Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

JRS: Be Gay, Do Crime: Homo(cidal) Villains

ENGL 4980.301
TR 3:30-4:59pm


Sure, everything could be read as straight or platonic, but where’s the fun in that? Though the origin of the popular “Be Gay Do Crime” meme can only be traced back to 2016, there is a long-entangled history of queerness, criminality, and horror. Within the last ten years, conversations around representation in media have begun to touch on issues like queerbaiting and the “bury your gays” trope, but how far back does the cultural obsession with queer-coded villains extend? Beginning with novels like Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929), and moving onwards and outwards to films and TV series such as Interview with the Vampire (1994), BBC’s Killing Eve (2018), and Netflix’s Black Mirror (2019), this course will lean into the study of often villainous and antagonistic representations of queerness. This interdisciplinary, discussion-based seminar strives to answer the question: What remains at stake when queer tenderness is cloaked in tragedy and violence? How does race, gender, and sexuality further complicate the transgressive threats of queer tenderness? What new insights do we gain when we read queer villainous subjects—like, say, HIM from the Powerpuff Girls (1998)—with deliberate care? Students especially interested in “Poor Little Meow Meow” characters, supervillains, fan work, marginalization, “toxic” or “problematic” representation, and queer coding in literature and film should take this class. This course is situated in Queer Studies, Digital Humanities, Black Studies, Asian American Studies, Anglophone literature, Cinema and Media Studies, and pop culture. Students will be given the opportunity to submit and vote on additional materials of study, such as a novel, short story, film, or podcast to include in the syllabus at the beginning of the semester. 


Learning Goals 

  • Close reading and interpretation of various media (i.e., television, film)
  • Introduction to a slew of innovative critical theories as they relate to the politics, historical contexts, and lives of queer diasporic peoples
  • Continuous engagement with methods of knowledge production (how do we know what we know?) and the dissection of representation in media (why do we see what we see?)
  • Gain fluency in a dynamic, emergent field with timely relevance to our complex global world and fluctuating schemas of representation 


Students are expected to complete all readings and viewings for class each week. Together, we will discuss the different possibilities that come from the depiction of queer villainy. As a student, you are expected and encouraged to show up as your full self— your history, ideas, embodiment, and dreams are all important to the work that we will be doing together. As such, all interactions in class must be civil, respectful, and supportive of an inclusive learning environment for all students. 

  • Class attendance and participation (20%)
  • Weekly responses to the materials (10%)
  • Oral reading responses (20%)
  • Abstract and bibliography on final project or project proposal (10%)
  • Draft of Final paper or project (20%)
  • Final paper or project (20%)



fulfills requirements
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Junior Research Seminar Requirement of the Standard Major