In her Figurations of Violence and Belonging: Queerness, Migranthood and Nationalism in Cyberspace and Beyond (Peter Lang: 2009, 50-52), Adi Kunstman draws tellingly on Sara Ahmed’s discussion of disgust in The Cultural Politics of Emotion (Edinburgh: 2004) to note how textual forms of anti-homosexual hate speech both reify the object of disgust (gay, lesbian or queer bodies) and rebound back on the communities that speak and publish them, strengthening the borders of the assaulting communities and also materially calling them into sustained being. For Etienne Souriau (Les Différents modes d’existence, 1943; La Correspondance des arts, 1947) this double constitution is instauration—the simultaneous creation of an object and subject, in this case the disgusted object of the queer body and the pure community that bounds and protects itself through feeling disgust at it. Hate speech instaurates the hater and the hated, the disgusted and the disgusting.
Though Kunstman does not underscore the importance of screens in these particular paragraphs on disgust, her book does emphasize the importance of screen textuality in generating what she calls “homes.” Cyberspace, for Kuntsman, offers unique, non-fungible ways in which individuals can come to a sense of personal and collective belonging through screen presences and screen interactions. Recognizing this fact, she seems to be arguing, should attune scholars and activists to the ways in which online flaming isn’t just like a violation of personal bodily space, but really is an intimate assault.
The paragraphs in Kunstman brought to mind the recent documentary God Loves Uganda (Roger Ross Williams, 2013), a film that is a kind of PTSD experience for those of us who have seen Jesus Camp (Ewing and Grady, 2006), perhaps especially because of the role of Lou Engle (leader of the Evangelical Christian group The Call) in both films, though GLU focuses more on IHOP (International House of Prayer) than The Call.
The disgust circulating diegetically in the film is decidedly instaurative: IHOP forms as a viable community (congregating in the US, dispersing to Uganda, collecting money, spending money, praying together and training Ugandan missionaries) in and through its desire to completely eradicate homosexual activities in Uganda. Their disgust at homosexuality materially generates their mission and core identity and also funds and ideologically supports a parliamentary bill that will make homosexuality illegal and will enact the death penalty on repeat or serial offenders (extra-diegetically, the bill became law on 2/24/14). But the film also opens another loop of disgust, that between the white and African evangelical actants and non-evangelical viewers of the film. I am disgusted at their disgust, a fact that produces no small amount of irony. What am I protecting in my visceral separation from the ardent evangelical message? Whatever the answer—however smart and right the answer—the affective dynamics are still disturbing.
One scene in particular drove home this doubly doubled disgust and returns me to Kuntsman’s careful attention to screens: a Ugandan preacher anticipates a tolerant response to homosexuality by mockingly referring to sodomy as ‘what goes on in the privacy of the bedroom’ (I am paraphrasing from memory). “But what, he intones, does go on in those bedrooms???” It is a shocking and ugly turn, from a common liberal bourgeois gesture toward the quiet unaskingness that allows the civility of civil society (profoundly insufficient, but better than lynching) to a voyeuristic lure. The preacher makes good on the temptation embedded in the question. As I watch the screen, a screen behind the preacher displays unflattering pictures of two men engaging in sex acts. The preacher’s words scale down to simple, sheer assertions; argument is unnecessary, it seems, before this evident disgust.
And for me too: my cognitive reaction flattens into a sheer affective refusal, a disgust at the disgust he is embodying and proselytizing. A difference, perhaps, but it remains unseen: The preacher’s disgust trembles with an aura of excitement that his country might turn his disgust into legal hatred. My disgust trembles in fear at the same possibility.