Friday, March 30, 2012

Selling the Illusion of Authenticity or Authentic Authenticity?

Diane Raymond discusses issues of queer theory as mediated via prime-time television in her article “Popular Culture and Queer Representation.” She explains that the definition of “queer” is not fixed or static, but is fluid and in flux and is not limited to “gayness” or homosexuality – which contrasts with previous denotations/connotations of the term(s) (98). Queer theory, as a contemporary and progressive discipline, is multidisciplinary and not “hegemonic” like earlier Marxist and feminist schools (99). Raymond notes that present queer theory rejects any strict dichotomy between “high” and “low” culture, unlike the Frankfurt school in its earlier days (99).

Whereas gay and lesbian characters/demographics suffered symbolic annihilation in popular media as recently as 1995 (Gross), this trend has sharply changed since then – for today, “Network programs are…full of gay/queer characters” (101). As Raymond notes, though, it is somewhat obvious that television is “light-years” ahead of mainstream film (102). Mainstream television mediates/communicates homophobes as the new “other,” contrary to what was depicted in the 1990s, for instance: “It is now homophobes, not gays and lesbians, who are vilified or ignored” (103).

Despite television’s apparent progressiveness, culture today – as a whole, or to generalize – remains extremely homophobic, such that it becomes difficult for the glbt-sympathizer to look past this. Raymond uses the metaphor of a fish in water – in that the fish does not or cannot realize that it is immersed in water since water is all that constitutes the environment. In questioning why queer depiction on television is so prominent nowadays, Raymond infers that the reason is more economically than ethically motivated – “difference sells” and the “static is the enemy of popular media” (105), so, from this perspective, mediated queerness could be simply a product of the desire to make money and keep audiences entertained rather than the authentic impulse to inspire viewers to open their hearts and minds. This latter point really intrigues me.

Just how aware, conscious, sensitive, and/or ethically developed, if you will, are the people who run prime-time television – namely, the individuals who decide or who have decided to make queerness an item of consumption rather than one of repression and otherness? Which dictates economic development – authenticity of compassion and awareness toward previously taboo issues, or merely the cleverness to see that selling the appearance of such authenticity is “difference” and/or “not-static?”

I would like to believe that the people who run mainstream television and the media in general have pure hearts and wise minds, but my gut tells me that – for the most part – this simply isn’t true. I am by no means trying to make any sweeping generalization here. Rather, I am simply attempting to communicate my honest opinion regarding the intentions or motivations underlying cultural changes mediated via popular television in general.

I eagerly anticipate the time when true authenticity sells, when it has the most cash-value since a critical number of humans value and seek to experience it, rather than this transitory context in which we find ourselves – in which media monopolists realize that authenticity definitely has cash-value, and yet, ironically, it would seem that the vast majority of these people are far less authentic, have far less compassion and wisdom, than the ideas that they feed to consumers like you and me.

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