Monstrosity, Performance, and Race in Contemporary Culture

by Bernadette Marie Calafell (Author)
©2015 Textbook X, 139 Pages


In a society that increasingly touts post-racial and post-feminist discourses, the trope of monstrosity becomes a way to critically examine contemporary meanings around race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability. Focusing on ways in which historically marginalized groups appropriate monstrosity as a means of resistance, as well as on how we can understand oppression and privilege through monstrosity, this book offers another way to conceptualize the politics of representation. Through critical analyses of experiences of women of color in the academy, the media framing of alleged Aurora shooter James Holmes, the use of monstrosity in unpublished work from the Gloria Anzaldúa archives, post-feminist discourses in American Mary and The Lords of Salem, and Kanye West’s strategic employment of ideologies of monstrosity, this book offers new ways to think about Otherness in this contemporary moment.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Making Monsters
  • Chapter 1. Monstrous Femininity: Constructions of Women of Color in the Academy
  • Chapter 2. James Holmes and the Monstrosity of Whiteness
  • Chapter 3. Chicana Feminist Legacies of Monstrosity in the Gloria Anzaldúa Archive
  • Chapter 4. American Mary and The Lords of Salem: Post-Feminist Nightmares
  • Chapter 5. From College Dropout to Monster: Kanye West and the Politics of Monstrosity
  • Conclusion: Monstrous Endings
  • Works Cited
  • Index

| ix →


Several people have been responsible for helping this project reach fruition. Conversations with, suggestions from, and the insights from the scholarship of Kendall Phillips and Joshua Gunn encouraged me to start writing. My undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in my Monsters in Popular Culture and Feminist Horror in the 2000s seminars at the University of Denver helped me refine my understandings and approach to monstrosity. While each of them was important in this project, I am particularly thankful to Sergio Juarez, Haneen Al-Ghabra, Brendan Hughes, Charles Lulevitt, Jaime Guzmán, Raisa Alvarado Uchima, Shadee Abdi, Robert Gutierrez-Perez, Miranda Olzman, Amanda Meise, Melodee Sova, Stephanie Webb, and Michael Xiang Li for their enthusiastic support and inspiration. Miranda Olzman offered a great deal of help in gathering and organizing materials from the Gloria Anzaldúa Archives. Thank you to Paula Martin for her friendship, kindness, and endless assistance. I am grateful to members of my writing group including Elizabeth Suter, Mary Claire Morr-Serewicz, Erin Willer, Nicole Nicotera, and Michele Hanna for their encouragement and accountability in completing this project. Thank you to my Department Chair, Christina Foust, for encouraging this project. Deb Ortega and the Denver University Latina/o Center for Community Engagement and Scholarship provided financial resources to aid in my visit to the Gloria Anzaldúa Archives in Austin, Texas. ← ix | X →

Several colleagues and friends were instrumental in encouraging this project whether they know it or not, including Amira De La Garza, Fatima Zahrae Chrifi Alaoui, Benny LeMaster, Raquel Moreira, Cassidy Higgins, Pavithra Prasad, Wesley Buerkle, and Dawn Marie McIntosh. I am grateful to AnaLouise Keating and other members of the Gloria Anzaldúa Trust. Permission to quote from documents in the archives was granted by the Gloria E. Anzaldúa Literary Trust. Thanks to Sophie Appel and Mary Savigar at Peter Lang for their guidance during this project.

Finally, I offer much appreciation to Joshua Waggoner, Martha Muñoz, Mateo Bergman, Poco Gabby, Gillian Waggoner, and Debi Fitzgerald.

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Making Monsters

“You’re lucky I understand that monsters are made, not born,” my partner remarks to me as we watch Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories. In this episode of the absurdist comedy duo’s semi-horror show, “Hole,” Tim Heidecker plays the familiar role of the little man bully to Eric Wareheim’s cuckold role, as Heidecker declares himself “king of the sac.” The sac in this case referring to the cul-de-sac that Wareheim and his family have just moved into, where Heidecker reigns supreme. We often joke that Wareheim who towers Heidecker at 6’6” frequently plays the cuckold in sketches to Heidecker’s little bully. My partner and I further liken the relationship to our own, as I fulfill the role of Heidecker the bully, though he is certainly no cuckold, he does often let me act as the little big man, if you will. He continues, “I know something must have happened to you make you feel like you need always be on the defensive, and it makes me sad, especially if people don’t know you.”

I agree. That thing that happened me to was living in a racist, sexist, classist, and homophobic society as a queer woman of color. That thing that happened to me was being continually marked as the problem rather than seeing how structures of oppression were at work. That thing that happened to me was being attacked pretty regularly by disgruntled former graduate students online, who didn’t even bother to have a veil of anonymity, as they ← 1 | 2 → launched into racist and sexist critiques that in no way implicated their own problems and biases because they knew that no one cared what happened to the queer spic teacher. That thing that happened to me was working in the racist, sexist, homophobic, and classist power laden space called the academy, a site that slowly kills the spirits and bodies of people of color through daily microaggressions. That thing happened to me was being subjected to the racism of so-called “critical” scholars as they made horribly racist statements in convention panels, where no other “critical” scholars bothered to call them on it, and when I did, I was a “bitch” with no merit in my critique. The thing that happened to me was facing outward hostility and resistance from multiple sites whenever I, as a queer woman of color, held any position that on the surface seemed to have power, whether it was only Program Planner, Director of Graduate Studies, or Department Chair. The thing that happened to me was being treated like a child and not being taken seriously by people who should know better, since when I speak about racism I am speaking from personal experience and academic study.

I understand Cherríe Moraga as she writes, “As active desirers, we become the ‘monsters’ of the Western and patriarchal imaginations” (A Codex 41).

So yes, I appreciate that my partner understands that monsters are made, not born. Because that has been my story all along.


X, 139
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (February)
Whiteness Post-Feminism Chicana Black,
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. X, 139 pp.

Biographical notes

Bernadette Marie Calafell (Author)

Bernadette Marie Calafell (PhD, University of North Carolina) is Full Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Denver. She is author of Latina/o Communication Studies: Theorizing Performance (Peter Lang, 2007) and co-editor (with Michelle A. Holling) of Latina/o Discourse in Vernacular Spaces: Somos de Una Voz? (2011).


Title: Monstrosity, Performance, and Race in Contemporary Culture
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152 pages