PlanetOut and the Dichotomies of Queer Media Conglomeration BEN ASLINGER
My first encounter with PlanetOut (2009) came from watching a promo on a VHS copy of Brian Sloan’s I Think I Do (1997), an independent film distributed by New York City-based Strand Releasing. In the ad, a car driven by a merry band of “queer” travelers breaks down in rural America.The travelers succeed in dragging the car to the nearest town,where a mechanic tells them that repairs will take two days.While most of the travelers are saddened, a savvy drag queen convinces a young mechanic to post a party invitation on PlanetOut, and soon, a dance party breaks out in a nearby barn. PlanetOut’s promo illustrates two common 1990s attitudes towards the Internet: that Internet technology could overcome the tyranny of geography and that it would enable new forms of queer cultural flows. PlanetOut’s marketing messages in the 1990s were more than simply pragmatic business moves.The company’s messages epitomized the utopian visions of early Internet commerce, and the belief that new technologies, content forms, and structures of distribution would provide “better” representations of sexual alterity that would stimulate LGBT equality.As PlanetOut emerged as a major player in queer media, however, the company began to face charges that its role in queer media conglomeration was hastening the homogenization of queer culture and taking the charge out of queer politics (Gamson 2003). In this chapter, I examine PlanetOut’s economic and industrial history and examples of web design in order to better understand how queer web users have been defined and targeted in the new economy.