Tunnels of Social Growth within the Leviathan: A Story of China’s Super Girl

Authored by: Camila Bassi

The Routledge Research Companion to Geographies of Sex and Sexualities

Print publication date:  May  2016
Online publication date:  May  2016

Print ISBN: 9781472455482
eBook ISBN: 9781315613000
Adobe ISBN: 9781317043331


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Advancing a Marxist theorization of the contradictory relationship of sexuality and capitalist political economy, this chapter presents a story of China’s reality TV show Super Girl which gave birth to a unique lesbian heyday in Shanghai during the early millennium. 1 1

This chapter is based on my research in Shanghai on gay political economy, which was conducted between 2008 and 2013, and consisted of interviews, participant observations and secondary documentation. At intervals between January 2008 and April 2009, 21 individuals participated in recorded in-depth interviews (two of whom were interviewed twice and three times respectively). Of these, six were gay male business owners, nine were gay male and lesbian NGO workers, three were lesbian organizers of LGB support groups and three were gay male consumers of the gay scene. That said, all considered themselves consumers of the gay scene and so were also interviewed on this basis. At intervals between March 2007 and April 2013 I visited and recorded participant observations of Shanghai’s key commercial gay scene venues, joined a sexual health outreach volunteer to hand out condoms and talk to men at gay cruising grounds, collected an archive of online gay scene resources and web-based local histories, conducted further interviews with five gay men, two lesbian women and one bisexual woman, and compiled an archive of international media coverage of the reality TV show Super Girl.

This Marxist approach, as indicated in this introduction, moves beyond an Althusserian notion of containment by political economy – which frames the marketization of culture as an ideological structure of control in line with the prevailing hegemony – and reveals how a turn to intersectionality within sexuality studies is infused with this Althusserian legacy by perceiving intersecting cultural and economic realms as intersecting, ideological structures of control. A leading strand of Marxist geography observes that ‘[p]recisely because capitalism is expansionary and imperialistic, cultural life in more and more areas gets brought within the grasp of the cash nexus and the logic of capital circulation’ (Harvey, 1989, p. 344). Thus, culture becomes locked into an operation of exploitation because ‘it sells’ (Mitchell, 1995, p. 110). In a poststructuralist queer critique of ‘a liberal framework’ of work within geographies of sexuality (which depicts homosexual space as opposing and transgressing heterosexual space) an intersectional analysis that is attentive to ‘constellations of power across the heterosexual/homosexual divide’ is proposed (Oswin, 2008, pp. 89–90). However, in such an intersectional approach, there is slippage into another dichotomy – for example, between the ‘colonizing impulses’ of a ‘queer white patriarch’ of the capitalist gay market and the ‘anti-colonial efforts’ of queer ethnic minorities (Nast, 2002, p. 899). The danger, I caution, of an Althusserian current in Marxist geography and poststructuralist theory lies in bypassing the potential of human agency to consume and construct culture produced by the capitalist market for themselves. The Marxism applied in this chapter challenges the simplistic premise that oppositional culture is limited by its expression in the commodified form, and attunes to both universal and specific material realities and capitalist closures and openings.

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