Though relatively new to the expanse of interpretative theories, queer theory has made a definitive mark on the explanations and understandings of literature, film, and television. By looking at classic and modern works through the lens of queerness—that is, the idea of a marginalized or otherwise outcasted “Other”—scholars, as well as everyday consumers, are capable of perceiving the importance of equality and acceptance in a larger society. It is important to understand, however, that queer theory does not just apply to characters and situations that are definitively LGBT. The experiences of these characters may parallel the experiences of an Other or critique the current society in a way that explores the problems with modern life. In this context, the word “queer” explores being an outcast in a structured, stereotypical world and strives for equality despite the strict surrounding society.
Bryan Fuller’s works specifically have incorporated ideas of queer theory for years. Today I want to examine how several of Fuller’s shows function within the lens of queer theory and explain the significance and importance of what Fuller does as a gay man in the world of television. Of course, these interpretations are not the end-all, be-all. As a queer person, however, I find it enlightening to look at media I love from different perspectives and find alternate meanings and ideas in the worlds I so love to divulge in. Furthermore, Fuller’s worlds, by existing within themselves, are pretty much as queer as you can get. They serve as an almost alternate reality, allowing strange, supernatural, and magical things to exist without a second thought. We, as audience members, take these to heart and accept them, which is a pretty damn good way of looking at things that may differ from us and our own experiences. With Fuller’s worlds, acceptance and equality are at the core.
The first show I want to explore is Dead Like Me, which can be read as an almost metaphor for queerness. Think about it this way: the reapers are people of all ages, lifestyles, personalities, yet are automatically outcasted by the society around them (to the point where they are not seen at all). Though this parallel was most likely not fully intentional, it makes a good case for understanding the experiences of queer people in society. By creating a subculture of people (the reapers) who depend on each other and learn from each other, Dead Like Me allows for a community of acceptance within a world that does not otherwise abide by their existence. Though Others in the real world, they are very much together because of their shared experiences and circumstances, which forges a system of equality within themselves. Though the characters themselves are not portrayed as LGBT inside the show, a queer lens allows us to look at the show’s world from a perspective that shines light on the reality that queerness is everywhere, always advocating for social change and equality. Though not actively queer, Dead Like Me pursues and displays a world where outcasts find hope within each other and capable of navigating life despite the odds against them.
In a similar way, Pushing Daisies also displays the thriving of outcasts in a dysfunctional society. Ned, though portrayed as heterosexual, is most certainly an Other because of his powers, even going so far as to keep them hidden from the majority of the world.
While I don’t want to overuse the “metaphor for queerness” trope on a straight man, I do want to point out that the show absolutely defies stereotypes when it comes to gender roles, going so far as to critique widespread definitions of masculinity. Ned is a character who is stereotypically more feminine than the typical television man; aside from his status as an outsider, he is a sensitive person who so engages in baking that it is his primary job. This stray from the norm allows for an example of the fragility of gender roles. Ned is representative of the many different personalities and people that exist in the world, especially those that stray from the normative ideas of gender. This progressiveness provides a fresh, unique show that defies what is normally shown not only in real life, but on television. Pushing Daisies is a show that seeks to question reality over and over; this it does not only with its very subject matter, but its presentation of characters and their status in the universe.
Now we come to Hannibal, a show that is universally recognized as one of the LGBT shows on television. Of course, I couldn’t not put Hannibal on here, but I do want to make a note before I begin. Fuller has stated upon many occasions that Hannibal Lecter is pansexual. While I don’t want to disgrace any representation, the fact that queerness is on one hand represented in a cannibal and murderer provides me with quite a few qualms. Hannibal is many things, though; his multifaceted characterization is one of the things that makes him one of the most interesting television characters of the 21st century. It is also my belief that the show itself is so queer that the portrayal of Hannibal as an LGBT character is not necessarily a predatory one. I do not want to criticize the representation that comes my way, so I do want to note that on the show, we have such a broad spectrum of gay-coded characters, of Othered personalities, and of beautiful, supernatural situations that make the show itself coded quite queer. Thankfully, it is not just Hannibal who is presented as queer, and this allows for a universe where so much is explained and explored through a queer lens. For instance, Alana and Margot’s relationship is shown in such a unique manner compared to lesbian couples in other shows. They receive as much screen time as any straight couple and, for once, receive a happy ending where they are still together. The latter is extremely rare when it comes to LGBT characters on television, so the inclusion of it in Hannibal provides a refreshing example of equality. It shows that Fuller and his team are not afraid to take risks, to root for the outcasts, to push forward into the future. This is why the queering of Hannibal is so important: no matter how each individual character is portrayed or interpreted, the show itself is on the side of the Other and continually expresses and reinforces those ideas.
Though each of these shows can be interpreted in a different way regarding queer theory, the importance rests in the fact that each show can be seen so heavily through this lens. Fuller’s inclusion of the Other, as well as the unique ideas and portrayals of so many of his characters, sets his shows apart. Each world, as parallels to our own, have one thing in common: the acceptance of outcasts, which in turn allows for the ideas of equality and acceptance to push through. No matter the situation, the characters, the different depictions of death, Fuller always strives for uniqueness, showing us ideas and circumstances never seen before, yet always making room for those who are different.