Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Gay Representations in Media (including Children's)

Gay Representations in (Children’s) Media
                So, because we’d signed up for our blog post topic last month, I’d misunderstood how…thorough we were supposed to be, and spent a lot of time doing research, only to find this past Monday we only needed a paragraph!  So, I will write a paragraph now, and whoever sees this can choose to read the rest of the post—it’s some interesting stuff, a series of snippets from fascinating essays.
                Queer representation in the media has evolved from the invisible, to the object of ridicule or fear, to positive, well-rounded, and likeable characters.  But there are still a lot of stereotypes, and limited visibility of working class, non-gay or lesbian queers of colors.  And often a character’s queerness is only hinted at in order to entice queer viewers, but the show will never let the character be openly queer.  Still, fan culture subverts heteronormativity by saying “Hey!  This is queer and we love it!”  And even though the tumblriffic culture of usually shipping male characters with other male characters is problematic, it is wrong to assume that females are just fetishizing gay relationships and gay sex.  Furthermore, slash subversion is positive for organizing a counter to heteronormativity, and social networking is working to increase CANON slash!  As for children’s shows, over the past few years they have had queer themes, queer undertones, and a lot of times more often than adult programming, but the queerness can only be that—undertones, because God forbid we offend straight parents.  Having more visibility, variety in character personalities, and positive role models is ultimately a good thing for viewers of any sexuality because it helps to dispel prejudice.  The media is a powerful thing.  Now, if you want to check out all the stuff I read, my sources are way at the bottom of this post.  If you want to read snippets of the good parts, try reading this whole post!  It’s just that…I made a mistake and I spent so much time collecting that information, that I felt I had to make this post because otherwise no one could see the knowledge and all my time would have been for naught.  Plus, this was important to me—and fun!  But I won’t make anyone read this whole post.

Hello, friends!
So, I was originally going with “Queer Representations in Media” but…wow, was it too broad.  In fact, this whole post is gon’ be real long and just look at cisgender gay male portrayals in media, sorry.  But, the lesbian, asexual, bisexual, demisexual, transgender, genderqueer, transexual, pansexual, and otherwise queer experience is valid has a history in media, and absolutely needs more visibility especially when it comes to people of color—just like the cisgender gay male experience!  And you know what’s a great source for transgender, lesbian, gay, and bisexual media representation for TV14 and films?  GLAAD!  Go there if you are interested—especially in transgender/sexual stuff because a TON of articles, I was SO PLEASED to see, were about that experience and visibility.  But don’t go to GLAAD if you are interested in asexual representation—no time is spent on their experience.  And I actually wanted to get to children’s media…which is strangely absent from GLAAD.  In fact, even though shows like Adventure Time and My Little Pony are hugely popular and have done some groundbreaking stuff, they are absent from popular sites like GLAAD and thebacklot (a website which seems to be what hath become of gay site after-elton and lesbian site afterellen).  Anyway, in my enthusiasm for this project, I read about queering children’s media and about slash subculture, which both factor into why I really wanted this topic in the first place: a certain kid’s show on The Hub, Transformers: Prime, which is the latest evolution in a fandom almost thirty years old, has two popular gay characters and seems to…cater to the largely female subculture of slash.  So I investigated that and we’ll get to that later, but first, why media representations are important!
                If you don’t know why media representations are important or don’t know about internalization, you need to go read Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye, and thank me for recommending a book that changed your life.  Also, what are you doing in a liberal arts college.  But anyway, in case you don’t have that kind of time on your hands right now for some Morrison, you poor college student, or you somehow missed the boat on what liberal arts students talk nonstop about, let me break it down for you (in a non-patronizing way, because if you are a bit foggy you still deserve my respect and you have it!), just so we’re all on the same page.  Prepare to have some quotes hurled at you that were written by some smart people and not a snarky 19-year-old.
“The phrase ‘media representation’ refers to the ways that members of various social groups are differentially presented in mass media offerings, which in turn influence the ways audience members of those media offerings perceive and respond to members of the groups represented.”

            Okay?  So, it’s like how in the news media, black and Puerto Rican men come off as these scary brutes and how the mainstream American public becomes afraid of them in response.  Except we’re just gonna stick with portrayals of fictional characters in this blog post.  But I imagine the example I gave is familiar to you?  Or, for example, were you a hardcore Sailor Moon fan as a kid?  And you had access to the internet, so you knew that Amara and Michelle, aka Haruka and Michiru, were not cousins but a lesbian couple whose love had endured lifetimes?  And that helped shape your perception of lesbians as a kid as perfectly legitimate and even cool human beings?  Thaaaat’s the sort of thing this blog is getting into.  Except we won’t brush on anime anymore because I just wanna talk about American portrayals, as in American written and broadcasted.

                So, what IS the big deal with media representation?  Well, I just hinted at it with my Haruka/Michiru reference (also if you want a PG-13-rated fanfic about them living together and having whacky adventures that also honors them as a couple who does, indeed, have a sex life (but no sex scenes, so I rate that aspect PG), a fic written by a lesbian, read this because it was a big influence on me as a ten-year-old:

The article I just quoted about media representation, written by Patrick Kylo-Hart, quotes someone else about why media representation is important (and instead of going to the resource PKH quotes, I’ll just use his because I’m already knee-deep in sources, here):
(Gross, 1994): Those who are at the bottom of the various power hierarchies will be kept in their place in part through their relative invisibility; this is a form of symbolic annihilation. When groups or perspectives do attain visibility, the manner of that representation will reflect the biases and interests of those elites who define the public agenda. And these elites are mostly white, mostly middle-aged, mostly male, mostly middle- and upper-middle class, and (at least in public) entirely heterosexual. (p. 143)

                And another scholar, Giovanni Porfido, agrees (and quotes yet another scholar):
For, as Taylor says: our identity is partly shaped by recognition or its absence, often by the misrecognition of others, and so a person or group of people can suffer real damage, real distortion, if the people or society around them mirror back to them a confining and demeaning or contemptible picture of themselves. Nonrecognition or misrecognition can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted, and reduced mode of being. (1992: 25)

So, invisibility?  BAD.  It keeps those in privilege way up there in their prejudices, which they use to oppress the invisible minority.  And the minority can suffer psychologically.
                And in fact, nevermind those in privilege, what about day-to-day social interactions?
Media representation matters because every media user can identify components of his or her "knowledge" of the social world that derive either wholly or partially from media representations, fictional or otherwise (Gross, 1994).
(it says Gross, but I’m quoting PKH quoting Gross)

Media representation also matters because representation is a form of social action, involving the production of meanings that ultimately have real effects. Certainly, although all media representations refer to some object, entity, or group, the semiotic act of producing meaning through the use of verbal and visual signs is far from a simple process with negligible consequences.

Thanks, PKH!  Now, here are some super cool studies that seem to back up this claim!  These were described in an article by Jennifer Raacke back in ’07, just so we have some pop culture context.

There is also concern about what effects the portrayals that do exist have on audiences. Unfortunately, very few studies have examined this issue. However, those that have offer promising results for audiences viewing positive portrayals of homosexual characters. For example, Riggle, Ellis, and Crawford (1996) had participants view a documentary film depicting events surrounding the life and death of a prominent gay politician. [Gee, I wonder what that movie was] Those participants viewing the film had a significant positive change in attitudes toward homosexuals. Similarly, Walters (1994) had two groups of participants’ complete measures of homophobia and empathy for homosexuals at the beginning and end of a school term. One group of participants was exposed to lectures on homophobia and homosexuality along with slides and video scenarios to demonstrate how gays and lesbians are stereotyped in the media. At the end of the term, this group of participants showed an increase in empathy for homosexuals and a decrease in homophobia, whereas the group without these experiences showed no changes in attitudes.

And then Raacke describes the study ze conducted (I don’t know zir PGP, so I’m going with ze).

Over two-thirds of participants listed Ellen (47%) from Ellen and The Ellen Show or Will (20%) from Will and Grace as the most memorable gay or lesbian character. […]Participants also indicated these characters were relatively humorous, likeable, mentally stable, safe, honest, kind, responsible, and nonviolent. These characters were judged in the middle of the scale for moral/immoral and good role model/bad role model […]Participants agreed that that the character’s friends accepted their homosexuality well and were ambivalent about whether (1) real gay and lesbian people were like the character, (2) they would enjoy having this character as a friend or acquaintance, and (3) if the character’s parents accepted their homosexuality well […].

You can already see the issues here that had emerged as gay/lesbian visibility increased.  The two most memorable characters are white and upper class.  As an article by Guillermo Avila-Saavedra says,media’s gay masculinity is predominantly ‘young, white, Caucasian, preferably with a well muscled, smooth body, handsome face, good education, professional job, and a high income’ (Fejes, 2000: 115).”
And Will is an especially troublesome character to bring up (check out the KPH article I’m using for a good ol’ critique!  I’m going to post all the sources I talk about at the bottom of this blog).  Anyway, let’s read on about the study!

Specifically, those recalling a positive portrayal later showed a more positive attitude toward gay men than those recalling a negative portrayal.  ANOVA [it’s a statistical test, I’m sure y’all from Psychological Statistics or research Methods recognize it] results also indicated that attitudes toward gay men […] and attitudes towards lesbians […] significantly differed by gender. Specifically, women’s attitudes toward both lesbians and gay men were more positive than men’s […].
I’m going to bring up that detail when I get to a brief critique of Transformers: Prime.   And also THIS detail:
Scores on the ATL and ATG subscales for the current study replicate findings of Herek (1988) with men expressing a more negative attitude toward homosexuals (especially gay men) than women do. It could be that in this society heterosexuality is so strongly linked with masculinity that by rejecting homosexual men who are breaking gender norms, heterosexual men are affirming their masculinity.

 Anyway, the results about portrayals of gay/lesbian characters continue.  Let’s watch for some language that shows mainstream gay portrayals come off as nonthreatening, and think about the positives and negative consequences of that:
As expected, the positively portrayed characters were found to be more humorous, likeable, mentally stable, safe, moral, honest, responsible, kind, and nonviolent then the negatively portrayed characters […]. Finally, participants’ attitudes toward whether (1) real gay and lesbians are like the character, (2) they would enjoy having the character as a friend, and (3) the character’s friends and family accepted their homosexuality were measured […]. Results indicated that those recalling a positive portrayal agreed more that they would enjoy having this character as a friend […] and that the character’s friend accepted their homosexuality well […] compared with those recalling a negative portrayal.

So, yes, that does kind of factor into “if we portray queer characters as stable goody-goodies, we’re just assimilating” problems.  As Guillermo Avila-Saavedra says:
Homosexual images are presented in a way acceptable for heterosexual audiences by rein-
forcing traditional values like family, monogamy and stability. Most of the erotic connotations of homosexuality have been eliminated. Gay male characters in particular are only welcomed in mainstream mass media as long as they do not infer any sexual desires and practices.”
But it is important that in Raacke’s study, these portrayals were focused on the character’s difference (being gay or lesbian) and still the participants had a positive reaction.  And it is important, Raacke mentions, to think about fictional characters as role models for kids.  Being likeable, honest, responsbile, kind, and nonviolent while being accepted for being different are all good things, right?   In fact, Raacke says:

[…] it seems that recalling a positive portrayal of a homosexual character from the media can contribute to a positive change in attitudes toward real gay men. Such findings remind us of the importance of positive role models in the media for effecting social change.

Before we get further into what Raacke thinks of the results, let me say ze points out some limitations of the study:

[…] future research is needed to determine if recalling such characters actually serve as a prime to influence attitudes positively. Also, investigating the influence of negative portrayals on participants’ ratings will aid in explaining how media portrayals affect individuals’ attitudes toward gays and lesbians.
And, incase you have been dramatically gesturing at your computer screen and saying “But human memory is flawed!” (I know I was ready to a few times), Raacke addresses the memory element:
In the present research, it is the effects of one’s memory on attitudes that are of primary interest, not the accuracy of the way the character is remembered. Furthermore, the crucial experimental comparisons are by gender or priming condition, which should not differ in overall accuracy of memory.

And that’s good enough for me.  Makes sense, right?  So, Raacke’s pretty excited:
This is striking for several reasons. One, the effect comes from remembering the character. Thus, merely thinking about the character for a few minutes, without even viewing the character on television, produced measurable affects on attitudes. Second, the effect was more positive than negative. Thinking about a positive character led to a more positive attitude toward gay men, but thinking about a negative character did not significantly change the attitude from that of a control group thinking about a character with no mention of sexual orientation.
Raacke also references another researcher’s thesis that basically says a portrayal of a group that is rarely witnessed in mainstream media representation, who has a wide audience, mind, can be even more effective than day-to-day in-person influences.  She says her study seems to match that thesis.
It may be that the show Will and Grace, with its huge audiences, is doing more to improve attitudes toward gay men than any amount of explicit social teaching in schools, families, churches, and elsewhere. These results are not really surprising considering the huge success of entertainment-education efforts in many developing countries.
Raacke then gives some examples about entertainment being used to, for example, effectively promote safe-sex practices. 
But isn’t the idea that say, a school that teaches gay and lesbian history is less effective than a sitcom kinda…horrifying?  Still, back to that thesis Raacke courts, imagine the power of a lead gay character with a  huge audience instead of all the side characters we often get in media nowadays (don’t worry—I’ll show you GLAAD’s stats very soon).  The side characters are like candles in terms of visibility and viewer response, but a lead?  That’s a lightbulb, friend.
It is quite apparent from the findings that a select few leading characters are highly salient in people’s minds (e.g., drenching the viewer), while other supporting characters even if from popular shows, like Carol from Friends, have less impact on the viewing population. This is especially evidenced by the fact that Ellen (the most highly publicized homosexual character in history) was recalled with such great frequency even after her show has been absent from the airwaves for a few years. Such findings demonstrate the potential influence that one character from one show can have on the viewing population.
WOW!  Isn’t that amazing, but a little scary because of who gets to be the memorable lead character?  And as I mentioned before, Will is problematic, but you know who else was problematic on that show?  Jack, man.  And the participants in one of Raacke’s studies addressed it:
It is also interesting that some of the same characters were often recalled in both the positive and negative conditions. For example, Jack and Ellen were commonly listed as both a negative portrayal and a positive portrayal, suggesting that different people evaluate the same characters very differently. For example, one person might view a stereotypical effeminate portrayal of a gay man as negative due to its perpetuating a stereotype, whereas another person might view the portrayal as positive due to the character’s likeable and humorous personality.

                Guillermo Avila-Saavedra talks about Jack, too.  Besides the fact that flamboyant, effeminate, self-absorbed Jack is a very popular character, the truth is that the narrative presents him not so much as likeable as laughable.  GAS has a good point, and it seems that the participants described Jack negatively for those reasons as well.  BUT…what about the participants who described him as likeable?  Someone they could be friends with?

It’s a big problem with minority visibilities.  Sometimes, people in the marginalized group are a lot like the stereotype—they shouldn’t be ignored.  But the stereotype determines our impression of the marginalized group.  In many ways, it is offensive.  But stereotypes like Jack can also, to some degree, create a positive and more tolerant response.  You know what would be a great solution to this problem?  More visibility of the marginalized group.  More variety.  More portrayals.  To show there are all kinds of ways of being.  And I’ll scoot y’all over to some GLAAD statistics right after I finish up quoting Raacke’s fascinating article.  Because the next chunk I show you has several “OMG” moments from her good role model/bad role model study.
However, for the dimension of good role model/bad role model, the ratings were similar between participants recalling any memorable media character and participants recalling a negative portrayal of a homosexual character. Again, participants were ambivalent about whether the character was a good or bad role model. So, it appears that thinking of a character can influence how participants view the character on specific traits, but may have less influence on a judgment about whether the character is a good role model or not. Although these ratings were ambivalent and not really strongly negative, the less positive ratings for the role model item suggests some latent homophobic prejudice that comes out in the more general “role model” rating than in more specific trait evaluations.
Interestingly enough, ratings of how much real-life gay or lesbians were like the characters did not differ across the three groups, with all three mean ratings being on the mildly agree side.

Where.  Do I even.  Start.  So, a participant can think positively of Will Truman, but maybe not consider him a role model.  So, where does that leave the kiddies if there was a show out there for younger audiences with an openly gay character?  And does the “mildly agree” mean these portrayals helped, in a teeny fashion, influence their ideas about what lesbians and gay people are like as a whole, or does “mildly agree” mean “eh it’s probably true for some gays and lesbians.”  I can only guess.  But man, Raacke thinks there’s some homphobia at play when it comes to naming a character a role model!  If Raacke’s right, this speaks to the idea that even if that thesis about a character with a huge audience is true, it still makes that audience consider the group that character represents as “other.”  Which keeps them from being considered something to look up to (bad role model doesn’t mean “look at this person and don’t do what they do”, it means “this person should be a role model, but has terrible qualities”, like a bad parent).  So, limited visibility is still bad.
                With these fascinating studies in mind, let’s do a brief overview of the history of gay and lesbian representation in American media.  Let me first say that a great film to watch about this is The Celluloid Closet, which I’ve seen the first couple minutes of (up until they talk about Rebecca).  I just didn’t have the time to watch it for this project.  But anyway, a big ol’ stereotype back in the day (by which I mean pre-1934) was “the sissy.”  The sissy was a flouncing, cooing man who adored women’s clothing.  Offensive?  Uh huh.  An article in Isis magazine says: The mere speculation that a character could be gay is played for laughs, and if you don’t see something wrong there, then there’s something wrong.”  Now, I use this quote to talk about silly effeminate men, but in context, that quote was about homoerotic couples, like John Watson and Sherlock Holmes, are constantly played up as a couple, especially in recent film and television adaptations.  And that’s supposed to be funny.

But Harvey Feinstein likes the sissy.  I think it goes back to what I just said about how certain portrayals wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t so much more common than other portrayals, and if they weren’t used to generalize certain groups or create negative inferences about that group.  In fact, as Giovanni Porvido says, If queers are constantly portrayed on TV as evil or silly creatures, we should not be surprised if mainstream TV audiences (or some members of them) end up believing it to be true. I haven’t explained the “evil” part yet, have I?  Let me show you some bites of Robert Urban’s article on After-Elton.

Many famous, classic novels from world literature were made into films during Tinsel Town’s golden years. The villains in these great stories were almost always more intelligent, interesting and sensitive than the often dull, stiff heroes. My gaydar was always able to detect at least of hint of “kindred spirit” between my gay self and the “bad guy” tragic figures in these stories.
In classic Hollywood dramas and film noir movie, being literate, refined, idly rich, effete, well mannered, effeminate--or in other words, possessing qualities intrinsically abhorrent to regular straight guys--made one a sure candidate for villainy.
If you watched the video I posted on this blog, “Disney Needs More Gay”, you’ll recognize the trope they discuss:  the fop!  If you haven’t seen the video, here’s the link, and please watch the other stuff Rantasmo and Nostalgia Chick do, because they are the bestest:

But just to clarify, the fop is that one bad guy who speaks with a British accent and has oh-so-much fun being sophisticated and evil.  He’s Scar from The Lion King.  He’s Pegasus in Yu-Gi-Oh.  So, yes, that trope has lingered past Hollywood’s golden era and…seems to appear a lot in children’s television!  We’ll get to that later.

                So…what happened in 1934?  The Hays Code!  BUM BUM BUUUUUM!
The Production Code of 1934 formalized the voluntary exclusion of all gay and lesbian characters from Hollywood films (Russo, 1981), and such exclusion was adhered to when television emerged 15 years later.       
                Thanks, Raacke!
                So, in the couple decades post-1934, we see coded gays…as psychotics.  As evil.  As mentally ill.  And one of the most prominent directors in those decades was giving us a lot of “evil gays.”  Hitchcock.  He’s listed on as one of the top 5 worst directors when it comes to gay portrayals. 
Alfred Hitchcock[…] used gay characters as villains or to create tension with homosexuals as "other."
                Okay, so, which three films?
In 1948, Hitchcock "tackled" the Leopold and Loeb murder case in the fictionalized Rope, a take on the real-life gay killers, that connected the young men's sexuality directly with their murderous intentions.
In 1951's Strangers on a Train, it is evident that Robert Walker is gay and just a tad smitten with tennis pro Farley Granger. Rather than ask Granger out on a date, he enlists his crush in a murder scheme. A year later Martin Landau and James Mason were also portrayed as gay, again to define them as "other" and threatening. It can be argued that Hitchcock was simply a creature of his time, but his portrayals of gay men were so offensive — and never balanced by anything more positive — that he merits mention here.
                Sonofa---Hitchcock, no!  See, the issue with the killer stereotype and the sissy stereotype is they both have this problem where they link behavior to sexual orientation, and that orientation is considered something you don’t take seriously and is therefore lesser, or it’s something evil…and therefore lesser.  But the point I made earlier is it’s okay to have effeminate characters or a gay serial killer—just don’t create inferences and don’t have them be the only images we see all the time!
                And the suspense genre isn’t the only one with a lot of evil gays!  Check out what Robert Urban says about sci/fi post-Hays Code:
The science fiction/horror film genre was born of the West’s manic fear of not just Communism, but of all things alien, different or abnormal to basic “mom & apple pie America” during the cold war in the 1950s. Virtually anything that induced a phobic reaction in the straight male U.S. demographic was exploited by screenwriters for use in sci-fi film plots. And what better way to emphasis the scariness of a monster than to imbue it with “subversive” sexual proclivities? What better way to instill “fear of penetration” in the delicate libidos of movie-going males than to imply it sexually, however subliminally?
                Ohhh no.  Not only are they cold killers, but they are some alien who is OUT TO GET YOU!  They are INVADING!  THE HOMOSEXUAL MENACE!  *dramatic orchestra*See the fears of recruitment being a threat to the nuclear family and the cult of domesticity, which absolutely have to be protected from communism and the atom bomb? 
                But there’s a delicious ironic twist.
Of course, all this sci-fi sexual demonizing can eventually fall in on its self. The result is what we call “camp,” and is actually the fate of many of the films described above. Although such movies were originally intended for a straight audience, they often end up being more popular with gays!
          Is it internalizing?  Ehhh I prefer to think it’s unconscious reclamation.  The filmmakers wanted to freak audiences out.  Instead, the marginalized community says: “These movies are fun, silly, we love them!”  It’s powerful!
                Okay, and in the decades after these movies?  Raacke explains a little.
Not until the 1960s and 1970s did television shows occasionally deal with some gay and lesbian themes, although networks were still reluctant to introduce a regularly appearing homosexual character. Television and studio films have also struggled with depicting homosexual characters.

                PKH says of recent decades:
            Media representations of gay men in recent decades have provided ideological guidance to American audience members, since the codes, conventions, symbols, and visuals they have offered have contributed significantly to the social construction of gay men and to the resulting social ramifications of that construction.

                And PKH argues this reflects a series of steps in minority media representation.  This first step is being invisible.  The next steps?
Once a specific group begins to be represented in media offerings, it enters the second stage: ridicule. During this stage of representation, the group is stereotyped and its members are frequently presented as being "buffoons," as were African Americans in the early television program Amos 'n' Andy or, more recently, with the character J. J. on Good Times. 
            So, this isn’t just PKH looking at the history of gay representation in media.  PKH is looking at the history of other minority groups’ visibility.  The next steps?
During the third stage of representation, regulation, members of the social group are presented as protectors of the existing social order, such as police officers and detectives. Finally, during the fourth and final stage of representation as identified by Clark--respect--members of the social group are presented in the complete range of roles, both positive and negative, that their members actually occupy in real life. Stereotypical characters may still appear during this stage, but they are part of a wide range of other characters from the same social group; as such, they are not considered to be as harmful to the process of social constructionism as are stereotypical characters when only a handful of characters representing the social group are present in the media overall.

                We’re at stage four right now.
            Okay, if you want to read some kinda great, but mostly depressing statistics on LGBT representation in the media over the past few years, go here:

                So, the past twenty years, especially from the 90s-early 2000s, have kinda looked like little hints or banal tokens.  Like as Giovanni Porfido describes:
On a quantitative level we can argue that, until recently, their narrative existence was just implied or hinted at by gestures or mannerisms but it was rarely clearly spelled out (Dyer, 2002).  For not very clued-up viewers it was probably all but invisible. When more explicitly represented, queers were frequently relegated to marginal, secondary, or supporting roles. They appeared as the gay brother, neighbour, son, friend, or colleague of the straight lead actors. They did not have a real narrative life of their own. Their fictional existence served only to underline and reinforce the heterosexuality of the main characters (Dyer, 2002). Their individual existence was also typically devoid of any emotional or erotic interpersonal relationship or disconnected from the queer community at large (Walters, 2001). They were tokens in an otherwise totally heterosexual world (such was the case with Warren in BBC’s This Life).
                And the sexual aspect of gay characters is kept under wraps so as not to “offend anybody.”
[…] televisual representations of homosexuality (even when very tame and chaste) are often seen as
indecent and inappropriate for public viewing because the public is implicitly assumed to be the heterosexual majority (Warner, 2002). So, whereas straight viewers feel entitled to be outraged about the televisual presence of queer existences (for instance, the brouhaha that followed the broadcast of the first gay kiss in EastEnders), queer viewers are never asked if they find offensive all the straight lovemaking that is the staple diet in current mainstream television.
[…] The public sphere and the public representational arena is a problematic environment for the viewing of images of queerness because they are seen as an expression of abject humanity and the ‘wrong’ kind of love. Moreover, because queer sexuality is still understood as tied to the private sphere queer people are not fully recognized as an integral part of national audiences, viewing constituencies, and public life.
                So the queer is “deviant.”  The heterosexual is “normal.”  And it…is troublesome in US children’s media because, like in adult media, there are very few gay characters (let’s see…ParaNorman is the only movie I can think of where the writers basically go “YES HE IS GAY. NO SUBTEXT. GAY.” And happily, there is no stereotype), and heterosexuality and hetero-romantic love is glorified to the divine.
                According to Emily Kazyak and Karin A Martin, “Heterosexuality is constructed through hetero-romantic love relationships as exceptional, powerful, magical, and transformative.”  Which would normally be fine, but it’s…the only romance that gets celebrated.  “Multiple ethnographic studies suggest that by elementary school, children understand the normativity on heterosexuality.”  And they ingest it: “Kelley, Buckingham, and Davies (1999) find that six- to eleven-year-old children incorporate what they learn about sexuality on television into their talk and identity work in their peer groups.  Martin (2009) finds mothers of children ages three to six years old suggest that children, especially girls, know about heterosexual falling in love, weddings, and marriage from ‘movies,’ ‘princesses,’ and ‘Disney.’”
                And yet even in children’s media, we get what can only be described as “gay stuff.”  Check out this article by Jeffrey Dennis—I’ll list it at the bottom of this post.
[…]in […] [children’s] programming, there will be a dozen hints and signals, references that make no sense without an awareness of gay culture, jokes that subtly acknowledge same-sex desire or practice, intimate friendships that would be instantly ravaged by watchdog groups if they used the word “gay,” and exhortations that “nobody can tell you who to love.” Queering, locating undertows of same-sex desire between putatively heterosexual characters (Doty, 1993), is actually easier in programs targeted to children and adolescents than those targeted to adults.
            The article lists a ton of examples of queer interactions and behavior in the following shows: Hannah Montana, Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide, The Fairly Odd Parents, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, The Grimm Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Drake and Josh, and Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends.  So check it out if you are interested!  I copied and pasted huge segments to my friends.  Ned is especially progressive!
                Okay, so why are these behaviors here? Are they political?  Are they just for the grownups?
[one] explanation is that the homoerotic themes are deliberate, but not political strategies; they are jokes for adult viewers, never meant to be understood by children or adolescents. Many of the programs feature nods at adult viewers. Ten-year old are unlikely to catch the references to H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos on The Grim Adventures, parodies of comedians Billy Crystal and Jerry Seinfeld on Fairly Oddparents, or the in-joke of Mr. Monroe on Ned's Declassified being played by “Monroe” of Too Close for Comfort. However, even adult heterosexuals are unlikely to tease out the references to kept boys and Sunset Junction, and children as well as adults can easily comprehend boys asking each other out or dancing together at parties.
[…] [another] explanation is that the disruption is, as the producers would no doubt claim, purely unintentional: the intimate friendships are a simple misreading, and the inclusivity the result of writers trying to come up with new ways to discuss boys and girls liking each other, never intending to suggest any validity to same-sex pairings, or even the possibility that such pairings exist. However, many of the stereotypes, hints, and references suggest conscious design, and after all authorial intention is not required for viewers to create meanings from mass media texts.
                Guillermo Avila-Sevadra would say that because a lot of the things listed are jokes, they can never count as something positive.  In the context of comedy, interactions that on the surface challenge or mock traditional masculine roles are common. However, the non-traditional is always normalized by the implicit assertion that traditional is still better, even if non-traditional can be tolerated.
But Jeffrey Dennis says that regardless, these queer portrayals can have a positive impact.
Whatever the explanation, this study demonstrates that gay potential appears in the most arid of heterosexist wastelands—programming targeting children and adolescents. It does not appear in every program or in every episode of the programs where it exists, but it appears often enough for some viewers, especially LGBT viewers, to notice, and to find a momentary escape from the tyranny of everyday heterosexism.
                This can factor into what Robert Urban said about gays noticing portrayals of themselves in scifi movies, embracing them, and turning them into “camp.”   But it is sad that we have to scrounge for crumbs.  I didn’t make that metaphor up—I saw it in a post about…queerbaiting.
                Don’t know what queerbaiting is?  It’s not the same as including some subversive gags or occasionally saying “when you like someone” instead of “when a boy likes a girl” as Ned’s Declassified does.  It’s deliberate courtship.
                Do you watch…BBC Sherlock?  Supernatural?  Merlin?  Then you’ve seen some prime queerbaiting.
                Let explain:
For those of you who don’t understand the concept of queer-baiting, allow me to explain it. Queer-baiting is what happens when a series wants to attract a queer audience without alienating their homophobic/transphobic audience. They introduce a character that queer people can relate to. They use the details and feelings common to queer people’s lives to make it very obvious to anyone who is queer, that the character is also queer. They know that because there is very little queer representation in media, queer people are going to latch onto this character, and therefore latch onto the series.
However, they never let the character actually come out. When the homophobic/transphobic part of the audience starts to realize that the character is queer, the writers add something to reassure them that no, of course the character is straight. Often, this takes the form of a character who is clearly portrayed as gay suddenly entering a straight relationship, but that is not the only way it can play out.
What this does, is tell queer people that their stories are not decent or important enough to be told. This tells queer people that their stories are only acceptable if they’re changed to be the stories of heteronormative people.
Additionally, when queer people say, “I identified with this character as a queer person,” or “I think this character could have been queer,” the heteronormative parts of the audience are encouraged to tell queer people that they should not be saying that. The heteronormative parts of the audience are encouraged to tell queer people, “stop projecting,” and “stop dragging respectable heteronormative characters into your weird issues.” Queer people are told that they should be ashamed of themselves for thinking that the character was being portrayed as queer.
Queer-baiting is even more painful than erasure, because it dangles fair and equal representation in front of your eyes, and then snatches it away. And then it tells you that the whole thing was in your imagination all along
                Stephen Tropiano seems to agree with thatfeministdyke.
                The battle between the creators of a TV show (whether it’s the writers, producers, actors or directors) and the fans about which characters should end up together is as old as fandom itself (and it’s awesomely fun). The problem is, that when the powers that be realize that a slash pairing is massively popular within the fandom then they can be temped to have a bit of fun. It’s far enough; we are playing with them they should be able to play back. It’s all about the give and take – they give us awesome TV shows and we take them and do with them as we please.

There is always going to be a certain amount of shipteasing when you’re watching TV, especially now with the growing popularity and awareness of shipping. It’s perfectly fine to have a bit of a wink at slash fans, both on and off the show, it’s saying hey we acknowledge you’re there and we appreciate you. But when these winks start to happen on a regular basis slash fans start getting their hopes up but when push comes to shove the powers at be never actually follow through… I mean it’s not that kind of show.
                It seems like every time we get some queer visibility, the mainstream media has to yank it back.  If you watched “Disney Needs More Gay”, remember that part where NChick and Rantasmo basically say that because this huge market that already really likes Disney is out there, and since Disney already has pretty gay-friendly employment regulations and the parks have gay days, why not send out some openly gay characters, some good role models?  There’s deff some money to be made there! 
                But you might complain “Dat’s capitalism, man!”  Well, Giovanni Porfido has a bone to pick with capitalism and queer media representation.
This recent multiplication of queer images in an increasingly competitive and ratings-starved TV market (Smith and Riddel, 2007) Sexualities 12(2) 172 could easily be interpreted as a canny commercial strategy to entice and attract hitherto ignored consumers of images/object. After all, as Phelan points out ‘[v]isibility politics are compatible with capitalism’s relentless appetite for new markets . . . you are welcome here as long as you are productive. The production and reproduction of visibility are part of the labour of the reproduction of capitalism’ (2001: 11). In a very similar vein, Hennessy also argues that queer visibility has ‘to be considered critically in relation to capital’s insidious and relentless expansion. Not only is much recent gay visibility aimed at producing new and potentially lucrative new markets, but as in most marketing strategies, money, not liberation is the bottom line’ (1995: 143). So, it could be argued that in spectacular societies, queer images are actively produced insofar as gays are seen as conspicuous consumers of images/goods and their economic exploitation, rather than the fulfilment of their visual rights and needs is the hidden agenda behind their current visual inclusion. Some of these criticisms can be easily dismissed by arguing that no representation could possibly portray the multidimensional nature of being queer. Some people or experiences will inevitably be left out of the frame. To claim inclusive televisual citizenship is precisely to demand a more diversified representational environment in which no individual
representation has to bear the impossible burden of portraying all that could, or ought to be said about queer lives. On the one hand, in a truly multivisual environment each representation would be just a piece in a greater puzzle; shedding light on what has not yet been seen or opening up the possibility of dialogue and healthy disagreement as it is supposed to happen in open societies.

                And that reeeally smells like the characters in Will and Grace and Modern Family to me.  Hell, even a good degree of the ideal gay image brought to you by Bravo.
                It is in this search for new markets that what was once abject, legitimated through biology and science, is now being accessed and re-legitimated in order to produce the ‘new’ and ‘exciting’. Moral boundaries are being redrawn whereby what was once projected onto an ‘other’ is now being drawn back into the mainstream. Yet this is not a wholesale incorporation of bodies that were once positioned at a distance. Rather, it is a re-valuation process, whereby prior immoral abject culture is being used to open up new markets. The expanse of sexuality . . . as a mechanism for selling goods is one obvious example.

                So, the article argues, the more things change, the more things stay the same.  Thanks, commodification.  However, as problematic as it is to exact change in a capitalist system, it should be clarified that “fuck the system, let’s install a communist regime” is the answer, for, as A Gay Manifesto says, in either system, gays are “persona non grata”.
The spectacle’s power of recuperation is never fast enough; neither is it the market’s capacity to overcome its contradictions. There is always a gap, a fissure between images and their recuperation and it is in those gaps that resides the agency of the visual. Despite queer televisual citizenship’s potential entanglement with contemporary forms of visual governmentality, bourgeois Sexualities12(2) 174 individualism, and neo-liberal forms of self-fashioning and self-realization (Rose, 1999) we cannot possibly reduce it to such a mechanistic expression of commodification and reification. Moreover, as I have argued elsewhere (Porfido, 2007), we ought to consider that queer politics of visibility cannot be directly subsumed under an anti-capitalist agenda given that some of its basic objectives can be easily achieved even within a neo-liberal framework (McNair, 2002). After all, anti-capitalist regimes have often demonstrated a scarce interest in supporting or protecting queer lives (Weeks, 1977). The politics and practices of the everyday are much more complex and surely never allow a clear-cut distinction between assimilation and transgression. Claiming queer visual inclusion in main-stream televisual culture would have transformative effects not only for queer lives vis-à-vis the fulfilment of their basic visual rights, but also it would open up the possibility of colonizing the very visual public existence of the sexual citizen.

                But overall, Giovanni Profido says “you know what?  The increased numbers of portrayals in recent years are good.  Let’s celebrate the baby steps, as long as we remember they’re baby steps.”  Obviously, because I didn’t change the font, he didn’t actually say that (I’m assuming PGP he because he refers to himself as a gay man).  Here’s what he says:

The recognition of the visual needs of queer viewing constituencies and of their rights as national audiences and TV licence payers is not to redress a ‘merely cultural’ injustice. Rather it is to rectify a harm that impinges simultaneously on the symbolic and material dimensions of queer people’s existence (Fraser and Honneth, 2003) and that prevents their enjoyment of equal and democratic opportunities of visual and sexual citizenship. I also want to emphasize that the context has obviously changed from the total invisibility of queer lives of the past. Television, and other public media, is providing a much richer representational diet. This is an enormous civic achievement for people like me, who, in a not too distant past, had only been able to put together tiny fragments of queer images to negotiate personal and social identity. But, crucially, this representational shift is of vital importance for all the new generations of queer viewers who should have by now a more positive visual playground to negotiate subjectivity, and for straight audiences to get to know better the existence of queer people. There is a huge difference between acknowledging the presence of homosexuals in the mainstream visual arena, and truly welcoming that presence as an integral part of the national citizenry. However, some significant steps have been made towards a fuller queer civic inclusion in a multivisual and democratic society […]

                And, of course, it’s a problem that these baby steps only occur in specific genres, like scifi, as mentioned earlier.  Um…even though kid’s stuff is increasing in subversive stuff (pre-2010 TV aside, what about Rainbow Dash, Princess Bubblegum and Marceline, or ParaNorman’s Mitch?  And what genres are all those?  Also if you don’t know what I am talking about, go ahead and wikipedia that stuff because I’m sorry I just don’t have time to explain My Little Pony or Adventure Time—I have 9 pages of notes left to sort through), some genres of entertainment are still eerily desolate.

In fact, we should consider how queer televisual presence is strictly regulated by the politics of genre (Arthurs, 2004; Creeber, 2001) and whereas it is relatively easy to see queer images in fictional genres and sub-genres – ‘72 per cent, of individual references to gay sexuality were made during entertainment programmes’ (Cowan and Valentine, 2006: 6) – it is almost impossible to find any in other types of TV programmes. For example, where are the queers in televisual sport culture? Can we think of any overtly queer sport presenter? Sport is still one of the most hostile environments to queer visibility (Pronger, 2000) and this is  clearly mirrored by the almost complete absence of images of queerness in TV sport programmes. This is to demonstrate that queer televisual inclusion is still piecemeal, uneven, and it often follows broader patterns of queer social exclusion that must be fully acknowledged and strategically challenged.

                Still, back to queerbaiting.  Well, remember what I’ve said earlier about gays embracing and reclaiming gay representation?  Let Giovanni explain the concept of poaching.  He explains it’s not perfect, but it’s a form of resistance that can help keep minorities and their allies, well…sane in the face of this crap.

Minority audiences have the capacity to decode and resist privileged meanings and values encoded into representations and images in more complex or oppositional ways, and ‘[i]n instances of what Michel de Certeau called cultural “poaching”, minority audiences “appropriate” majority images and read them “as if” they had been intended for the minority’ (Gross, 2001: 153). Similarly, queers have (to an extent) resisted those prevailing negative representations of themselves produced by mainstream homophobic culture, and made up for the scarcity of homosexual images in the media by appropriating and creatively ‘translating’ into a queer perspective heterosexual images and representations. But resisting, appropriating, and ‘translating’ were only ways of easing off the problem. No matter how much queer people could or wanted to appropriate heterosexual images and representations, this did not change the fact that homosexual representations per se were negative, inaccurate, and almost non-existent in any field of mainstream and public culture. ‘Poaching’ was a necessity, then, rather than a playful choice. Therefore, what kinds of critical questions are raised by this scarcity and disparaging quality of gay images for debates on citizenship? What does it tell us about the democratic opportunities of social participation and social inclusion available to queer people in spectacular societies in which social relations are mediated by images?

                Okay.  So, you get poaching?  Let me introduce you to…the potentially awesome and yet problematic--that’s how I tend describe all the representations I’ve been describing in this article, huh?—anyway, flourishing subculture of slash.
                If you know what it is, stop groaning, you, and listen.
                If you don’t know what it is, it basically means a queer pairing.  I personally have a problem with calling every gay pairing “slash” because the meaning has traditionally meant “counter to how the show portrays the character’s sexuality” (but we use the word “canon” to say “the show officially portrays something”), because most characters are portrayed as heterosexual.  If, for example, a lesbian pairing is canon, then…it’s not slash, in my opinion.  It’s what we call straight pairings…you know, “pairings.”
                But anyway, a bunch of sources that I quote refer to “slash” as just a queer pairing, and often talk about gale male pairings, so that’s the definition we’ll use.  It means a queer pairing, regardless of being canon, and it usually refers to a gay male couple.
                And TV shows have been catering to slashculture.  And not necessarily in a queer baiting way, thanks to the accessibility to viewers and visibility that social networking can provide.
                Let me assail you with quotes from a weekly column on thebacklot, known as The Shipping News.  Also, I recommend checking it out because it is short, sweet—a good read.  But it might be redundant if you have a tumblr.  Now, hold on, any tumblr pessimists, and look at some positive change brought about by slashculture.

Even though slash shippers are well known in fandom for their passion and often explosively excited nature, it’s taken a while for the spotlight to shine on us. Did the good old homoerotic subtext in TV and film get even more obvious, thus causing a spike in the number of swooning fans? And if it did, was it due to show runners finally catching on to the untapped resource that is the hundreds of thousands of fans tripping over themselves for some guy/guy romance? I, for one, would like to thank the Twitter hashtag system.
Once writers, producers, and stars started to acknowledge our enthusiasm towards our ships, slash shipper’s twitter campaigns were born. The logic is simple, if we tell them what we want then we may just get it. It’s really evolved from spontaneous reactions to our favorite boys breathing near each other to cleverly designed phrases tweeted by thousands at the same time with military precision.
The most successful of these endeavors has to be The Box Scene Project. Last Christmas, Fox outright teased Klaine shippers with promotional pictures of Blaine giving Kurt a tiny boxed gift. The shippers watched the episode with baited breath, but the scene never came. We wanted to know what was in that box so badly that the shippers gathered, strategized, and created The Box Scene Project, an effort to win the full script of the mutilated episode that contained the answer to our burning (raging) question. But Klainers didn’t stop there. Once we had secured (and read and wrote fanfics of) the scene, we embarked on an epic Twitter campaign asking Glee producers to release the actual footage. Spoiler alert: it was a success.
It’s now a fairly regular occurrence to log onto Tumblr (assuming you’re one of those people who actually logs out) and find instructions on when and what to tweet this or that creative team to give our non-canon slash ships a chance at love.
The latest endeavor comes from Sterek, the relatively young slasher sensation. Fans of Stiles and Derek from Teen Wolf took a little Twitter interaction with the show’s head writer, Jeff Dennis, in which it was implied that he could be bribed with chocolate chip cookies and they ran with it. A four tweet long exchange sparked The Sterek Campaign, which has set up a monthly action plan, the first of which is (you guessed it) “Cookies for Sterek.” Fans took pictures of themselves holding a plate of chocolate chip goodness and pleading for more Stiles & Derek, then they tweeted these pictures with #CookiesForSterek tacked at the end.
Discussions, heated arguments, disagreements, and detailed opinions are (though sometimes unpleasant) ultimately beneficial to the fandom and to the people who take part in it. If we were all conformists who went along with the masses we wouldn’t really be violently shipping so many canon and non-canon queer couples.
There is concern about slash as a whole, about whether there is disrespect to characters, and about the fetishization of queer men, most of this in light of the fact that this column is written by women. Of course I have my thoughts on these subjects (as a fanfic writer, and shipper, and a psychology student– and most importantly a queer woman).
                Ahhhh…that last part would be why so many people have a problem with slashculture.  But let me first say that I don’t watch Teen Wolf, but my suitemate does, and she describes the visibility of queer characters in it like this: “MTV puts out the show, the fans say ‘ooh I love this show, and we really love these two characters together because [insert details about their characters…I can’t get specific because I don’t watch the show and my friend kept it short].’  And then MTV listens and says ‘okay, you mke some valid points about the characters.  That’s a good idea.  Let’s do it.’”
                I hope that’s accurate because that is a good, good, good, good thing!  And I want more shows to have an open attitude like that.  Obviously, you should never do everything the fans say.  But the fans who love a program often have good ideas, and writers should be open to listening to (not necessarily obey) an organized, well argued movement.  And if that movement is consciously promoting queer visibility, or better queer representation is a result?  Let us throw our hats in the air and cry “Opa!”

                These Sterek and KBlaine campaign results are DRAMATICALLY DIFFERENT from what Isis magazine talks about in relation to queerbaiting, canon writers, and slashers:
Many of the problems associated with queerbaiting come from the fandom, and especially from the straight fangirls who want to see a gay couple get together because it would be hot (that’s fetishization, which is a whole different issue). But anything the fandom picks up ultimately comes from the writers. The writers want to attract a queer audience without actually making a character queer, which could offend the homophobes in their audience—and we can’t have bigots getting uncomfortable, can we? This trend tells us queer folks that we’re not important enough to have our own plotlines: we’re important enough for your statistics, but not for your stories.
                Now, about the ladies.  Let me first clarify that, as The Shipping News article states, it’s not just straight girls who are interested in the slash.  That author was not the only queer girl.  Go, my child, to tumblr, and you will find ohhh so many queer ladies—be they asexual, bisexual, lesbian, generally queer, etc.—who ship [meaning wants two people to be in a relationship] the boys.  Four of my suitemates are slashers, meaning they have a ton of gay male ships, and none of them identify as straight.  But tumblr, as I said, tells a bigger story.  My suite is not an isolated incident.
                And as for the fetishization, that really depends which slashers you pay attention to.  There are plenty of slashers out there who are just in it because two guys are automatically hot  (if you’ve ever read “My Immortal”, that vomited piece of fanfiction that combines all the worst of emo culture with Harry Potter, you’ll be familiar with the horrible ways the author kept fetishizing gay and bisexual men).  Anyway…then there are the slashers who think queer visibility is important and also see the important ways the characters’ personalities connect.  Okay, I don’t ship Drarry (Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter), but I’ve seen posts explaining how the characters would work off each other, especially how they could find comfort in each other after the war was so terrible.  And people will just spend paragraphs and paragraphs explaining the emotional complexity of Destiel.
                And is sex part of it?  Oh yeah.  Ships are always about the porn, including straight ships.  And before you think that’s evidence that this is fetishization (because women are reading porn about two men boning), let me remind that a ton of the erotic or porn-y fics on fanfiction websites like Archive of Our Own focus on good character development and analysis, good plot, and sexy scenes.  And let me ask you if you’ve ever heard of the phenomenon where many straight women prefer to watch lesbian porn (like actual lesbian porn, where the fingernails are cut so you know these women are less likely to just be hired straight actors)?  Because it’s less, well, rape-y than heterosexual porn?  That doesn’t mean straight women are necessarily fetishizing lesbians.  It means humans can get turned on by watching couples have sex, regardless of how everyone identifies.  Sort of like that subplot in The Kids Are Alright where Annete Benning and Julianne Moore’s characters are a couple, but they watch gay male porn (although their reasons for watching it sorta contradict what I just said about straight girls watching lesbian porn but…this post is not about porn).
                Anyway, Jeffrey Dennis backs me up on the fans being interested in emotional chemistry.  Although he insinuates that the slash only counts if a male writes it.  Dennis’ article is the one about queer themes and characters in children’s television from, like, when us college folk were in middle school?  This will also explain why is used as a good feel for the fandom and shippers (it’s not anymore—tumblr and Archive of Our Own are where the culture centers itself now).  Anyway, Dennis’ article spends some time noting that the more times a kid’s show disrupts heteronormativity, the more likely to get slash!
It has been established that heteronormativity is disrupted with some frequency in children's programming, somewhat more often in the animated than in the live-action programs, and that viewers, at least those who produce fan fiction and fan art, select homoerotic themes and images to a great extent on the disruption of heteronormativity that they find on screen […]
A number of scholars have investigated slash, fictional depictions of homoerotic romances between media characters, usually male, who are not officially identified as gay (Falzone, 2005; Scodari, 2003). The scholars usually presume that the writers are women (e.g., heterosexual women), envisioning a fantasy of two men together without female competition; however, the profiles on reveal that one third or more are male, probably gay male adolescents or young adults, envisioning a homoerotic fantasy without heterosexual intrusion. Whatever their sexual identity or motive in writing, presumably the hints, intimacies, and references provide inspiration, so those programs with the highest degree of disruption of heteronormativity should inspire the largest percentage of slash stories.
                Dennis then says that weirdly enough, the slash isn’t usually the implied gay characters, like Chester and Arthur on Fairly Odd, but is instead leading characters.
This may indicate a lack of ability or desire to locate homoerotic subtexts, or it may simply indicate that minor characters are of little interest to slash writers. When they stray from the stars of the show (Drake/Josh, Mac/Bloo), they prefer to pair antagonists, who can provide an emotional heat as they grudgingly begin to recognize their attraction.
                I think another reason is the lead characters are more likely to have actual personalities to work with, are more likeable to the author, and thus the fics are more likely to get readership by dealing with lead characters.
                Anyway, so I already took a moment to touch on the “why women?” angle.  But queer visibility and subversion of heteronormativity are a big part of slashculture.  P. J. Falzone wrote an article analyzing slashculture and the Star Trek Spock/Kirk pairing.  It turns out that pairing is incredibly important in studying the history and the central characteristics on slashculture. Ahem, in case you are still rolling thine eyes at slash, let me state that slash as a subculture originated in the 1970s, a time when the fanfiction writers had to fear their work would have them arrested or fined for breaking obscenity laws, so it’s a part of queer media representation and history and even though it’s a problematic culture today, it deserves our respect.
                Anyway, Falzone thinks that a subculture centered around queer visibility and subversion is ultimately a good thing, but in my view, the article gets a little too…enthusiastic…by at one point comparing slash to…how new religions formed as they deviated from their parent religions (like Christianity from Judaism and Lutheranism from Catholicism, and so on).  But let me share some passages that come off as more…rational.
The dilemma of straight women writing about queer men has been ill served by most scholars and critics, focusing on the question, "Why women?" when what they should have been asking is, "Why queer?" Simon During, in looking at what he calls the "global popular," suggests that through the deconstruction of media icons whose popularity transcends markets globally, we may be able to discern elements that are universal (1991:809). I suggest that by deconstructing a dominant narrative so consistently and thoroughly queered over such a long period, one might discern something in the characters themselves that is universal, universally queer, and/or universally queer-able, and that this universal element exists outside the bounds of the dominant narrative, and within some aspect of the characters themselves across a spectrum of contexts and narratives.
                Okay, and let me establish the article is talking about late 20th century-early 21st century popular culture, so I don’t think we’re going off an essentialized queer identity that has always been the same through the centuries.
                But here’s why shipping Kirk with Spock is sticking it to the man, man!
The queering of the narrative is important because it represents a clear and conscious break from the status quo-from embedded assumptions that result in oppressive identities. K/S manifests such a break through the reconfiguration of reality into queerly aberrant configurations, liberating the characters, and indeed the character archetypes, from the heterosexist norms of commercial media production. In this sense, the queer imagining becomes a revolutionary act. Sexuality provides a fertile ground for this imagining because it is accessible, visceral, and primal. The queer here is not a variation or riff on traditional androcentric, heterosexist normativity, but the queer is a break with these traditions-it is an opportunity to rethink established patterns of social relationships and to more fully and credibly realize the Utopian ideology of the original Star Trek mythos.
                It subverts heteronormativity in a way the canon universe, which should have been inclusive, failed to do.  A huge chunk of a fandom (it stands for…I forget, but it’s easier if you imagine all of the fans of a show or movie being in a diverse, expansive kingdom) is centered around agreeing that a relationship between two men (two lead male characters), be it sexual, romantic, or both, is not only valid, but should be celebrated.  Slash is a REBELLION, according to Falzone!
[…] one might interpret slash as an audience's active critique of media modes of production. That is, despite their Utopian inclinations, the characters in these narratives continue to inhabit a hegemonically deterministic media space. Slash is rebellion and Utopian rewriting, an attempt to liberate the characters through radical sexuality.
                However, this difference is not related to capitalism.  So, Giovanni Profido…might actually be pleased?  Here’s why slash creates change without relying on The Man:
Not only is the introduction of queer characters into the original Star Trek mythos through rewriting a way for fans to fulfill the Utopian ideals of Star Trek that the creators never did, but, in a sense, queerness offers a way for readers to return to the narrative space, one in which commercial interests no longer have authorial sway. Hebdige (1988) writes about ways in which producers of popular culture appropriate the counterculture and commercialize counter-hegemonic forms. K/S, however, may represent an escape from this cycle of (re)hegemonization and countercultural appropriation. K/S is so far outside the sphere of acceptable corporate variation (such as synergy, cross-branding, and anime variations), as to embody a subculture inaccessible to market appropriation. K/S has defeated the system of market reappropriation, and in its aberrancy, remained somehow pure.
the making of the Utopian desire real through heretical/Utopian action becomes, in a very real sense, a revolutionary act-the first step toward liberation from heteronormative shame-based paradigms.
                See, the article makes a very interesting point, but I just want to ground us in the practical and remind that slashwriters are not some hallowed beacons of purity and justice.  But what they do for queer visibility, often without relying on capitalism, is important.  It’s just that this article kinda exaggerates.  
                So, have you ever read Walter Benjamin’s essay about art and “aura?”  Because I just don’t have time to explain—I haven’t even gotten to Transformers: Prime yet.  But I think Fabrize provides some food for thought by talking about slash and aura.
The journey of the narrative away from the source of its construction and toward a queered reader construction parallels the shift that Walter Benjamin writes about in the move of art from the unique to the mechanically reproducible. In Benjamin's reading, art loses its "aura" as it also loses its presence in time and space (1969: passim). The shift away from media construction and toward reader construction characterizes a similar shift in K/S. This shift is not only a parallel of the mechanically reproducible, but a manifestation as well. A conscious, aberrant rewriting circulated to a sympathetic audience is only possible through the mechanically reproducible seized technology of the reader/authorwhether it be mimeographed manuscripts distributed through the mail or websites with instantly accessible, editorially free, anonymously authored K/S stories. In a context free from editorial or branding oversight and free from commercial gain, the meaning making is open to anyone who can hold a pen, use a keyboard, or post a manuscript. This shift is not just an aesthetic one, but also political. Benjamin wrote that art without aura becomes useless for fascistic purposes, but that mechanically reproducible art can be utilized for revolutionary ends (Benjamin 1969: 218). In the same sense that mechanically reproducible art was useless for purposes of fascism, slashed narratives are useless for purposes of patriarchy, heterosexism, and commodification.
                “But waitaminute!” you say.  If TV caters to slash, like in BBC Sherlock, that is commodification.  And fetishizing gay men?  That’s heterosexist.  And possibly patriarchal.   Well, as I’ve said, this article is flawed, but brings up interesting points.  And it addresses fetish right after making that bold statement I just showed you:
By looking at the characters of Kirk and Spock from a heteronormative standpoint it becomes necessary to explain issues of "male homoeroticism" and straight female desire embodied in the gay male (narrative) flesh in slash. Writers have paid unnecessarily close attention to the gender of the characters, debating whether something is inherently androgynous about them or whether they fill in for traditional gendered notions of male/female pairings, either as individuals or as individuals each containing the masculine and feminine in themselves.21 This paper argues that what the characters of Kirk and Spock represent is an archetypal pairing that transcends gender altogether. By reading K/S queerly and broadly, these gender distinctions become irrelevant. What matters are the characters themselves, and the unique qualities that make fan authors-straight, gay, indifferent-feel the need to pair them.
                …except if gender isn’t important, doesn’t that mean that this pairing as part of gay male visibility isn’t important?  Because that kinda hinges on gender.  And if ships are entirely character-based, that…points out a problem with the predominance of gay male slash.  It means non-male characters aren’t written interestingly enough.  So the patriarchy wins.  And slashculture is cisgender male-normative—have you seen planet ships?  Look up the Earth/Mars ship or the Jupiter/Earth ship.  Because when we landed on Mars, tumblr slashculture was on that stuff.  And when an asteroid headed for Earth hit Jupiter instead? Well…fanart of two cisgender male planets resulted.
                So, uh, you know what’s male-normative? 
                Why am I about to talk about Transformers?  To ground a lot of the stuff we just talked about into something solid.  This show has lasted almost thirty years and the portrayals of the gay male characters have changed.  Not many fandoms—especially kids shows--have spanned so much time.  And it’s interesting to look at a mainstream American show that obviously caters to female viewers through slashbaiting.
And for a kid’s show, the newest adaptation has some really interesting gay male characters, such as Starscream, the newest version of the 1986 version of Starscream.  Both versions? Gaaaaay.  But coded.
Now, the 1986 cartoon is…really homoerotic, but not intentionally.  It is…all dudes.  Fighting each other.  And sometimes those fight scenes have some…interesting…moments…..
All.  Canon.
Anyway, 1986 Starscream is this high-pitched voiced second-in-command of the Decepticons, the bad guys.  He’s very clumsy, selfish, and always screws up the bad guys plans. 
Meet Starscream:
And before he was named Starscream, the show was going to call him…Pretty Poison.  I kid you not.
So this seems to take place in the classic “nonthreatening menace” mentality of gay stereotypes.  Starscream is a bad guy, and always will be, but his incompetence and girliness make him nonthreatening to the stable, more traditional, “good guys.”
Here is his effeminate nature getting in the way of his master’s evil plan:
That’s canon.
And you know what?  The 1986 character has been one of the most memorable/beloved characters from the original cartoon.  Fans SINCERELY LOVE Starscream.  And he hath endured through the ages in the movies, the later cartoon adaptations, all the comic spinoffs.  He’s everywhere—he’s not hated.  I think this is an example of fans subverting heteronormative narratives, or making things “camp.”
Fastforward to the 2010 Transformers: Prime on the Hub.  Unlike it’s 1986 predecessor, the show is conscious of its female demographic (even though it has…three-ish major female characters in an otherwise male cast).  Check out dese stats:
October's strength also marked The Hub's best-ever monthly performance in Total Day among Women 18-49 and Adults 18-49
For the week and for the month, The Hub led all kid cable networks in co-viewing among Kids 2-11 watching with Women 18-49
A new episode of "Transformers Prime" (Friday, 7 p.m.) earned year-to-year delivery gains among Kids 2-11 (+78%, 119,000), Kids 6-11 (+70%, 75,000), Women 18-49 (+157%, 77,000), Adults 18-49 (+330%, 172,000), Persons 2+ (+171%, 331,000) and Households (+213%, 244,000).
The episode also generated massive time period increases versus prior four-week averages across virtually all of the network's key target demographics including Kids 2-11 (+1350%), Kids 6-11 (+1250%), Adults 18-49 (+2700%), Women 18-49 (+4000%), Persons 2+ (+1618%) and Households (+1333%). Also, Men 18-49 increased by +2050%.
Programming Highlights, "Transformers Prime":
  • Friday's series premiere of "Transformers Prime" (6:30 p.m. ET) was The Hub's best-ever regular series premiere by delivery with Households (172,000).
  • Quadruple-digit percentage time period (Fri, 6:30 p.m. ET) increases from the prior four-week average in virtually all key demos including: Kids 2-11 (+1350%, 145,000), Kids 6-11 (+1250%, 81,000), Adults 18-49 (+2700%, 84,000), Women 18-49 (+4000%, 41,000), Persons 2+ (+1618%, 292,000) and Households (+1333%, 172,000). Men 18-49 increased by +2050% (43,000).
  • The same was true for boys, girls and pre-schoolers, as all these demos were up by huge gains in the time period: Boys 2-11 (+1650%, 105,000), Girls 2-11 (+1200%, 39,000), Boys 6-11 (+1600%, 68,000), Girls 6-11 (+550%, 13,000), Kids 2-5 (+1475%, 63,000), Boys 2-5 (+1750%, 37,000) and Girls 2-5 (+1200%, 26,000).
[Men’s original number was roughly 2098, increased to 45098] [Women’s original number was 1025, increased to 42025]
            Let me just translate that stuff in case you got confused:  A LOT OF WOMEN OVER 18 WATCH THIS KID’S SHOW.  IT’S A KEY DEMOGRAPHIC.  And considering the gay characters I am about to show you, it is pretty cool that a bunch of adult men watch the show, too.
                Now, are all those women slash shippers?  I would guess not, but a heck of a lot of Prime fans are ardent, loud, passionate slash shippers.  And the show certainly caters to slash:
                Meet Prime Starscream.  He has a more foppish voice—the elevated, British-sounding rumble.  He wears stilettos.  He’s thin and lanky, unlike his bulky original.  To quote an article I found at,Sexually revealing clothing, thinness, and attractiveness are usually thought of as female characteristics” Except I don’t think Star’s clothing is particularly revealing…because he’s a giant robot.  But the other stuff and the foppish nature?  Or how about the effeminate range of his voice when he panics, which the voice actor ties back to Starscream’s ’86 voice actor?
Coded gay, friend.  Er—gay, frankly, with all the stuff this show pulls.  You know, like this DEFINITELY NOT HOMOEROTIC CONSPIRACY:
                Now, meet Knockout.  He has older versions, but Prime Knockout is something…clearly gay.  He’s flirty, pretty (more the classic Grecian athlete build than the skinny build), obsessed with aesthetics.
                In his first appearance in this show, he struts in, casually flicks something off his chest.  Starscream notices that he is a robot who turns into a car, not a jet, and notes “Oh, you’re one of those.”  And Knockout then lispily replies that he likes the way he looks in steel-plated radiums.  And later…flirts with Optimus Prime.
And both characters are brutal.  Starscream literally rips someone’s heart out in the pilot.  The animators constantly show off his long, clawed fingers.  When Knockout isn’t slicing into people with his buzzsaw, he’s brutally electrocuting them with his electric staff..thingy.  (I’m sure they show it later in that slip I just posted).  By the way, when it’s a cartoon and we’re dealing with non-people, children’s shows can get away with quite a lot.
But the kids still connect.
young children’s attention is most focused and content best understood when watching media that includes animation, child characters, nonhuman characters, animals, frequent movement, and purposeful action [ie not just standing around talking to each other].
And in that same article I just quoted, they discuss heteronormativity in children’s media, like the frequency of men objectifying women.  They say things like:
and the boys/men say things like “I’ll give you a tune up any time”
                Which is absolutely something Knockout would another man (er--obviously male robot).  In fact, that’s pretty close to what he says in the clip (“Sweet rims…you’re real heavy duty.”)
                So, great, we have a gay character, but…isn’t shallow objectification bad?  And the fact that these are brutal bad guys…isn’t this just another negative portrayal?
                Well…Starscream and Knockout are the fan favorites.  Fans A.DORE. these two characters.  They’re so entertaining to watch, so likeable!  And Starscream actually has character depth and analysis in the show, whereas the “good guys” in this show are often written more blandly.  Prime loves the bad guys—they’re way more interesting and even complex!
                It’s just that…these gay portrayals have bad roots.  For one thing, Starscream has elements of the killer homosexual menace and the deviant, nonthreatening fop.  And his inability to make an emotional connection with other characters has roots in portrayals of gays as loners doomed to be damaged forever.  And he and Knockout certainly come off as promiscuous (oooooh, especially in fic circles.  They are what one might call “fandom bicycles”).  And fic circles often portray Starscream in a way that…well, Giovanni Porfido is about to describe:
When, or if, exposed at all to images of homo-sexuality, mainstream cinema and television viewers were presented with two main caricatures of homosexuality. To the first belongs the plethora of introverted, lonely, criminal, suicidal, alcoholic, or terminally ill characters that symbolized the evils associated to such an abject way of being and loving. The alternatives to these doomed characters were the more ‘benign’, but no less patronizing stereotypes of the effeminate gay man or of the clumsy butch lesbian who existed in virtue of their inadequacy and potential for comic relief (Dyer, 2002).

                Primescream is that first one.  1986scream is the second one.
                So…these portrayals are probably bad for the kids.  They aren’t exactly positive role models, and they are the bad guys.  And as for older slashaudiences, who love character depth, it depends on if they handle Starscream and Knockout’s delicious, devious personalities as tied to homosexuality, or just really fun traits in characters that happen to be gay.  It kinda depends on who is watching, doesn’t it?  But the history behind gay media portrayals really makes Starscream and Knockout questionable, especially because there are so few gay characters in our media.  And the show catering to it is good to subvert heteronormativity, but it’s complicated.  But before I start feeling guilty about loving Starscream and Knockout as a fan, let me also explain that…with a show dominated by men, this show caters to other gay ships.  Including in the good guys.  Optimus Prime and Ratchet sort of have a thing going on.  Optimus and Megatron have a history.  Fans ship Rachet with everybody—he’s another “bicycle” and he’s not a gay stereotype—he’s just a grumpy old man with a soft spot.  But the most popular characters are the SUPER gay Starscream and Knockout.  So…what on earth does this mean?  And are more kid’s shows going to jump on the queerbaiting/slashbaiting for their key demographics?
                And let me leave you with something incredible.  In one of the popular CANON comic series in the Transformers fandom, we have More Than Meets the Eye.  And two characters in it have PGP he, and just so happen to be a couple.  They aren’t called partners, but “Conjunx Endura”, which is basically Latin for life partner.  And they aren’t stereotypes—they both have complex, yet damaged (by war, not gayness) personalities and a complex but obviously gay relationship.  Their names are Chromedome and Rewind, and here are some snippets.
And here is Chromedome protecting his relationship with Rewind in a…nonhealthy way:
And here is an interview with the writer (whose responses are in bold), who confirms they are the most important people in the world to each other (although he stipulates robot culture and gender don’t literally translate to “gay”)
And here is the writer confirming the ship:
And in the issue that just came out today?  The couple said, directly, not metaphorically, “I love you.”


·         Raacke, Jennifer M Remembering Gay/Lesbian Media Characters: Can Ellen and Will Improve Attitudes Toward Homosexuals? Journal of Homosexuality 53.3 (2007) 19-34

·    Kylo-Patrick Hart, "Representing Gay Men on American Television," The Journal of Men's Studies, 9, no. 1 (2000): 35-45,
·    Stephen Tropiano, Prime Time Closet: A History of Gays and Lesbians on TV, (London: Library of Congress Cataloging-In Publication, 2002).

·    .

·         Guillermo Avila-Saavedra, "Nothing Queer about Queer Television: Televized construction of Gay Masculinities.," Media, Culture and Society, 25, no. 1 (2009): 6-21,


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