Date of Award
Program or Major
Doctor of Philosophy
This work sets out to examine the ways in which homosexuality and villainy have been conflated throughout the 20th Century in American media, and the ways in which that conflation has been reinforced and challenged. My observations about the villainous connotations of homosexuality hold despite the ways in which the boundaries of homosexuality have changed throughout the century. A homosexual is anyone who experiences romantic or amorous affection for someone who presents with the same gender presentation and/or who experiences attraction aversion for those who present with the opposite gender presentation. A villain breaks the law seeking to restructure society or to continue to question the moral expectations of that society; they appear disaffected to a greater degree, and their animosity towards society is less understood because that animosity points to the systemic injustices in power structures that that society benefits from obfuscating; homosexualized villains seek to destroy or upend societies that have admonished them for their homosexuality, the impetus of which cannot be understood without acknowledging that the society they are attacking is rigidly heterosexual—a power structure that their society has hidden.The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, published in 1955, is a novel that epitomizes the conflation of homosexuality and villainy. It remains unclear to readers whether Tom Ripley is villainous because he is harboring the secret of his homosexuality. Highsmith’s novel is a psychological thriller in which Tom Ripley poses as a friend of Dickie Greenleaf to receive funds to travel to Europe to bring Dickie back to his parents in America, Tom’s homoerotic attraction to Dickie and his lavish lifestyle derail this mission, causing Tom to murder Dickie and assume his identity. In this chapter, I perform close readings of Highsmith’s novel to examine the ways in which gender fatalism, homosocial desire, and cruel optimism permeate the text. Gender fatalism, homosocial desire, and cruel optimism are utilized to reposition the novel as well as two film remakes of the novel, Purple Noon (also known as Plein Soleil) and The Talented Mr. Ripley to create excellent examples of homosexualized villainy. Another Country by James Baldwin and Vanishing Rooms by Melvin Dixon depict a continuation of the conflation of villainy and homosexuality while layering conceptions of race as othered and vilifying as well. African-American literature in the 20th Century describes Black experiences that are tangled with issues of racial inequality that grew from racial structures developed in the 19th and 18th centuries to explain, affirm, and uphold a society whose top echelon benefitted from the ideologies of white supremacy, and are therefore extensions or prodigies of slave narratives. In Another Country, Rufus’ disaffection by society speaks to his homosexualized villainy, while Dixon’s response novel Vanishing Rooms portrays Jesse’s disinheritance from Metro. In this chapter, I examine the ways in which insult and (hetero)sexualized spaces shape the rejection and disaffection of characters, who then become more susceptible to vilification. I examine three graphic narratives that demonstrate a literary awareness of the conflation of homosexuality and villainy: My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf, 8-Bit Theater by Brian Clevinger, and My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris. With these three, one may see an illustrated trajectory of homosexualized villainy questioned and ultimately separated. The literary trope of the conflation of homosexuality and villainy is so pervasive it crossed medium boundaries into graphic narratives and video games, yet graphic narratives more apparently embraced the separation of villainy and homosexuality. My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf attempts to absolve homosexual serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer of his homosexuality as an impetus for murder but fails to consider the (heterosexual) societal pressure placed on Dahmer which he then internalizes; 8-Bit Theater by Brian Clevinger portrays an affable homosexual villain thereby complicating the readers’ relationship with villainy and viciousness; and My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris presents homosexual saviors who are monsters but who are not monstruous. These three narratives navigate conceptions of homosexuality and villainy that complicate the traditional trope of conflation. Finally, I consider the ways in which a film can be framed as homosexual by examining marketing, the concept of the auteur, and the intended audience. I examine two paradigms of homosexuality in film: homosexual spaces through the trope of road trips across natural landscapes, and literal villains in 1960s-1990s Disney films. I argue that the trope of road tripping creates a sense of adventure, propelling the plot, through removing homosexual characters from homosexually-friendly urbanscapes and transplanting them onto suburban- and ruralscapes. A byproduct of this trope is that gender performance that does not match a person’s sex is seen as unnatural in more bucolic settings. An examination of Disney villains in late 20th century films demonstrates the ways in which ambitious individuals who overperform or blur their gender identity are quickly and unequivocally villainized in films that simultaneously establish hetero-romantic relationships as normal and desirable for children. This dissertation examines some of many examples of the conflation of villainy and homosexuality in 20th century American media. The conflation makes it difficult for readers to identify homosexual role models. Further areas of study include Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and its subsequent graphic novel and television series, as well as Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, and subsequent film. This is a rich subject area that invites further analyzation.
Harrington, Sherard, "Othered Ambitions: The Conflation of Villainy and Homosexuality in 20th Century American Media" (2022). Doctoral Dissertations. 2675.