The Generic Closet
Black Gayness and the Black-Cast Sitcom
Published by: Indiana University Press
Even after a rise in gay and Black representation and production on TV in the 1990s, the sitcom became a "generic closet," restricting Black gay characters with narrative tropes.
Drawing from 20 interviews with credited episode writers, key show-runners, and Black gay men, The Generic Closet situates Black-cast sitcoms as a unique genre that uses Black gay characters in service of the series' heterosexual main cast. Alfred L. Martin, Jr., argues that the Black community is considered to be antigay due to misrepresentation by shows that aired during the family viewing hour and that were written for the imagined, "traditional" Black family. Martin considers audience reception, industrial production practices, and authorship to unpack the claim that Black gay characters are written into Black-cast sitcoms such as Moesha, Good News, and Let's Stay Together in order to closet Black gayness.
By exploring how systems of power produce ideologies about Black gayness, The Generic Closet deconstructs the concept of a monolithic Black audience and investigates whether this generic closet still exists.
Introduction: Television in Black and Gay
1. Building and Rebuilding Generic Closets within the Black-Cast Sitcom Industry
2. Scripting the Generic Closet in the Writers' Room
3. Comedy, Laughter and the Generic Closet
4. Black Queens Speak: The Generic Closet, Black-Cast Sitcoms and Reception Practices
Conclusion: Trapped in the Black-Cast Sitcoms' Generic Closet
Appendix A: List of Black-Cast Sitcoms with Black Gay Characters
Appendix B: Interview Script for Black-Cast Sitcom Viewers
Appendix C: Interview Script for Industry Professionals
The Generic Closet is a necessary intervention not only for the Black scholar but for the Black culture in general. Dr. Martin has created a tour de force that gives gravitas to the Black sitcom and elevates Black gayness into visibility. Simply, thank you for this! Never before have Black gay characters been acknowledged in the sitcom genre – and it is past time.~Ellen Cleghorne]]>, Saturday Night Live (1991-1996)
Martin demonstrates impressive mastery of a range of methods, from industry analysis, textual analysis, and audience analysis, providing a rich explanation of why and how black gay visibility has been so limited. In expanding our historical focus to a group of texts less associated with "quality" by virtue of both the racial makeup of the audience and genre and in its specific focus on black gay representation, The Generic Closet is an essential and necessary contribution to television studies, but will also appeal to readers interested in the history of gay visibility, and the complicated relationship between race, sexuality, and media.~Kathleen Battles]]>, Calling All Cars: Radio Dragnets and the Technology of Policing
In The Generic Closet Alfred Martin shows us how to read within and against the practices and ideologies of the generic closet which frame the image of Black gay men in Black-cast situation comedies. By emphasizing the semiotic work of narrative and characters, technologies like scripts, costuming, and the laugh track that map pathways of identification and dis-identification, the industry (de)valuation of black audiences, the writer's rooms, and the reception of images of Black gay men in Black-cast situation comedies, Martin shifts analytic attention from the textual preoccupation with the politics of representation to the politics of industrial production and in the process gifts us with a critical and robust account of Black-cast situation comedies and their cultural work in shoring up Black heteronormativity. The Generic Closet treats Black gay male characters as the 'subjects of communication' rather than the objects of liberal recognition and self congratulation. With Alfred Martin's careful curation and astute analysis, The Generic Closet gives us a new way to critically view Black-cast situation comedies and how they police the boundaries of Black respectability and heteronormativity while protecting heteronormative black masculinity. By dwelling on formal elements of television practices, industrial systems, and genre conventions in the production of black gay masculinities and using the rich analytic of the generic closet we see the limits of reaching for the mere visibility of Black gay men in Black-cast situation comedies. Politically, Alfred Martin deftly explores the pivotal role of the generic closet in regulating and managing Black gay men even as it meets the purported industry and activists thresholds of liberal visibility and recognition for black writers and audiences. With The Generic Closet Martin tells a thoroughly researched, brilliantly analyzed, and nuanced story of normalization, containment, recognition and management of black difference. Both revelatory and confining, the generic closet is the perfect research site and conceptual metaphor for the complex cultural, racial, and sexual politics at work in Black-cast situation comedies. The book's remarkable achievement is in detailing the industrial practices of containment and weighing the social impact that the cultural labors of the generic closet achieves in regulating Black gay men in Black-cast situation comedies.~Herman Gray]]>,
Professor Martin's intellectual chops are on full display in The Generic Closet. He evidences a theoretically steeped, rigorous analysis of audience reception practices, identity construction, and queer aesthetics.~Robin R. Means Coleman]]>, Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present