Posts By / Christopher Pullen

Icons and Inspirations: Alan, Tamsin and Alex

Left to right: Alan Sinfield, Tamsin Wilton and Alexander Doty

Whilst researching a new Level 5 ‘Media Perspective’ unit (Life Stores and the Media) for the Department of Media Production, I decided to discuss the concept of ‘dissident reading’ within the lectures, relating the work of Alan Sinfield in this area.  In doing this, I not only checked out if our library had the relevant book Cultural Politics – Queer Reading, which we did, but also I thought that I would just check out (online) what Alan is working on now.

Alan Sinfield had been a catalyst in my research journey, as way back in 2004 when I was in the final stages of my PhD, Alan had invited me to speak at a research seminar workshop at the University of Sussex.  I remember that Alan was a little critical of my interest in the ‘carnivalesque’, but largely supportive. That seminar offered me a great experience in developing my ideas for the eventual PhD at Bournemouth, and it provided me with a much-needed psychological boost, as the PhD submission date loomed. I remember at the time I had asked Alan some probing questions regarding his new research interests. Alan’s work was fundamental in developing gay and lesbian studies in theatre and popular culture. He replied that he was working on something new, concerning ageing.  It was remiss of me to not follow up on this, despite having more contact with the University of Sussex in other areas later on, such as working with Sharif Molabocus who contributed to two of my edited collection books, and also working there as an external PhD examiner.  On searching for Alan’s latest work, I discovered that he had passed away last year, aged 75.

In thinking through my meeting with Alan in 2004, I had not realized that soon after this he would retire, as Parkinson’s disease would effect his speech.  Now I maybe understand Alan’s interest in writing about ageing, at a time when his life must have been changing.  The loss of Alan also made me think about others in the LGBT and queer studies media research community who I have met that are no longer with us.

Before I was accepted to study my PhD at Bournemouth, I had applied to the University of the West of England.  When the panel interviewed me, I met Tamsin Wilton, whose ground-breaking book was entitled Immortal, Invisible: Lesbians and the Moving Image. While I did not get the doctoral scholarship at UWE, Tamsin confided in me that her research was mostly done within her own time, suggesting that at that time the department thought her work was ‘too radical’. Tamsin passed away in 2006, only a few years after we met, and I remember thinking how much we have lost in her passing, her work was revolutionary, and she genuinely encouraged me to press on with my research, in times when LGBT studies were less popular.

Besides the loss of Alan Sinfield and Tamsin Wilton, I cannot forget the sudden loss of Alexander Doty. Similar to meeting Alan and Tamsin early in my research journey, I briefly met Alex when he was presenting at the feminist Console-ing Passions Conference in Bristol in 2001, a conference that I would eventually co-organise this year at Bournemouth. In 2001, I was studying for an MA at Bristol, and I had never been to an academic conference before, but we were required as students to help out. I remember attending Alex’s paper on the TV series Will and Grace, and I had a brief conversation with him over coffee. Somehow, I made some links between his ideas, and those that I was studying, and I am forever grateful to Alex for his work, and his non-pretentious demeanour. Although if I am honest, I was a little in awe of him, and at the time I could have never imagined that I could have published my academic work.

So I think, often we encounter inspirational researchers along the way, at conferences, seminars, symposiums, and even in interviews. For me, the loss of Alan Sinfield, Tamsin Wilton and Alex Doty, almost seems too much to bear, as clearly they had far more to offer, despite their remaining stellar work. In the manner where I discussed the legacy of Pedro Zamora (the HIV/AIDS activist) and the meaning of a life cut short, theoretical and political ideals potentially live on. Our task is not only to remember all that potential, but also to continue it in any way we can.


The Personal in Research

I am starting researching and writing up my new book Heroism, Celebrity and Therapy in Nurse Jackie under contract with Routledge, and thinking about the notion of representation and therapeutic potentials, as this is a key aspect of the book. The lead character of Nurse Jackie within the TV series (played by the wonderful Edie Falco), offers a therapeutic representation of the ‘other’, as a heroine who whilst flawed through her addiction to prescription drugs, may be considered as a vulnerable outsider trying to find her way in a complicated world. Her representation inevitably means something to a whole range of audiences who might not only find entertainment in her performances, but also might think though personal aspects of vulnerably, culpability, morality and self-worth.

With this in mind, I recall the time when I was about to be awarded the contract for the book. In June this year I was on my way back from an international conference. I had turned up early at Chicago O’Hare Airport, getting there at 6.30 am, and then found out that the flight was delayed for 13 hours. Much frustration as you can imagine. With so much time on my hands, I knew that I could make use of this and work on the book proposal in the working areas of the airport, fine tuning the details. As I moved from one work station to the other (for various reasons of interruption) over the domain of airport, in one break/shift I wandered into a newsagent, and the latest edition of People magazine caught my eye. The cover depicted the recent shootings in Orlando Florida, at the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) night club Pulse, where a gunman had murdered 49 people – which occurred just a week or so before. The cover image offered a collage of the many people lost in the shooting. I purchased the magazine, and read through the article thinking about all the loss.  As part of this I reflected on a moment earlier on the trip when I had spoken publicly at the Consoling Passions Conference in Notre Dame, Indiana.  I had contributed to an informal event, allowing individuals to share emotional responses to the events in Orlando.   Almost unconsciously I had found myself speaking up at the conference, critiquing some of the mainstream news coverage of Orlando that seemed to be ranking the value of LGBT lives. Added to this even earlier in the trip when I had spoken publicly about HIV/AIDS activist Pedro Zamora at my book launch of his biography in San Francisco, the question of how to respond to Orlando was raised by the journalists that interviewed me, making me think of what this might mean to Pedro as a Latino from Miami himself – if he were alive today.

Later back in the Airport and now on the flight home, as there were no ‘watchable’ movies – I turned to the music on my IPhone, and ambivalently selected Christina Aguilera’s and Ricky Martins ‘Nobody wants to be Lonely’ followed by the Communard’s ‘For a Friend’. The former being a Latino up beat dance number with a laconic twist, and the latter being a melancholic piano based tribute penned by Jimmy Somerville and Richard Coles in memorial of LGBT activist Mark Ashton who passed away in 1987, after illness attributed to HIV/AIDS (who happens to be the main lead political character in the film Pride (2015)). These songs made me feel incredibly emotional, thinking about the loss of the optimistic nightclub goers at Pulse in Orlando that were out celebrating their individuality and their sense of belonging, who like Mark Ashton had their lives cut short.

Flash forward a few months to today, I note that the new video from John Legend of his song ‘Love me Now’ features a depiction of people that survived the massacre in Orlando, besides representing individuals who have survived catastrophic events in Northern Iraq, Puerto Rico and a reservation in North Dakota. Such a blending of human struggles, framing issues of peril, vulnerability and innocence, rekindle all those feelings and reflections that seemed so vivid back on that trip in June.

Contemporary media in diverse forms such as print, video and drama, offer a place of popular cultural identification, that on the one hand seems ephemeral, mass produced and transient, whilst on the other offers ways of feeling, identifying and thinking through. This is particularly relevant for Nurse Jackie, where the central character is an outsider to the norm, who attempts to find her way in life, offering a therapeutic vision, where individuals might relate to her thinking through their own sense of isolation and at points dysfunction or rejection, on life’s journey. In working on this book, I will think not only of all the therapeutic potential of that particular text and its meaning in popular culture, but also think about the wider meaning of research framed within the personal, and our goals or aspirations.

In a similar manner that representations of those lost at the Pulse night club in Orlando back in June, offers a sense of sadness, loss and eternal memory/feeling, we progress within our research not only reflecting back, but also looking forward. In the manner that I look back on my time in reworking my book proposal on Nurse Jackie on that trip back in June, emotion is the driver of research, allowing us to make connections that might seem personal, but also are political. It’s not necessarily how we distance ourselves from our research that is central or imperative, rather it is the ability to move from one space to another, making connections as much as building bridges.

Christopher Pullen

Book Launch in San Francisco

I was delighted to launch my new book ‘Pedro Zamora, Sexuality, and AIDS Education: The Autobiographical Self, Activism and the Real World’ making a presentation at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco.  This book is the product of study leave through Fusion funding, that I worked on a little while back.  At the book launch, it was wonderful that despite its been over 22 years since Pedro was last in San Francisco (and he passed a away a few months later) that so many people came to the event, and were  interested in his story, including some that knew Pedro personally.  Also it was flattering that representatives from the AIDS Memorial Grove attended the event that have an academic scholarship in Pedro’s name, and that I was interviewed by two journalists, including Brian Bromberger who published this review in the Bay Area Reporter.9781604979237front

Pedro Zamora, Sexuality and AIDS Education

After researching the life of AIDS activist Pedro Zamora for some time (since my Phd in 2005 in fact), and having the opportunity more recently to work on an ‘educational biography’ of his life, partly funded by the Fusion Project a couple of years ago, I am delighted that the book is now coming out on 1 June, 2016.  Pedro’s life story is inspiring, he was an immigrant from Cuba arriving in the United States in 1980, aged 8.  He found out that he was HIV positive aged 17, and went on to become possibly the most well known HIV/AIDS educator who was able to reach youth audiences through his appearance on the reality television series The Real World: San Francisco in 1994.  He died not long after the series was broadcast at aged 22, but he reached so many people, and his message is still so relevant, when we consider that HIV/AIDS is more than ever a worldwide concern, devastating in many places.  Pedro’s message touches us deeply, and his message is not lost. I must sincerely thank not only John M Clum (Professor Emeritus of Theater Studies and English at Duke University) and Toni Tan at Cambria Press for commissioning the book, when I found it difficult to find anyone interested in an ‘educational biography’,  but also to Bill Nichols and Christine Holmlund for such endorsements of the book.


Fusion Fund – Study Leave – Manuscript submitted

A little while back (August 2014-Jan 2015) I had Fusion Investment study leave to work on my manuscript ‘Straight Girls and Queer Guys: the Hetero Media Gaze in Film and Television’.  Just wanted to follow up from this, to advise that the manuscript has now been submitted to Edinburgh University Press, and its on its way for production.  I expect it will be a few months before its eventually published, but its such a relief to actually finish it.  The research process was most engaging, and as with all concepts it changes and modifies, as a ‘work in progress’.

Here is a taster of the agreed back cover:

“Exploring the archetypal representation of the straight girl with the queer guy in film and television culture from 1948 to the present day, Straight Girls and Queer Guys considers the process of the ‘hetero media gaze’ and the way it contextualizes sexual diversity and gender identity. Offering both an historical foundation and a rigorous conceptual framework, Christopher Pullen draws on a range of case studies, including the films of Doris Day and Rock Hudson, the performances of Kenneth Williams, televisions shows such as Glee, Sex and the City and Will and Grace, the work of Derek Jarman, and the role of the gay best friend in Hollywood film. Critiquing the representation of the straight girl and the queer guy for its relation to both power and otherness, this is a provocative study that frames a theoretical model which can be applied across diverse media forms.”

Now I am on to my next book project, the educational biography of Pedro Zamora.

Fusion – Study leave to research 2 books – AIDS Education and Media Gaze

I am delighted to report that I have been sucessful in my Fusion Investment Fund bid for study leave to research two academic books, between August this year and the end of January 2015.

These are books are titled ‘Pedro Zamora: A Media Icon for AIDS Education, under contract with Cambria Press, and ‘Straight Girls and Queer Guys: The Heteromedia Gaze upon the Queer Male’, under contract with Edinburgh University Press.

This will include not only research time where I can involve myself looking at archives, examining media texts and holding interviews, but also this will involve visiting other academic institutions, charitable health educational organisations, and practice production houses.

These projects are very exciting, as to some degree they represent a culmination of ideas that I have been working on for many years.

With the Pedro Zamora AIDS education book, I first heard of Pedro Zamora and his status as a leading youth educator on AIDS way back in the early 2000s. Appearing the The Real World TV series, and reaching a worldwide audience, his impact  was phenomenal, and his legacy as an influence on AIDS educators is very important. Pedro’s death in 1994, just after The Real World aired, seemed such a loss.  Yet his legacy continues, speaking to Latino and gay youth audiences.  Whilst I have examined Pedro’s appearances in media texts, in a few of my publications, I have not yet closely examined his impact as an AIDS educator, relative to practice.  I have set up a range of interviews with those who not only knew Pedro, but also have been inspired by his impact, and potentially exhibit this in their educational practice

With the ‘Straight Girls and Queer Guys’ book, I will be considering the rise of the relationship between ‘straight girls’ and ‘gay guys’ in the media.  This seems like an entirely different prospect (to the Pedro Zamora book), but in many ways its another aspect, of media identification potential. This relationship dates back to the early part of the 20th century, considering the union or camaraderie exhibited between gay men and prostitutes in London, and the use of the secret language of ‘Polari”, a coded language where secret discourse could be exchanged, without the general population getting in on the know.  Later gay men’s identification with female movie stars such as Judy Garland, revealed a similar type of coupling – where gay men identified with the sense of tribulation and trial as being outside.  Even more later shows like Will and Grace seem to offer this type of union, and on the internet, there is a proliferation of this coupling.

Well enough for now, there’s lots to think about.  I am just so pleased that I can get to do these engaging projects.  I am now in the process of careful time planning, as I tell my students, time management is everything.

Dr Chris Pullen – Senior Lecturer in Media Theory – The Media School.





Fusion Investment Funding/Fund

Within the new Fusion Funding prospect here at Bournemouth University, I have just had success for a project examining  teaching practice and the use of media in the classroom.  The specific focus relates bullying, and name calling in school, and how media may be used to educate young learners.  I am very excited about this project, as it extends my foundational research in media representation and sexual diversity, allowing me to consider how teachers might relate issues of minority social identity.  Its very early days, as the project does not officially start until the 1st of October, and to be honest I have never done a blog before, and I (deliberately) have no presence on Facebook, Twitter etc, so the purpose of the blog is to reflect back on my progress for myself, as much as anything else, and if anyone reading this finds some interest, that’s great!

With this in mind, I thought I might share the background for the project.  A few years back in the late 198os, a secondary school teacher friend of mine often told me of instances when he used to play educational dramas about gay and lesbian youth identity issues.  I remember one time, he told me that he had played the television drama ‘The Two of  Us’ (Roger Tongue, 1988), which features a ‘kind of’ teen romance. This was quite daring, as at the time there was the backdrop of Clause 28, and the prohibition of educating school audiences about gay and lesbian identity.  Wind forward, many years later, and referencing an entirely different country, the work of Debra Chasnoff and her production company Groundspark, offered great insight.  Educational documentaries such as ‘Thats a Family’ (2000), and ‘Straighlaced’ (2009) produced by Groundspark offered insight into the diversity of families (adopted, single parent, same sex parents, diverse ethnicity etc) and the problem of stereotyping gender norms for teens.  Also Groundspark produced ‘Lets Get Real’ talking about issues of name calling in school.  At Bournemouth I had discussed the merits of these documentaries to students in the year 2 Media and Diversity option that I held.  I was inspired how students engaged with the subject area, and how they related these issues to their own productions.

More recently, specifically September 2010, I was invited to speak at the Westminster Media Forum.  The conference subject area was LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) representation in mainstream media.  I was thrilled to present a very brief paper to quite a diverse audience, including media professionals, broadcasters, and government representatives. My paper had been related to a need for more diverse representations.   The day after the conference, I read in the Guardian about the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a first year student at Rutgers university in the US.  He had killed himself, as his roommate had secretly filmed Tytler with a same sex partner.  The alleged shame appeared too much to bear for Tyler.  This high profile case made me investigate this further online.  I then discovered the ‘It Gets better Project’, a web site that was produced to offer support for youth contemplating suicide, due to oppression for sexual diversity.  What I did not know was that in the month of September 2010, a number of other gay male youth committed suicide also, stimulating video contribution to the ‘It Gets better Project’. I have done some papers on this area, considering the use of the site, but increasingly I am interested in how name calling is a real issue for young learners, and how words such as ‘gay’, ‘dyke’, ‘queer’ and ‘faggot’, are often unchallenged within diverse social environments.

So this is the very basic background to my research project.  Some great research has already taken place looking at LGBT identity issues in school, such as the No Outsiders Project (funded by the ESRC) a few years back relative to primary schools, but I am looking to extend these ideas, looking at how media is used in the secondary school classroom.

As a precursor to this project, I recently presented a paper at the Screen Conference in Glasgow, considering how children may read representations.  I was particularly interested in how young learners may read irony, which enables youth to make complex judgments about ‘earnest’ or ‘hyper-real’ representations.

So this is my starting point. I’ll add to this blog, as it all progresses.  Thanks again, supporters of this bid.