“There’s Something Queer Here”

July 28, 2011 § 1 Comment


Oh cool, more groundbreaking theory from fifteen years ago! No comment y’all, I just work here. So! Alexander Doty. According to this human, audience and reception theories –as much as they’re able to sidestep certain tiger traps, for example the empty vessel consumption fallacy– are just a wee bit problematic. Remember, according to a&r theories, meaning isn’t some objective thing — meanings inhere within a given audience, and therefore can be extrapolated from those who watch (and how, and why). And this is great and all, definitely a step forward, but as Doty warns, the postulation of a singular, monolithic audience (even a series of singular, monolithic audiences) opens its own can of facepalm. Because which audiences? Audiences delimited by race? Gender? Education level? Occupation? How many audiences are there? Assuming it were even possible to isolate X number of audiences, how might we explain the racial, geographical, class and gender cross-pollination found within these apparently disparate groups? In other words, how do we account for the fact that members of one audience sometimes respond in similar or even identical ways to members of a different audience, and how do we account for the fact that members of the same audience sometimes respond differently to the same thing for entirely different reasons? In an attempt to address slash sidestep slash outsmart slash transcend these issues, Doty proposes a “queer reception practice” that is capable of going where no audience/reception theory could ever hope to go, due to they’re too unwieldy (straight).

But first, he must defend the word “queer” (which 800 years ago or whenever this was written would have been something he needed to defend/define — less so now, “queer” is an acceptable –and often the preferred– Official Academic Term). In Doty’s usage, queer is less an adjective and more an adverb — it is a theoretical approach to texts (again, text is a stupid word) as opposed to some predicate nominative. In this sense, “queer” refers to all facets of non-, anti- and contrastraight cultural content, not just those which are straight gay (lol u see what I did there) (73). Because it embraces –indeed actually seeks out– complexity, queer reception theory is equipped to handle the various manifestations of cultural convergence (for example gay male affinity for straight female stars) that are just too slippery for traditional theoretical approaches. In a gay little nutshell, then, Doty’s account courts “queer” at every corner — any and all texts can be queer regardless of their origins. In fact, he claims, sometimes the straightest narratives are actually the queerest of all (77).

To summarize, queer reception theory functions to expose and explore moments of GLBTQ pleasure and desire (“in” particular texts and/or “in” the particular viewer); GLBTQ modes of production (what actual people are actually up to); how, where, when, why the queerness of a particular texts shift (given external cultural or historical change); how, where, when, why the spectacle of the heteronormative is exploited and/or undermined. The end!


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