Bonus: The Queer Canon

The following video is an audio/visual explanation of one of the concepts I have utilized in this project: the queer canon. This is also an example of “fanvid” or fan video – specifically a “multifandom” video. Read below for a description of the multiple meanings displayed within the video.

This music video illustrates one of the concepts that is essential to a comprehensive understanding of queer female fandom – that of the “queer canon.” This canon encompasses all of the media content – namely television and film – that is popular among queer women who are interested in pop culture. All of this content is thus linked, not by virtue of its form or any generic conventions, but by virtue of the queerness represented within this content. Thus, in order to understand the fandom surrounding one queer media object, one must also consider the other media that has been consumed by queer women previously. Being literate in this “queer canon” allows one to enter into an online community where everyone essentially speaks the same language, a language which is often not understood by those outside the community. Susan Driver calls this the “queer possibilities of cultural literacy” (Driver 13). The canon only reads as a canon by those who are literate in queerness (ie. queer themselves). In essence, these queer media objects are intertextually linked by virtue of their queerness, and this media is the basis of what we may broadly call “queer female fandom.” 

The meaning of this music video, like the meaning of these queer media objects, is multivalent. First of all, the song I have chosen, Muna’s “I Know a Place,” is often considered a queer anthem. Muna is a band comprised of all queer members, and the song’s implicit meaning (described as such by the band and by fans) is that of queer acceptance and safety. Thus, the first layer of meaning in the music video is the most obvious: the connection between the lyrics of the song and the clips shown in the video. The connection between the lyrics and the video clips are fairly simple – lyrics about dancing paired with clips of dancing, or lyrics about comfort paired with someone being comforted. These connections can theoretically be understood by any viewer watching the music video, regardless of their familiarity with the media shown in the video or the concept of queer female fandom more broadly. 

An understanding of the second meaning of the music video necessitates some familiarity with the queer. The music video can also be read as a representation of the queer canon, ie. as a representation of (some, not all) the content consumed by and popular among queer female fans. Understanding this meaning requires some knowledge of the particular media objects depicted in the video, in order to understand how each clip relates to each series/film as a whole, as well as how each clip represents common themes among queer female content across the media landscape. (In particular, the concept of hurt/comfort, a popular theme in queer fan fiction. This term is fairly explanatory – it involves one character being emotionally or physically hurt, and another comforting them). In addition, many of these clips represent iconic moments within these media texts, and as such the music video may elicit a stronger emotional response from someone who has seen the majority of the media depicted therein. Lastly, some of the characters depicted in the video are not canonically queer, but are read as queer by many fans and thus are still understood as a part of this broader queer canon. These clips are thus only understood as queer because of their placement among other canonically queer characters, or because of their inclusion within the queer canon by queer female fans. 

The third meaning of the music video is a combination of the first two meanings – it represents the connection between the lyrics of the song and the concept of queer female fandom. The lyrics themselves may also be understood in two ways. The first relates to the initial meaning I discussed – the lyrics of “I Know a Place” may be read as speaking to the characters in the music video, all of whom are explicitly or implicitly queer and often in need of comfort. Secondly, the “place” in “I Know a Place” may be understood as the space (both online and offline) that is created by communities of queer female fans. Thus, the song may be read as offering comfort to both the queer characters in the video as well as the queer fans watching it. This multivalent meaning would only be fully understood by those conversant in queer female culture and fandom. 

As illustrated above, one function of this music video was to explore how different viewers might take different meanings from the video. It serves as a way to consider the concept of queer cultural literacy, and to evaluate the idea of in-group and out-group viewership of queer content. The notion that various audiences might read this video differently illustrates the ways in which queerness means different things and reads differently depending on one’s positionality.  In addition, the music video highlights some of the themes that queer women tend to gravitate towards in the media they consume. Most significantly, the video highlights the concept of hurt/comfort, through the lyrics of the song and the clips that were chosen. This concept is central to queer female fandom, and scenes between characters that depict this dynamic are often very popular among fans.

I also worked to highlight the concept of happiness as an aspirational modality. In essence, queer people often gravitate towards examples of queer happiness that give them a model of what a happy queer future might look like (see Muñoz, 2009 Ahmed, 2010). This media often serves as such a model. Lastly, I wanted to highlight in this video the concept of the female gaze. In this context the female gaze is characterized by the act of women looking at other women without the presence of a male perspective. This “queer looking” is a central component of queer media of the past and the present. (See the extending “looking” sequence at the end of Carol (2015)). These concepts, though not always named as such, are important and familiar concepts within the queer canon that structure how fans relate to this content. The music video serves as a means to pull out all of these ideas in an audiovisual form.

Shows/films featured (in order):

The Bold Type (Freeform, 2017-)
Supergirl (The CW, 2015-)
Buffy The Vampire Slayer (The CW, 1997-2003)
Once Upon a Time (ABC, 2011-2018)
Rizzoli & Isles (TNT, 2010-2016)
Carmilla (YouTube, 2014-2016)
Black Mirror (Netflix, 2011-)
Xena: Warrior Princess (NBC, 1995-2001)
Imagine Me and You (Fox Searchlight, 2006)
Coronation Street (ITV, 1960-)
Las Estrellas (Channel 13, 2017-2018)
Grey’s Anatomy (ABC, 2005-)
Amar a Muerte (Univision, 2018-2019)
Person of Interest (CBS, 2011-2016)
The 100 (The CW, 2014-)
Gentleman Jack (HBO, 2019-)
Carol (The Weinstein Company, 2015)
I Can’t Think Straight (Enlightenment Productions, 2008)
Captain Marvel (Marvel Studios, 2019)
One Day at a Time (Netflix, 2017-)
Pretty Little Liars (2010-2017)
Orphan Black (BBC America, 2013-2017)
Sense8 (Netflix, 2015-2018)
Orange is the New Black (Netflix, 2013-2019)
Wynona Earp (Syfy, 2016-)
Skins (E4, 2007-2013)
Runaways (Hulu, 2017-2019)
The L Word (Showtime, 2004-2009)
Black Lightning (The CW, 2018-)
But I’m a Cheerleader (Cheerleader LLC, 1999)

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