Since the earliest years of the film industry, journalists and journalism have played a leading role in popular culture. Scholars debate whether journalism films—and by extension television programs, plays, cartoons, comics, commercials, and online and interactive stories and games—are a distinct genre, or whether journalists are featured in a variety of genres from dramas to comedies and satires to film noir. They also debate whether a film needs to feature a journalist doing journalism as a primary character or whether having a journalist as a secondary character still counts as a “journalism” film. Regardless, research into depictions of journalists in popular culture is important because the depictions influence public opinion about real-world journalists, as well as the credibility and public trust of the journalism field. Indeed, the influence might be greater even than the actual work performed by real-world journalists. Popular culture cultivates legend and myth, and this cultivation is especially true for a field such as journalism because the majority of the public will never see the inside of an actual newsroom. Popular culture myths about journalism focus on its normative role. Journalistic heroes are the foreign correspondents and investigative reporters who stand for community and progress. Journalistic villains are the lovable rogues, remorseful sinners, and unrepentant scoundrels who break journalistic norms and roles. A wide range of heroes and villains have been depicted on the big and small screen. For every Woodward and Bernstein working tirelessly to expose a corrupt presidential administration in All the President’s Men, there is a Chuck Tatum hiding an injured man in order to keep an exclusive in Ace in the Hole. For every Murphy Brown, a prominent and award-winning investigative journalist and anchor, there is a Zoe Barnes in House of Cards who has sex with sources and knowingly publishes false information. Many of the most interesting depictions, however, feature a character who has aspects of heroism and villainy. For example, Megan Carter in Absence in Malice attempts to be a watchdog reporter but destroys lives with her mistakes. Viewers ultimately are left with the idea that Carter will become a better journalist because of the lessons she has learned during the course of the film. Due to the potential impact of these depictions, entertainers must hold themselves to a higher standard to fulfill their discursive role within the broader republic. Entertainment programming needs a positive ethical code because it helps inform citizens by raising questions, offering incisive observations, and voicing marginalized perspectives. The code is in its nascent stages, but it is past time for media ethicists to develop a social responsibility theory for entertainment and amusement, the dominant role of almost all media.
Mark Pedelty and Elja Roy
This article is about making media as a method for studying media, specifically focusing on film. Production-based methodologies can be particularly revelatory, especially when it comes to better understanding aspects of media production that might not be accessible via textual methods and audience ethnography alone. Scholars in communication studies, media sociology, media anthropology, media literacy pedagogy, and film studies have argued that a praxis combining media production and reflexive analysis can help us to better understand “backstage” realities that are less accessible to textual analysis and audience research methodologies. Who or what “authors” a film? Working as a scholar–producer can usefully complicate notions of authorship in the field of media studies, moving the field from an implicit auteur model (the media “text” as “authored”) to more complex understandings of the collective and institutional processes involved in most filmmaking, and in media production more broadly. Production-oriented methods are advancing as new media scholars, accustomed to making media, enter the academy.
Paris S. Cameron-Gardos
The rejection of coming out as a linear narrative must be accompanied by an alternative to the formulas of confession, disclosure, and identity adoption that have pervaded the current representations of coming out in the West. The appearance of coming out in film narratives provides important opportunities to observe how elements such as repetition, rehearsal, and, above all, contrasts are incorporated into the stories that are recounted. Conventional coming-out films have relied so heavily on the restrictive nature of the genre’s narrative structure that the potential for alternative, or queered, realities of coming out is erased. The continual reappearance and adaptations of coming out will enable a better understanding of the ways in which the act is presented as a moment that is never finished and that often evades a final, perfected, and polished performance. Four specific narratives from queer film—Beautiful Thing (1996), Summer Storm(2004), Brotherhood (2009), and North Sea Texas (2011)—will be presented to offer counter models for coming out. In Beautiful Thing, the visual narrative demonstrates the importance of the reiterative, adaptable, and unanticipated representation of the act in visual media. In Summer Storm, the audience witnesses how coming out occurs in a world of competitive sports and where the teenage athletes reveal secrets that everyone already knows. In Brotherhood, the act of coming out is transformed into a moment when identities are instantaneously accepted and rejected within a homophobic, neo-Nazi subculture. In North Sea Texas, the script of coming out is reimagined by two characters who ambiguously decline any opportunity to define their identities. Coming out in visual narratives must be understood through an elaboration of Janet Harbord’s belief that the audience gravitates toward particular visual narratives where a comfort zone is created. These films have authored reiterative and adaptable approaches to the act of coming out that both comfort and challenge the audience.
The relationship between queer memory and cinema is a complex one. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) histories have often been and continue to be systematically and deliberately excluded from the “official” memory narratives of nation-states, whether it be within the context of education or other commemorative projects. In order to counter this erasure, activists and artists have worked to preserve and reimagine LGBTQ pasts, creating archives, undertaking historiographic work, and, finally, reimagining queer histories in film and television. While memory remains an underutilized concept in queer studies, authors working in this nascent area of the field have nonetheless examined how the queer past is being commemorated through national, educational, and cinematic technologies of memory. For example, Scott McKinnon’s work has focused on gay male memories of cinema-going, therein highlighting the role of audience studies for the understanding of gay memory. Like McKinnon, Christopher Castiglia and Christopher Reed have also focused on the gay male community, emphasizing the ways in which film and television can combat the effects of conservative and homonormative politics on how the past is remembered. While Castiglia, Reed, and McKinnon’s work focuses on the memories of gay men, a monograph by the author of this article has analyzed how contemporary film and television represent LGBTQ histories, therein interrogating the role these mediums play in the creation of what can be termed specifically queer memory. Furthermore, while monographs dealing with queer memory are only beginning to appear, a number of single case studies and book chapters have focused on specific cinematic works, and have looked at how they present the LGBTQ past, particularly with respect to activist histories. Authors like Dagmar Brunow have also emphasized the link between queer memory and film preservation, exhibition and distribution, therein pointing toward the ways in which practices of curation shape one’s perception of the past. Taken together, these different approaches to queer filmic memory not only illuminate the relevance of cinema to the ways in which LGBTQ people recall and imagine the past of their own community, but also to the unfixed and continually evolving nature of queer memory itself.