Annotated Bibliography #3: Queer Bodies and Media Experiences

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For this annotated bibliography I wanted to focus on the interaction of both queer bodies and their material experiences with mainstream culture (specifically the mass media) and the reactions that arise from the masses when that sort of interaction is forced and not feigned.

Adam Lambert - "For Your Entertainment" (live), The American Music Awards, CBS, November 22, 2009

Adam Lambert, runner-up on the most recent full season of American Idol, performs the title track (and first single) from his most recent album, "For Your Entertainment," on the American Music Awards, aired on ABC. During his performance (filled with leather and BDSM sex references), Adam strays from rehearsal scripts and (1) thrusts the head of one of his male dancers into his groin, simulating oral sex, (2) violently grabs and kisses one of his male band members, and (3) gives the audience the middle finger. All three of these acts (most outwardly, the kiss) were met with such scrutiny and high-level animosity that ABC cancelled his subsequently scheduled performance on Good Morning America, and, though he has yet to even hint at an apology, thousands of people have demanded he apologize and be reprimanded.

Before any additional analysis, let's understand one thing--when Adam first entered the mass media on the show American Idol, though he was outwardly flamboyant and theatrical, he never "came out" as homosexual; he only did so after the show ended.

Based on (admittedly) my personal opinion, this could very well go down as one of the most significant clashes of a queer body and (what the mainstream conservative culture views as) queer culture with the mainstream culture/media, for many reasons. One of the biggest reasons for this is because he refuses to be apologetic and has presented his critics with completely factual, logical arguments that they have yet to refute as to how he is being subjected to a double-standard for same-sex contact for no withstanding reason other than to placate the masses. Though he hasn't named names, one of the biggest references he seems to be making is in regards to the criticism he's receiving for the kiss--in 2003, Madonna, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera participated in a three-way, same sex kiss of the same nature when performing together at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), and they were met with little to no criticism and even praise for how "hot" their performance was (which would be the ultimate compliment).
This first reason works concurrently with the magnitude of his talent--he has proven multiple times that he is extremely talented, he has a huge fan base already, and it's very clear that he's not going away in the least anytime soon. His album is receiving reviews that suggest the same, as well.

A second reason I'd like to propose the significance of this event is that now there can be no more mistakes made about Adam Lambert's sexual preference, but yet the American public, in fact a show dubbed American Idol is (not to deny where his talent might have taken him) the biggest reason as to why he's become so popular at all. A public that hates and oppresses queer bodies pushed this queer body into stardom because they liked him--they made a mistake! He didn't have to work his way up the hard way, he received the same hetero-privileged treatment that anyone else of his American-Idol-kind received. He was treated as a member of the "in" group. I fail to recall any instances of a similar fashion or magnitude involving queer bodies that have stood the test of time.

So where do things go from here? How will the mass media and the American public proceed, now that it's been made clear that they let someone slip through the cracks, and contrary to what they'd like to profess, this person is of a great deal of value to the American public? As a relatively experienced individual in the world of music (especially considering performance and genre-/production-related quality), I would place a bet of a large sum of money on Adam Lambert only getting bigger and bigger--as stated, he's simply not going to go away, as the mass-conservative-media would normally have it (see: Clay Aiken). Will the media and public risk their credibility to directly oppose his progression? Will they kiss up (an effort that would surely be seen through) and support him while gritting their teeth all the while? Or will this event and the extreme, ignorant, and inflammatory subsequent reactions serve as a catalyst for true understanding and acceptance of queer bodies into the mainstream media and material culture? What ripple effects will this have? It will be interesting to see it unfold.

Now, let me transfer from a factual discussion of the intersection of queer bodies with the mainstream media to a fictional discussion.

Nip/Tuck, Alexis Stone (I & II), Ryan Murphy, FX Network, November 18 and 25, 2009

In these two episodes of the TV show Nip/Tuck, we see plastic surgeon Dr. Christian Troy (Julian McMahon), an epitome of what masculinity could hope to be (albeit only on the outside) interacting with a continuously post-operative male-to-female-to-male-to-female transsexual woman both sexually and professionally. Troy encounters Alexis first at a bar where she bar-tends; as he typically does with a woman he finds attractive, he gets her to sleep with him. Straying from his usual formula, not only does she take him back to her place, she asks him to penetrate her anally during intercourse (and then kicks him out). Christian, obviously dumbfounded by her lack of inhibition about that type of intercourse, happily obliges and follows the encounter with his typical bragging and boasting at the office.
Back at the office in the next scene, Alexis enters and informs Christian that she was born into a male body, had sex reassignment surgery to be female, and now wants him to perform another sex reassignment surgery to make her male again. Obviously still processing the situation and his connection to her, we see Christian offering his moral, sympathetic side to Alexis/Alex in private, and after processing and an initial refusal, he offers to perform the surgery (once he has done his hippocratic duty of assuring he (Alex) is aware of the risks).
In the second episode titled "Alexis Stone," Alexis returns and explains that she wishes to have her breasts back; since her most recent surgery with Dr. Troy and her subsequent sexual encounters she has realized that she's been a woman all along and is most attracted to straight men "on the down-low" about their same-sex desires, and so in order to live in a body that allows her to experience the maximum potential of her desires she must have both a penis and breasts. Once again, struggling with something he doesn't understand, Christian shows what regular viewers know to be his true heart, and performs the surgery.
However, a key theme I have purposely delayed mentioning is the stark difference in Christian's way of understanding and dealing with the situation between the private and public arenas--as mentioned, in private he is honest about his struggle to understand, but empathetic, sympathetic and true to his moral ideals in the end. Quite differently, in public he either completely disavows Alexis's existence as a transsexual (so he won't be seen as gay for sleeping with her) or casually tosses around typical transphobic rhetoric to uphold his masculinity. This is a recurring theme within the show, as well--the viewer is led to know that Christian, admittedly selfish and a sex-fiend, is a good-hearted individual who is the only consistently reliable source for doing what's right when times get tough, but when it comes to upholding his masculinity in public, in the face of those who threaten to take it away, it's no holds barred and he will do anything (except for blatantly hurt someone physically, I suspect) to keep his identity as the model man.

How does this reflect how queer bodies are handled in their interactions with "mainstream" individuals in real life? Christian's struggle to do what he knows is right and save his own identity is a struggle that I feel is all too common and commonly ignored. As a society, we operate in black-and-white mode; that person's either gay or straight, and they either hate me or like me because I'm queer. Additionally, once we view someone as one or the other--they are stuck in that mode and we may write them off as not worth our interest even though we've only done a surface examination of who they really are. This seems to be the main point of contention between the queer and mainstream communities and the biggest reason why both heterosexual/heternormative bodies are labeled as "the enemy" and queer bodies are denied legitimacy and an equitable material experience, and yet it is a point of commonality, perpetuated as a point of cleavage, that could be both easily understood and easily dissolved. If we could all understand that there is the same struggle Christian experiences going on in our own minds, maybe we would do a better job of legitimizing experiences like Alexis's (and Christian's, for that matter).

Beard, Drew. "Going Both Ways: Being Queer and Academic in Film and Media Studies." In GLQ: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies.(2009): 15(4) 624-625.
Drew Beard discusses his trial-and-error relationship with choosing to study mainstream media both through a queer lens and from a queer body and how that relationship collides with the heteronormative/academic judging of legitimacy by alluding to The Wizard of Oz, Days of Our Lives, and more.

This article really draws together the discussion I'm having here about mainstream media and previous discussions I've prompted regarding legitimacy for bodies and how it's allocated. Beard points out that there are more potential pitfalls for a queer individual who chooses to study mainstream media with a queer lens (without giving into heternormative culture, necessarily) in the realm of academia (highly regarded as a more than qualified allocator of legitimacy), and how this relates to the supposed real world.

In relation to the previous sources, we can draw this together by asking whether or not those sources, the individuals involved (fictional or not), and more would ever be granted legitimacy, and for what reasons (regardless of the verdict). Will Adam Lambert's forceful integration of his queer body with the mainstream media stand for long, let alone as legitimate? Or will he be written off as fantastical or something that doesn't happen in the real world, eventually? Will characters like Alexis Stone ever be integrated either in roles that are taken as legitimate, or into shows that are either watched by larger populations (and therefore are more legitimate) or by audiences that will be more prone to taking her as a legitimate character that undoubtedly exists in reality? How do people ranging from academics to those with roles in the media determine how (1) queer bodies are integrated into the media and (2) their legitimacy and subsequent reception? How will this change over time as individuals like Adam Lambert force their presence on "us" unapologetically?

1 Comment

I too have been trying to look at my term in relation to mainstream media so this was interesting to see. I am glad you used the Adam Lambert and Nip tuck sources in your bibliography, I have been watching these things over the last couple of weeks as well. I was especially surprised when Alexis referred to her gender as fluid when she was talking to Dr. Troy, as far as I know I have never seen a character like Alexis on a mainstream television show discussing her identity the way she did, I was hoping someone would use this source. As well, I love the fact that Lambert is not apologizing, it is a double standard and I agree with you that it may become a very important instance of a clash of "queer culture" and Mainstream culture. It will be interesting how this all unfolds over time.