Death of the Critic

Queer Theory

Written by: Tom Blaich

As this site moves forward and we begin to introduce more complex topics it will become useful for us to give a primer in some of the themes and ideas that we are talking about. We've done a little bit of this already, but we will be digging in a little deeper into the topics in question. Death of the Critic is, at its heart, a critical website where we try to take a deeper look at different aspects of media. From movies to games to music and more, we aim to enhance the discussion around media in order to deepen our knowledge and understanding.

Let’s talk about schools of theory. When we critique, frequently we do so through a specific lens. Works can have a lot of meaning hidden deep within them, and if we aimed to fully analyze a book, movie, or game, we could easily fill an entire book. So we use these schools of theory as a way to focus in on one particular area of a work. This helps us hone in on a specific idea and expand upon it more fully than if we had tried to do a very broad reading. By centering on one aspect, the analysis becomes more clear and focused.

As we move into contemporary criticism, you should think of it like this; The easier styles of criticism that we talked about act like a foundation for these critical lenses. We take individual lessons from these schools and work them into the idea of our contemporary schools. And these schools are what you will be seeing in the long form criticism that we publish on this site.

Queer Theory is a bit obvious in its scope, but it carries with it a very interesting discussion about the depiction of GSRM (
Gender, Sexual, or Romantic Minorities) and how it is reflected in a text. It is closely linked to Gender Theory, which we will discuss next week. We’ve already published a few pieces of Queer Theory with our pieces “LGBTQ Hip Hop: The Tantalizing Problem of Labeling” and “Compulsory Heterosexuality in Film,” so you can get an idea of what we are talking about.

Queer Theory is almost more of a focus than a style of criticism. You can have close readings/explications of a text, or analysis of its form or historical context and it doesn’t change the fact that you are engaging in Queer Theory. It is a rather broad school of thought, much like many of the other contemporary schools of criticism that we use. Fundamentally it is about the different aspects of gender and sexuality that fall outside of the normalized binary system. The way hetero vs non-hetero sex and relationships are portrayed, how characters react to “queer” characters or actions, or the way dialogue is written. The examination of tropes and cliches that surround characters.

It is very close to Gender Theory, and much like the topics of criticism, many critics blur the line between the two, but the way I prefer to delineate it is by thinking of Gender Theory as looking at gender (obviously) and Queer Theory as discussion of the things that fall outside of the traditional gender binary, everything else that Gender Theory does not cover. It is a fine line and one that you don’t have to rigidly stick to for good criticism. Generally it will follow these rules, but often aspects of gender theory will find themselves being used in Queer Theory and vice versa.

With next week’s piece, we will examine this relationship further, but feel free to look at the readings for more in-depth conceptual knowledge of the topic. Foucault is foundational, and if you have any interest in the topic at all, you should read him. I would also highly recommend checking out some of the pieces we have written in this style, and as we move further into contemporary criticism, we will depend more heavily on examples than explanations because of the difference in style between older criticism and newer.

Further Readings:

A History of Sexuality - Michel Foucault
Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema - Laura Mulvey
Epistemology of the Closet - Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
Imitation and Gender Insubordination - Judith Butler


Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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