“Outlander’s Tactile Caress: a Multisensory Romance”

Outlander tv show wedding night

Athena Bellas (University of Melbourne)

Session 12.3: Love in Other Worlds


Much of the existing literature on television series Outlander (STARZ 2014– ) emphasises its prioritisation of a female gaze at the scene of erotic pleasure. This is important to a discussion of shifting representations of gender and sex on the contemporary screen. However, there is another dimension to this series, which is skirted around but not fully explored in the existing literature: its luscious tactility. In the series’ sex scenes, formal techniques like high contrast lighting, caressing gestures, extended shot duration, heavy use of close-ups and extreme close-ups, slow panning camera-work that brushes up against the mise-en-scène’s textures, and a rich, warm colour palette, all encourage a particularly fleshy spectatorial encounter with the screen image. The purpose of this paper is to theorise this carnal dimension of watching Outlander.

This paper undertakes a sensuous analysis of scenes from the series’ famous Wedding episode, as well as fan-made GIFs of the episode. These GIFs manipulate elements like duration, colour saturation and framing, and use techniques like superimposition, to further emphasise the minute details of tender touches, micro-gestures, and lush, enveloping textures and temperatures. [Bellas will] focus on Outlander’s textures, tactile surfaces, and tender traces that connect the screen body and spectatorial body to the scene of desire. [Bellas will] remain at the surface of the image, at the site of its skin, rather than attending to narrative matters or the politics of the gaze. In so doing, [Bellas will] explore the significance of the carnal relationship between spectator and screen, which affirms and celebrates female pleasure at an embodied, material, and emotional level. [Bellas will] argue that the sensuous elements of the episode and its paratexts subvert the usual fixed, limited position to which women are ordinarily relegated in mainstream representations of sex onscreen. This multisensory aspect of the romance is worth investigating more closely, for it creates a new network of relations between female spectators and the image of desire.

Outlander is a novel by Diana Galbadon. This presentation refers to the television series based on the novel (and subsequent books in the series).

Note: most of the presentation was in gifs, so my notes don’t convey the full experience.

Sensuous screen theory 

  • Practice of paying careful attention to tactile surfaces and textures involved in the file experience 
  • Complexities and significance that might be overlooked, that are aural, visual 
  • Outlander has reframed the television through the female gaze
  • Sight and touch are not in opposition, the eye itself can caress and be caressed
  • Senses are not distinct in function but interrelated in making sense of the world 
  • Vivian Sobchak – we are in fact all synesthese – and thus seeing a movie can also be an experience of touching, teasing, and smelling it (2004) – Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture

Outlander wedding episode:  

Multi sensory, mimetic relationship 

Haptic as a feminist visual strategy 

  • An aesthetic of a reciprocal and reversible caress emphasises mutuality, consent, respect for the other
  • GIF as a haptic experience 
  • Loops a few seconds, separated from narrative 
  • Slow motion format added to the texture 
  • Affirmation of female pleasure 

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