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Deviant Programming: Curating Queer Spectatorial Possibilities in U.S. Art House Cinemas, 1968-1989


This dissertation looks back at how popular queer films—canonical then or now—were programmed at urban art-house, independent, repertory, and second-run theaters primarily from 1968 to 1989. Contrary to assumptions that undergird queer film criticism, queer cinema was by no means marginal, rare, peripheral, or strictly nocturnal within these spaces. What I call deviant programming in art-house and repertory houses provides pivotal access into an underlying register of subversive and deviant spectatorial political imaginaries beyond the LGBT circumscription to which queer politics has grown accustomed. Programming, the practice of selecting films to be shown for exhibition in a specific space for a specific audience, aggregates discrete texts to form interrelated networks. It continually offers spectators of all sexualities and genders opportunities to encounter narratives about non-normative subjectivities. Positioning calendars and programs as acute indicators for spectatorial desires, I argue that these practices shook audiences with depictions of masochism, bodily fetishes, abjection, and other “degenerate” practices that fall outside of or are relegated within the bourgeois ethos of sexual propriety. Programming metabolized these confrontational aesthetics, leading spectators to enjoy, resist, discover, as well as learn from their atypical renderings of sexual pleasure and gender performativity. Merging concepts in affect studies (e.g., contact zones and reparativity) with semiotics (e.g., intertextuality and bricolage), I try to capture what it means to feel the intertextuality of programming, both in knowable and inchoate forms.

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