Since the 1960s, Hollywood film industry has typically treated and portrayed homosexuals as subject of negative stereotypes and social pariahs. Queer identities might be the most extreme sexual dynamic at work in mass culture and reception and the least respected. Gay representations in the media have been considered to be an immoral code and as homosexuality was introduced into popular culture, the gay and lesbian community was oppressed from the start. Later film and television attempted to create well-rounded homosexual characters but often continued to reinstate negative social conventions – with great attention in depicting gay stereotypes and how they shaped the public’s impression of the gay community. Historically, heterosexuality has been seen as a crucial factor in defining masculinity and homosexuals have been perceived as lacking masculinity and in a sense feminine.
Western patriarchal culture and system sees a simple interpretation of gay men and homosexual identities are oppressed within structures of domination and privileged. On the field of queer theory, the use of queer images, references and representations by mass media has not been seen in a positive light. Queerness popularity in advertising is not considered politically significant but instead commercialized. Queer politics expects that queers should be shocking and radical while being subversive. In reality, commercialized queer aesthetics makes it a mass media commodity, in which processed queerness loses its radical edge. As discussed in lecture, Adorno under the Grand Narratives of Modernity aptly states, “Humans are not individuals or subjects, but rather commodities, objects and products of consumption with no unique characteristics so that they are easily and readily replaceable (Queerying Modern Law Lecture 2011).” Mass media audience are all considered heterosexual, and mass medias no matter how commercialized cannot shock, disturb or upset its paying hetero audience too much. Queer images in mass media are usually domesticated to ensure conservatism since being queer represented sexual glamour and exoticism. Images of queer identities in the media have nothing to do with equality between genders and sexualities (Mistry, 2000). The actual processes of commercializing and aestheticizing queer are in fact capitalistic utilization that colonizes queer identities. It makes use of the otherness of gay people which only to maintain heterosexual hegemony (Roseneil 2000: 154).
As part of a social and mass culture revolutionary movement, the television series Queer as Folk (North American Version) portrays masculinity in a noticeably progressive way; due to the overtly sexual nature of the show and the fact that all of the characters are homosexuals. Queer as Folk, in many ways, attempts to broaden the category of “normative masculinity” to include gay men. All the while, the series flaunts and celebrates a non-normative and hegemonic masculinity most notable through the actions and characteristics of main character- Brian Kinney-a successful and good-looking 29-year-old with extreme arrogance, narcissism and sexual promiscuity. The series when viewed closer, subconsciously relates to queer identity, politics, masculinity and acceptance. Queer as Folk significantly function as the relation between queer politics and queer aesthetics.
Queer as Folk (North American Version) is set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and follows the lives of five gay men: Brian, Justin, Michael, Emmett, Ted; a lesbian couple, Lindsay and Melanie; and Michael’s mother Debbie. The show is based off a British Series by the same name written by Russell T. Davies, a homosexual who wanted to fill the void within the British media of homosexual characters. It deals with issues that define queer politics and identities: coming out, same-sex marriage, gay adoption, discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation, recreational drug use and abuse, artificial insemination, vigilantism, gay-bashing/violence, HIV-positive status, underage prostitution, actively gay Catholic priests, the internet pornography industry. The main characters are Brian, Justin and Michael, three male homosexuals who spend their time in the pubs and clubs of Pittsburgh’s Liberty Ave. The protagonists personify changes and new gayness- a modern phenomena in cultural representations of homosexuality as compared to their predecessors. “In a world of almost compulsory heterosexuality, [gay men and lesbians’] reality [are rendered] equally marginal and invisible (Robson 1998: 6).” Postmodernism question the earlier approaches, through defined discourses of homosexuality. In comparing the representations of degenerated gay guys with pre 1990’s identity problems, these modern gay men have become ‘out’ and ‘proud’ heroes who praised the culture despite being reset from social marginality.
Hegemonic masculinity is a widely used concept that refers to masculinity that holds the power in the society (Sipilä 1994: 19). In Western societies, hegemonic masculinity associates white, middle-class, and heterosexual masculinity to power and influence. According to Connell, “‘hegemonic masculinity’ is not a fixed character type, always and everywhere the same. It is, rather, the masculinity that occupies the hegemonic position in a given pattern of gender relations, a position always contestable (Connell, 1995a: 76).” Masculinities that are not in the power position are subordinated or marginalized – homosexuals. “Oppression positions homosexual masculinities at the bottom of a gender hierarchy among men. Gayness, in patriarchal ideology, is the repository of whatever is symbolically expelled from hegemonic masculinity (Connell, 1995a: 78).” Queer as Folk reveals, by exaggeration, excessive gay sex, cultural gay stereotypes, which traditionally reduce gayness to hyper sexuality and gender-bending.
The show provocatively focuses on representing free time and sexuality of gay guys. It focuses heavily on their parties, alcohol, drugs, and multiple one-night stands, in which people are mainly seeking hedonistic sexual pleasure. It produces Butlerian’s idea of gender as performative in a way that embarrasses and confuses the viewers (Butler, 1993). The repetitive and explicit representations of sex acts become gender performance, in which the gender identities are actually represented by sex. Although the show produced queer aesthetics and making use of its fashionable appeal in today culture (Mistry 2000: 87) it is participating by “watering down” queer’s critical and political edge. All the while, it supports underlying queer political and provocative tasks. For example the show focus primarily on proud, healthy and wealthy, good looking and lively gays and lesbians that contradict traditional images of gay and lesbian representations – usually represented as melancholic, deviant, degenerated, sickly, and dying men and women (Lahti 1989 and Paasonen, 1999: 40). On the other hand it also declares gay rights and, more subtly, queer politics. As seen in a poster that states, “Smash the Heterosexual Orthodoxy”, and especially in Brian’s behavior.
Brian clearly is a politically aware and hetero norms resisting person, usually responsible for explicitly constructing his own queer identity. For example, a sequence where Brian, a gay man, and Melanie, a lesbian woman, walk together with their baby (in doing so they are rebelling and falsely representing a nuclear family indicating the illusiveness of such representations) and kiss goodbye before Brian goes alone to a car dealership. The salesman in the store watches through a window of the family performance and with no question believes what he sees is a “normal”, productive, heterosexual family. Based on this the salesman tries to convince Brian that he should buy some other car than the one he has already chosen, because “lots of gay guys drive that car”, and it doesn’t really fit into an image of “a family guy”, and “a real man”. He then adds that the resale value of those particular cars is high, because gay guys “die young”. Brian is aggressively and clearly annoyed of the remark and maliciously drives the car through the car store’s window right in front of the upset salesman’s desk when it was time to pay for the car.
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