Murder Most Queer by Jordan Schildcrout (review)

Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, 29.2

 

Opening section

At the outset of Murder Most Queer, Jordan Schildcrout notes the prevalence of the criminalized, murderous, queer villain in our contemporary media. From the atrocities of Jeffrey Dahmer to the crimes passionels of Andrew Cunanan to the so-called man-hating, lesbian serial killer Aileen Wournos, newsmedia have obsessed over—and in some cases exaggerated—gay and lesbian murderers and their crimes. Schildcrout begins with these sensationalized real-life queer killers as a way of describing how the image of the homicidal homosexual has been appropriated and mobilized within mainstream culture as both a symbol for the culture’s strongest taboos—against violence and deviant sex—and as a justification for real-world violence against queer bodies. But, as Schildcrout aptly puts it, “Hollywood cinema is not the only cultural venue, and this particular scenario for the homicidal homosexual is not the only script” (3). Murder Most Queer is not a book about the queer killers that television newsmedia and big-studio movies show us but about ways that playwrights and theatre audiences have defended and castigated, loved and reviled, and identified and disidentified with the homicidal homosexual onstage in the United States. It is Schildcrout’s contention that representations of queer killers have a great deal to teach us about ourselves as audience members, both straight and queer. Although he very wisely avoids making arguments about which representations are “good for the gays” or “bad for the gays” (10), as an organization such as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation might do, he argues “that plays with homicidal homosexuals should not be dismissed simply as negative representations, and even plays that may be homophobic demand closer analysis for the ways in which they construct queer villainy” (15). Schildcrout offers many—often resistant—readings that counter constructions of the queer as villain, demonstrating just how intriguing a fictional queer murderer can be.

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