Willies Bully: Reflections on the Photographic Representation of Young Male Social and Sexual Violence

Saturday, January 3, 2015: 2:50 PM
Midtown Suite (New York Hilton)
Jordy Jones, independent scholar
Willie’s Bully looks at young male social/sexual aggression through the lenses of photographic theory, psychoanalysis, curatorial practice and critical (auto)biography. The idea for this article sprang from a moment of curatorial crisis regarding a specific image, part of the collection of the late Willie Walker, one of the founders of the Gay and Lesbian Historical Society in San Francisco. An avid collector and legendary archivist, he collected and preserved gay-related ephemera that would otherwise have been lost. One of Walker’s collecting interests was images of and stories about young pubescent boys, particularly bullies and bad boys – and their victims. Few collections arise from disinterest, and this collection was and is no different. The photograph in question, its provenance, and the circumstances of and reasoning behind its rejection from a particular exhibition is the central metaphoric axis around which the article revolves. Functionally, that story of praxis provides a framework on which to hang theory. Willie’s Bully unpacks the ambiguous psychic implications of the figure of the pubescent bully boy in contemporary pop culture and in adult gay male sexual imag(in)ary. Photography is (still) used as evidence of a reality it actually produces through representation. Bullying is also productive. The practice produces bullies, victims, bystanders, evidence and spectacle. As social animals, we are not just what we say we are; we are also what others say we are. Subjects learn to recognize themselves through social interactions – including bullying, being victimized, watching from the sidelines, or intervening. Bullies are seen as dangerous and attractive, victims as different and contemptible. Difference threatens the established social order, and individuals become representative of imaginary threats to social ideals. People, and pictures, are irreducibly complicated. History has repeatedly shown purity to be a dangerous myth. Accountability begins with acknowledgement, and we are all complicit.