Video Renegades and Lesbian TV “Broadcasting” in 1990s France

Saturday, January 3, 2015: 10:50 AM
Midtown Suite (New York Hilton)
Tamara Chaplin, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
It was not until the launch in France in 2004 of Pink TV (the nation’s first queer satellite channel) that queer network professionals began producing mass content aimed specifically at queer audiences.  That same year, the global launch of Youtube offered an unprecedented platform for amateur videographers—queer and otherwise—to make their own media creations widely available.  While these developments gave queer producers and consumers extraordinary access to mass audiovisual technologies, such developments had important historical precursors.

My talk examines how a group of French lesbian activists (whose project was known as “La Très Grande Télévision Lesbienne,” or TGTL) made use of amateur video technology after home video cameras became commercially available in the 1980s but before the consumerization of live streaming in the early twenty-first century.  Explicitly conceived as a form of national and international lesbian TV news, the TGTL collective shot, edited and produced hour-long videocassettes consisting of short reports on lesbian politics, culture and social life.  In lieu of actual network access, the TGTL’s “television” footage was projected during lesbian film festivals and their VHS cassettes sold via both formal and informal contacts (bookstores, festivals, etc).  Although the TGTL initiative ultimately “failed,” from 1995-1998 these video renegades (including women now at the helm of France’s largest lesbian organization, the Coordination Nationale Lesbienne and of Cinéffable, France’s longest running lesbian film festival) nevertheless managed to create an alternative audiovisual space which talked back to heteronormative industry programming by promoting lesbian news, information, culture and connection.  In investigating the history of this heretofore unexamined initiative, I argue that such early queer videographers played an important role in promoting the contemporary forms of social media activism that now shape twenty-first century politics.  This presentation includes excerpts from TGTL’s “television” footage.