SAM Seminar: Queer characters in entertainment TV

When:18 Apr 2017, 5pm - 6:30pm
Venue:Cinema 327, Robert Webster Building
Who:Ava Parsemain, UNSW

Since the 1990s, LGBT characters have become increasingly visible in mainstream media. According to some commentators, American television has now entered the “Golden Age” of queer representation. But visibility does not guarantee progress. As Gamson (2002) notes, “if the invisibility party is over, new questions are still circulating about the new visibility party that has taken its place: who is invited, and by whom, at what price, and with what political and social consequences” (p. 340). Despite recent improvements, some seemingly “queer-positive” texts have been criticised for reinforcing heteronormativity instead of challenging it.

In this seminar, I explore portrayals of gay, transgender and gender-non-confirming characters in American dramas, soap operas and reality series to explain how entertainment television teaches about queerness. Reflecting on the historical evolution of TV queers, I compare series from the 2000s to more recent programmes to demonstrate that entertainment media has made significant progress in the last two decades.

Based on case studies of Empire, I Am Cait and The Prancing Elites Project, I argue that entertainment, far from hindering pedagogy, is an integral part of the teaching process. Entertainment elements like storytelling, characters, melodrama, humour and music function as pedagogical tools, educating audiences about LGBT identities and related issues. By using these entertainment techniques as pedagogical devices, queer TV invites learning through empathy, emotion, reflection and discussion instead of delivering messages in a didactic and authoritative way.

Dr Ava Parsemain teaches Media Studies in the School of the Arts and Media at the University of New South Wales. Her doctoral thesis, which was completed in 2015, explored the educational dimension of television, using case studies of Australian programmes to understand how television teaches and how viewers learn from it.

She currently researches representations of LGBT characters in American television and how entertainment media can educate about social issues like homophobic and transphobic discrimination and violence. Her book, The Pedagogy of Queer TV, will soon be published by Palgrave Macmillan.

SAM Seminar Series

This series provides a showcase and forum for local as well as international scholars, researchers, industry practitioners and creative artists – ranging from early-career to well-established – to present on their work. 

Find out more and see the full program.
Enquiries contact: SAM Seminar Convenor, Collin Chua –

Finding us
Robert Webster Building is located mid-way off the UNSW main walkway. Map Reference G14. Cinema 327 is located on the third floor. 

More information on getting to UNSW.
Download a campus map. (PDF)

View Past Events
Join our Newsletters