Companion, Gal Pal, BFF: Queerness and Celebrity Gossip’s Failed Knowledge

Investigator: Dr. Katrin Horn

Gossip has long offered an alternative form of communication and knowledge formation for sexual minorities which has allowed them to navigate a hostile social landscape (Sedgwick). Gossip has furthermore provided “the unrecorded history of the gay subculture” (Weiss). Gossip about queer people, especially celebrities, however, has also constituted a source of profit and entertainment for mainstream audiences for decades, from Greta Garbo’s spinster existence to Kristen Stewart’s “gal pal”-exploits. At the heart of such speculative reporting, which expresses in illicit and vague terms what queer audiences often perceived as known truths, lies the open secret, that is: not the absence of knowledge, but the failure of knowledge to be communicable. Especially in light of the supposedly greater acceptance of queerness in US culture in recent years, the continued upholding of an assumption of ‘unknowability’ raises the question of whether the tropes of celebrity gossip result from a failure to read queer relationships or whether they serve to censors what is perceived as queer celebrity’s inability failure to follow cultural scripts of gender and sexuality.
Building on studies of Hollywood gossip and celebrity, as well as queer invisibility and commodification, this project therefore seeks to investigate the failed epistemology of the celebrity closet. To this end, it will address the subversive productivity of ‘queer failure’ as well as the hegemonic power to ‘fail to acknowledge’ non-normative sexuality, and thus provide an in-depth study of the politics of knowledge and failure surrounding commercial gossip about private concerns.