Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mary's Prison

I went directly to my English Jr. Sem class after watching the film But I'm a Cheerleader. We were discussing Michel Foucault's The Birth of the Prison and I couldn't help but juxtapose the film and text.

Foucault challenges the practices of prisons and focuses on one prison, Mettray, to exemplify his arguments. Prisoners are sent to Mettray between the ages of six and twenty one. The typical age represented in the film was of teenagers being sent to True Directions. "Why Mettray? Because it is the disciplinary form at it's most extreme, the model in which are concentrated all the coercive technologies of behaviour. In it were to be found 'cloister, prison, school, regiment" (Norton, 1637). This all-encompassing institution seems similar to the camp Mary has created for her homosexual misfits. The campers are forced to follow the steps of admitting their homosexuality, rediscovering their gender identity, finding the root of their homosexuality, demystifying the opposite sex, and simulating heterosexual intercourse. Strict disciplinary Mary leaves no room for deviation from these steps in order to "cure" the campers.

Just as Foucault argues that these prison's function a particular way so that they never fail to produce "delinquents" neither can Mary's True Directions fail to produce "heterosexual" campers. Even though we have yet to finish the film in class, I'm sure we can all assume this is false. Systems that work with an established idea of whats normative cannot function effectively. The film challanges the social construction of sex, gender and sexuality in a heteronormative environment.


  1. This movie reminded me of Foucault's gaze theory in several places. The bedroom where the girls sleep is set up to have a focal point by the door, where the onlooker can view all the beds clearly. Also, though a bit of a stretch, the 'diagnosing' montage at the beginning, where Megan's vegetarianism, scenes kissing her boyfriend, and clips of cheerleading practice are set up to prove her homosexuality, suggest an onlooker who is viewing the girl in a detached, clinical way. To me, this is a parody of the detached and defensive response of heterosexuals to gay and lesbian people. By otherizing homosexuality through a positioned 'gaze,' the movie shows both the oppression of gays and the fear of heterosexuals.

  2. It seems like all of Foucault's works are especially relevant to this movie, as ti also relates to how power has functioned to squash the claim of a legitimate sexual theory because the accepted norm is heterosexuality, effectively silencing for a long time any voices that challenged that. But with more submissions and outcries from the "deviant" group, it is hard to accept heterosexual relationships as the universal now, as their control over privilege and discourse become constantly weakened through critical analysis of the accepted norms and media such as "But I'm a Cheerleader."


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