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Subverting the hero

Subverting the hero

CHALLENGING GENDER, RACIAL AND SEXUAL STEREOTYPES: Jonny Pimp & Honey Ho, agents for the International Queer Secret Service, save the queer planet from the nefarious Society for the Prevention of Queerness. IMAGE 1 OF 1
Twisting hetero plotlines into queer-friendly shapes
Picture a university seminar room in which a student defends his Master's thesis.

Under the scrutiny of his tenured professors, the young man argues that the thesis, Outrageously Political: The Use of Queer Theory and Camp in the Subversion of Heterosexist Action Adventure Film, illustrates how "camp can be used pedagogically to promote aspects of queer and feminist theory."

He switches on the VCR to show License to Queer, one of three videos he made in support of his point. It's not an educational video in the usual sense.

The professors watch as Jonny Pimp and Honey Ho, agents for the International Queer Secret Service, save the queer planet from SPOQ, the nefarious Society for the Prevention of Queerness (which has developed a breeder bomb designed to eradicate queers forever). In just 17 minutes, Pimp and Ho travel the globe, face vexing sexual challenges and manage to disarm SPOQ's dreaded weapon with mere seconds to spare.

The situation described above is not imaginary. The student is Mark Kenneth Woods, and his Pimp & Ho Trilogy (License to Queer; Adventures in Queersploitation; Queer Fashion Crime Models) helped him successfully complete his Master's in June. More than successfully, in fact, considering Pimp & Ho has screened at over 100 festivals and galleries around the world.

An activist with a sense of style, Woods ("originally a little Frenchie Virgo from Montreal, but my family moved to Vancouver in 1990 when I was 12," he says) has long been intrigued by the possibilities of both film and gender. While he can recall bossing his brothers around when he was a pre-teen holding a camcorder, his path to the kitschy DIY aesthetic of Pimp & Ho was also the product of years of schooling.

His route started at the Vancouver Film School's film production program, and led him eastward. Woods explains, "The [VFS] program was very technical and not particularly stimulating, so I moved on to pursue a BA at the University of Toronto specializing in Cinema and Sexual Diversity Studies.

"Since I am kind of a nerd and am so fascinated and inspired by philosophy and theories of sexuality, gender, race and oppression, I decided to explore some of these ideas further in the MA program in Communications and Cultural Studies at York University. That's when I joined the House of Venus. The Vancouver-based artist collective's ideals matched my thesis goals, and we've all had a strong working relationship ever since."

With the much-appreciated help of friends and fellow artists, Woods made the trilogy cheaply over four months while staying in Vancouver.

Woods plays Jonny Pimp as a hero more likely to take his shirt off than to win a Nobel Prize. Of his alter ego, he says, "The Pimp part of me and the MA part of me complement each other very nicely, I think. I could never be just one thing, and am definitely a proponent of fusion and alternate possibilities. On one end, I am very much a performer and love to crack jokes and just generally fool around. But when it comes to my videos, I need the work to provoke thought. I don't think I could ever create anything that was made simply to entertain or be pedagogical. I like to create work that blends humour with social criticism."

That blend raises issues via an entertaining format. Woods describes its fundamentally political dimension. "Jonny Pimp & Honey Ho were created out of my love for blaxploitation films, the Bond series and the gangster film genres. I love them all, but they are all ridiculously heterosexist. And so, I have subverted the heterosexist conventions of the genres, and while this is amusing, it wasn't enough for me.

"They are also inspired by my frustration with aspects of the LGBT community. Pimp is representative of a particular group of gay men. The kind who are happy to fight heterosexism, but don't give a shit about race or gender. The kind who wave the pride flag out of their window yet trash trannies and lesbians. And Ho is meant to challenge our culture's and our community's fixed notions of identity. She's a transgendered, bisexual, know-it-all beauty. She represents diversity."

And though the shorts represent fantastic scenarios, they have practical, use-daily applications.

"I don't think the videos are a huge stretch from reality," Woods says.

"Clearly, nobody can go out and shoot flowers out of hairdryers to change the world. However, the political action the characters take in terms of challenging sexual and gender identities can be done by anyone, every day. Suck dick, lick pussy, wear a dress, don't shave your legs, let your tranny girlfriend fuck your ass with her huge cock. It's that easy. There isn't one way to be gay or lesbian or one way to be a man or woman. If you play with gender, sexual and racial stereotypes, then you are challenging our culture. Besides, it's fun."

A man with a mission, Woods (just returned from the queer film festival in Tokyo), is now juggling several projects. He exclaims, "There is always something in the works! I've just literally finished work on a TV pilot for a variety show I have put together with other members of the House of Venus. It's kind of In Living Color meets Solid Gold meets SNL.

"As for the future, I would ideally like something like the TV show to pan out, but I guess that goes without saying. I must admit that it would be nice to make some cash from all this work one day. But at least without funding, I'm in full control of my work and can say and do whatever I please."

Woods is also happy to report that Pimp & Ho: Adventures in Queersploitation will air on CBC this fall and that parts of the Pimp & Ho Trilogy are available as episodes on www.wayoutwest.tv.

* Licensed to Queer plays in two Out On Screen programs: The Coast Is Queer (Aug 12, 7 pm; Aug 16, 1:30 pm) and Do Not Adjust Your Set (Aug 11, 7 pm).
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