The Comparative Literature Luncheon Series presents: Cait McKinney “A Queer History of Blackouts”
This talk offers a media history of the online blackout as a digital tactic grounded in 1990s AIDS activism. “Blackout” protests evoke power grid failures, temporarily shutting down online systems by removing content, blocking access, or replacing content with black imagery. This lasting tactic began with New York-based Visual AIDS’s Day Without Art online blackout (1995–2000), which drew attention to the AIDS crisis as a systemic failure to care for minoritized people. I argue that an AIDS-informed perspective on infrastructure collapse and systemic exclusion shaped blackouts. This history helps us understand how and why blackouts trade in feelings of frustration with broken systems. I situate this historical analysis of the online blackout in a wider queer media theory of blackouts as impasses in which affective life abruptly shifts in generative ways.
Cait McKinney is Assistant Professor of Communication at Simon Fraser University. They are the author of Information Activism: A Queer History of Lesbian Media Technologies (Duke 2020) and I know you are, but what am I? On Pee-wee Herman, forthcoming from University of Minnesota Press in 2024.