Film changed the way people saw sexuality. Now, social media does.

June 27, 2024

The plot of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film, Rope, is a disturbing one:Two men in their shared apartment strangle a former classmate to death. Then, they host guests — including the victim’s family — at a dinner party. It’s an attempt to prove their superiority by committing the “perfect murder.”  

Although the killers — Brandon and Phillip — live together, it’s never acknowledged openly that they’re a couple. (At the time, the Motion Picture Production Code prohibited the depiction of “sex perversion,” which included homosexuality, on the big screen.) 

It’s a classic example of homosexuality being “represented” in film through closeted characters, said Damon Young, a UC Berkeley associate professor of film and media, and one in which the “transgression” of homosexuality is displaced onto the transgression of murder.

Young is the author ofMaking Sex Public and Other Cinematic Fantasies, a 2018 book that explores how portrayals of queer sexuality and women’s sexuality began to shift in film in the U.S. and France in the 1960s and ‘70s. Given that film had a strong influence on society’s ideas about gender, these shifts changed attitudes about who could express their sexuality in public, and how. Today, he said, similar shifts are happening with the dominant cultural medium of our age: social media.  

In this Q&A, Young discusses the power of new media — film in the 20th century, and today, the social network — to influence our ideas, fantasies and fears about gender and sexuality. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Read more at Berkeley News