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Chapter 9


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Media Studies
Michael Petit

CHAPTER 9 – QUEER ANALYSIS  Queer media scholars attempt to understand how media texts, as significant outlets of cultural discourse contribute to the ordering of human understanding surrounding gender, sex, and sexuality  How images and representations of heterosexuality and homosexuality, replicated across media and throughout time, create a binary understanding of sexuality that privileges heterosexuality and marginalized homosexuality Queer Theory: An Overview  Queer Theory: an interdisciplinary perspective that seeks to disrupt socially constructed systems of meaning surrounding human sexuality  Sexuality: an enduring emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction toward others based upon their gender or sex  Americans tend to see sexuality in terms of heterosexuality/homosexuality, however, there is also bisexuality o Misrepresents the full spectrum of human sexuality  Individual sexuality is fluid and difficult to categorize and therefore the categories we have for sexuality can never full represent an individual’s actual varied sex drives  There are no actual connections between the words homosexual or heterosexual to the individual sexual drives and practices  Sexuality is particular to each individual, the social constructions of heterosexuality and homosexuality are cultural categories humans use to make sense of their sexuality  The binary or heterosexuality/homosexuality results in unequal distributions of social power  Homosexuality and heterosexuality are cultural constructions like masculine and feminine o Allows for social classification, essentializing, and (dis)empowering groups that identify with these categories  Heteronormativity: A diverse set of social practices that function to perpetuate the heterosexual/homosexual binary and privilege heterosexuality o Even though sexuality is an internal element and the external elements tend to happen behind closed doors, Heteronormative social practices convince people that the distinct categories of sexualities do exist  Adrianne Rich o Heterosexuality is “compulsive” in the sense that people are coerced into identifying with the social definitions and norms of heterosexuality from birth o Convince people to identify with heterosexuality o Heterosexuality and homosexuality -> mutually exclusive  Binary must exist to make heterosexuality seem normal or desirable, because homosexuality exists as the abnormal opposite  Sexual Othering: Process of stigmatizing homosexuality (or any non-heterosexual practice) as abnormal to privileged heterosexuality o Seen in people’s assumptions of what a nuclear family is o Marriage o Military service o Insurance benefits o Medical visitation rights  Use of derogatory terms to degrade non-heterosexuals (gay, faggot, dyke) are also used as a negative connotation for anyone o There are no widely accepted words to ridicule heterosexuals on the basis of their heterosexuality  Queer theorists are not against heterosexuals, just the systemic normalization of heterosexuality Queerness and Visibility I: Sexual Stereotypes in American Media  Heteronormative systems persuade us to sort sexual practices and messages into one of two categories  Constant binary understanding o Leads to media stereotypes Natural/Deviant  Normalization of heterosexuality  Stigmatization of homosexuality  Heterosexuality becomes natural because it is extremely present in media texts  There are television shows which have homosexual characters however they have appearance limitations o Secondary roles o Select seasons o Occasionally visible o Portrayed stereotypically o Limited reach on cable network HBO  Hollywood has a history of using homosexuality as a marker for deviance or criminality o Older Films  Abnormal  Antisocial behaviour  Therefore is untrustworthy and/or dangerous o Sometimes, even when a character’s sexuality isn’t relevant to the plot, the antagonist will be portrayed to have non-heterosexual tendencies Monogamous/Promiscuous  Heterosexuality : Monogamous  Homosexuality: Promiscuous  Mainstream American romcoms relies on the eventual, monogamous coupling of heterosexual characters  Heterosexuals in media aren’t always monogamous, when they are promiscuous; they still have many portrayals of monogamy to balance it out. When frequency is taken into account, the rare appearance of a homosexual is shown to have a hyper-sexual drive. This creates stereotypical images to the public.  Cultural stereotypes linking queerness to insatiable, almost perverted sex drive  Promiscuity is even in shows which are supposedly GLBTQQIA (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer, Questioning, Intersexed, and Allies) friendly shows Gender Clarity/Gender Ambiguity  There is no absolute association between a person’s gender (masculinity/femininity) and sexuality  Heterosexuals portrayed to have definitive gender roles o Male fulfills masculine role o Female fulfills feminine role  Homosexuals are portrayed to have unclear gender roles o Shift unpredictable between classic and opposite gender roles o Blend aspects of femininity and masculinity in original ways o Queer theorists supports this fluidity, but this gender fluidity and ambiguity results in a certain level of discomfort in mass audiences toward gay and lesbian personality  Unsettling thought that “things are not quite right”  Restricted sexual expectations o Heterosexuals: Natural, monogamous, secure o Homosexuals: Deviant, over-sexed, androgynous o These two expectations supports the notion that there are only two ways of being sexual, and that those two ways are complete opposites o These views make queer individuals seem bizarre and threatening, and causes limitations on what heterosexuals should expect out of a relationship Queerness and Visibility II: the Problems with “Positive” Representation  How increasing numbers of apparently non-stereotypical representations continue to influence Heteronormative systems of power  There are more media images of queer individuals today than ever before o There is a distinction between visibility and representation o Visibility: The number of queer characters present in the media o Representation: The way that those queers act, feel, and engage in storylines)  Increased visibility of certain non-heterosexual characters, personalities or themes always overlooks others o Certain parts of queer life are more prominent in the media and other are ignored o Media texts focus on the dramatic coming-out story to homosexual characters. This ignores the fact that homosexuals and heterosexuals share the same simple problems as humans  Coming-out as a dramatic moment is another way to “other” homosexuals o Increased visibility is not always diverse visibility  Media texts represent homosexuality as a problem that needs to be addressed and accepted by the heterosexuals in the homosexual’s life.  The mere presence of positive queer characters or themes does not guarantee the unproblematic representation of sexual minorities in American media Queerness and Invisibility: the “Deployment of Sexuality” and Gender Performativity Discursive construction: A social construction made invisible, natural, normal, and indeed “biological” by its discursive aspects Michel Foucault and the History of Sexuality, Volume 1: an
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