Immediately upon picking up a copy of Maria San Filippo’s The B Word, one can’t help but be skeptical of its survey-suggestive subtitle: Bisexuality in Contemporary Film and Television. Too often these sorts of book-length inquiries result in thin reasoning, a lack of sufficient theoretical foundation, and become, essentially, a cataloguing of film titles or scenes that help affirm the author’s central thesis. This brand of indexical scholarship is tired and, aside from a resource, ultimately worthless in terms of further explicating the trends and nuances of a given subject. Perhaps that’s why San Filippo’s book is a joy to actually read and not just glean information from. Much like Daisuke Miyao did with The Aesthetics of Shadow: Lightning and Japanese Cinema, released earlier this year, San Filippo structures her scholarship with storytelling sensibilities; the analysis is provocative and wholly considerate of its area of study, but also proceeds with a glee and determination that produces new, exciting avenues for future study within queer theory.
As such, San Filippo consistently relies on case studies to elucidate these viewpoints, but does so anchored under a few precise and playful lines of inquiry. For example, the book’s opening introduces San Filippo’s term “bi-textuality,” which involves the “negotiation of unfamiliar terrain by way of a familiar route,” and helps to enliven the book’s predominant thesis—that bisexual sensibilities are present in many mainstream American films, not just in terms of content but also marketing strategies—by way of wordplay. The term’s creation helps found exactly the ways in which San Filippo wishes to proceed and affirms that she’s looking for far more than merely instances of latent bisexuality; more compellingly, she demonstrates “the ways in which bisexuality is already present, if obscured—hidden in plain sight—by modes of representation and reading confined within monosexual logic.” The films/shows under examination are wide-ranging; even the staunchest of post-structuralists would have to raise an eyebrow at the book’s mentions of Pandora’s Box (1929) and A Shot at Love (2007-2009) in the same sentence! Yet, San Filippo is no fraud when it comes to effectively juxtaposing these kinds of texts. Whereas a lesser author might offer such a comparison to feign cosmopolitan interests, San Filippo’s deft navigation of how these texts do interact with one another borders on remarkable, in expressing macrocosmic cultural sensibilities as it relates to bisexual representations, both explicit and implied.