J. T. Weisser


‘Quality’ television drama is drama marketed as being filmic and boundary-pushing, yet it tackles the concept of masculinity in highly normative ways. Scholars argue that many quality television shows feature narratives of men struggling against emasculation at the hands of contemporary society before using violence to assert their masculinity by force. However, this interpretation is limited, assuming that all quality television shows which engage with violent masculinities root this violence in normative, ‘aggressive’ masculinity. In many cases, the violent masculinities of quality television are anything but normatively masculine: they are inescapably queer and othered. Using a queer theoretical framework, this essay explores an illustrative example: Season One of Noah Hawley’s anthology series Fargo (2014–). Within this season, male violence is an expression of queer masculinities, offering a transgressive space which questions the coherence of the masculine body and exposes its vulnerabilities. While threats of violence are a way to demonstrate and approximate normative masculinity, these normatively masculine performances can be conquered by direct acts of violence, which are positioned as being queerly ambiguous. Violence between men functions as an erotic transgression of bodily boundaries: weapons allow men to ‘penetrate’ other men, to act on violent desire in a sexualised context. Men can also weaponise their emasculation, violently embracing their ‘failure’ to perform normative masculinity rather than struggling against it, which allows them to access the danger of ‘failed’ masculinity and othered femininity. This queer form of violence allows men to claim power over other men, in contrast to the idea that ‘failed’ masculinities are necessarily physically weak and non-violent. The show’s most brutal acts of male violence are not in conflict with the unattainability of normative masculinity, but instead expressions of ‘othered’, maligned masculinities. The show thus reinforces normative masculinity through the othering and villainisation of queer masculinities.

Note on the Author

J. T. Weisser is an MA English Literature student at Newcastle University. Their work focuses on queerness, violence and the body in post-1945 popular fiction. Their research interests also include reception theory, sexual politics and affect. Having completed their bachelor’s degree at Newcastle, they received the Cowan, Johnson and Watson Prize for Best Overall Performance in Literature. They tweet at @inglorioustimes.