1. Melodrama: An Aesthetics of Impossibility by Jonathan Goldberg
It arrived on Twitter: a screenshot of a note from the longstanding gay bookstore around the corner from my house, offering a 20% full store discount, making a request for the neighbourhood and the world to visit, browse and purchase, to help keep them open during this difficult time. Though I’ve passed it many times, I don’t think I’d ever bought anything from here—the shopfront display I mostly remember for its Bel Ami and Sean Cody calendars—but somehow I felt the need to support.
I have a complicated relationship with gay identification, or at least identifying with the mostly white, mostly male, mostly wealthy gay culture of Oxford Street. I’ve dealt with this complication by avoiding it, even though I have lived in Darlinghurst for the best part of six years. Maybe this turn is a sign I’m getting older?
A few friends of mine, possibly sparked by this alienation from what we feel should be our community, have recently been jonesing to go clubbing and at least part of me wants this to happen when this is all over, if these clubs are still around, of course. ‘Let’s queer the gay clubs’ we think, probably naively, or maybe it’s enough to just want to be surrounded by people we might finally think of as being like us.
So here, in this moment of crisis across all of our communities, I found myself doing what I could to make sure this place, where queer people of all stripes have come together for longer than I’ve been alive, can continue to provide this function. Walking past Taylor Square with my boyfriend (referred to hereafter as ‘huni’) on the way home from a pre-isolation shopping run, I insisted we take a look inside The Bookshop, Darlinghurst, and see what they might have for us. We went upstairs to the vintage section, where books are a further 10% off, and we found ourselves browsing an extensive collection of gay and lesbian erotica from the 90s. I was reminded of a website I used to visit as a teen, populated by user-written sex fantasies and wondered to my huni if this website and ones like it were part of why serial titles like the ‘First Time Gay Erotica’ lay unsold across this room.
Downstairs I browsed the non-fiction section and saw the word ‘MELODRAMA’ staring at me. This, I thought, was the moment I’ve been waiting for. At the checkout, I was given a membership and a movie recommendation, and I made an internal promise to return.
Jonathan Goldberg’s Melodrama: An Aesthetics of Impossibility centres on an analysis of film and literature drawing from a 2-minute Melodram section from Beethoven’s Fidelio and the notion of the ‘impossible situation,’ as established by melodrama film icon, Douglas Sirk, as a way to account for how this multi-modal language of excess opens up other possible ways of being and doing in the world that we’re often told by theorists is queer. I’m reading this book in tandem with consuming the types of melodrama that little music-nerd/online-erotica-reading me would have shunned as old timey or cheesy. I’m looking forward to all of these things turning me into the swishy old queen I’m destined to become, one visit to The Bookshop at a time.
2. Relationships.txt and AITA subreddits
I mostly grew up during the pre-social media internet with computer scientist parents and surprisingly little online supervision. Internet forums (or newsgroups, as they started) formed a significant part of my social life. For example, coming home one summer from a long walking holiday in the Snowy Mountains as a 14-year-old, I was most excited about reading all of the new posts I’d missed on Aussie Metal Forums, rather than thinking about the friends I’d get to see again in person.
So I understand the appeal of Reddit. A more comprehensive cloak of anonymity—having a more modular online avatar—is one particular aspect Reddit shares with these earlier internet times, and it’s also important to the structure of two subreddits that have comprised a significant amount of ‘What I’m Reading’ these days.
Relationships.txt and AITA (Am I The Asshole?) are two of the most popular and tightly organised of the many subreddits that call on other reddit users for advice with real life situations. Because of a ranking system in which users can upvote or downvote posts, only the most compelling posts make it to the top, and many of these are then reposted to Twitter where I read them.
I recently realised that I haven’t read a novel in a year. My current theory stands that no fiction could ever match the giddy and, importantly, interactive thrill of consuming, evaluating and discussing the stories that spew forth from these subreddits. In the case of AITA, there’s even a rubric by which redditors can respond, with the post eventually branded with the verdict determined by the most upvoted comment (YTA—You’re The Asshole, NTA—Not The Asshole, ESH—Everyone Sucks Here, or NAH—No Assholes Here). It’s perhaps this structure of responsiveness that adds a powerful layer to the process, and the subreddit attracts its fair share of unreliable or delusional narrators that are often ripped apart in the comment section. On Twitter, there’s even a statistics enthusiast who opens up a poll for each post, periodically delivering data (spoiler alert: Men are far more frequently evaluated to be TA [The Asshole] than those of other genders—the phrase ‘throw the whole man away’ comes to mind).
Moments after waking each day I reach, addicted, for my phone, ready to receive the dramas that have been uploaded to Reddit over night. I read them hungrily and with unwavering devotion, the way someone might watch Days of Our Lives or Keeping Up with the Kardashians. My focus is red hot and clear as I dive into the ecstatically mundane stories these anonymous protagonists serve up for me.
Today, a woman is complaining about her boyfriend shitting too loudly and frequently. Yesterday, an extremely terrible man is asking us if he’s an asshole for removing his daughter from the family health insurance because she contracted HPV. Some, like a father who walked in on his son boning his boyfriend looking for advice on how to make his son feel comfortable about coming out to him, are more wholesome. Other stories are so far-fetched that we’ll assume the story has been made up. I’m not ashamed of my voyeurism. After all, in these extremely online times, this is what’s getting me through.
Marcus Whale lives and works on Gadigal land in Sydney, Australia. His work across music, performance and text focuses on the blurry, haunted intersection between desire and religion, often with reference to the poetics of memory and ghostliness. A collection of poetry, wheeze, was released in 2019 by Subbed In.