chapter  1
33 Pages

Epistemology of the console LYNNE JOYRICH

In the US around 1997, there was a lot of buzz among both those who work in and those who watch TV (i.e. among almost everyone) proclaiming a new (tele-)vision of sexuality, instigated by the simultaneous ‘coming out’ of star EllenDeGeneres and the character, EllenMorgan, whom she played on her eponymous sitcom,Ellen. Did this herald a new age in American televisual treatments of sexuality, and, if so, how? And a new age of what, exactly? No one could answer this precisely … but industry insiders, critics, and viewers began looking for and/or lauding changes in the ways in which US TV might recognize and represent sexuality – particularly queer sexualities. After all, not only was ABC’s Ellen giving us the first openly gay fictional character in a prime-time network programme, but – for ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ in ‘open’ or ‘veiled’ ways, as ‘significant’ and/or ‘secondary’ figures – LGBTQ folks had been turning up, more and more, in programming ranging from news and talk shows to soaps and sitcoms, from inexpensive reality shows to ‘quality’ pay-channel dramas. And the greater disclosure and variety of sexualities that this seemed to announce affected not only tele-visions and tele-epistemologies of homosexuality but of heterosexuality as well. Just to give one, though particularly telling, example: in the midst of the non-stop media coverage that spurred the country’s explicit discussion of sexual acts engaged in by then President Bill Clinton (from when the first reports of rumours about an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky emerged in mid-January 1998 until Clinton at last acknowledged the ‘improper physical relationship’ in grand jury testimony on 17 August 1998 and then, that same night, in a televised address to the nation), Sex and the City premiered (6 June 1998), also attracting the American viewing public (or at least those who could afford HBO) with its blow-by-blow account of the sex lives – and, not unrelated, consumption habits – of four stylish New York City gal-pals. Something certainly seemed like it was happening … and all we had to do was look at our screens to know it.