What if Desdemona had a Sassy Gay Friend?

Sassy Gay Friend, a series by Second City Network, has become something of a YouTube phenomenon. It might be more accurately described as a meme. In the videos, iconic women from history and literature – including Eve, Ophelia, and Desdemona – are visited from the future by a gay best friend, who alerts them to the absurdity of the plot conventions, cultural myths and patriarchal ideologies that surround them. Sassy Gay Friend: Othello opens with Desdemona on her bed. A voiceover, in a mock-serious tone, explains: ‘Meet Desdemona from Shakespeare’s Othello. She is waiting in her bed to be murdered by her husband. This fate could have been avoided if she had had a Sassy Gay Friend’. Cue the emergence from a closet (the humour is not especially subtle) of the eponymous gay friend, played by Brian Gallivan. The video presumes a broad familiarity with the play’s plot, here comically distilled into its core elements as Sassy Gay Friend explains matters to Desdemona and repeatedly urges her to leave: ‘Tina Turner, we gotta private dance it out of here’. The pun on Turner’s song is indicative of the sketch’s easy humour. But the reference to the singer (who endured an abusive relationship at the hands of her partner Ike Turner) and to this particular song (about a woman who makes her living by dancing for the pleasure of men) has the effect of interpreting Othello as a text of male domestic violence and of the objectification of women.Other puns knowingly exploit established racial stereotypes about black men: ‘Does Moor mean more?’ he asks Desdemona and, as she laughs, adds, ‘now I’m being racist’. The video ends with the series’ catchphrase, ‘Now I’m being a stupid bitch … I’m such a stupid bitch’.

As its idiom and catchphrases suggest, Sassy Gay Friend is largely about the gags. What we have here is a fairly safe form of queerness and of homosexuality, one that presents the gay man as possessing a valuable commodity (his savvy attitude), to be extended back in time to literature’s clueless heroines. Yet the laughter is dependent on the queer advice that Desdemona receives. Perhaps the video ultimately does imply a queer reading of Othello, one that parodies traditional masculinity, while simultaneously questioning the role assigned to women by the forms of heterosexual desire as expressed in Shakespeare’s tragedy. Parody becomes an instinctively queer form here, encouraging us to look again or anew. High camp and fast-paced, Sassy Gay Friend: Othello deploys a postmodern knowingness to debunk the canonical Shakespeare and its complicity with such grand narratives as patriarchy.

You can read more about race and gender in YouTube Shakespeare in Chapter Three of Shakespeare and YouTube: http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/shakespeare-and-youtube-9781472500281/

Shakespeare and YouTube (Arden Shakespeare 2014)

Shakespeare and YouTube (Arden Shakespeare 2014)

The first ever full-length analysis of YouTube Shakespeare, Shakespeare and YouTube shows the importance of the video-sharing platform to the twenty-first century’s reception and adaptation of Shakespeare’s work.

By exploring YouTube’s function as patron, archive and distribution channel, my book seeks to analyse how the platform extends and challenges Shakespeare’s cultural currency. Investigating the intersection of YouTube’s participatory culture – its invitation to ‘Broadcast Yourself’ – with its corporate logic, the book argues that YouTube Shakespeare is a site of productive tension between new forms of creative interpretation and the homogenizing effects of mass culture.

Emphasising the need for critical media literacy,  I also explore YouTube’s usefulness as a pedagogical resource within Shakespeare studies. The book provides practical guidelines on using YouTube in the classroom, including detailed assignments designed to facilitate interactive, student-centred learning. Including a wealth of online resources, Shakespeare and YouTube will prove essential to an understanding of how Shakespeare is being appropriated and adapted in the digital age.

 

Table of Contents:

Introduction: Interpreting YouTube Shakespeare

Chapter One: Searchable Shakespeares: Attention, Genres and Value on YouTube

Chapter Two: Broadcast Your Hamlet: Convergence Culture, Shakespeare and Online Self-Expression

Chapter Three: Race in YouTube Shakespeare: Ways of Seeing

Chapter Four: Medium Play, Queer Erasures:
Shakespeare’s Sonnets on YouTube

Chapter Five: The Teaching and Learning Tube:
Challenges and Affordances

Bibliography
Index