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 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Queries welcome. All panelists chosen for participation must be members of the Modern Language Association by April 7, 2008.
Claremont Graduate University
Department of English
121 East Tenth Street
Claremont, CA. 91711 Email: email@example.com
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