Date of Degree

2-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Liberal Studies

Advisor

James Wilson

Subject Categories

Film and Media Studies | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies

Keywords

post-gay, media, television, queer, generation Z

Abstract

This thesis explores the contemporary landscape of LGBTQ adolescent television programming over the past decade. Applying a three-pronged approach to media content analysis—emphasizing a textual reading of the series, the networks’ political economy of production, and audience reception among scholars, culture critics and fans—the author provides both surface and symptomatic readings of Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars (2010-2017), MTV’s Faking It (2014-2016), and ABC’s The Real O’Neals (2016-2017). Thematically and chronologically, this period of programming spans the end of what has been called the gay-positive era, characterized by the politics of anti-bullying campaigns, and the emerging post-gay genre, born after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense Of Marriage Act. This new, often controversial generation of post-gay programming appears untethered to what Ellis Hanson dubbed the “moralistic politics of representation,” and is instead free to satire the traditional signifiers of the gay experience in adolescence, including the coming-out story arc, social disenfranchisement at school, and familial rejection.

On the contrary, the post-gay genre offers queer queen bees and bullies, teenagers pretending and learning to be gay for popularity, sexually fluid adolescents who evade labels and never perform coming-out, and kitsch cultural insiders at the heart of mainstream, middle American family sitcoms. As is common for declarations of temporal distance from an historical struggle, (post-race, for example), the introduction of post-gay television was met with skepticism, and outright rejection. Faking It and The Real O’Neals were skewered by activist-journalists and online fandom communities, and both were canceled prematurely. Despite the short shelf life of this generation of queer teen television, these series reveal the polyvalence of the discourse of sexuality, fluctuating between past and future, pride and shame, progressive and regressive, and reimagining the “gay experience” for Generation Z. Weaving the theoretical interventions of Esther Saxey, Jason Jacobs, Jack Halberstam, Tison Pugh, and Ann Pellegrini throughout, the author playfully interrogates the relationship between popular culture, homosexuality and mainstream American values.

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