Stitch Takes Notes is an ongoing and flat out random feature now up on my website wherein I share the non-urban fantasy notes I take for various academic/academic-adjacent books I’m reading.
I’m a huge fan of Screening the Closet: Queer Representation, Visibility, and Race in American Film and Television, Melanie E. S. Kohnen’s book on whiteness and queer representation/visibility in Western media.
Everything about this books speaks to my own (more informal) work on race in fandom and I want to shake it at a bunch of people. I’m largely reading it for fun – as opposed to reading it because I need it immediately for a piece – and I’ve been taking notes on it and putting it into my context/the context of fan-studies in a totally sweet Batman notebook.
I’m not going to put all of my notes out there because then you’d probably wind up with half of the book quoted online because of how much of it I find valuable, but I wanted to put some of my notes up so that y’all can see the connections I’ve been making from the book.
So here are some notes and quotes from when I was going over pages 18-19 and page 25 of Kohnen’s brilliant book:
“Scholars who are concerned with critically analyzing queer visibility in the media often overlook the racialized underpinnings of queer representation in film and television”
This is the whole huge problem I’ve been detailing and struggling with as I’ve written and researched about race and racism in fandom.
Fan studies is a small slice of the academic pie, and slash studies even smaller piece of that piece, but next to no works talk about race and slash fandom. So we have a ton (relatively) of books that talk about sexuality and gender but like… actively don’t talk about race in this context of these two things.
Outside of two main fronts; harassment of nerds of color and discussing some aspects of k-pop and anime fandom with relation to characters/people of color, race rarely comes up.
“it is the whiteness of the characters upon which their various sexualities are projected, rendering it as seemingly nothing more than the surface on which negotiations surrounding queer and straight sexualities takes place”
Whiteness is simultaneously unseen and all that people can see. Hence the erasure of QPOC, hyperfocus on white characters, and reframing queer white masculinity as neutral and progressive at the same time.
Specifically considering films and television programs we have to acknowledge that the persistence of whiteness in these texts is not simply or merely indicative of a failure to be inclusive on the part of producers and writers or a perpetuation of long-standing racial politics by the entertainment industry. Rather, whiteness becomes a necessary component of this particular expression of queer visibility, namely one that heralds gay and lesbian characters as the most progressive way of representing queer identities, practices, and communities.
This reminds me of how conversations about representation tend to go.
A white dude slash ship where the characters aren’t queer in canon and might not even have chemistry, a decent relationship with each other, or significant interactions (like Clint/Coulson from the MCU and Bond/Q) is automatically viewed as being more progressive and interesting than a male/female ship with a black woman (Spuhura), a female/female ship with WOC, or anything involving characters/people of color outside of real person slash fiction focusing on Korean pop stars or anime fandom.
The invalidation increases with Black characters.
What I mean is that white people in western media fandom are the only real progressive site for queerness.
Kirk/Spock must happen and Isi progressive because of the queerness fans read onto them. Spock/Uhura can never be (as) progressive because it’s ‘just’ a ‘het ship’. The potential for Spock’s queerness is always assumed and identified, but Uhura is always assumed straight when she’s shipped with him.
You could have Spock/Uhura as disaster bisexuals in space but nooo…
On top of that, folks in fandom will actually say that shipping an interracial (and usually canon) m/f ship isn’t automatically progressive… even as they actively participate in and foster a shipping/fandom culture where shipping white dude slash ships often does get trotted out as a progressive thing and is used to shut down fans critical of Western slash fandom’s focus on white male because they’re “just searching for/creating queer content”.
How about the way that when Hikaru Sulu was announced as being gay in Beyond, some Spock/Kirk and Spock/Bones fans got pissed that the “wrong” gay couple was happening. Or when Danny Mahealani and one of the ugly werewolf twins got it on in that Motel California episode of Teen Wolf and a ton of Stiles/Derek fans got pissed (with some even threatening a boycott) because once again…. The “wrong” gay couple got together.
Nevermind that Stiles and Derek DON’T EVEN LIKE EACH OTHER AND BARELY TALK ACROSS THE SERIES. Somehow, they were the only “right” gay couple for many people in the fandom who talked negatively about the episode because of that.
Because fandom – Western media fandom – primarily only sees white people (usually men) as sites for queerness.
If you like what you’ve read and want more awesome introspection on why we like what we like, consider checking out Melanie Kohnen’s fantastic book and you know… maybe tossing me a few coins on Paypal!