The following essay, posted here in its entirety, was originally published in the Spring 2012 issue of Transformative Works and Cultures. Here I argue that remix is a queer act and caution that, as the entertainment industry begins to add queer characters to mainstream texts, the available subtext that remix works depend on is threatened. The curated video selection is available here.
Appropriation has always played a key role in the survival of queer communities and nowhere is this more prevalent than in online spaces. New media tools and technologies enable creators to deconstruct appropriated pop culture texts and experiment directly with mainstream images of gender and sexuality, recreating more diverse and affirming narratives of representation. These once underground experiments have now spread throughout the Web and have the to power to radically change the way we think of and picture sexual identity. As queer remix works find more mainstream audiences, however, they are increasingly vulnerable to incomplete readings, uninformed by the discursive community from which they arise. Additionally, as the entertainment industry begins to add queer characters to mainstream texts, the available subtext that remix works depend on is threatened.
Video remix is a DIY form of grassroots media production wherein creators appropriate mass media texts, reediting them to form new pieces of media intended for public viewing on video sharing sites like YouTube. It should be noted that the remix process itself can be considered a queer act. If queer act is defined as any act that challenges, questions, or provokes the normal, the acceptable, and the dominant, then remixes’ required rejection of the dominant and acceptable notions of copyright challenges the author/reader and owner/user binaries on which these notions are based. Remix demands that producers physically deconstruct copyright images, identities, and narratives to create new and transformative works, displacing and thus queering the binaries on which copyright, ownership, and authorship are based.
For my purposes here, queer video remix is defined as a reediting of recognizable popular culture texts, without the permission of the copyright holder, to comment on, critique, or deconstruct images of heteronormativity or to expand on an existing, implied, or desired homoerotic subtext. Because of its transformative and critical nature, the appropriation of copyrighted source material in queer video remix falls under fair use.
Remixing requires the use of pop culture clips both in and out of their original context, a dynamic that sometimes occurs simultaneously, depending on the message. As queer remixes find more mainstream audiences, this dynamic often alters their reception and interpretation, making them increasingly vulnerable to misuse or misreadings, uninformed by the discursive community from which they originally arose. For example, the profusion of recut trailers for the popular film Brokeback Mountain (2005) quickly brought a variety of freshly queered pop culture couples to our inboxes. Because of this remix meme, wider audiences became familiar with the rearticulation of identity and the reframing of sexuality through subtextual readings. However, these remixed relationships weren’t all positive representations. Many of the parodic videos were posted and shared in male-dominated spaces such as YouTube where queerness is a perceived threat to masculinity, male privilege, and heteronormativity. As a result, many of the virally popular Brokebackremix trailers, such as “Brokeback to the Future”, encouraged us to laugh at the oddball pairings of men, pushing gayness further into the realm of Other while simultaneously reinforcing heternormativity—not exactly a queer-positive message.
The rewriting of sexuality seen today in online video emerges from a history of struggles over queer representation in Hollywood. Allusions, signs, and symbols of gayness once read between the lines of code-era movies were later reappropriated by underground filmmaking communities. They were then recycled again in mainstream movies and television shows, where they are still kept alive in the self-conscious subtext of shows like Rizzoli & Isles (2010–11) presumably to appeal to explicitly lesbian and queer audiences.
For content creators, the ever-present homoerotic subtext evident in body language, nonverbal social cues, visual conventions, and narrative entanglements between emotionally connected characters becomes valuable source material for the abundance of queer video work. However, as popular subtext shows such as Glee (2009–present) begin to give the audience what they want in terms of gay and bisexual characters, the issue of available source material arises. For example, when the close relationship between two female cheerleaders on Glee officially becomes a sexual romance, the quantity of available footage for fan appropriation greatly decreases: there’s no longer a female friendship rife with subtext to work from. As subtext moves away from being a culturally marginal practice for appealing to underrepresented communities and toward being the foundation for explicitly gay or bisexual characters, access to the necessary source and inspiration required for remixing may become limited. Although queer visibility in mainstream media is a positive outcome, I question whether the lack of available source footage will result in a reduction in the number of queer variations on these texts. If history is any indication, however, Hollywood simply commodifies depictions of queerness, often creating limited and stereotyped characters. This effect will likely further encourage remixers to create broader variations and more interesting interpretations of queerness, expanding on any relevant main text—provided there is source footage to make it happen.
I intend this curated selection of videos to be representative of the queer remix community and not an exhaustive list. I include works that carry the most potential for further or more nuanced subversive readings. Many of these queer remixes require knowledge of a particular community, fandom, or pop culture text to fully appreciate their complexity, but that context is increasingly separate from the actual product as it circulates freely and publicly in video sharing space. The videos are all queer-positive appropriations of popular culture that encourage viewers to gaze through a queer lens, identify with queer(ed) characters, and be sympathetic to their struggles. Each video offers a glimpse into the complexity of its creator’s situation.