Queerness in the Neo-Victorian Empire:
Sexuality, Race, and the Limits of Self-Reflexivity in Carnival Row and The Terror
Keywords:anti-Black racism, Black neo-Victoriana, British Empire, Carnival Row, disidentification, Franklin expedition, intersectionalisty, imperialism, queer epistemology, The Terror
This article investigates the various functions of queerness, both as a marker of identity and as an interventionist strategy, in critiquing imperial hegemony in two neo-Victorian television series, Carnival Row (2019) and The Terror (2018). Drawing on Carnival Row’s visual ties to neo-Victorian imaginations of slavery and contemporary discourses on Britain’s postimperial racist legacies, this article argues that queer identity in Carnival Row is rendered narratively inconsequential and remains detached from the series’ foregrounded (and inherently flawed) critique of Britain’s White, racist nationalism. By contrast, a queer reading of The Terror’s spatial semantics, its religious analogies, and the mediation of nineteenth-century tableaux vivants (all via José Esteban Muñoz’s notion of queer disidentification) discloses the layers of neo-Victorian imperial spectacle that the series dismantles. In contrast to Carnival Row, The Terror embraces queerness as a conceptual interrogation of its own imperial representational strategies. This article concludes with the notion that neo-Victorian critique of the British Empire cannot productively represent queer identities if its critical mode is not also inherently queer.
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