Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

CompuQueer: Protocological Constraints, Algorithmic Streamlining, and the Search for Queer Methods Online

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

CompuQueer: Protocological Constraints, Algorithmic Streamlining, and the Search for Queer Methods Online

Article excerpt

In 2013 GLAAD, the nongovernmental media monitoring organization based in the United States, devised a precise method for evaluating cinematic representations of sexual and gender minorities. Dubbed the "Vito Russo Test," GLAAD's approach privileges explicit filmic identifications of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender characters, thus reinforcing the popular dichotomy between "straight" and "non-straight." This suggests a certain conflation of gender and sexuality, and precludes considerations of queer cinema as a potentially boundless mode of production, distribution, and reception-a category that could accommodate queerness as, in Teresa de Lauretis's terms, "something more than sex" (2011, 243) and that could, in Nick Davis's estimation, "enable a broader base of texts" than typical organizational methods allow (2013, 11). While stressing the significance of direct rather than coded or connotative depictions of LGBT characters in cinema, GLAAD's Vito Russo Test stipulates, perhaps paradoxically, that such depictions must not present sexual orientation and gender identity as decisive factors in the development of these characters, who must, in addition, prove essential to the plots in which they appear. GLAAD's promotion of, for example, same-sex erotic attraction as "incidental" to a gay character's identity thus reflects the organization's fantasy of a desexualized LGBT constituency-one composed of upstanding neoliberal subjects willing to work to disavow their various differences from mainstream society and to uphold heteronormative ideals surrounding kinship, citizenship, and consumption (Warner 1999; Duggan 2002; Duggan 2003). By limiting "LGBT representation in film" to onscreen portrayals of such able neoliberal subjects, GLAAD seeks to radically restrict the intelligibility of queer characters and by extension, of queer cinema itself, deploying a method that it couches as common sense. Plainly reproducing the very minority-rights discourse that, in Michael Warner's telling, prescribes "bourgeois propriety" as a means of guaranteeing social tolerance and political inclusion (1999, 36), GLAAD's Vito Russo Test can scarcely be described as a queer method. This is particularly true if "queer" is understood as, in Annamarie Jagose's words, "always an identity under construction, a site of permanent becoming" (1996, 131)-or, in Peter Dickinson's, a "literary critical category of an almost inevitable definitional elasticity" (1999, 5). For GLAAD, an organization that officially rejects the term "queer" and claims in its Media Reference Guide that it "should be avoided," any method for the assessment of cinema's relationship to sexual and gender minorities must restrict itself to analysis of "identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender" characters; must celebrate instances in which these identity claims are clearly subordinate to those that index, say, age or occupation; and must recognize and reward the narrative centrality of a sexual or gender minority whose sexuality or gender identity is yet resolutely extrinsic.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, GLAAD's unveiling of the Vito Russo Test generated an abundance of negative reactions throughout the blogosphere, with Flavorwire's Jason Bailey drawing attention to GLAAD's disproportionate emphasis on big-budget Hollywood productions, as in the organization's annual Studio Responsibility Index, which leaves little room for evaluations of independently produced, nontheatrical, and noncommercial short and feature films (Bailey 2014). How queer can a method be if applied, using conventional metrics, only to heavily capitalized mainstream sources? What's more, GLAAD's guidelines for high-lighting "positive representations" of LGBT individuals would appear to be self-undermining inasmuch as they conceivably describe films in which the subordination of gayness-the relegation of same-sex sexual object choice to the status of a secondary or tertiary "character trait"-is itself a homophobic tactic, a function of filmmakers' squeamishness regarding "non-straight" subjectivities. …

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