Magic Swords: The Queer Erotics of Muscled Warriors in 1980s Kids Programming

Accepted for presentation at the 2021 International Communication Association (ICA) Annual Conference, Virtual, May 2021.

Abstract: The 1980s featured a niche slate of syndicated shows prizing nostalgia, sex, consumerism, and camp–and often in children’s programming! First-run syndication in this era was rife with the queer erotics of characters, featuring rippling muscled toons like He-Man and Masters of the Universe, The Transformers, and ThunderCats alongside the spandex-clad American Gladiators and the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. These shows and characters, with their glittery, provocative, and sexualized aesthetics blended, subverted, or were openly hostile to long-entrenched genre conventions of most of television and certainly children’s TV. They are remembered fondly today as contributing to and derived from the zeitgeist of a pop culture and televisual era enamored of excess. Using historical analysis from a media policy perspective, this presentation traces the collision of syndication with cultural, regulatory, political, and industrial circumstances that created a culture of queer kids programming in the 1980s.

Taylor Cole Miller 

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