Spectacles of Sexuality: Televisionary Activism in Nicaragua
Links to relevant CA essay lists: Latin America, Media Studies, Gender and Sexuality
In the February issue of Cultural Anthropology, Cymene Howe explores the ways in which a new Nicaraguan telenovela El Sexto Sentido (“The Sixth Sense”) has made “activism at a distance” possible as it bypasses the state and works through entertainment. Howe’s essay, “Spectacles of Sexuality: Televisionary Activism in Nicaragua,” explores how a social justice NGO use media to reframe discussions of abortion, domestic violence, and homosexuality by using transnational tropes of sexuality and gender to gain legitimacy in local politics. The essay highlights the tensions between importing internationally recognized identity paradigms and using local authenticity to sell social values.
Howe describes the techniques used by media activists against increased conservatism in Nicaragua, particularly anti-sodomy laws and rollbacks in abortion rights, as “televisionary” -- “a mediated form of social justice messaging that utilizes the pervasive, popular platform of television to create new ‘visions’ of social transformations to shape and change…‘culture.’ These practices, linked to larger social movements for sexuality and gender rights, tactically maneuver transnationally available content—including global iterations of identity politics—in order to challenge the marginalization of youth, women and sexual minorities in contemporary Nicaragua.” Even though televisionary tactics aim to bypass the state by working through entertainment rather than legislation, Howe shows that these strategies are still part of social movements that engage with state processes. “Spectacles of Sexuality” will be of particular interest to scholars interested in media studies, Latin America, social movements, and gender and sexuality.
Cymene Howe is an assistant professor at American University. Her forthcoming book is Sexual Sovereignties: Sex, Gender and Justice in Nicaragua’s New Media Era (Duke 2008).
In the past, Cultural Anthropology has published many articles on gender and sexuality. See, for example, Katherine Pratt Ewing’s (2006) article on cinema and social work among diasporic Turkish women; Deborah A. Elliston’s (2000) article on “the geographies of gender and politics” with reference to Polynesian nationalism; and Corinne P. Hayden’s (1995) article on “gender, genetics, and generation” in the context of lesbian kinship. Cultural Anthropology has also published a range of articles on activist media. See, for example, Henry Jenkins’s (2006b) article on the politics of dislocation; Arlene D ́avila’s (1999) article on art, museums, and “the politics of multicultural encompassment”; and Michael M. J. Fischer’s (1991) article on “visual-virtual realities and post-trauma polities.”
LINKS FROM THE ESSAY, "SPECTACLES OF SEXUALITY"
OTHER MEDIA LINKS
OTHER ORGANIZATION LINKS
RELATED SCHOLARLY WORK
Babb, Florence. (2003) "Out in Nicaragua: Local and Transnational Desires after the Revolution." Cultural Anthropology 18(3): 304-332.
Buchsbaum, Jonathan. (2003) Cinema and the Sandinistas: Filmmaking in Revolutionary Nicaragua. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Howe, Cymene. (2002) "Undressing the Universal Queer Subject: Nicaraguan Activism and Transnational
Identity." City and Society 14(2):237-279.
Alvarez, Sonia, Evelina Dagnino, and Arturo Escobar, eds. (1998) Cultures of Politics/Politics of Cultures: Re-Visioning Latin American Social Movements. Boulder: Westview Press.
Thayer, Millie. (1997) "Identity, Revolution and Democracy: Lesbian Movements in Central America." Social Problems 44(3): 386-406.
Randall, Margaret. (1993) "To Change Our Own Reality and the World: A Conversation with Lesbians in
Nicaragua." Signs 18(4): 907-924.
IN-CLASS ACTIVITY OR HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT
Students should pick a primetime drama, sitcom, or soap opera that they are familiar with (this could also be done in advance, in pairs or groups). Have students reflect on and analyze the ways in which the TV program reinforces gender roles and sexual norms. How does the show (characters, plot, context) reflect and reinforce a specific local or national identity? Could the script be written differently? Students should envision how their chosen TV program might engage with the politics of gender and sexuality, e.g. domestic violence, body image, LGBT rights. As extra credit, ask students to find out who produces the show, are there blogs, or viewer websites that encourage participation?