Aside

Viveca Shearin

Queer Identity & Popular Culture

May 7, 2014

Media Project Paper

Media Project: Attack on Titan and Queer Media

            For decades, the queer community has existed within the shadows and dark alleyways of society. This was because of the preferences and behaviors of the members. According to society, the queer community didn’t deserve to be acknowledged or represented in public. As a result of this, the queer community has fought back, claiming their right to be seen and viewed as people. Throughout the course, I’ve learned so much about what being gay means and the ways in which queer identity can be represented. Based on this semester alone, I can say without a doubt that queer identity is diverse, limitless, and new identities are being created today. In today’s world of popular culture, the queer community has been welcomed into the homes of Americans everywhere. The media has played a significant role in how the queer community and identity has been portrayed. Compared to the way gay men and women used to be portrayed within the media lens, today’s media has helped change the way people view gay people. When it comes to the media, there isn’t a limit to the queer media that can be found online. The media allows the queer community to express themselves through words, art, and blogs. From the Internet to television, queer media can be found everywhere. One just has to know where to look. Tumblr is a microblogging website that allows users to post content in the form of pictures, videos, artwork, and other content. Users, if they don’t want people to know who they are, can post what they want anonymously. There are blogs about cooking, political, art, travel, video games and technology, and lots of other blogs that would interest just about anyone. As a member of the website myself, I have managed to find and follow blogs that cater to my interests. Two of these interests happen to be anime and manga, so I follow a lot of blogs about these subjects in particular. During my time on these blogs, I noticed that each of them had fan-made artwork and stories about “Attack on Titan”, a manga that I am a huge fan of. But the stories and artwork all deal with some of the characters as couples. I also noticed that all of the couples are only with the male characters. When it comes to queer space on the Tumblr, there isn’t a limit to where people can post things nor is there a limit to what you can post. “Attack on Titan” is just one of many forms of media that have been given a queer narrative on Tumblr.

            Before I jump into my project observations, I’d like to give a general overview of what “Attack on Titan” is about. The manga focuses on Eren Jaeger, his foster sister Mikasa Ackermann, and their friend, Armin Arlert. They live in a post-apocalyptic world where they must live inside of gigantic walls in order to survive. On the other side of these walls are the Titans, giant creatures who devour humans for pleasure rather than sustenance. With their population low, humans struggle to survive within the walls. After a section of the wall is breached, thousands of people are killed, including Eren’s mother. Eren, Mikasa, and Armin are left to take care of and watch out for each other. They join the military, training in order to fight back against the Titans and rescue humankind from their impending extinction.   

            The manga, from what I have observed, is completely devoid of any sexual content. What I mean is that the characters are not sexually involved with each other at all. The only thing that exists throughout the manga is the overlying theme of survival. However, this doesn’t stop fans of the highly popular manga and anime from making up stories of their own. As I said before, Tumblr is one of the main social media sites fans use to promote their desired pairings. The all-male pairings are as follows: Jean Kirstein and Marco Bott, Eren Jaeger and Levi Rivaille. Jean and Marco are always paired together because fans want to have them be more than just the close friends they were in the manga. These are the most common pair-ups, but I’ve also seen fans pair up characters such as Levi and Erwin, Armin and Eren, and even Jean and Armin. But the first two mentioned are the couples I’ve seen most often.

            The fans create almost anything with the couples and post it onto Tumblr: fanfiction excerpts, artwork, manga that was drawn by themselves, pictures, short stories, and other things. I noticed that with each post, the characters were taken out of the original context and plot. Instead of killing Titans and fighting to survive, they are put into “domestic” settings with “domestic” plots. The couples are either married with children (fan-made stories don’t have to make sense, as I’ve observed), living in modern times, and participating in sexual acts with each other. Some fans also made posts where the characters were in skimpy outfits such as bunny costumes and dominatrix clothing. In short, most of the fan-made material I saw depicted the characters having sex and behaving differently compared to the manga. After spending a considerable amount of time on the website, I can say without a doubt that Tumblr is indeed a queer space that allows people to post many different queer narratives including “Attack on Titan”. Lipton’s reading could be applied to how the characters from the manga are being recreated by fans.

            In Mark Lipton’s reading, “Queer Readings of Popular Culture: Searching to Out the Subtext”, Lipton talks about queer youth and their interpretation and manipulation of popular culture. He also talks about queer reading practices and how young people use these methods to interact with popular culture. Lipton argues that queer youth interact with popular culture and the media around them in order to discover who they are in terms of identity.

            Further on in the reading, Lipton talks about queer youth recreating media texts: television shows, music, books, poetry, movies, and comic books (Lipton 167). He talks about his recreation of the Archie comics as well as his queer recreation of Jarhead (Lipton 164-166). He states, “The practice of queer identity production occurs in three important ways. Some directly sought to alter the intended meaning of a text as a result of their personal agendas- to bend interpretation from a heteronormative reading. These readers could find homosocial/sexual content present in almost any text. A second group of youth engaged in more specific practices of negotiation- with a specific text, a specific character, like my experience with Jughead. It seems these readers use both conscious and unconscious processes to fabricate an imagined text, a queer world, as a result of their (often isolated) sexuality” (Lipton 168). He goes on to talk about queer youth creating fantasy spaces as places of safety and acceptance among each other. In these spaces, queer youth can rewrite popular culture and media texts anyway they desire.

          Tumblr, based off of Lipton’s reading, could definitely be called a queer space because of the way in which “Attack on Titan” is recreated by the fans. I’ve observed nothing but acceptance towards these fantasy stories and fantasy couples. My observations of the social media website Tumblr as well as the queer recreations of “Attack on Titan” has provided me with a better understanding of what a queer space is. Tumblr is just one of many spaces in which people, not just members of the queer community, can unite and recreate media texts with alternative narratives. “Attack on Titan” is just one of thousands of pop culture aspects being given a queer narrative by fans all over the world.

          In conclusion, my observation of Tumblr as a queer space resulted in significant findings. In terms of media texts being given queer narratives, “Attack on Titan” was a clear example of that. Fans of “Attack on Titan” used male characters from the manga in a series of queer narratives. I can only assume that fans had a strong desire to see the characters in this way specifically. The characters were put into couples based on the fan’s individual desires and preferences. I’d like to add that “Attack on Titan” wasn’t the only media text that was given a queer narrative. On a slight side note, it is one of many texts that are given queer narratives by the fans. As the media industry continues to change, queer media continues to gain bigger ground in terms of representation and recognition. From social media sites to television, queer media is becoming increasingly popular. And as it continues to gain popularity and acceptance, the ways in which queer media is presented to us continues to change. I’m not sure how queer media will be in the future. But whatever it becomes, I hope society accepts it.

Tumblr usernames of people who posted (in order of pictures):

http://zephyrcamidaartblog.tumblr.com/post/82822619729/more-jeanmarco-porn-because-reasons-3-enlarge

http://johannathebad.tumblr.com/post/67641794206/u3u

http://weheartit.com/search/entries?utf8=%E2%9C%93&ac=0&query=riren&commit=&page=2

http://www.pixiv.net/member.php?id=4373289

http://www.pixiv.net/member.php?id=1567763&from_sid=947104021

http://fancymarquis.tumblr.com/post/83379032547/i-am-so-done-with-this

Looking: Is Being Normal Bad?

Viveca Shearin

Queer Identity & Popular Culture

March 22, 2014

Media Analysis

Looking: Is Being Normal Bad?

            America has, for the most part, become more tolerant of the queer community and its members compared to decades ago. As a result of this tolerance, the queer community plays a much bigger role within the media industry. From advertisements to movies and television shows, the queer community has claimed a place in media as well as popular culture. When it comes to the shows, however, each show that has represented the queer community thus far has been based on stereotypes. But there are some shows that deviate from the status quo and manage to paint a true and poignant picture of the queer community. In the new HBO series, Looking, three friends, Dom, Agustin, and Patrick are very close friends living in San Francisco. The friends, whom are all gay, live different lives and are dealing with their own struggles. They’re looking, no pun intended, for something better in their lives. As I watched the first season, I focused on the character of Patrick. His character, throughout the first season, is striving to be a normal man with a normal gay relationship, but it’s not working out for him. I think that Patrick’s search for normal in the show is bad because it’s normalizing gay culture within the context of the show.

            In the entire first season, Patrick is portrayed as a man who is afraid to branch out. He wants to have a normal and meaningful relationship, but his searches only end in disasters and subsequent hook-ups. As a video game level designer, Patrick is also, although it is not clearly stated, portrayed as having a significant amount of income. This is just one of the many stereotypes about gay men that exist in America. Although it is far from the truth, the media views the queer community as a group with substantial income. As a result, it comes as no surprise to me that Patrick’s character is a result of some if not most stereotypes about gay men.

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            In the middle of episode 6, “Looking in the Mirror”, Patrick introduces his boyfriend Richie to his friends during Dom’s 40th birthday celebration. During the party, Agustin and Patrick talk about Richie and if he is a good boyfriend. Agustin accuses him of leading Richie on and that he’s using him. He continues, saying that he’s a joke and that he can do better than Richie. During their conversation, Richie overhears and yells at Agustin for talking about him. Patrick and Richie leave Dom’s party and go home. But on the way home, Richie asks Patrick if he’s embarrassed of him because he didn’t defend their relationship during his conversation with Agustin. Patrick hesitates in answering Richie’s question, leading me to believe that he’s unsure of what Richie means to him as well as how Richie is compared to him.

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          In this episode, I viewed Patrick as someone who not only wants a normal gay relationship, but as someone who wants that relationship as long as the person is of a specific class and is like him in terms of his ambition towards being better. I think that as the show progresses, Patrick’s character will be faced with letting go of trying to obtain what he views as a normal relationship or redefine what normal is for him. The readings of Larry Gross and Judith Halberstam can be applied to aspects of the show as well as to Patrick’s character.

          In Larry Gross’s reading, “The Mediated Society”, Gross talks about mass media and its influence on the American people. He argues that mass media plays a critical role in how society views certain groups such as African-Americans and the queer community. He states, “Lesbians and gay men are usually ignored altogether; but when they do appear, it is in roles that support the ‘natural’ order and they are thus narrowly drawn. The stereotypic images are always present, if only implicitly, as when gay characters are depicted in a carefully ‘antistereotypic’ manner that draws our attention to the absence of the ‘expected’ attributes” (Gross 14). Looking strays from some of the stereotypes surrounding gay men and the queer community, but there are some stereotypes that aren’t eliminated from the show. Some stereotypes, such as Patrick’s friends engaging in threesomes and sex with random men play on the stereotype that gay men are promiscuous. So, in a way, the show has an antistereotypical agenda, but manages to reinforce some existing stereotypes (Gross 14).

         In Judith Halberstam’s reading, “Queer Temporality and Postmodern Geographies”, Halberstam talks about “queer time” and “queer space”. Halberstam argues that both terms could be defined as a completely different time and place outside of the heterosexual agenda. She states, “’Queer space’ refers to the place-making practices within postmodernism in which queer people engage and it also describes the new understandings of space enabled by the production of queer counterpublics” (Halberstam 6). The show’s location, which is San Francisco, could be seen as a “queer space” due to the fact that the show revolves around characters that are a part of the queer community and engage in different aspects of the that community. Although it is too soon to judge, Looking looks like it will be a show that gives a sense of normality to gay culture. But is that a good thing? I don’t think it is. I think that queer culture, known for its vibrant members and lifestyle, does not strive to be normal. The queer community should not be portrayed as normal when it is clearly not. It is unique, vast, and far from normal, which is just fine. It does not need to be normalized.

In conclusion, the HBO show Looking is a show that strives to depict gay people as normal. Patrick, one of the main characters in the show, is an example of gay being normalized. Throughout the first season, his character is striving for a normal relationship, constantly looking for someone that he can have a relationship with. However, Patrick struggles to define what he truly wants, resulting in inner conflict about himself and his relationship with Richie. I realize that it is a show, but it could influence the audience into thinking that the queer community is normal when it is not. The community should be represented in a light that is true and proper. I hope that future shows focusing on the queer community do a better job. Every group, regardless of their race, creed, and sexual orientation should be represented right. It will be a long time before that happens, however. Until that time comes, the American public will have be subject to stereotypical representations and cardboard cut-out repeats of what the media dubs “gay culture”.

 

Works Cited

Gross, Larry. “The Mediated Society.” Up From Invisibility: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Media in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. Print.

Halberstam, Judith. “Queer Temporality and Postmodern Geographies.” In a Queer Time and Place. New York: NYU Press, 2005. Print.