shugart reinventing privilege

shugart reinventing privilege - Critical Studies in Media...

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Vol. 20, No. 1, March 2003, pp. 67–91 Reinventing Privilege: The New (Gay) Man in Contemporary Popular Media Helene A. Shugart h In recent years, the gay man/heterosexual woman couple configuration has become a genre unto itself in mediated popular culture, resulting in unprecedented mainstream visibility for gay men. Major mainstream films, such as My Best Friend’s Wedding, Object of My Affection , and The Next Best Thing , showcase this combination as their centerpiece, as does the highly rated prime-time network situation comedy, .In this essay, I assess this particular performance of gay identity in order to discern what qualities render it – as presented in this configuration – not only acceptable but popular, given the heteronormative sensibilities that characterize the mainstream audience to which it is directed. I argue that, in these texts, homosexuality is not only recoded and normalized in these representations as consistent with privileged male heterosexuality but is articulated as extending heterosexual male privilege. In so doing, blatant sexism is reinvented and legitimized, and gay male identity simultaneously is defined by and renormalizes heteronormativity. A ccess to the media historically has been restricted, arguably severely, by controlling interests – in the case of the United States, especially, this has meant corporate owners of the media invested in maintaining a political, so- cial, cultural, and economic status quo in which they have thrived (e.g., Fiske, 1987, 1989; Gitlin, 1986; Hall, 1980; Poster, 1990). Although these con- trolling interests are no less a factor today, the explosion of mediated tech- nologies as well as the postmodern context in which they are occurring and to which they are simultaneously contributing has resulted in a cacoph- ony of media content, suggesting that the presence of alternative ideas does not represent the implied political threat that it once did. Indeed, it is no longer unusual to apprehend the rep- resentations of marginalised groups in the conventional media of the status quo. However, the rendering of those messages invites serious consideration given their context; many scholars have noted that apparently emancipa- tory messages and representations may, in fact, function to reify domi- nant discourses (see, e.g., Cloud, 1992; Hallstein, 2001). An interesting contemporary inter- section of disenfranchised groups and the mainstream popular media is rele- Helene A. Shugart is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Utah. An earlier version of this essay was presented at the 2001 annual meeting of the National Communication Association in Atlanta, GA. The author would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful insights and suggestions. Copyright 2003, National Communication Association
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shugart reinventing privilege - Critical Studies in Media...

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