English, Department of


Date of this Version



Quarterly Review of Film and Video 34:7 (2017), pp. 650–663.

doi: 10.1080/10509208.2017.1344054


Copyright © 2017 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. Used by permission.


Since the television drama The Fosters, which centers on the daily struggles of two lesbian moms (Stef Foster and Lena Adams) and their multi-ethnic family of foster and adoptive children, debuted on ABC Family in 2013, the show has garnered numerous awards and nominations. . . . The Fosters has struck a chord with American television audiences and critics. While part of the show’s appeal no doubt rests in its representations of LGBTQ people and people of color (as its awards suggest) and its dealing with topical issues such as gay marriage and racial profiling, it also worth noting that the specific ways in which these issues are handled are also perhaps part of the attraction for audiences. Working against simplistic victim-perpetrator narratives, the show instead presents characters who work the biopolitical system from the inside—in ways that, in typical melodramatic fashion, are masochistic and self-destructive, and yet ultimately result in a complicated form of agency and power. In doing so, The Fosters offers a not-so-subtle critique of the biopolitical state as well as of traditional models of “resistance” to power.

This article aims, first, to show how such representations as this one, with its focus on particular marginalized/politicized identities, may offer insights about how biopolitics works on us at a psychical level, and, second, to show how the masochistic aggressions foregrounded in a biopolitical melodrama can help us theorize notions of power, freedom, and resistance within the context of biopolitics—especially with regard to marginalized sexual and racial identities. This article offers insights about political representation within a biopolitical framework through consideration of the following question: What might the popularity of fictional representations that highlight the operations of the biopolitical state within the context of families tell us about how broader concepts such as “the political” and “freedom” are figured in our current moment?