Lesbians on Television (Book)

New Queer Visibility & The Lesbian Normal

In Lesbians on Television, Kate McNicholas Smith maps concurrent contemporary shifts in lesbian visibility within popular media, focusing on the small screens of Europe and North America. Central to these shifts has been a re-imagining of queer lives – or a 'new queer visibility' – as LGBTQ+ characters have become increasingly visible within popular culture.

Edition

The twenty-first century has seen LGBTQ+ rights emerge at the forefront of public discourse and national politics in ways that would once have been hard to imagine. This book offers a unique and layered account of the complex dynamics in the modern moment of social change, drawing together critical, social and cultural theory as well as empirical research, which includes interviews and multi-platform media analyses.

This original new study puts forward a much-needed analysis of twenty-first century television and lesbian visibility. Books addressing the representation of lesbians have tended to focus on film; analysis of queer characters on television has usually focused on representations of gay males.  Other recent books have attempted to address lesbian, gay and trans representation together, with the result that none are examined in sufficient detail – here, the exclusive focus on lesbian representation allows a fuller discussion. Until now, much of the research on lesbian and gay representation has tended to employ only textual analysis. The combination of audience research with analysis in this book brings a new angle to the debates, as does the critical review of the tropes of lesbian representation. The earlier stereotypes of pathological monsters and predators are discussed alongside the more recent trends of ‘lesbian chic’ and ‘lesbianism as a phase’. 

Kate McNicholas Smith is lecturer in television theory at the University of Westminster.

 Introduction

'Previously…': Queer women on screen

‘The way that we live and love’: The L Word and the tensions of visibility

‘Homophobia is so old fashioned’: Skins and the lesbian normal

Skins’ truest legacy’: The counterpublics of the Naomily fandom

‘The nation’s favourite lesbian’: Coronation Street and the ‘everyday’ soap lesbian

‘New Directions’: Glee, new queer visibility and post-queer popular culture

‘A new kind of family’: The Fosters and the radical potential of the lesbian normal

Afterword: Reflections on the limits and possibilities of new queer visibility and the lesbian normal

The twenty-first century has seen LGBTQ+ rights emerge at the forefront of public discourse and national politics in ways that would once have been hard to imagine. Lesbians on Television maps the contemporary shifts in lesbian visibility within popular media in Europe and North America and, from this, extracts a figure of the new 'lesbian normal' that both helps and hinders those it represents.

This book offers a unique and layered account of the complex dynamics in the modern moment of social change, drawing together social and cultural theory as well as empirical research, including interviews and multi-platform media analyses. Structured around five central case studies of popular British and American television shows featuring lesbian, bisexual and queer women characters – The L WordSkinsGleeCoronation Street and The Fosters – the book develops a detailed analysis of the shaping of a new 'lesbian normal' through representations of lesbian teenagers, cheerleaders, wives and mothers amongst other LGBTQ+ figures. With a focus on television, Kate McNicholas Smith also maps the lesbian figure through publicity materials, news reports, political speeches, legislative changes, social media, fandoms and audiences. Appearing in highly accessible media forms, such as the soap opera, and extending into the digital media platforms in which they are repeated and remade, new lesbian figures exist at a site of struggle over the possibilities of queer women’s intelligibility, intimacy and futurity. 

Related Titles