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Who’s Alright?: The Politics of “Queerspawn” Representation in "The Kids Are Alright"

by Ethan Tussey

by Aaron Sachs for IN MEDIA RES

Like most members of a minority group, I’m ambivalent about the way media representations frame me, so it’s not that surprising that, as someone with lesbian moms, I viewed The Kids Are Alright (TKAA) with some discomfort. It’s a beautiful film about the messiness of family and there were many aspects of the movie that spoke to my experience (for example a heterosexual affair did rupture my childhood) though I am from an earlier moment in queerspawn history. Yet the movie was also a disappointment for both it’s ultimate reliance on a discourse of normality for queer families and its misleading title suggesting it’s about “the kids.”

As TKAA’s director Lisa Cholodenko makes clear in the featurette, the film is about how “all families are faced with the same challenges.” This de-queering of lesbian families favors assimilationist ideas of normality. Yet there are clear limitations to discourses of normality. It’s tempting to read increased visibility as increased acceptance or power, but as Jay Clarkson notes, it often functions more to sanction some representations, and in this case, forms of queer family, over others (370). TKAA, and its promotional discourses, represent this middle class white lesbian family as “normal” by seeking to make it interchangeable with any family. The film ultimately does not move far from the representational norms of LGBTQ people, as described by Bonnie Dow, that depoliticize queerness by positing sexuality as primarily important within the personal sphere (131). Even if TKAA does invert one of Dow’s listed norms (129) with Paul who seems to be defined entirely by his heterosexuality, it remains trapped in a discourse of normality over (unc)conventionality (Clarkson 380)

The most disappointing facet for me, however, is that TKAA presents itself as about “the kids,” when it’s really about everyone else (Dow 129-129). The title says it all. To speak of “the kids” in the third person implies they are absent as either the speaking or listening subjects; they are objects. Cholodenko told the audience of a prescreening I attended that the desired audience for the film was 18-35 year-old straight women who will like the story’s romance. It leaves me wondering, then, who’s really alright, who’s asking, who cares, and why? I suspect it’s not us “kids,” for if it was, we’d have more moments like the one in the second clip.

Who’s Alright?: The Politics of “Queerspawn” Representation in "The Kids Are Alright"

by Ethan Tussey

by Aaron Sachs for IN MEDIA RES

Like most members of a minority group, I’m ambivalent about the way media representations frame me, so it’s not that surprising that, as someone with lesbian moms, I viewed The Kids Are Alright (TKAA) with some discomfort. It’s a beautiful film about the messiness of family and there were many aspects of the movie that spoke to my experience (for example a heterosexual affair did rupture my childhood) though I am from an earlier moment in queerspawn history. Yet the movie was also a disappointment for both it’s ultimate reliance on a discourse of normality for queer families and its misleading title suggesting it’s about “the kids.”

As TKAA’s director Lisa Cholodenko makes clear in the featurette, the film is about how “all families are faced with the same challenges.” This de-queering of lesbian families favors assimilationist ideas of normality. Yet there are clear limitations to discourses of normality. It’s tempting to read increased visibility as increased acceptance or power, but as Jay Clarkson notes, it often functions more to sanction some representations, and in this case, forms of queer family, over others (370). TKAA, and its promotional discourses, represent this middle class white lesbian family as “normal” by seeking to make it interchangeable with any family. The film ultimately does not move far from the representational norms of LGBTQ people, as described by Bonnie Dow, that depoliticize queerness by positing sexuality as primarily important within the personal sphere (131). Even if TKAA does invert one of Dow’s listed norms (129) with Paul who seems to be defined entirely by his heterosexuality, it remains trapped in a discourse of normality over (unc)conventionality (Clarkson 380)

The most disappointing facet for me, however, is that TKAA presents itself as about “the kids,” when it’s really about everyone else (Dow 129-129). The title says it all. To speak of “the kids” in the third person implies they are absent as either the speaking or listening subjects; they are objects. Cholodenko told the audience of a prescreening I attended that the desired audience for the film was 18-35 year-old straight women who will like the story’s romance. It leaves me wondering, then, who’s really alright, who’s asking, who cares, and why? I suspect it’s not us “kids,” for if it was, we’d have more moments like the one in the second clip.

The Politics of Queerspawn

The trailer for The Kids Are All Right

from The Kids Are All Right (2010)
Creator: Lisa Cholodenko
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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