Zeitgeist of 1960s’ America : Sex, money, drugs, transvestite

Zeitgeist of 1960s’ America : Sex, money, drugs, transvestite

 Mario Banana 1 / 1964 / 3 mins 21 s / 16 mm film / Andy Warhol

Collection of The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh
© 1996 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Andy Warhol’s touring exhibition was opened at the Museum of Art last Sunday and it seems a great show for audience as the curator arranged it into four parts, according to Warhol’s differential artistic careers, the audience could clearly understand what the characteristics of creations is in his whole life, from commercial illustrations then fine art projects to celebrities’ portraits. However, it is a great pity that the exhibition may just pay more attentions on artist’s graphic works but less on film creations, whereas, Warhol’s films could strongly represent real zeitgeist in American 60s, even though these underground films have not received any high reputations. From this, “Mario Banana” could be an example for explanation.In the film, a gay actor acts like a transvestite and shows how he could play tricks on a banana in a pornographic context, firstly, the actor wears wig, crown, long white gloves, exposed feminine court dress and has a extremely-emphasized feminine facial make up, dress an, then makes an indolent gesture in front of the camera, after that, the actor picks up a yellow-color banana and his eyes start flirtation, afterwards, he uses the fingers to peel the banana slowly. Later, the actor starts sucking and licking the banana’s flesh and then eats it periodically.

According to Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity, identification of a person actual gender is depended on person actual actions, for instances, a man’s lifestyle is totally the same as woman’s and thus, that man is completely identified as a woman, and this methodology may create diversity of exploring gender issue, whereas, if it try to become a common sense, it could be attacked by traditional dualistic rules of identifying gender, meanwhile, it may also be considered as confusion of world. Like the content in the film, the transvestite is considered as an image of flightiness and ethically degeneracy, especially the film is run like an underground-pornographic movie, however, it is the fact that it has been created and if we traces back Warhol’s artistic pathway, we may explore the origin of artist creating these kind of films and the zeitgeist represented, with the discourse of sociological view.

In 1963, Warhol set up his new studio called “Factory” in New York and he started film making at that time, meanwhile, the Factory was opened to the public, artists, celebrities and other underprivileged groups like homeless teenagers, sexual minorities, ethnic minorities, so that, social classes and rules were broken in the Factory and people might take drugs, wear in drag, discuss and obtain sexual excitement and play underground actions. As I mentioned above, transvestite might not be accepted by traditions, however, in the Factory, which is a small heaven, transvestite might become a great thing. From the Warhol’s filmography, he preferred to find some actors who had curious backgrounds (like Edie Sedgwick, as one of the Warhol superstars, she came from a grand family but she wanted to come to New York to develop his personal career. After that, she became a member of the Factory and try to participate in his film making, then Sedgwick became a close partner of Warhol and they usually joined lots of parties held by celebrities together, however, they broke down later and Sedgwick finally died of drug abuse in 1971), moreover, Warhol have created film topics as an expression of counterculture, avant grade but lack of ethics, for instances, “Blow Job”, produced in 1964, the films describes a facial expression of a male who was sucked by another male. The issues of meaninglessness, sexual relations, homosexuality, drugs, and transgender are the main elements of the films produced in the Factory.

From the context of American subculture in 1960s, money, celebrity culture, parties and drug could be the main spirit which people concentrated on at that time, since the Second World War ended up, economy of the United State started recovering after successive years of recession and people tried to forget the painful memories by making enjoyment in a great tendency. Moreover, sociological background had a great change, as the American need to face Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam War and the following series of political demonstration and ideological advocacy like Susan Sontang and Allen Ginsberg’s saying. Therefore, Sex, money and drug might be the best opium to anaesthetize people, especially the teenagers, and it was free for them to try to protest against the whole traditional ethical system that they have achieved in lives before, then develop counterculture like Hippie and drown themselves in great pleasures, in order to obtain personal excitement and enjoyment. Thus, we may discover that the image of transvestite in pornographic context in the film is a superlative expression of the human senses of 1960s’ Americans.

It is quite curious that the people grown up after 70s and 80s may consider that 60s is the period of time which was entirely filled up with crazy confusion and great disorder under heaven, as they might have not experienced any great political and sociological issues and the more important point is, they have not done anything crazy.

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