‘Perpetuate, Defy, Subvert - An Analysis of ‘Burying Your Gays’ on Television’
This dissertation seeks to understand the television trope known as ‘Bury Your Gays’ that has recently become spotlighted by fans and television journalists. This will be investigated by initially providing a historical context through a critical review of literature about the representation of queer people in the media (particularly television). The trope gained prevalence in 2016 due to a great deal of fan uproar after a queer female character named Lexa was killed on The CW’s teen drama The 100 (2014— ). Through textual analysis of the episode containing her death, I shall examine the way queer death is portrayed, and how this episode perpetuates the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope. The historical context of, and built up to, this episode are also crucial in understanding why this specific death became a rallying point for fans to demand better queer representation. This will then be compared to two more episodes of television from 2016—from Wynonna Earp and Black Mirror—which intentionally defy and subvert the trope. These episodes are investigated in order to understand how queer women can be represented complexly on television without the need for tragic tropes. As well as textual analysis of these episodes, a brief selection of online fan reactions will be compiled. The aim of this is to form a snapshot of the discourse within fan communities that emerges from the perpetuation and subversion of the trope. This research comes at a time when LGBTQ rights have quickly come into the mainstream. While the case may be that queer people are beginning to see more equality, I would argue the same cannot be said for the quantity or quality of representations of queer people in the media, particularly in a medium as traditional as television. While TV has provided some cultural breakthroughs (for example, Ellen and Buffy The Vampire Slayer which will be discussed in more detail later), the representation of queer women on TV is often beset with cliques and damaging tropes, which are frustrating to LGBTQ women. This dissertation, then, can be used as a case study of how three television shows in 2016 each differently handled queer female storylines, and the way the audience reaction to these approaches to ‘Bury Your Gays’ may have shaped how queer women are represented on TV in the future. In this sense, it is with hope that this research will act as a milestone; marking a turning point for more ‘positive’ LGBTQ representation on TV, and the death of the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope.