“Reducing masculinity” is something at the forefront of cultural conversation this week, with Amber Rose’s (not-so-subtly homophobic) tweet calling out Kanye West for enjoying some perfectly normal ass play. Her attempt to shame the WAVES rapper with the viral hashtag #FingersInTheBootyAssBitch suggested that West’s sexual devices were something that challenged his manhood, and while we thought West was cooler than this, he responded this morning saying, “I’m not into that kind of shit.” (So fucking lame). Celebrities that publicly praise queerness for social capital and then use it as a vicious weapon really suck, but I digress.
Michigan-bred, Chicago-based filmmaker Zachary Hutchinson has created a smart examination of masculinity that features some local art scene pillars and employs humor as a means to break down what it really means to be “masculine.” The project is a filmic celebration of non-binary expression, welcoming individual projections of femininity and masculinity, and breaking these ideas down through a ritualistic, arts and crafts lens. We caught up with Hutchinson to talk about “How to Reduce Masculinity in 10 Easy Steps,” and while our conversation took place before the Rose vs. West insanity, we’re certain he’d applaud Yeezy for liking a few fingers up the squeaker. Watch, below:
“Masculinity” is a complicated concept. Why did you go with this approach?
“Masculinity is something I’ve never felt comfortable with, but I have felt very comfortable mimicking or parodying things like self-help videos and infomercials. A lot of my work uses those sort of TV vehicles and goes over-the-top into this world of broken humanoid cartoon madness, which I love, but I feel can be alienating. I try to make multiple points of access into all my videos so my Dad can enjoy them, as well as academics. So for this I decided to keep my cartoon friends at home and use my real life friends, who happen to be attractive and relatable beings.”
Why did you choose this sample group?
“I feel like all of them have an admirable relationship to masculinity, but I also just admire them plainly outside of how they navigate the world. They are all makers that work with materials often associated historically with women—fabric, clay [or] glue guns. Sofia Moreno is one of the most radical shit kicker and artists I know. Her art says it all: sculptures that resemble aquatic creatures in a pond that’s had a toxic waste spill made from old sheets, rope, house paint and often stuffed with secrets, like used condoms. Isabelle Francis McGuire, the youngest of all the people in my video, is one of my best friends. She has this crazy intuitive nature about her [and] she’s also incredibly humble for being so smart and with it at her age. Heather Lynn is sort of indescribable for me. She is not only a playwrite, actor, dancer, singer, songwriter, author, healer, community organizer, tapestry artist, but a great advice giver. Give Heather Lynn a glue gun and she will build you a sci-fi Utopian world. I have crush on Amina Ross. I want to be Amina. Amina’s art is human: sensual bodies exploring race in a visceral tactile fashion. Last but not least is my Mom, Cynthia Hutchinson. [She] tried so hard for me to tell her I was gay, so that she could finally join PFLAG. She is the kindest, most giving women I’ve ever met. I model most of the decisions [off] what she would do and not what she would want me to do. Femininity for me has a lot to do, if not all to do, with caring and my mom is the true example of this.”
How did this project fine-tune your own ideas surrounding masculinity?
“I’ve gotten this question a couple times since beginning this project. I don’t know. Amina says in the video, ‘I don’t know if it’s a get rid of [the masc/femme binary], but complicating our relationship to.’ I love that. I would go on to say that not only should we acknowledge and accept its existence, but we should perform and exist outside of it. Also I feel like maybe we don’t need to think of it as a spectrum, but as two continuums—one masc and one femme and maybe even one other—that you can pull from at any time and also feel free to change. These things can be toxic if set in stone I think, so lets be fluid.”
There’s a balance of humor and serious conversation, here. Was this intentional?
“I think everything is too serious. Queer/Feminist work in 2016 and beyond has to have levels of accessibility. There is this really good quote from Pinterest that has no author I can find. It says, ‘If it’s inaccessible to the poor, it’s neither radical nor revolutionary.’ I feel like the word ‘poor’ in this not just economical, it’s about being poor in education, poor in sustainable resources, poor in choice and poor in access to what you want or need. So using comedy— something I feel is universal—is one of the many ways we can give access to many people. I’m not saying that any Joe Shmo is going to find this interesting, no—it totally has an aesthetic and a topic that is alienating. The people who want it—people who struggle with masculinity—hopefully will find it. And personally, it’s hard for me to want to get into something completely serious.”
This seems very true to your aesthetic. How do you see this fitting into your larger body of work?
“This is the thing– I’m not super worried about my work fitting in with my other work. I make what I like and what I hope others will like. And that’s like a capitalist gallery thing—work fitting in—and as a video maker, I don’t really make products. I make .mov files that can be viewed simultaneously anywhere on the globe in its entirety and that’s how I think video work should be… at least till I sell out.”
Talk to me about the opening scene.
“Well Caleb Yono, my boyfriend, is a painter among many other things and as part of his practice, he does lots of Google image searches. One time he found this image from what was probably a sissy fetish site of a man in lingerie with two women, one holding his penis by the tip and pulling it down and the other women drawing a line down it with a tube of lipstick. What a great image, right? So I thought that would be a great way to visually perform my boyfriend and me accepting and loving each other for for being so femme.”
The final step feels very dramatic and ritualistic. What were you trying to accomplish with this ending?
“The whole thing is a ritual or system. All self-help videos, books or whatever have to do with new rituals and systems to make your life better. Have you ever seen Angela Lansbury’s Positive Moves? I own it on VHS and have watched it maybe 10 times. She really doesn’t say anything revolutionary, but the pacing and her positive attitude are so soothing to me. I draw a lot of inspiration from that video, and shit I just googled the bitch and she’s still alive and kicking at 90 years old. Also I’m sitting watching a sunrise on the water. Like reflection and rebirth—all the regular things water means. Plus Mike Perkins’ makes some great meditation music ya’ll should check out. Did you notice the four birds fly by when finished throwing the four swords into lake Michigan? That was actual magic. Like what’s freer then a bird?”