American Studies ETDs

Publication Date



This dissertation analyzes the changing representations of gender and sexuality in American network crime dramas over the last thirty years. It also examines the growing Internet fan communities that have developed to discuss these shows. Specifically, it provides a feminist and queer textual analysis of a variety of television crime dramas, comparing 1980's crime dramas such as Cagney & Lacey and Hunter to contemporary programs Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Bones. This textual analysis is followed with an analysis of the contemporary shows' surrounding fan communities. Thus, this work charts the relationship between television studies, audience studies, fan culture, and gender and sexuality, arguing that today's crime dramas encourage participatory viewing. This work builds upon feminist television studies. It discusses the contradictory manner in which lead female characters in crime dramas are positioned within their respective series, since they are placed in the role of victim far more frequently than their male counterparts. Furthermore, it examines the way in which the female crime-solver is often placed outside of normative familial structures, leading to suspicions of lesbianism. Overall, it argues that the female crime-solver remains a complex figure in the television crime drama. This dissertation also discusses the representation of queer bodies in contemporary crime dramas, analyzing how these bodies are interpellated through the law and forensic science. It focuses on the role of the queer guest character in crime dramas, analyzing the way in which this guest character challenges the main characters' definitions of gender and sexual orientation. These characters show how regulatory structures attempt to contain and identify sexuality and gender, and the problems which arise when a person does not fit into these constraints. Along with a historical and textual analysis of the crime drama, this dissertation provides an analysis of fan production by examining gendered fan responses to crime dramas. Specifically, it discusses the way in which viewers queer the texts through fan fiction, as well as through the conversations fans have on multiple discussion forums. It examines the convergence of production and fan culture, showing that the dichotomy which used to exist between fan and producer is blurred by the use of new media. It makes a contribution to several critical areas of study: contemporary ethnography, new media, television studies, feminist theory, and queer reading.




contemporary ethnography, new media, television studies, feminist theory, queer reading

Document Type


Degree Name

American Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

American Studies

First Advisor

Trujillo, Michael L.

First Committee Member (Chair)

Young, M.J.

Second Committee Member

Cramer, Janet

Third Committee Member

Kosek, Jake