Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Queer Studies, Summary of Eric Clarke’s “Visibility at the Limits of Inclusion,” Feb. 26, 2008

This is the forty-first post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

This is the third of seven posts of material from Professor Kevin Floyd’s Queer Studies seminar at Kent State University. Most of these Recovered Writing posts are from summaries that we wrote during the semester on readings. Most of these were densely theoretical works, but we could not expend more than one page on these summaries–no more and no less–exactly one page. This was an incredibly useful exercise to get to the heart of an argument, study its supporting evidence, and identify its strengths and weaknesses. These summaries encouraged us to take a rigorous approach to understand arguments, express those arguments cogently, and adopt the jargon, terminology, and language utilized by the argument’s writer.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Kevin Floyd

Queer Studies

26 Feb. 2008

Summary of Eric Clarke’s “Visibility at the Limits of Inclusion”

Clarke performs a Habermasean argument, meaning an analysis of the influence of capitalism on democracy and the interrelationship between the two systems, to explore the way in which visibility politics reinforces capitalistic modes of value production, which in turn promotes a particular “authenticity” for gay and lesbian identities.

He raises questions about the project of visibility politics, which “has demanded more ‘positive’ lesbian and gay” role models/representations/representatives in the public sphere and in the media (29).  What does ‘positive’ mean?  Who decides what is ‘positive’ and what is ‘negative?’  Clarke argues that the recent trend in commercialization and sponsorship of gay and lesbian events such as the Stonewall 25 celebration introduces the process of capitalistic value production.  Instead of gays and lesbians forming community or group identities on the basis of an egalitarian democratic ideology, the confluence of capitalism and commercialism produces a gay and lesbian demographic that’s targeted as a group to be marketed and sold brand name items in the interest of reiterating a ‘lifestyle’ formed not by that group but by the dynamics of marketing and sales.  What’s really troubling about this development is that this capitalistic ‘lifestyle’ group identity for gays and lesbians comes about through capitalism and not through democratic, individual enfranchisement to make choices about belonging to such a group.  Furthermore, this process is disguised as an operation of democratic ideals, and it’s here that Clarke brings in Habermas and Marx into his discussion of value production invisibly supplanting moral enfranchisement.  That is, there is a heteronormative feature to this that enforces or favors ‘normality’ among gays and lesbians who seek or affirm the post-WWII heteronormative ideal of the nuclear family while excluding what Ellen Degeneres terms, “extremes” (qtd. 34).

Clarke relies on examples such as Ellen Degeneres’ double coming out on the ABC TV show, Ellen to reveal how this confluence of capitalism through publicity serves to promote a normalizing effect to gays and lesbians.  Degeneres (implicitly) along with persons such as Bruce Bawer, Andrew Sullivan, and Gabriel Rotello call for equal rights through what Clarke describes as, “moral conformity as the very precondition for enfranchisement” (41).

Other effects of the process of devaluation of non-normative identities promoted by the influence of capitalistic forces include the marginalization of radical gay and lesbian groups such as ACT UP (as opposed to the major funding of groups like GLAAD), and the publicity/marketing disconnection from “extreme” gay and lesbian identities that don’t fit into the promoted, normalized heteronormative model of gay and lesbian identity (this even extends to ABC turning down the lesbian vacation and cruise company, Olivia Cruises and Resorts, advertisement during the coming out Ellen show).

In the system/process that Clarke describes, social and political value is equated to economic value, and that economic value is established through capitalistic forces and publicity/marketing choices made by corporations.  Enfranchisement of individuals as citizens takes place through market forces rather than the conventionally understood ideal of egalitarian, democratic enfranchisement.  However, it’s important to note that Marx describes how capitalism stripped marriage of particular traditional functions, thereby opening new possibilities, and it has afforded similar possibilities to “modern homoerotic association” (57).

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I direct the B.S. in Professional and Technical Writing Program and coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.