Cinema and Media Studies Queer Television
by
Hollis Griffin
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0314

Introduction

People use the term “queer television” to refer to a number of different things: representations of sexual minorities on television programs, as well as programming that is associated with, has a strong following among, or is created by sexual minorities. It is also a term that names a way of studying television to better understand how it participates in the social construction of sex, gender, and sexuality. Queer television studies encompasses a variety of different topics, including how sexuality is represented in television programs, how it operates in particular genres, the ways in which it informs viewer interpretations, how it figures into the business and production practices of the television industry, and how activists engage with it in order to advocate for social justice. Scholars of queer television are interested in how sexuality relates to the pleasures of watching television as well as how sexuality relates to the power relations perpetuated by television (e.g., valuing some identity groups over others, etc.). For that reason, research on queer television that emerges from cinema and media studies is qualitative in nature. Because “pleasure” and understandings of power hierarchies can be subjective, scholars of queer television studies often “take a stand.” Doing so makes research in the area a purposefully political endeavor. The scholars who practice it see meaningful information about the medium and the world around it emerging from careful, rigorous research on the relationship between television and sexuality.

General Overviews

Queer television can be approached from a variety of different perspectives. Davis and Needham 2009 and Hilton-Morrow and Battles 2015 are particularly helpful because they are readers with wide-ranging outlines of scholarship on the topic. Where the essays in Davis and Needham 2009 are designed for an advanced readership, Hilton-Morrow and Battles 2015 is written for readers new to the topic. While studies of queer television are bound up in the analysis of queer media as a larger category, they are also intimately connected to studies of gender and media culture as a whole. Gill 2007 and Krijnen and van Bauwel 2015 introduce viewers to those conversations. Joyrich 2014 and Villarejo 2014 discuss queer television studies at the beginning of the 21st century, offering thoughts on how scholars might carry out insightful, rigorous analysis through their selection of objects of analysis and the methodologies they use to approach them.

  • Davis, Glyn, and Gary Needham, eds. Queer TV: Theories, Histories, Politics. New York: Routledge, 2009.

    E-mail Citation »

    An anthology that features essays by some prominent scholars who study queer television. Grouped thematically, the pieces in the collection provide readers with insight into the major critical approaches in queer television studies.

  • Gill, Rosalind. Gender and the Media. New York: Polity, 2007.

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    A textbook that introduces students to some conceptual vocabulary and rudimentary critical frameworks used to study sex, gender, sexuality and media culture, including television. It contains individual chapters devoted to advertising, news, and talk shows, among others.

  • Hilton-Morrow, Wendy, and Kathleen Battles. Sexual Identities and the Media: An Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2015.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203114513E-mail Citation »

    This textbook introduces students to key terms and approaches used to study how media forms, especially television programs, help people make sense of sexual identities. Focusing on television’s representations of LGBT lives and cultures, the book discusses the benefits and limitations of “visibility,” how television constructs norms about proper bodies and identities, and how LGBT people sometimes use television in their attempts to subvert those norms.

  • Joyrich, Lynne. “Queer Television Studies: Currents, Flows, and (Main)streams.” Cinema Journal 53.2 (2014): 133–139.

    DOI: 10.1353/cj.2014.0015E-mail Citation »

    This article is a brief overview of queer television analysis as a subdiscipline of cinema and media studies, more generally. A premier scholar of queer television, Joyrich discusses two major concerns in the field in the 21st century. The first is the relationship between the increasing normalcy of sexual minorities in television programming and queer critiques made by television scholars in an attempt to subvert those norms. The second is what it means to study television when digital technologies such as online streaming complicate what “television” is in the first place.

  • Krijnen, Tony, and Sofie van Bauwel. Gender and Media: Representing, Producing, Consuming. New York: Routledge, 2015.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315694597E-mail Citation »

    A textbook that introduces students to some conceptual vocabulary and rudimentary critical frameworks used to study sex, gender, sexuality and media culture, including television. It is organized into three broad sections: “representing,” “producing,” and “consuming.”

  • Villarejo, Amy. Ethereal Queer: Television, Historicity, Desire. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.

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    Villarejo suggests that emphasis on positive versus negative images of sexual minorities misses an opportunity to consider how representations of queerness might shed light on television’s function in US culture as a whole. She reframes “stereotypes” as units of time—single episodes, multiple-episode story arcs, entire series—through which all television represents issues related to desire and identity. She then demonstrates this critical framework using programs from US public television.

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