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Queer Girls and Popular Culture: Reading, Resisting, and Creating Media

Author: Susan Driver
Publisher: New York: Peter Lang, 2007
Review Published: October 2009

 REVIEW 1: Lisa Justine Hernández
 REVIEW 2: Alison Miller-Slade

Susan Driver's Queer Girls and Popular Culture offers a unique approach to the study of queerness and femininity. By utilizing a mixed research method of interviewing women and young girls about their perceptions of these mediated images, as well as analyzing the media images themselves, Driver's work allows the reader an in-depth look into the world of queerness and girls through a theoretical lens.

In the introductory essay, "Queering Girl Studies: Dialogical Languages and Performative Desires," Driver looks at girl studies as a whole, identifying how the reader should place queer girl studies within the larger framework of feminist studies. Driver explains the need for this research as a majority of feminist or girl studies unfortunately leaves out the subject of queer girls. Further, Driver discusses how she conducts her research for the collection of essays. Interestingly, the interview component of research was done via online communication with the girls. Driver notes the Internet is a "lifeline" in which the girls could choose their own level of disclosure, with the web providing a stronger sense of security and interaction with other girls with whom they identify (54). Driver nicely summarizes the focus of the book as to "read queer girl desires as a process interconnecting cultural texts, interpretations, and investments without reducing their heterogeneity" (45).

Driver then moves into more specific investigations of concrete examples of the queer girl within popular culture, beginning in chapter three with a critical analysis of the character Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Although Driver does point out a majority of queer narrative on the small screen is limited to adolescent boys, in which those same-sex interactions are limited to "moments of revelation," and reveals the fantasy/science fiction genre is more adaptable to queer narrative, there is a notable absence of discussion for queer girl characters within other television genres, specifically the role of Bianca on All My Children. Nonetheless, Driver's analysis of the character Willow does provide a window into the power of the media image on the queer girl at home. The importance of such a popular character as Willow is the opportunity for queer girls to see a mirror image of themselves in mainstream media. This is evident in the online fan discussion boards focusing on Willow and her bisexuality. In particular, after Willow's transformation from a "good girl" to a vamp, evil witch following the death of love interest Tara, Willow's fan following online increased, with the devilish Willow even more popular than before (67). Further, Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a whole offers the queer girl viewer opportunity to view not only female relationships and interactions considered "normal, yet different," but also blurs the lines between racial differences as well (e.g., Willow becomes romantically involved with Kennedy, a lesbian Latina slayer) (90).

The text moves into chapter four and a discussion of the representations of queer girls in contemporary independent films. This is an interesting juxtaposition of the traditional mainstream popular media against the independent film, though the argument can be made independent film is considered mainstream in a variety of cultural groups. Driver's stated goal is to examine and understand young queer girls reactions and reliance upon the images of queer girls and their relationships in independent film texts. Mainstream Hollywood film portrays relationships as primarily heterosexually centered, however, feminist scholars have identified the 1990s as a critical developmental period in independent films, as heterosexual relationships were increasingly replaced with "narratives that value same-sex friendships" (95). Though the main focus of this essay is to understand the queer girl response to seeing their own lives reflected onscreen, the majority of the chapter is devoted to analyzing a group of independent films whose narratives focus on the lives of young queer girls. For example, Driver notes the films Show Me Love and All Over Me are "romantic dramas," while The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love is a "light romantic comedy" whose viewers are allowed to see positive representations of the young queer girl finding her way in relationships with other young girls (113).

In an interesting turn of analysis, Driver turns her focus to adolescent girls and their connection to the world of reading and critically understanding lesbian magazines. This chapter discusses how the queer girl is most often bombarded with mainstream images of how a teen girl should look, act, and think, therefore leading to what Driver calls "an uneasy sense of pleasure and belonging" when these girls read magazines geared toward what society deems the unconventional female (127). Further, Driver highlights how traditional feminist scholarship tends to ignore these unconventional representations in favor of almost always writing about beauty, celebrity, fashion, and obsession over boys (131). However, in almost all interviews on this subject, Driver found a majority of the girls, when confronted with traditional images of girls, would turn the images into queer imagery on their own. Lesbian magazines, then, create their own brand of queer youth, as these girls look, once again, to see their own image reflected in the media. In an interesting connection between the heterosexual normal and the queer girl, lesbian magazines focus on utilizing sex, romance, and image as their main selling point, just like their counterparts (146).

The final two chapters of the text focus on online communities and music, respectively. These chapters are by far the shortest analyses within the text, an unfortunate occurrence as these two areas are rich with areas of critical interest. For example, Driver notes in the introduction the importance of online communities within the culture of queer girls, even taking most of the interviews in this format, yet this chapter seems to leave the reader wanting to understand more about the computer mediated communication between queer girls. However, Driver offers an interesting and thorough discussion of the online communities she does cite within this chapter, specifically focusing on two of the most popular and active online communities (178). Driver found the most important aspect of these sites to be fluid sexual boundaries, the ability to be free with oneself and thoughts, feelings, and conversations, relaxed virtual communities, and a place for social engagement (185-6). The final chapter on music is connected to this sense of freedom without boundaries. Research has proven music to be "one of the most powerful cultural forces through which young people express emotions, shape their identities, and generate ties with others" (203). Driver finds the same to be true of music specifically tied to queer subcultures, as a majority of the girls interviewed identified music as having the biggest impact on their identity (205). Like the online communities, music helps to create bonds within large groups of girls on a variety of levels, including but not limited to emotion, sexuality, identity, and political viewpoints.

Overall, Queer Girls and Popular Culture: Reading, Resisting, and Creating Media is a comprehensive introduction into how queer girls attempt to identify with others as well as find their own place and way in society by utilizing media images and tools. Though at times Driver admits the text is written from a personal, and in some cases, biased, point of view, the book nicely weaves other viewpoints throughout the essays in the form of quotations from the research interviews, as well as in-depth critical analysis.

Alison Miller-Slade:
Alison Miller-Slade (Ph.D., The University of Southern Mississippi) is an Assistant Professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Her research focus is media, culture and society, with a concentration in American television history and reality television.  <amiller@ulm.edu>

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