Doctor of Philosophy
Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies
Since the release of Mike Mills’s Beginners (2010), a critically acclaimed film about the late life coming out story of a 75-year-old father, representations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or trans (LGBT) characters in their sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties have multiplied in U.S. American and Canadian film and television. Instances of what I call the ‘queer elder figure', these contemporary representations comment on the intersections of aging and queerness. Evident in popular award-winning series, such as Grace and Frankie (2015-2022) and Transparent (2014-2017; 2019), the queer elder figure has emerged as a rather trendy subject in the second decade of the twenty-first century. This dissertation probes the popularity of the figure, asking the following questions: How does the queer elder come to be seen in the 2010s? What representational logics make possible its visibility? Who do such representational logics serve? And what old or new LGBT and/or elder tropes accompany the emergence of the queer elder figure? In this dissertation, I employ an affective-discursive methodology to a collection of Canadian and U.S. American films and television series created and distributed between 2010-2020 to argue that depictions of the queer elder figure are about temporal logics. Drawing upon queer temporal theories and concepts from critical age studies, this work illustrates how the queer elder figure reinforces and/or complicates normative temporal conventions, including narratives of progress, a sub/cultural investment in youth, and dominant constructions of longevity, death, and futurity. Building on a small body of literature about media representations of gay and lesbian aging and old age, this work offers the first sustained analysis of twenty-first century portraits of LGBT older adults in film and television.
Summary for Lay Audience
Broadly speaking, this dissertation explores current depictions of the queer elder figure in Canadian and U.S. American film and television, as well as the role time and age play in the figure’s visibility. Evident in popular award-winning series, such as Grace and Frankie (2015-2022) and Transparent (2014-2017; 2019), the queer elder figure refers to representations of aging and older lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (LGBT) characters created and distributed in the twenty-first century. Taking the 2010s as the benchmark of the queer elder’s cultural visibility, I explore the rising status of LGBT older adults in U.S. American and Canadian visual texts by asking the following research questions: How does the queer elder come to be seen in the 2010s? What representational logics make possible its visibility? Who do such representational logics serve? And what old or new LGBT and/or elder tropes accompany the emergence of the queer elder figure? I use concepts from queer theory, especially queer temporality theory, and critical age studies to analyze the cultural work performed by representations of the queer elder figure. Specifically, I examine how the queer elder figure is made useful through its relationship to time-related themes, such as progress, youth, death, and the future. Focusing on the intersections of sexuality, gender, and age, this work offers the first sustained analysis of twenty-first century depictions of LGBT older adults in film and television.
McFarland, Jami L., "Timely Representations: The Queer Elder Figure in Canadian and U.S. American Film and Television" (2022). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8433.