Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

H. Robert Baker

Second Advisor

John McMillian

Third Advisor

Joseph Perry


It has been difficult to gauge the cultural impact of the intimate combination of sex and death that unfolded in the form of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the Bowers v. Hardwick Supreme Court decision. Television proved to be one of the most relevant and accessible sites of contention in the cultural discourse about queer lives in the 1980s: Whether they absorbed it from VCR tapes, local-access cable TV, talk shows, network news, even from MTV, a generation was exposed to and experienced new ideas about privacy, sexuality, and mortality in astounding velocity and depth from television—and in turn, American culture grew more aware of the queer community as that community divulged more of itself in the most public of ways, in its quest for empathy and equality.

In no small part because of the epidemic and the Hardwick decision, the queer emotional community was able to transform a grassroots political movement into cultural change. Queer activists and actors leveraged the atomization of television to take root in newly available channels of distribution; they embraced new technologies that enabled them to broadcast pro-queer messages that laid the groundwork for progress. They began to change the popular understanding of their lives in emotional communities outside their own, in a long-running prelude that generated new visibility inside a changing emotional regime. In the 1980s—gauged by some as the nadir of queer life in modern America—queer people created a distinguishable shift in the cultural conversation, while they were in turn galvanized to come out and take up common cause of activism, to broadcast it over the most influential medium of the moment: television.


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