saying he wanted everything that Clark has. Even when shipping Lexana, I do think the writers explicitly use her as filling some other desire for Lex. As far back as Covenant, Lex hugs Lana in comfort, right after the confrontation with Clark. And Lana calls herself lucky to have such a terrific friend. I always that was supposed to contrast where Clex and Lexana were going, and foreshadow future storylines
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Clex bitter endbop_radar on September 2nd, 2006 04:05 am (UTC)
a big part of it is also Lex and Lana both feeling rejected by Clark, and using their time together to complain about his treatment of them
Yeah, I really like that aspect of the Lexana relationship and have done ever since Season 3, when they first drew together on that basis. The fact is that they've both copped really shitty treatment from Clark at times (deserved or undeserved depending on your pov) and there's a sense between them that only the other one can really understand and empathise with that experience. So Clark is a silent invisible presence between them so often. And yeah, I loved it that they had to say aloud 'let's not talk about Clark for once'!

Even when shipping Lexana, I do think the writers explicitly use her as filling some other desire for Lex.
Yes, I agree. It actually makes me ship them more because the relationship is so layered and interesting.

As far back as Covenant, Lex hugs Lana in comfort, right after the confrontation with Clark
Mmm! Yeah, you could do a really interesting study on physical comfort after conflict in the show. Clark used Lana the same way after he went and punched out Lex. In fact, that was a lot deeper and darker since they were sexually intimate straight after that confrontation. The Clexana triangle has been built up well enough that when two of them are alone together, they nearly invariably refer to the third, if not overtly in speech, at least in their behaviour patterns. It's fascinating (and hot!).
(no subject) - bloodygoodgirl on September 2nd, 2006 02:57 am (UTC) (Expand)
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Clex fascinated with youbop_radar on September 2nd, 2006 04:06 am (UTC)
Hee! Well, don't worry. I find it endlessly amusing/ironic that I meta the 'superficial' show to death, and squee hysterically over the 'intellectual' show. ;-)
HeroHunter.  I, Storyteller.: clexlegendbysnooksterherohunter on September 4th, 2006 08:20 pm (UTC)
I agree that they (Clark and Lex) are not portrayed as stereotypial males, they have too many issues that are dealt with in non-typical ways, from that standpoint.

Lex also means "law" in Latin. I find that even more interesting than "language".

:D
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex mysterybop_radar on September 4th, 2006 11:18 pm (UTC)
Ash! Hello! *g*
Lex also means "law" in Latin. I find that even more interesting than "language".
Ohh, that IS interesting! *muses* I guess that reflects the more rigid aspects of his character in later seasons--and the fact that he's a law unto himself. Hee!
(no subject) - herohunter on September 5th, 2006 01:17 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bop_radar on September 5th, 2006 01:30 am (UTC) (Expand)
Becky: [other] for a price!sadface on September 5th, 2006 08:35 am (UTC)
I will read this Boppy! *bookmarks*
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Wilson black and whitebop_radar on September 6th, 2006 01:23 am (UTC)
OK!!! *pats the cute one*