Date of Award

2010

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department

Media Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Susan Knabe

Second Advisor

Dr. Amanda Grzyb

Abstract

Using Foucaultian discourse analysis, this thesis examines the discursive practices of AngloAmerican gay activists who respond to the homophobic lyrics and violence of Jamaican dancehall music and culture. Since the early 1990s, gay activists in North America and the United Kingdom have mobilized in opposition to the graphic anti-gay violence in Jamaican popular culture. While much has been written about the metaphor, performativity, and symbolic violence in dancehall music, there is a paucity of scholarship that analyzes the discourse of gay activists who, in taking aim at dancehall homophobia, arguably produce the framework in which dancehall is meaningfully discussed. My analysis interrogates the systems of meaning and political tactics employed by activists from Stop Murder Music (U.K.) and Boycott Jamaica (U.S.). I argue that these activists – by relying on the conventions of liberal gay identity politics – fail to engage fully with the cultural, historical, and economic contexts in which dancehall music is performed and produced. Further, I consider how this discursive formation exists within a broader conversation between Western gay and lesbian activists and people in the global south. In my analysis, I pose the following research questions: Firstly, what frames of meaning do Anglo-American gay activists employ to structure their arguments? How do the socio-cultural contexts and the histories of gay activism in the U.S. and U.K. affect these activists’ treatment of race, homophobia, gay identity, and political tactics? More specifically, how does the strategy of consumer boycotts, as the principal method of protesting dancehall homophobia, relate to a broader Anglo-American gay identity and political agenda based increasingly in consumption? Finally, how does the prevailing opposition of dancehall defenders and opponents – Caribbean intellectuals vs. Anglo-American gay activists – perpetuate uncritical, homogeneous understandings of homophobia, the lived experiences of Jamaican queer people, and the demographics and motivations of gay activist projects? In particular, I consider how these activists elide the local conditions that shape dancehall music as they navigate the intersections of race, gay identity, postcoloniality, and global economics. Finally, I argue that liberal identity politics and its discursive practices are counterproductive in staging an anti-homophobia politic that targets dancehall culture and Jamaican society. Instead, creating alliances among marginalized groups in the global north and south – which negotiate the intersectional, mutually constitutive nature of sexuality, race, class, and gender – may help to transcend the polarizing discourse of Anglo-American gay activists, and begin to confront the prejudices and structural inequalities expressed through both dancehall music and gay activism.

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