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A genealogy of queerbaiting: Legal codes, production codes, ‘bury your gays’ and ‘The 100 mess’

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Contemporary queerbaiting is a historically situated phenomenon that in significant ways parallels reactions to nineteenth-century legal-medical discourse on the nature of homosexuality, and the subsequent punishment of it through enforcement of sodomy laws and/or blackmail against (primarily) gay men. In the twentieth century, movie and TV morality codes enacted a parallel dynamic of enforcement and punishment, at first with the banning of any mention of homosexuality altogether. Later, as codes relaxed and homosexuality became visible on-screen, film and TV moved from silencing to punishing, with the tendency kill queer characters or otherwise present them as miserable and morally compromised. The ‘bury your gays’ (BYG) trope, a phenomenon adjacent to queerbaiting, developed out of these decades of the enforcement-punishment dynamic and continues even decades after the codes lost sway. In contemporary television, where queerness is no longer entirely taboo, queerbaiting often gives way to canon queer characters, who are still killed at vastly disproportionate rates compared with their heterosexual counterparts. The fandom of one such character – Lexa, killed off from the American CW network’s series The 100 in March 2016 – brought the dual problems of queerbaiting and BYG into the open via a series of unprecedentedly well-coordinated media actions that have, perhaps, led TV writers to rethink how they present their queer characters in the context of socially aware, interactive audiences.
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Keywords: Hays Code; Hollywood; TV; fandom; film; homosexuality; lesbian; queerbaiting

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Rhodes College

Publication date: June 1, 2018

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  • The multi – disciplinary nature of fan studies makes the development of a community of scholars sometimes difficult to achieve. The Journal of Fandom Studies seeks to offer scholars a dedicated publication that promotes current scholarship into the fields of fan and audience studies across a variety of media. It focuses on the critical exploration, within a wide range of disciplines and fan cultures, of issues surrounding production and consumption of popular media (including film, music, television, sports and gaming), The journal aims to address key issues in fans studies itself, while also fostering new areas of enquiry that take us beyond the bounds of current scholarship.
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