“Jumping Your Bones Was Extremely Atypical For Me”

Curator's Note

Many of the cast members for Brothers and Sisters said they agreed to come onboard because playwright and series creator Jon Robin Baitz was attached to the project. Baitz made a name for himself as an out gay playwright who was able to tackle thorny political issues in plays such as The Substance of Fire. This month Out magazine placed Brothers and Sisters producer Greg Berlanti (of Dawson’s Creek fame) on the cover as one of the most powerful people in Hollywood. In film and media studies, we’ve talked a lot about queer production cultures on the margins. We’ve also talked about the evidence of queer authorship in textual style and subtextual readings in film history. But we’ve talked less about how out Hollywood players represent the particularities of gay life. This clip, from the first season finale of Brothers and Sisters, illustrates one textual possibility for out producers in the beginnings of the post-network era. While acknowledging that gay people with religious values are out there, the show doesn’t turn Jason into a neoconservative caricature based on personas such as Bruce Bawer or Andrew Sullivan. Indeed, Jason’s character balances religious values with a social justice mission at a time when it seems “uncool” to believe in a higher power in GLBT cultures and people like Christopher Hitchens feel free to treat believers as dunces impeding the march of progress. Along with the ways that Queer as Folk’s Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, The L Word’s Ilene Chaiken, and Noah’s Arc’s Patrik Ian Polk have used visual art, soundtracks, and cultural references, the trajectories that Brothers and Sisters sets its gay characters on appear possible because of producer power that has been earned largely in a transition to a post-network era. How are gay authorship and queer production cultures changing in a post-network, convergent media economy? How do such texts fare in a world of Youtube, Hulu, and online and mobile viewing? And how has the industrial climate of the post-network era changed the level of specificity with which queer audiences will be represented (and hopefully addressed)? I know I’ll stay tuned in online to find out.

Comments

Craig O. Stewart's picture

Ben, This is an interesting

Ben, This is an interesting representation of a gay man who is Christian, but neither a conserative nor conflicted. In addition to the neo-con gays you mention, there’s also the fairly common parodies of “ex-gays” which, while challenging certain conservative Christian beliefs about homosexuality, still reinforce the notion that homosexuality and religion are fundamentally incompatible. This character goes a long way to suggesting different possiblities for glbt people and for Christians than are typical for dominant representations of either group.

It's one of those

It’s one of those peculiarities of post-network television that a gay television fan(atic) like myself knows the production specifics of this show, finds them compelling enough to WANT to watch it, yet finds his TiVo too full of other things to actually do so! That said, I’m tempted to get all historiographic on you, Ben. Queer production cultures in mass media proliferated long before post-network television — the Freed unit at MGM being one particularly notable example. I think it’s more that the fragmentation of television audiences has allowed for more examples of these particularly queer-focused producers to come to the fore amongst our particular market niche/taste culture (assuming, of course, that we share one). These things said, I think I’d be more on board with the “varied representation” argument if the gay guy was depicted as something other than “religiously normal” — it feels like another variant on the “gay yet normal” trope that Andrew Sullivan propagates with such glee…

Ben Aslinger's picture

Craig and Hollis, Thanks

Craig and Hollis,

Thanks for the comments. I hadn’t thought much about the “ex-gay” movement when writing this piece. While I don’t have any evidence that the writers or producers were thinking of “ex-gays” when making this episode, I do think it’s important to think of the ways images like this contest that movement and its ideology. I also think it’s important to put this into dialogue with other representations of religion in gay life in series such as HBO’s Six Feet Under and Logo’s Noah’s Arc.

Hollis, to respond to your historical point, I agree that were many queer production cultures that go back to the studio system (and even earlier), but I think that a) we have yet to crack the surface on GLBT production cultures in television production, b) that many post-Stonewall out production cultures are qualitatively different from earlier queer production cultures, and c) that paying attention to gay authorship in a post-network era gives us a new theoretical toolkit of sorts with which to re-interrogate histories of film and television and to read archival texts in new ways.

Your mention of the Freed unit, for instance is a good one. But, drawing on the work of Alexander Doty in Making Things Perfectly Queer, I think we have to keep in mind that these queer producers worked in an industrial environment that demanded the use of subtext and carefully constructed dialogue so as to not alienate viewers and to comply with the Production Code [okay, I know it was weakened by the 1950s, but it was still around and it still had force]. Given the historical and industrial climate in which these men and women labored, they could live their lives as an “open secret,” but their ability to craft nuanced queer characters was often compromised due to the industrial and social climate in which they labored. As you point out, however, more work in this area needs to be done. While we’ve had studies that look for queer traces, we’ve also had a lot of studies of GLBT experimental and avant garde film, New Queer Cinema, and independent gay and lesbian cinema. And these studies have all been wonderful, illuminating, and really thought-provoking - but I still think that gay authorship in television and new media is under explored and that we should think through the ways that shifts in media economics and distribution have enabled new textual possibilities for queer producers.

I do think there is a danger here that viewers will treat this character as “religiously normal,” but I don’t think the producers of the show treat this character this way. And, as much as I have a problem with the normalizing assimilationist impulse in the work of Andrew Sullivan and his ilk, I’m equally ill at ease with work like Michael Warner’s Trouble With Normal that (to me) seems to create particular ways to perform queer identities and preferred ways to perform gender transgressions and enact progressive politics. So maybe the issue is how to get beyond these poles of obsessively normal and radical and explore the multiple performances that occupy the gray middle?

Ben, First...thanks for

Ben, First…thanks for posting a clip from one of my fav shows!

I agree that media convergence, particularly in a post-network era has opened up possibilities both for queer authorship and queer representations. It would be really interesting to see how fans/viewers comment on Jason on other platforms (online blogs, fanfic etc). How do fans view him? Balanced representation? Is he seen as embodying the particularities of gay life, diversity of queer subject? Or is he symbolic of a problematic normalizing discourse? It would be really interesting to see how queer representation on one medium translates into something distinctly different (or something that reiterates the former) - Kelly’s example of the Second Life version of L Word.

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