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Gender and Popular Culture
I’m Out of the Closet: Gays and Lesbians Portrayed in Popular Culture
Stacy John
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Women Studies 2239
Dr D.A Dirks
June 20, 2013
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There are several ways in which gays and lesbians are portrayed in popular culture. In
order to analyze what each term means, would be a start. A homosexual is only on one sexual
identity, it is a clinical term, and is only one expression (Dirks, 2013b). The sexual preference is
that the choice for gay people is everyone has a sexual preference (Dirks, 2013b). As discussed
in lecture, a lesbian is defined as two women who engage in their sexual identity and have a
sexual attraction with one another (Dirks, 2013b). Gay is defined as two men who engage in their
sexual identity and have a sexual attraction with one another (Dirks, 2013b). Homosexuality is
not fully accepted in today’s society, but however there are different TV shows, movies,
magazines and music that depict gays and lesbians. In this essay, there will be an analysis made
on how identities such as race, class, sexual identity, socioeconomic status and (dis) ability
complicates gender as in the portrayal of gays and lesbians in film, TV shows, magazines, and
music.
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Homosexuality has been criticized and looked differently in the film. In the article, Gay
and Lesbian Criticism, Anneke Smelik argue that homosexual characters have been characterized
and coded as “taunted, ridiculed, silenced, pathologized, and more often than not killed off in the
last reel” (Smelik, n.d., p. 135). An example of the film that Smelik uses is The Celluloid Closet
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(1996) which adheres to the rise of the gay and lesbian movement and prompts the lesbian and
gay men to look differently in the film (Smelik, n.d., p. 135). Smelik argues that films were
failing to depict real gays and lesbians and instead were criticized, representing dominant
stereotypes of homosexuals such as the unnatural woman, the gay psychopath, the sissy, the sad
young man, or the lesbian vampire (p. 136). It is important to understand how stereotypes can
function in the film (p. 136).
Richard Dyer was the first to offer a critique on those stereotypes (as cited in Smelik,
n.d., p. 136). The stereotypes have a functional role in the world around us (Smelik, n.d., p. 135).
Dyer argues that stereotype works in a normal society where the hegemony of heterosexual white
men is the dominant group and excludes the homosexuals, blacks, women and the working class
which are other social groups (as cited in Smelik, n.d., p. 136). There are stereotypes made about
gays and lesbians as the queen and the dyke to indicate that the homosexual man or woman does
not fall under the category of heterosexual norm, and that they can never be a real man or woman
(Smelik, n.d., p. 135). The homosexuals can be used to contrast with the heterosexual male hero
as with the case of Peter Lorre and Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon (1941) (Smelik,
n.d., p. 135). The intention is that the hero can only be heterosexual and white in Hollywood,
while the homosexual is the villain (p. 136).
The lesbian appeal in Hollywood has been also recognized. In films, the silver screen is a
place where gays were socially isolated and the powerful image of these lesbians helped them in
a white urban subculture (Smelik, n.d., p. 135). In lecture, besides the male masculinity, there is
that female masculinity and despite images of strong women, there is still little general
acceptance or recognition of masculine women and boyish girls (Dirks, 2013a). The reason is
pop culture tends to be heterosexual and gender typical (Dirks, 2013a).
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