Streaming Empathy: Media Marathoning & the Cisgender Gaze
Lester Breikss, Selena K.
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Cisgender viewers’ understanding of transgender identities and empathy toward issues faced by gender diverse communities is inextricably bound with changing technologies and new patterns of consumption. Streaming services, such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video, allow viewers to focus more on character development and offer space for cisgender viewers to form emotional bonds, or parasocial relationships, with transgender characters. Additionally, through the adoption of media marathoning (“binge watching”) habits the cisgender viewer is afforded the opportunity to engage with the content through narrative immersion. However, as many episodic narratives are produced for broadcast or streaming, consideration for these portrayals and narratives must take into account their production for a mass media and a predominantly cisgender audience. In the years surrounding the release of Time’s “Transgender Tipping Point” issue in 2014, there was a noticeable increase of transgender characters in popular broadcast and streaming television. This period also marks an escalation in reports of violence against people in transgender communities, followed closely by swaths of anti-trans legislature, and a sharp increase in murders of transgender women, most of whom were women of color. By exploring the transgender character’s interactions with cisgender characters within the series, with concentration on the mannerisms and language of these characters, this dissertation aims to recognize ways these depictions inform the cisgender viewer’s perceptions of transgender identities and social, political, and cultural issues.