In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

113 3. THE REVOLUTION MIGHT BE TELEVISED The Mass Mediation of Gay Memories “In the Real World”: Popular Culture and Its Discontents The preceding chapters explored manifestations of gay memory in independent film and video, in novels, and in the architectural fabric of urban monuments and neighborhoods. Although, as we argue, these manifestations of memory have gone largely overlooked critically, they are nevertheless clearly imbricated within broader dynamics of gay and queer cultures . To turn now to network television is to plunge into more hostile territory. Television has been theorized as among the “apparatuses” that have been “set up . . . to obstruct the flow of . . . popular memory,” with reference to the history of “popular struggle” against nationalism, war, and economic exploitation (Foucault, “Film and Popular Memory,” 91, 102). Foucault’s words are from a 1974 interview in which he contrasted the regime of forgetting enforced by movies, television, and academic curricula with “working class” memories that were “more clearly formulated in the 19th century, where, for instance, there was a tradition of struggles which were transmitted orally, or in writings or songs, etc.” (91). George Lipsitz has similarly argued that “the power apparatuses of contemporary commercial electronic mass communications” play an especially invidious 114 The Revolution Might Be Televised role in undermining “the elements of historical inquiry and explanation” embodied in, for example, performances of “spirituals, blues, and jazz” passed down to contemporary African Americans by their “ancestors” (Time Passages, 4). We see television, however, as extending exactly the gender-bending dynamics Lipsitz analyzes in nineteenth-century commercial theater, which, in his words, “emerged in part as a rebellion against sexual repression ,” creating “a kind of free space for the imagination—an arena liberated from old restraints and repressions, a place where desire did not have to be justified or explained” (9) in conventional gendered terms, so that “women especially utilized the new popular culture as a way of escaping parental surveillance and patriarchal domination” (8). Lipsitz’s analysis usefully corrects romantic images of historical continuity passed down in some unproblematically authentic way through folk songs and festivals, weddings and funerals. What shimmers from one perspective as a roseate image of class solidarity looks from another vantage point like patriarchal coercion. Theorists applying queer and feminist perspectives to thinking about the historical development of identities that contest patriarchal norms have cautioned against familial metaphors, especially the idea of “generations,” for the way they import assumptions about dynamics of begetting and—in the Freudian model—rebelling (Roof, “Generational Difficulties”). As an alternative to familial paradigms for the perpetuation of memory, we might look to Lipsitz’s descriptions of how television—“a ‘close-up’ medium whose dramatic and social locus is the home”—“intervenes in family relations” with an “illusion of intimacy ” that powerfully “addresses the inner life” (Time Passages, 18–19) in order to understand how television might be particularly effective in shaping subjectivities associated with minority sexuality and gender rather than with the normative family. The roots of televised dramas and comedies lie in nineteenth-century forms of “commercialized leisure” that, Lipsitz says, “helped reshape cultural memory and consciousness” (8). Traditional rituals of communal memory were supplanted by “theater attendance,” which “enabled individuals to play out fictive scenarios of changed identities, to escape from the surveillance and supervision of moral authorities and institutions” (8). Lipsitz asserts that theatrical role-playing “suggested identities could be changed” and that “theatrical ‘time’ presented an alternative to work The Revolution Might Be Televised 115 time,” encouraging “audiences to pursue personal desires and passions” in a forum where “theatergoers . . . shared intimate and personal cultural moments with strangers” (7–8). The same historical forces that replaced “the wedding celebration or the community festival” with commercial theater—increasing social and geographic mobility, rapid urbanization, and higher levels of disposable incomes —helped generate modern gay culture (D’Emilio, “Capitalism and Gay Identity”). Sexual identity is not Lipsitz’s interest.1 But his analysis of the dynamics of theater and television suggests close ties with emergent gay culture, which often took shape in the commercial spaces of popular entertainment and shared its constitutive features, so much so that the playwright Neil Bartlett claims, “The history of mainstream entertainment is the history of gay culture” (in Burston, “Just a Gigolo?” 120). Particularly relevant is commercial entertainment’s yoking of collective memory and anonymity, in contrast to older forms of remembering that assume unmediated and intimate memory (of family, of village) as the basis of identity. The mass media allow large audiences...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.