Re-Mediation and Ephemerality in Queer Historiography

Saturday, January 3, 2015: 11:10 AM
Midtown Suite (New York Hilton)
Hollis Griffin, Denison University
Drawing on research I’ve conducted on local and national gay and television industry press debates over the re-circulation of past television programming via DVD and streaming platforms online, this presentation examines how contemporary publics re-assess historical representations of queerness on TV in the present. Underscoring the imbrication of media industry practice and queer historical work, I stress the explicit courtship of queer consumers by media industries via televised representations of queerness from the past. In reviewing these products, gay and lesbian press outlets pay particular attention to “special episodes” that featured gay and lesbian characters as well as queer moments in ostensibly “straight” programming. As a result, gay and lesbian press coverage of DVD box sets for television like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls, and The Facts of Life provide new ways of framing the relationship between queer and television histories. Mobilizing Heather Love’s notion of “looking backward” as a mode of historical inquiry, I seek to understand the gay and lesbian press’ attention to DVD box sets that “look backward” at television’s representations of sexual difference in order to articulate television as a catalogue for queer-specific cultural memory.

More generally, this presentation worries about the relationship between television industry practice and queer historiography. Not only does the re-mediation of television canonize some programs over others, it also constitutes a woefully partial archive. As such, queer television’s history is located on DVD box sets and streaming sites on the Internet, but is also traded by fans, uploaded illegally to YouTube, and collected on degrading VHS tapes. I close with an argument for queer historical work that operates outside of media industry practices; rather than being dictated by the market, a queer historiography of television operates outside of industry attempts to harness queerness in the name of capital.

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