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Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Gay > Artikels | Features

Consumption as citizenship, the media, and the making of a gay niche market

Theo Sonnekus - 2008-03-03

The concept of identity is rather contentious, and is constantly theorised and subjected to a number of critiques vying for legitimacy in the process of understanding how people identify with one another and the social realm (Hall 1996:1). One of the most important developments in making sense of social subjectivity is to be found in the apparent shift from considering identity within the bounds of modernism, to expanding the concept in a postmodern vernacular. Douglas Kellner (1995:231,233), for example, claims that whereas modern societies valued identity as a fixed and inherent quality predetermined by one's heritage, postmodern theories of identity privilege the mass media and consumer culture as the main purveyors of subject positions that are multiple, fluctuating and negotiable. In view of this, Robert Bocock (1993:4) suggests that the rise of modern capitalism and consumerism has reduced the importance of work roles in relation to identity construction, while simultaneously positioning consumption, instead of production, as the key site of making one's "self" known.

Thus, for the purposes of this article, consumerism is central to understanding the ways in which gay men, as a "social status group" (Bocock 1993:5), create their identities in relation to gay media, commodities and one another, but seemingly also distinguish themselves from "straight" cultures, people and practices by the same means. The American civil rights movements of the 1960s, for example, embody the struggles of blacks, queers and other social minorities to be recognised as authentic cultures that are different from the status quo, but no less deserving of equality and tolerance (Irvine 1994:233, 234). Accordingly, Bocock (1993:18) states that the most salient characteristic of modern consumerism is that individuals consume in order to achieve and maintain "distinctiveness", and this is especially true for the disenfranchised. In Western cultures during the second half of the twentieth century, new groups for whom consumption became important were not rigidly divided along the lines of race, gender or class, but consumed as a means of achieving a subcultural status that expressed the "internal dynamics" of these social constructs (Bocock 1993:27).

Moreover, the theorist Steven Kates (2000:497) argues that subcultures emerge in opposition to cultural hegemony and often give expression to their resistance by means of adopting particular signifiers of style that appear in the form of commodities (1). In other words, consuming in line with one's sexual orientation, for example, seemingly simultaneously proves membership of and loyalty to gay culture, as well as the rejection of heteronormativity, since “[consumer] behaviour … responds to … the metaphoric … expression of desire, and the production of a code of social values through the use of differentiating signs” (Baudrillard 2001:49).

Thus, since the 1970s, gay people have interacted with the “consumerist ethos of capitalism” and thereby restructured “the dynamics of a lesbian and gay collective identity” (Valocchi 1999:220). Dennis Altman (1996:80), who is also engaged in this discourse, asserts that contemporary "gayness" is no longer defined by the practise of homosexuality, but rather by the adoption of a set of styles and behaviours. Consequently, an "out" or visible gay life appears to manifest primarily in a commodified form (Sears 2005:104) or through fashion, material spaces of consumption, bars, bathhouses and night clubs, for example, and symbolic, textual spaces like gay lifestyle magazines (Bocock 1993:103).

The repercussions of apparently attaining a queer identity through consumption are, however, far-reaching and often damaging to individuals who identify as homosexual, but do not benefit from the creation of a commercial gay community. Alan Sears (2005:92, 93), for example, argues that the depoliticisation of the current queer milieu in favour of commercial viability does not discredit the advances made with regard to the civil rights of gay people, but does create spaces and communities of exclusivity. Mariam Fraser (1999:107) reveals a vexing issue when she asks exactly to whom the so-called "out" gay lifestyle is available or, more importantly, affordable. In other words, what Fraser (1999:107) is alluding to is that since the market has become an integral part of creating and maintaining gay group identity (Keating and McLoughlin 2005:131), the notions of consumer and citizen have become conflated (Freitas, Kaiser and Hammidi 1996:89). Consequently, whereas in the past queerness was expressed through militant activism that required political mobilisation, contemporary forms of "belonging" to the gay community require money and attention to fashion and style (Valocchi 1999:220) (2)..

According to Alexandra Chasin (2000b:9, 23, 24) the mass proliferation of goods and services aimed at queers in the 1990s marks the consolidation of the gay niche market with the gay political movement, which in turn has created the notion that civil rights can somehow be reduced to market-based rights. In other words, it seems that “the right to participate in society and the right to consume become indistinguishable in contemporary life” (Freitas et al 1996:90). Thus, "personal liberation" and "democracy" are expressed in terms of one's ability to consume along with every other legitimate public citizen (O’Dougherty 2003:69). During South Africa’s democratic struggle, for example, discourses of "freedom", "choice" and "egalitarianism", which characterised the political incentives of the time, were "parasitically" incorporated by advertising campaigns, and subsequently aligned with “the imperatives of the market” (Bertelsen 1998:240). Accordingly, in the midst of the political turbulence that preceded, and followed in the wake of, South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, an advertisement for Volkswagen “lined up its cars in formation to depict the new [South African] flag” (Bertelsen 1998:226).

Thus, together with its message of "diversity", "inclusion" and "equality", Volkswagen employed the image of the flag as a means of transmuting the notion of democratic choice into consumer choice, and “political freedom into the freedom to choose between products” (Bertelsen 1998:240). In other words, media and markets, and their underlying ideologies of consumerism, therefore seemingly attempt “to make of consumption the premise for 'human liberation, to be attained in the lieu of, and despite the [possible] failures of, social and political liberation” (Baudrillard 2001:56). For minority groups like queers, however, consumption appears to be even more significant. Accordingly, the power to "buy" seemingly creates a sense of public social involvement devoid of discrimination (Hennessy 1994:32) and provides queers with an arena in which to freely express their sexual identity (Keating and McLoughlin 2005:147). Furthermore, consumption apparently also facilitates the display of membership, because of the notion that “if you buy the product or consume the service, you are doing it along with other gay people: indeed, if you are truly ‘gay’ … you will consume these commodities” (Valocchi 1999:220).

The often celebratory linking of consumption and enfranchisement must, nevertheless, be scrutinised (Chasin 2000b:15), since “market forces are human forces hierarchically sustained, queer folk not excluded” (Nast 2002:881). Thus, the major problem with positioning the gay niche market as emblematic of the entire gay community is that the marketing profiles of queers, which are created by advertisers and other capitalist role-players, are based on a one-dimensional assumption of what the so-called "gay lifestyle" entails (Bowes 1996:221). Consequently, marketing aimed at queers is likely to include, address and cater to a specific segment of the gay community, which creates the illusion that the few white, male and middle-class queers that are represented, are representative of the gay constituency as a whole (O’Dougherty 2003:75). Therefore, Rosemary Hennessy (1994:32) states that the supposed "inclusion" of queers in the market must not be understood as a progression toward more social tolerance; it merely illustrates the tendency of marketers to create "model" gay consumers, hierarchically positioned at the apex of the queer community, that serve to increase profits (Puar 2006:76).

In view of this, Chasin (2000b:18) and Anthony Freitas, Susan Kaiser and Tania Hammidi (1996:91) argue that situating a so-called "good consumer", who is characteristically “upper-middle class, (mostly) white, and (mostly) male” (Valocchi 1999:220) at the heart of the gay niche market creates and maintains inequalities that cut across gender, race and class. Yet, in spite of Valocchi's (1999:220) and Freitas et al’s (1996:91) critiques, scholars such as Wayne DeLozier and Jason Rodrigue (1996:203), for example, still insist that marketers should be focusing on and targeting affluent, white gay men, because they comprise the most profitable segment of the gay community. What DeLozier and Rodrigue (1996:203) do not consider, however, is that when politics are displaced on to the market, as they appear to be (Freitas et al 1996:90), those who cannot afford to adopt the "lifestyle" are essentially excluded not only from representation in the market, but also from the gay community and mainstream society at large (O’Dougherty 2003:78). Lisa Peñaloza (1996:34) concurs that:

[Certain] aspects of gay/lesbian culture are forwarded at the expense of others in advertising and marketing appeals. Particularly noteworthy are the pervasive images of white, upper-middle class, "straight looking" [men] at the expense of those more distanced from and threatening to the mainstream, such as the poor, ethnic/racial/sexual minorities, drag queens, and butch lesbians.

Furthermore, one must also consider that the gay niche market, as a political sphere through which the gay movement supposedly gains momentum and vies for rights, manifests in terms of what can be referred to as (white) commodity patriarchy (Nast 2002:883). Thus, the market and media seemingly tend to show interest only in those that can, for example, afford to frequent gay establishments, follow fashion and acquire the social signifiers of "gayness" (Keating and McLoughlin 2005:148). By doing so, however, these institutions ignore diversity and ultimately entrench the racist, sexist and classist assumptions that underpin the linking of homosexuality with a combination of whiteness and wealth (Chasin 2000b:36). Consequently, the notion that the market and media offer queers social citizenship, and therefore a political voice, tend to overestimate these so-called benefits by not accounting for those who remain invisible and silenced or unable to enter the commodified realm of gay visibility (Sender 2001:93; Sears 2005:104).

Accordingly, the positioning of queer subjects in society almost exclusively as "consumer-citizens" (Chasin 2000b:142, 143), and the consequent equation of consumption with democratic choice, is problematic since this status is not equally available to everyone who forms part of the gay constituency. Thus, a number of critiques pertaining to the exclusion and marginalisation of queers who do not conform to the white, male and middle-class norm can be inferred. Firstly, one must consider that if gay identity and political involvement supposedly rest on monetary value, certain queers fall short of being able to participate in mainstream society and the "movement". Hennessy (1994:64, 65, 66), for example, states that because of the unequal division of labour in capitalist societies, queers belonging to the lower classes are deemed unfit to be represented in gay media and ultimately forfeit the opportunity to express their sexual identities through the market.

Furthermore, Mark Gevisser (1994:53) and Glen Retief (1994:109) suggest that enforced poverty and segregation under the apartheid regime have similarly affected the South African queer community. Thus, a combination of economic and racial biases have limited black South African queers in their efforts to participate in local gay communities, institutions, media and markets that have historically centred on white men’s economic and political privileges (Gevisser 1994:48). In view of this, the second critique of the "consumer-citizen" (Chasin 2000b:142,143) concerns the creation of a socio-political gay community based on a fixed identity position in which sexual orientation is the primary identifier (Sears 2005:93). In other words, when homosexuality acts as the main source of gay community involvement and recognition by other queers and heteronormative society, white men tend to colonise "gayness" based on the fact that they identify only as gay, and not as black and gay (Chasin 2000b:224).

Thus, by fostering media and markets based on an identity that seemingly excludes race, gender and class from its agenda, whilst maintaining sexual orientation, queer culture accommodates only a fraction of gay-identified individuals (Keating and McLoughlin 2005:131). Chasin (2000b:20) agrees that gay culture’s sense of catering to each individual who is not normatively heterosexual, by highlighting sexual orientation, is ultimately fallacious and the major cause of inequalities in the gay niche market and community. According to Chasin (2000b:21), “[for those] whom sexuality is not the primary source of their difference from the universal ideal; the insistence on the primacy of sexuality ignores other identity features … and generates an assimilationist politics that reduces diversity to a superficial value”.

Consequently, even though cultural values that manifest as commodities exercise significant influence on those seeking to consume as a means of asserting (sexual) identity, it is presumptuous to assume “that everyone is determined to desire what their cultural group holds up in high esteem” (Bocock 1993:82). The limited perception that marketers have of the gay community and their consumption patterns, based on one-dimensional accounts of how all queers consume the same commodities in the same way (Bhat 1996:215), therefore means that little attention is apparently paid to the fact that subcultural consumption is internally diverse (Kates 2002:383). Accordingly, Altman (1996:77) states that this apparent "globalisation" of gay identity fails to acknowledge that the image of the (now redundant) queer consumer is also ultimately a Western concept. In other words, queer commodities that manifest as so-called "symbols of unity" (Chasin 2000b:44) are not necessarily identified with by all gay individuals.

Originating in the West, Rainbow Flags, Pink Triangles and other queer commodities loaded with "gay pride" (Chasin 2000b:111) are, for example, exported to African queer spaces and media, but fall short of articulating the unique experiences of black, African queers (Alexander 2002:230). Not only are these symbols foreign to many "Other" queers, for whom a belief in the historical existence of homosexuality in indigenous African cultures is a more feasible way of tapping into their sexual identities (Altman 1996:90; Dlamini 2006:129), but they are also not always affordable to them. Thus, Dereka Rushbrook (2002:184) suggests that with blackness positioned as "other" to whiteness, and gayness as "other" to heteronormativity, the assumption that all subjects are ideally white and heterosexual “unless otherwise specified, [presumes] only one axis of difference … and queers of colour are erased from the discourse of cosmopolitanism and globalisation, as consumers and commodities”.

Ultimately, Chasin (2000b:44) claims that as a result of the gay movement’s insistence on commodifying itself, “the cost of enfranchisement … prices some [gay] consumers out of citizenship”. Bocock (1993:67, 68) confirms that consumption is a more idealistic than materialistic practice: commodities therefore always posses symbolic values that tie in with the desire to belong to a specific social group, and accordingly operate as signifiers of identity and group affinity. Jean Baudrillard (2001:47, 49) states that

[Commodities] are no longer tied to a function or to a defined need … [but] respond to … a social logic, or to a logic of desire … [and] consumption … assures the … integration of the group: it is simultaneously … a system of ideological [symbolic] values … and a system of communication, a structure of exchange [emphasis added].

In view of this, Katherine Sender (2001:74) engages with Pierre Bourdieu’s notions of "taste", "cultural capital" and "habitus" in order to illuminate the manner in which certain queers are seemingly excluded from the commodified gay community. Thus, in the process of consuming specific products, services and media, as well as frequenting particular social establishments, the queer community seemingly creates a so-called "habitus" (Sender 2001:74) that articulates their distinct ways of life. Accordingly, Bourdieu (1984:170) states that it is in the correlation between the two faculties that structure the habitus, namely “the capacity to produce classifiable practices and works, and the capacity to differentiate and appreciate these … products (tastes), that the represented social world … the space of life-styles, is constituted”. Moreover, Bocock (1993:61) notes that the social significance of the "habitus" therefore lies in that it aids in the making of "distinctions" between straight and queer culture. Therefore, the gay habitus also comprises “a system of differences [and] differential positions … by everything which distinguishes it from what it is not and … from everything that it is opposed to; social identity is [therefore] defined and asserted through difference” (Bourdieu 1984:171, 172).

In other words, in the same manner that the upper classes distinguish themselves from the lower classes and provide evidence of their "good taste" by consuming goods that embody higher levels of "cultural capital", such as high-brow art and literature (Sender 2001:74; Bourdieu 1984:172), gay consumers tend to assert their sexual orientation in and through their consumption behaviours "habitus". Accordingly, Sender’s (2001:75) critique of the "habitus" as seemingly connected to sexual orientation, hinges on the notion that there is no single gay habitus. Thus, the fact that only a segment of the gay community’s "tastes", desires and consumer profiles are circulated in the media is often overlooked, which results in the perpetuation of an exclusive, one-dimensional view of whom the gay community comprises (Peñaloza 1996:26). Therefore, particular conditions, such as "whiteness" and wealth, for example, are “inscribed within the dispositions of the [gay] habitus”, and seemingly regulate exactly which queers are legitimate embodiments of the consumer-driven gay "lifestyle" (Bourdieu 1984:172).

Accordingly, in her exploration of the gay niche market, Chasin (2000a:157), for example, notes that homogeneity is symptomatic of mass production, advertising and other forms of marketing, and is especially evident with regard to the commodification of gay culture. Consequently, the divisions of wealth, labour, race and gender that exist within the queer community are negated by the cultural prominence of the white, male and upwardly mobile queer consumer whose "habitus" reigns supreme (Hennessy 1994:69). Diminishing differences between queers, however, is not the only issue that needs to be addressed with regard to the narrow representation of gay people in the markets, and media that accommodate them. Thus, Bocock’s (1993:18) suggestion that identity-based consumption is geared toward creating "distinctiveness", appears to be a suitable point from which to start the next critique of queer consumption-as-citizenship. Accordingly, although the gay community seemingly aims at establishing visibility and political unity through identity-based consumption, it simultaneously risks compromising its distinctiveness from normative heterosexuality in becoming assimilated by the very structures from which it seeks emancipation (Sender 2001:77).

Thus, one can conclude that the domination of the gay market by white, economically empowered men not only strips the gay community of its disparities, but also de-emphasises the distinctions between queer and heteronormative (Chasin 2000b:22). Consequently, John Bowes (1996:221) argues that images of affluent, bourgeois gay consumers are not accurate depictions of what gay life entails, or what all gay people look and act like, but merely reflect heteronormative society’s ideal incomes, ethnicities and occupations. Hennessy (1994:60, 69), for example, states that the commodity images that appropriate homoeroticism as a form of postmodern chic, not only invite voyeurism from heterosexual cultures, but also alienate many queers who, in reality, are far removed from these fashionable, idealistic representations that profess to capture ‘gayness". The contemporary trend of "straight-looking, straight-acting" gay men and hyper-feminine "lipstick lesbians" in mainstream and gay media (Altman 1996:82) therefore serve as a further indication of the manner in which queer culture is becoming less transgressive and more "heterosexualised" (Chasin 2000b:45) (3).

Accordingly, the continued urgency with which mainstream advertisers have been marketing commodities to queers in Western cultures since the 1990s (Chasin 2000b:77; O’Dougherty 2003:73; Bowes 1996:220), evidently concerns the need to acquire greater profits, but it is also illustrates the manner in which markets and the media seek to invariably "discipline" or "normalise" queer bodies (Puar 2006:72). According to Michel Foucault (1980:36, 37, 38), the "discursive explosion" of discourses on sexuality that characterised eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Western cultures not only reinstated the centrality of heterosexuality as a norm, but also led to the constant surveillance and regulation of "illicit" or "deviant" sexual practices through psychiatry, civil law and religious orthodoxy, to name but a few. Accordingly, it seems that in contemporary Western societies the media and popular visual cultures similarly function as institutions that "control" or "censor" homosexuality, and make it “more palatable [to heteronormativity] … by situating it within safe and familiar … conventions” like "whiteness", wealth and sexual conservatism, for example (Battles and Hilton-Morrow 2002:89).

Therefore, Puar (2006:72) states that the marginalisation of queer bodies by heteronormative power structures, such as the media, is carried out tentatively, since “there is room for the absorption and management of homosexuality” within the cultural hegemony of heterosexuality [emphasis added]. In view of this, the popularised non-threatening, white, male and middle-class embodiment of homosexuality, which is infused with heteronormative ideals and therefore "accepted" by marketers and the media, seemingly represents one of the “compartmental sexualities that are tolerated or encouraged” in dominant heterosexist spheres (Foucault 1980:46). The notion that the gay press has seemingly become increasingly depoliticised and desexualised (Sender 2001:82; Davidson and Nerio 1994:230) is therefore indicative of the influence that heteronormativity has on the making of a gay niche market. In other words, since mainstream advertisers constitute a major source of revenue for gay publications, sexually explicit imagery and overtly political material is kept to a minimum in order not to make the gay media "inhospitable" to its "straight" contributors (Sender 2001:82; Bowes 1996:222).

Thus, Chasin (2000b:108) concludes that “the market is the prime mechanism for defusing the conflict between sameness and difference, or between assimilation and de-assimilation”. Bocock (1993:104) therefore argues that one of the most prominent paradoxes of contemporary society is that queers are seemingly shielded from discrimination and exclusion by the creation of a "consumption oriented gay sub-culture" that operates within institutions such as markets and the media that have historically shunned them. In view of this, Chasin (2000b:106) states that the incorporation of queers into mainstream culture is not dissimilar to the so-called enfranchisement of immigrants, "non-citizens" and blacks through the previously exclusive realm of advertising in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s (4). Ultimately, Sears (2005:96) professes that the militant beginnings of queer politics have been replaced by calls for broader social transformation that do not necessarily reject the idea of gaining entry to social positions of power, equality and citizenship through established, heteronormative, institutions.

The notion that queer culture seemingly aims to achieve social acceptance through reform-oriented politics, media and markets, however, often ignores the fact that with regard to dominant, heteronormative societal structures, “it is certainly the case that … some queers are better than others” [emphasis added] (Puar 2006:71). Therefore, Hennessy (1994:36, 66) asserts that the inclusion of queer subjects in the mainstream operates through class- and race-regulated visibility, and that this process of selective assimilation must be critiqued in order to disclose the hegemonic nature of heteronormativity. In other words, since marketing ploys that target queers often rely on representing the most "acceptable" version of queerness (Sender 2001:92), namely white, male, "straight-acting" and middle-class, the already existing power relations that centre on race and gender are reproduced (Chasin 2000a:160; Sears 2005:96). Therefore, with lesbians featuring as passive, domestic goddesses, and blacks appearing primarily as part of some form of erotic exoticism in gay media, the dominance of white heteropatriarchy is reiterated (Chasin 2000a:158, 160).

Consequently, Kathleen Battles and Wendy Hilton-Morrow (2002:101, 102), state that it is “important to remember that visibility often comes with the price of having to conform to or be made sense of within dominant cultural discourses”. Thus, the stereotypical representation of black queers and lesbians as somehow inferior, together with the recasting of white, gay male consumers in the already established figure of the revered straight "playboy" (Sender 2001:82), seemingly collapses the distances between queer and non-queer. Accordingly, when and if "gayness" is addressed, it appears to be almost exclusively represented in a traditionally heterosexist vernacular (Battles and Hilton-Morrow 2002:102). Furthermore, Kates (1999:29) argues that the popular representation of queers in familiar settings of heterosexual "wholesomeness", whiteness, monogamy and affluence, for example, illustrates the manner in which markets, media and other cultural forms maintain heteronormativity.

Therefore, despite sexuality and gender existing as social constructs that are continually performed, created and recreated (Hennessy 1994:36), markets and media constitute yet another social sphere in which heterosexuality attempts to re-establish its supposed naturality, "originality" and dominance (Kates 1999:29; Hennessy 1994:46). As a seminal figure in queer theory, Judith Butler (1991:21) argues that “in its efforts to naturalise itself as the original [of humanity], heterosexuality must be understood as a compulsive and compulsory repetition” that is “always in the process of imitating and approximating its own phantasmatic idealisation of itself”. Accordingly, the so-called "heterosexualisation" of queer culture (Chasin 2000b:45; Kates 1999:34), which is seemingly propelled by the commodification of gay subjects, reinstates heteronormativity as the primary lens through which to make sense of the social world.

Consequently, by professing that queers are "just like us" (Chasin 2000a:164), in other words, heteronormative, mainstream marketers are also discriminatory with regard to which queers qualify as straight "enough" and are therefore worthy of inclusion. Susan Bordo (1999:23), for example, notes that when advertisers employ male homoerotic imagery as a tactic, it is often done in an ambiguous fashion that piques the interest of both straight and gay men – without heterosexual men necessarily recognising the image's queer edge. Therefore, as long as queers do not come across as overtly sexualised, heteronormative consumers will not be "put off" by their presence (Sender 2001:87; Freitas et al 1996:89). In other words, despite the unprecedented visibility of queerness in contemporary societies, gay subjects are still concealed beneath, and oppressed by, ambiguities that curb the threat of uninhibited, non-conformist homosexuality to heteronormative conservatism (Rohlinger 2002:65, 71). In view of this, Jasbir Puar (2006:71) claims that heteronormativity is not uninflected by privileges pertaining to race, class, gender and sexual proclivities, and it has therefore become increasingly important to investigate how media images distort representations of the queer community.

Accordingly, the social visibility and representation of queer subjects, whether in political, economic or media spheres (Freitas et al 1996:89), is vital to the gay community, because it seemingly creates a visually unified group bound together by shared histories, practices and political sentiments (Cover 2004:81). The ubiquitous mantra of 1990s queer politics, "We're here, we’re queer, get used to it" (Levina, Waldo and Fitzgerald 2000:739), is therefore indicative of the manner in which “privileging visibility has become a tactic of late twentieth-century identity politics, in which participants often symbolise their demands for social justice by celebrating visual signifiers of difference that have historically targeted them for discrimination” (Fraser 1999:114). Furthermore, Fraser (1999:110) states that in Western popular culture, which exists as the major purveyor of "queer" imagery, "seeing" and "knowing" are often equated, thereby cementing the importance of visibility in supposedly conveying social truths.

The primacy given to visual culture in our current social milieu is, however, not exempted from particular ideological biases, stereotypes and agendas that, in fact, shape what is to be taken as truthful and accurate. Thus, since representation, whether visual or otherwise, does not operate as separate from the power structures that it seeks to create or sustain, visual culture cannot be assumed as providing objective, absolute reflections of, for example, queer individuals (Levina et al 2000:741). Accordingly, not only do one-dimensional, exclusive representations of gay people abound in the media (O’Dougherty 2003:75), but these widespread images are also often informed by heteronormativity. In other words, it appears that the intertwining of "seeing" and "believing" truly functions only when looking at the world through "straight" eyes.

Consequently, Battles and Hilton-Morrow (2002:102) vie for a shift from approaching images of queers from a quantitative perspective to approaches that are qualitative in nature and accordingly account for the visual mechanisms that seemingly contrive representations of queers. In other words, focusing on the manner in which such images manifest must override explorations of the frequency with which they appear, because more often than not the presence of heteronormativity and selective homophobia is ignored at the expense of assuming that more representation automatically constitutes more social tolerance (Battles and Hilton-Morrow 2002:102).


1: In Western societies the term subculture refers to a specific social group that, based on its supposed "deviance", challenges and defies the cultural hegemony or ruling cultural constituency (Fiske, O’Sullivan, Hartley, Saunders and Montgomery 1994:307). Therefore, with regard to the notion that power is unequally distributed throughout society, “subcultures … function to win, or at least contest, ‘cultural space’ for their members” by means of “their often ‘spectacular’ appearances (their styles of fashion and dress, for example) … [that] represent meaningful forms of subcultural response and resistance, through specialised subcultural identities” (Fiske et al 1994:308).

2: Thus, with regard to what one can conceive of as the "superficiality" of postmodern identities, which are produced through consumption and the media, Kellner (1995:233) states that contemporary subjectivities apparently “no longer [possess] the depth, substantiality, and coherency that was the ideal … of the modern [or Modernist] self”. Accordingly, the emphases that are placed on the importance of visual culture and consumerism in the creation of postmodern identities in contemporary societies seemingly propagate the message that “if you want to become a new you … transform your identity … become successful … [belong to a group] … you need to focus on image, style, and fashion” (Kellner 1995:234).

3: With regard to the “continued contentiousness of gay and lesbian issues within … heterosexist society”, the popular American television series Will and Grace, for example, positions its primary gay male character (Will) as “[fitting] well into the mainstream model of masculinity”. Therefore, Will’s physical fitness, professional job and overall defeminised version of "straight-looking, straight-acting" gay masculinity “is in no way different from the same image being sold to heterosexual men” (Battles and Hilton-Morrow 2002:88, 90).

4: According to Chasin (2000a:148), in the process of propelling mass consumption, advertising ultimately produces homogeneity by seemingly eradicating the idenitity differences between consumers. Therefore, “[in] the 1920s … when the advertising industry consistently began to subsidise mass media [in the United States] … the … differences that had to be erased were national and ethnic [in orientation]”. Consequently, “following decades of immigration, the attempt to create a mass market went hand in hand with an attempt to Americanise ethnic minorities” (Chasin 2000a:148).


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