Reviewed by Jennie R.
I really wanted to like this book. When I got The B Word in
the mail, I was excited to get right into it! However, starting
at the cover, the book seems stuck back a decade ago. I was
working in a bookshop for the summer when I agreed to
review it. I was so excited that a new book on bisexuality
was out that I suggested our bookstore carry it as well. The
owner agreed; however, the book was so visually unappealing, that the owner didn’t want to put it on our main display
table. Trying not to judge a book by its cover, I delved in,
hoping to be blown away.
However, once I started reading, I quickly became
disillusioned with the book. Most of the television and film
examples that San Filippo gives are from the 1990s and
a few are from the early 2000s. In my opinion, since the
title states that it is bisexuality in “contemporary” media, it
should at least focus on the new millennium. Hoping that
after the introduction we would move on, I kept reading.
The book is broken up into four chapters: “Unthinking
Monosexuality: Bisexual Representability in Art Cinema,”
“Power Play/s: Bisexuality as Privilege and Pathology in
Sexploitation Cinema,” “Of Cowboys and Cocksmen:
Bisexuality and the Contemporary Hollywood Bromance,”
and “Bisexuality on the Boob Tube.” While the chapters do
try to get more contemporary in their examples, I found
this book to be stuck in the past. I was born in 1990, so I
have never seen (nor heard of) many of the examples. Yes, I
might be a reader on the younger side of the spectrum, but
having graduated with my bachelor’s degree in Women’s and
Gender Studies, I could see one of my classes wanting to
use this book as teachable material. I find it hard to believe
that more examples of bisexuality could not be found in the
current millennium, and if not, that would have made an
excellent subject to discuss in this book.
Other than the dated nature of this book, I found it
very hard to read. Examples are drawn out and convoluted,
making for confusing reading that felt overly stuffy and
academic in nature. Unless a reader is well-versed in Queer
Theory, Women’s and Gender Studies or Feminist Studies,
this book is very tough to read and understand. Having
written a thesis on LGBT topics myself, I understand the
importance of making sure your audience is able to understand your writing and ideas. In my opinion, if you write
above someone’s head, you are not helping them to learn
from your work. I didn’t expect this book to be a young
adult novel, but it read like a really long academic journal.
I want mainstream readers to be able to read this book and understand why the lack of bisexuality – or the presence of
problematic bisexuality – in media is a problem. It would
be very hard for someone with no prior knowledge of this
subject to make it through this book cover to cover. It was
hard enough for me to finish it.
While I’ve been harsh on The B Word, some of the
content was redeeming. The last two chapters were the
most interesting for me. While I disagree with many of San
Filippo’s examples of “bromances” as bisexual content, her
section about Brokeback Mountain was excellent. It is her one
shining moment in discussing bisexuality in contemporary
media. It is understandable, current and gave me a new way
to think about the relationships within Brokeback Mountain.
If all of her examples had the kind of insight and depth that
this one does, this would be a different book review.
San Filippo’s last chapter has many short examples of
contemporary material, something I had been waiting for
the whole book. But many times she just lists the television
show without delving into detail or analysis. I wish San
Filippo had focused her research on the gems she hid in
the last two chapters, instead of going on at length about
examples that feel out of date.
While this book definitely belongs in the academic sphere, I hesitate to recommend it to most readers who aren’t doing research on bisexuality. I had such very high hopes for this book and what it could do for bisexual visibility not only on bookshelves, but perhaps even the media. Sadly, from cover to cover this book was a struggle to finish. I appreciate the time and effort given to the subject by Maria San Filippo; however it just did not meet my expectations.
Jennie R. is a recent graduate with her B.S. in Women’s and
Gender Studies and Nonprofit Administration. She currently
works at a public radio station.