Falling Out of the Closet: Kevin Smith, Queerness, and Independent Film
Soles, Carter Michael
My dissertation argues that the film comedies of Kevin Smith, through their willingness to depict and verbalize gender-bending, queer desire, and deviant sexual practices, exemplify the role independent "slacker" cinema played in the 1990s explosion of American queer media visibility. Couched in witty verbal comedy, Smith's films depict the tensions and dangers Generation-X males face as they negotiate the culturally enforced gap separating male homosociality (intense friendship, male bonding) from explicit male-male homoerotic desire in contemporary U.S. culture. The project takes Smith's career as a metonym for independent slacker cinema (which includes films by Smith, Richard Linklater, Jim Jarmusch, and Judd Apatow) and argues that Smith's films have been successful because they tap into and exploit both the 1990s boom in independent queer media production and the particular interests and needs of actual young white slackers, including how these young men navigate tensions related not only to gender and sexuality but also to race and class (all of which are evident in their taste for mainstream superhero comics and the Star Wars films). Chapter II argues that Smith's debut feature, Clerks (1994), exemplifies, through its plot and formal elements, the homosocial buddy relation that suppresses male-male homoerotic desire by channeling it into men's rivalries over women. The chapter exposes the misogyny inherent to the slacker's homosocial group and discusses his fear/fascination with masculine women such as domineering mothers, bossy girlfriends, and (in later Smith films) lesbians. Chapter III argues that Mallrats (1995) shares key narrative properties and subject matter with superhero comic books, thereby addressing the comic book fans who largely constitute Smith's fan base. Chapter IV offers a bisexual reading of Smith's third feature film, Chasing Amy (1997). Chapter V examines Smith's later films Dogma (1999), and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), arguing that they function generically as queer road movies. Chapter VI analyzes Smith's public persona as an indie cinema icon who uses ironic, ambiguous modes of self-presentation to "have it both ways," maintaining an appeal for both homophobic and queer-friendly audiences, thereby demonstrating Smith's keen understanding of self-promotion and the economic structures of independent cinema.