Containing (Un)American Bodies: Race, Sexuality, and Post-9/11 Constructions of Citizenship.
For more than a decade, queer migration and citizenship studies scholars have investigated the relationships between queerness, immigration, terrorism, and citizenship. Mary K. Bloodsworth-Lugo and Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo's book adds an interesting perspective to this literature through its sequential analysis of rhetoric pertaining to immigration, terrorism, same-sex marriage, and gay people in the post-9/11 United States. Utilizing a mix of presidential rhetoric, public opinion polls, and news accounts as data, Containing (Un)American Bodies considers the American/un-American binary and efforts to contain those bodies deemed un-American.
The book begins in 2003 with President George W. Bush's rhetoric justifying the necessity to invade Iraq and also his push for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The authors contend that both Iraq and gay people were positioned through Cold War-style rhetorics of containment and un-Americanness. Much as Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein featured in the Bush administration's rhetoric as international terrorists, "lesbians and gay men became a brand of 'domestic terrorists'" (p. 9). The authors then move into 2004, expanding their discussion of domestic terrorism and same-sex marriage. Showing how the war on terror and so-called moral values became the two premises upon which Bush was reelected, the authors suggest that even as support for the war in Iraq waned, Bush successfully reoriented "protection" rhetoric toward domestic threats, such as those who would change the definition of traditional marriage.
While the first two chapters emphasize the rolling out of containment rhetoric, in the third, Bloodworth-Lugo and Lugo-Lugo turn their attention toward citizens' resistance in the age of what Noam Chomsky has called the U.S. "imperial grand strategy" (p. 43). In this analysis, they examine the categories of "enemy combatant," "war critic," and "war protestor" throughout 2005, showing how some parts of "the public" worked to challenge their restricted containment within the categories of American and un-American.
The book moves into 2006 with questions of citizenship, nationality, and the conflation of the two. Relying primarily on politicians' rhetoric found in news reports, the authors attempt to demonstrate how same-sex couples seeking marriage, along with immigrants, became threats to the meaning of citizenship--and therefore threats to the nation itself. Building on the rhetoric of threat, the last two chapters shift to President Barack Obama, beginning with an examination of his campaign. Here, the authors introduce the notion of "browning" (p. 71) to show how certain racialized bodies, including that of then-candidate Obama, were deployed by a variety of groups to incite fear and uncertainty. Obama's patriotism, name, and religion all underwent this browning process in order to foster a belief that he threatened America. In their discussion of the 2008 election of Obama in relation to the passage of Proposition 8 in California--which overturned same-sex marriage in the state--the authors suggest that even as Obama was positioned as a threat, he was able to capitalize on the same rhetoric of threat and security Bush used about terrorism and also, though more subtly, about same-sex marriage. While the public was able to see past the threat Obama potentially posed, the impact of anti--same-sex marriage rhetoric continued to endure, and so Proposition 8 passed. The authors conclude with some brief comments about the current state of the post-9/11 United States, with the first black president, the Tea Party movement, and the ongoing war on terror, hoping that we will someday enter a "post-post-9/11 world" (p. 97).
Containing (Un)American Bodies' strengths lie in its connection of seemingly disconnected rhetoric, opinion polls, and ideologies. The authors convincingly show that containment rhetoric and the American/un-American binary persist as a regular feature of post-9/11 U.S. life and that an array of bodies can rather easily emerge as threats. Despite the promise the book holds, though, it is often difficult to discern how the authors selected the data they analyzed and the process used to construct their arguments.
Furthermore, the book is so concise that it often seems that the arguments are incomplete and therefore less convincing than what one who regularly reads in these scholarly areas might expect. Despite an emphasis on presidential rhetoric, and claims made about genres of presidential rhetoric including the State of the Union and the inaugural addresses, for example, the authors neglect the vast and historical body of scholarship pertaining to presidential rhetoric and generic rhetorical criticism from the fields of Communication and English. Certainly consulting these bodies of scholarship would have helped embolden and justify claims the authors make about the way such rhetoric operates in the U.S. public sphere. Similarly, scholars such as Eithne Luibheid, Erica Rand, and Jasbir Puar have been investigating the complex ways that queerness and sexuality intersect with migration to promote, for instance, alternative memories of belonging or First World imperialism through what Puar has called "homonationalism" (Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times [Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007]). Others, such as David K. Johnson, Diane Richardson, Steven Seidman, and Margot Canaday, have provided robust depictions of how sexuality and citizenship have always worked in tandem to figure who can belong and how. None of this scholarship appears in Bloodsworth-Lugo and Lugo-Lugo's book. Considering that the authors rehearse many arguments that have appeared in this earlier work, such citations could have enriched their claims or, at the very least, inserted the authors into an ongoing scholarly conversation.
--Karma R. Chavez
University of Wisconsin-Madison
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Chavez, Karma R.|
|Publication:||Presidential Studies Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Aug 9, 2011|
|Previous Article:||Lincoln's Proclamation: Emancipation Reconsidered.|
|Next Article:||Presidential Prerogative: Imperial Power in the Age of Terrorism.|