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‘Mother says I’m just an odd duck’: Alan Turing, The Imitation Game and the ‘gay boffin’

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The legacy of mathematician Alan Turing comprises both his contribution to the British war effort decrypting the German Enigma code at Bletchley Park and his treatment after the war, when he was convicted of gross indecency, underwent hormonal therapy and committed suicide. The Imitation Game (Tyldum, 2014), a ‘prestige’ biopic about his life, negotiates Turing’s problematic legacy as both war hero and gay martyr by modelling him through the ‘boffin’ stereotype present in British films about scientists. The boffin’s key characteristic is his ‘outsider’ status and the biopic reworks this to construct Turing as an outsider in different communities – at Sherborne School, within the code-breaking team at Bletchley but also, due to contemporary homophobic legislation, in wider British society. This article examines The Imitation Game’s depiction of Turing as ‘gay boffin’, how it negotiates the different histories that Turing’s life embodies and how film reviewers criticized The Imitation Game for its lack of scenes depicting gay relationships. Unlike other contemporary efforts that challenged the suppression of Turing’s homosexuality in public memory, The Imitation Game’s gay boffin instead exemplifies a continued anxiety with Turing’s legacy as a homosexual war hero.
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Keywords: Alan Turing; The Imitation Game; biopic; homosexuality; scientist; stereotype

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Derby

Publication date: March 1, 2019

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  • Science permeates contemporary culture at multiple levels, from the technology in our daily lives to our dreams of other worlds in fiction. The Journal of Science & Popular Culture is a peer-reviewed academic publication that seeks to explore the complex and evolving connections between science and global society.

    Working with a distinguished international board, the Journal of Science & Popular Culture aims to create a unique forum in which to analyse, chronicle, and interpret this diverse landscape through original research articles, editorials, book and new media reviews, notes and essays. The journal also provides a site where emerging and established scholars can access salient knowledge and cutting-edge research. Contributions from academics, scientists, communicators, industry professionals, and practitioners with an interest in the science and society interface are invited. Any scholarly approaches or disciplines may be used and the Journal of Science & Popular Culture strongly reinforces interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research, opening up new possibilities for inquiry across and between the humanities and sciences.

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