Sexual Identities and the Media: An Introduction
Sexual Identities and the Media: An Introduction grew out of our frustration with a lack of an accessibly written book capable of introducing the topic to undergraduates, providing them the foundation they need to move on to more challenging primary source materials. While there are many books providing overviews of the issues and debates related to gender and the media, there is no corollary for sexual identities and the media. Most of the work in this area is either in the form of article- or book-length case studies, with very few aimed specifically at undergraduate students. This book grows out of our own experiences as educators who often feel that case studies do not provide sufficient context and perspective for helping students make sense of this complex terrain.
This book is written with the student in mind. We have worked to make the writing clear and accessible, avoiding unnecessary jargon. We weave together theory, syntheses of existing research, and original analysis of contemporary media examples, all with an eye to boiling complicated ideas down to a comprehensible level. This has sometimes required us glossing over some finer points of theoretical and methodological distinction in an effort to get to the “meat of the matter.” At the same time, we believe this approach does not mean we have sacrificed introducing students to the complexities of the relationship between sexual identities and the media or the variety of methodological and theoretical approaches. Though we ourselves are grounded in critical cultural theories and methodologies, we believe the book is useful in a wide variety of classroom settings as we consider the breadth of approaches to the topic. In putting together this project we made two choices that we think will work for students and instructors. First, we decided not to organize the book in either a traditional media studies (by medium or by industry/tex /audience) or identity studies (one identity group per chapter) based format. The first three chapters represent the heart of the book. Chapter 1 introduces students to the study of sexual identities. While students in women and gender studies programs will no doubt find some of this material familiar, students in media studies and communication might not. At the same time we introduce some of the key features of the field of media studies that students in that field might find familiar, but others might not. Chapter 2 provides necessary historical context that current college students likely have little awareness of, but whose debates and media practices continue to resonate today. Chapter 3 introduces students to the concept of visibility. A key part of this chapter is moving students beyond a superficial equation of visibility to social and political progress for minority groups. In this chapter, we introduce what we call a “yes, but” approach, in which we encourage students to recognize the ways media both enable and constrain how we understand sexual identities. The rest of the book follows from there by exploring the themes set up in the first three chapters across five sites: commercial culture and GLBTQ identity; resistance to dominant media practices by GLBTQ producers and audiences; the closet as a central metaphor for organizing GLBTQ experience and media practices; comedy, considering the way both jokes and genre formats shape representations of and by GLBTQ communities; and, finally, bodies, in which we consider representations of same-sex intimacy and transgender bodies as key sites of lingering cultural anxieties about non normative sexual and gender identities. We believe this structure allows the book to challenge the assumptions about both sexual identities and the media with which students will come to class. While we have worked to provide examples from across a range of media, this book does reflect our own grounding in the study of television. However, the issues raised in each chapter cut across a range of media. In addition, each chapter considers how the same issue can be approached in more than one way, and thus evaluated in more than one way.
The second key feature of the book is the inclusion of activity-driven “textboxes”. Each chapter contains textboxes that offer activities and questions that can be used for in-class activities, but also adapted as on-line activities, paper assignments, or even as video assignments. These are designed, of course, to help instructors, but they also are designed to provide students with questions that synthesize, expand upon, or apply concepts learned in each chapter. Textboxes often include suggested media examples, many of which are easily available through streaming services such as YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. Alternatively, we encourage students to use their knowledge of popular culture to consider additional texts, sites, or practices for further exploration.
1 Introduction 1
2 Historical Context 35
3 Visibility 69
4 Consumer Culture 101
5 Resistance 131
6 The Closet 163
7 Comedy 195
8 Bodies 225
9 Conclusion 255
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