Dr Kathleen Williams is a media studies academic. She publishes work on the social uses of media technologies, particularly in relation to screen cultures, materiality and memory. However she is most qualified at forensically dissecting pop culture. Kathleen performed at the first Hobart Queerstories in March 2019.
*Audience cheers and claps*
We talk about our relationship in three eras like a couple of deranged critics comparing three seasons of a TV show nobody has actually watched. There’s the Honeymoon first season which is pretty stellar except for that scene where I spent part of your birthday reciting a poem I’d written about my reaction to the release of Beyonce’s 2013 self-titled album. In retrospect that may have been a misuse of part of your birthday. The second season was beyond dire—we survived through sheer determination alone. Then there’s the powerhouse return, the third season. It’s season one but better. Critics claim this is TV at its finest: full of light and dark, comedic touches, guest appearances—it’s got it all. We’re home.
During the third season, we sink into my couch watching endless crime series to make up for the time that starts to feel like it was stolen from us. On that couch, we perfect our impressions of people from Making a Murderer, in great taste. We get to the stage where we are comfortable accusing literally anyone we see of murder.
And as we evolve so too do the aesthetics of crime series to the ever-present swooping, dramatic, rich drone shot. We shout ‘droonnneee’ every time this happens, which you do, which is a natural evolution from your curt ‘shot’ when something is lit or framed beautifully.
If our relationship were a Netflix series very few people would watch it. I’m comfortable in that assessment. Um, I don’t think the love between an academic and a performance artist quite has mass appeal, but I’m happy to be proven wrong in that regard. And these would be the drone shots.
So, the story I’m telling today is titled: ‘The moments in our relationship worthy of being drone shots in a Netflix series.’
Thank you. Drone shot number one: the first time I went to Repco. It was our first proper day date, really. Because you need to feel productive and utilitarian while away from work, we go straight to Repco after breakfast, like knives hit the plate, we are straight to Repco, to get some kind of liquid or metal stick or something for the pile of tin you tend to use as a car. I tell you this is the first time I’ve been to Repco as I point to an angle grinder or a face mask or a lasso—I don’t know, everything looks and smells the same to me—and you look back at me with wildfire in your eyes, the drone sweeps up above us fuelled by your disbelief that it was possible I’d never been to Repco.
The drone tracks your pile-of-tin miraculously taking us out to the old asylum past all the arrogantly beautiful poplars in autumn. We enter a derelict building via a red carpet of broken glass and graffiti-covered walls that includes your old tag, as you proudly and very sheepishly tell me. You’re good at being two contradictory things at once.
It’s here, while I bang my stupid ankle boots now full of glass against your van door that I realise the understanding between us. You know that I don’t want to, but I have to be conventional. So you create tidal pools like this one for me to show that I am not conventional like some kind of desperately performative queer crab.
Drone shot number two: The first lie I told you.
We meet at the house of two then mutual friends. You jumped the fence and just appeared, like a Labrador and you won’t look at me for at least an hour. I get very, very annoyed by this, but possibly and arguably not as annoyed as I would be if a Labrador refused to acknowledge my existence for an hour. So I decide that I don’t care. At all. Couldn’t care less. Don’t care. Whoever, whatever. Don’t care. Then I decide that I want nothing more than for you to look at me right now. And I defy anyone in the room to think of a more stereotypical interaction between a Scorpio and a Leo.
See, astrology jokes are always safe with queers.
Anyway, when I eventually get your attention its over New York. It only took the world’s most famous city to get you to look at me, and even then you’re mainly staring at my shoes and blushing. When you hear New York you abruptly leave the conversation you’re having and get up and move next to me. At some point, I remember stumbling into the house aware of my boots jingling as I walk to get more beer, which I did not need. You follow me in and while we bumble through talking I ask you if you’re hitting on me by saying the most seductive words a human being can say to another person they’ve met only an hour ago: is this a thing?
You say yes.
I say ok.
You say ok.
I say, er, I’m a middle-aged lady and you don’t want to do this.
You look at me baffled like I’ve just said I’m made of hard-boiled eggs and I’m on fire. And both of those things might be more true than what I’ve just said because I’m only 31 at this point and I am definitely not a fucking lady.
Thank you. I say ‘oh what the hell’ and we kiss anyway.
The drone can ascend then, buoyed by the strange lie that neither one of us understands. By the end of the night, I’m saved as Chan in your phone because I couldn’t spell my own name.
Thankfully (and incredibly mortifyingly, why I’m telling more people this I don’t know) I speak in the third person on our first date at some point and you learn thankfully, that its Kathleen, and that you are tolerant enough of me speaking in the third person to spend the next day dedicated to that antique queer debate: is pasta art better than shell art.
Drone shot number three: The first time we go away.
Burnie is a hell of a place.
Right, yeah? It was the first time we went away, it was incredible.
The drive up toward that threatening water tank that’ that’s outside the second-hand store on the highway and the emergence of that distinctive almost enigmatic soil of the North West is chockas with drone worthy moments. Even if most of them are set to the soundtrack of me asking you if you want some chewy. Which is really romantic. But our drone shot comes later. We’re staying in a Marilyn Monroe themed bed and breakfast. In Burnie. And when I say ‘Marilyn Monroe themed’, I don’t want you to think it’s slightly Marilyn Monroe themed. It’s really Marilyn Monroe themed. So, underneath the Marilyn mugs are Marilyn coasters. Fair enough, within a theme, I get it. Underneath the Marilyn suite plaque (just in case you were unclear on where you were) is Marilyn’s face emblazoned across a pair of plastic glittery thongs—the kind of tribute in death that we could only hope for, right? Like, put me on a pair of thongs, I’m set. We’re here for about five minutes before I feel like I’ve spent more time than any other person in human history looking at Marilyn Monroe. Which is quite a feat.
So, the bathtub also has custom tiles spelling out a saying ‘if you can make a girl laugh, you can make her do anything’ Do you want me to surprise you that was attributed to Marilyn Monroe. We do a photoshoot of your very non-girl-self posing in front of it with a Marilyn Monroe mug before we drop a pink biodegradable glitter bath bomb (because we are good queers), wedge ourselves into its small parameters even though it looks a little slightly like a coffin, put on the Best of Seal (because we are bad queers.
And as the drone flies above we show that gender only matters to us when we call it into being.
I really hope the drone is a high enough distance to not capture the five minutes it took me to get out of that impossibly small bathtub while you very patiently waited silently in the other room peppered with glitter, waiting for me to read to you from the guestbook. Which was the first thing I said I wanted to do besides have a bath. I read from that guestbook for over an hour. Um, I will not replicate it tonight for reasons of politeness but trust me when I tell you there is no greater glory than reading from a guestbook from a Marilyn
Monroe themed room in a Tasmanian regional bed-and-breakfast.
So my pitch is also a soft one here which is maybe Netflix would be interested in commissioning a series of queers reading from the guestbooks of regional bed and breakfasts? If not, they should. It would be incredible, sign me up, please.
Our queerness is like a lens, which makes the world around us more cinematic. Sometimes it’s a fisheye, both magnifying and distorting. Other times, it’s a static long shot—the type at the start of every indie movie where we slowly move into its frame, pointing out the relentless absurdity of life. And sometimes we get the sweeping drone shot, set to orchestral music, or Seal’s Greatest Hits, making the small moments of our life seem part of something bigger.
Like right now.
*Audience cheers and claps*