The Inclusive Queerness

An African-American couple is in their dressing gown, sitting behind the table,
having their late-breakfast in their fancy apartment on a Sunday morning. “I just
wish I could stop feeling guilty”, Louise says, “eleven o’clock Sunday morning we
are just having breakfast, that’s sinful.” George says this is not breakfast, it is
brunch and rich folks invented it so they wouldn’t have to be worried about
getting up too late for the breakfast or too early for the lunch! He continues “I bet
you my banker H.L. Whittendale is having his brunch right now up there in the
penthouse.” (The Jeffersons “Mr. Piano Man” [1.5; 1975])

Over the course of the second post-World War period, a new term has been
coined in cultural theory, called ‘Queerness’. Although the term mostly used for
providing a discipline in exploring the relationships between lesbians, gay men
and the culture, but according to Paul Burston and Colin Richardson (1995),
being Queer in cultural theory has a general meaning which is the status quo of
being external to very naturalness caused by any kind of standardization. This
‘florid self-consciousness’ (as Sedgwick names it in “Pop Out: Queer Warhol”
article) or Queerness, is not just external to the naturalness of gender but also to
every fully politically invested homogenization of race, sex and culture. What we
allow to be called queer about ourselves, whether our sexual tendency, our skin
color or our exotic culture, is also our consciousness of being different from
mainstream culture. In other words, Queerness is far from ‘alienation’. It is the
self-awareness of being different from others without denying it through
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repression and that is why Alexander Doty refers to Queerness as a ‘flexible space
for expression’. The awareness of being Queer provides this flexibility of having
access to mainstream culture without losing the different –and therefore
oppositional- identity and participating in it without necessarily being
assimilated.

In the opening scene of “The Jeffersons” episode that I cited through the first
paragraph, both George and Louise are fully conscious about their social, cultural
and racial status quo and at the same time they are participating in the
mainstream of American-ness. In the opening scene Louise says: “I gotta keep
remembering who I am. I don’t mind living up to our money the whole week but I
gotta have Sundays off!” which suggests that they are totally conscious about
their antithetical approaches toward their social class. They know that having one
meal in the late morning instead of two, could be interpreted as poverty in their
previous class level but now by calling it ‘brunch’ it becomes part of an American
conventional life style that could help them to enjoy their life by spending their
money on consuming luxury goods which in this case would be a piano! They
both know that no one can play piano in their house and also they don’t have
enough space for a big piano (as Louise notes many times) but George insists that
‘a piano would bring ‘real’ class to this place, as if he is aware of their true social
class and its differences from ‘real’ –or conventionally accepted class. This
awareness raises queerness which usually shows itself along with an ambivalent
attitude. One good example is the difference between Jefferson family and the
Banks, another African-American family in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”. The
Banks family is not queer. They are totally assimilated in the homogenized
American-ness. It seems that they are not ‘aware’ of their cultural and racial
differences. They don’t have African-American accent and slangs, Hillary has silly
problems in referencing her ‘black brothers’ within her show, Philip becomes
upset and confused when they call him ‘black Hitchcock’. These examples
suggests that the Banks family, unlike the Jeffersons, could not be a presentation
of non-straight cultural production and they are actually resisting in front of the
queer identity of Will who has all of those characteristics of being ambivalent and
queer inside their family context.

One of the interesting discussions in Alexander Doty articles is the close
connection between consumer culture and the most visible aspects of queerness
such as the presence of queer characters in the advertisements or in TV shows,
queers fashion, discos and bars for homosexuals and many other aspects of
queerness being used in the culture industry. This approach suggests that there
should be a reasonable reception for advanced capitalism on queer side.
According to Doty there is a particular relationship between queerness and popular
culture which is an alternative reception of the products and messages of popular culture.
All of the non-straight personalities and their weirdness in relation to culture, race or
gender are in accordance with consumerism and pop culture by wondering ‘how they
might have access to mainstream culture without denying or losing their oppositional
identities, how they might participate without necessarily assimilating, how they might
take pleasure in, and make affirmative meanings out of, experiences and artefacts that
they have been told do not offer queer pleasures and meanings’. In other words, ‘a central
issue is how to be “out in culture”: how to occupy a place in mass culture, yet maintain a
perspective on it that does not accept its homophobic and heterocentrist definitions,
images, and terms of analysis’ (Alexander Doty, from Out in Culture).
One of the good examples of this relationship between consumption and social
queerness could be referred to a scene in ‘The Jeffersons’ episode. Through
deliberate mise-en-scene, after they bought the piano, we always see their living
room fully occupied by the presence of this luxury furniture. In almost all of the
living room’s shots, that piano covers the whole scene and part of it is usually
outside if the frame. The presence of the piano in that space is actually a clear
aspect of ambivalence. It brings ‘real’ class by catching the wealthy neighbors’
attention but at the same time it remains an external queer object which
obviously doesn’t belong to that space. In this sense, the piano could be an
allegory of Jeffersons’ queer position among all of those homogenized American families
who are living in that "deluxe residency in the sky". It is also interesting that how
Florence, their sharp-tongued maid, Louise and also George himself are having
issues in moving around because of the presence of the piano as an obstacle
which also becomes a motif through these scenes.
Over the course of reading early TV sitcoms and especially during and after the
project of standardization of American culture, the queerness of consuming
culture stands simultaneously beside the created homogenized and straight
positions of American-ness. However this reading is not confined to sexual and
gendered positions but also stands for anyone who produces or responds to
culture in a non-straight-identifying manner. Whoever stands outside of the
ideological expectations of conformity, whether Lucy in “I love Lucy” episode by
violating her role as an obedient housewife, or Ellen in “The Ellen show” episode by
adopting an ambiguous position regarding to her gender and appearance, or “The
Jeffersnos” by pursuing a different social class despite of their conventional racial
position, could establish a queer reading; and in all of these examples they approach
toward this queerness by depicting a positive reception of consuming culture. In “Out in
Culture” Alexander Doty writes: “The queer space is best thought of as a contrastraight,
rather than strictly antistraight. Queer positions, queer readings, and queer pleasures are
part of a reception space that stands simultaneously beside and within that created by
heterosexual and straight positions. . . . What queer reception often does, however, is
stand outside the relatively clear-cut and essentializing categories of identity under which
most people function.”