"Will, can people see that I'm gay?"
''Jack, blind people can see that you're gay."
A promising probie on my blogroll is The Chicago Report, a group blog that covers an eclectic variety of topics.
This post especially caught my eye:
KISS FM was holding a contest to find Chicago's gayest gay guy. I myself am not [a] prude, but I was instantly offended when I heard this. Some may think I am getting bent-out-of-shape to feel this way, to those people I submit the following:
What if the radio station was looking for the most "ghetto" black person? Or the most "vato" Mexican? How about the sluttiest woman? Doesn't sound as funny does it? No, of course it doesn't. But the reality is that it is still culturally acceptable to castigate and denigrate gay people. Moreover, gays seem all too happy to oblige, as someone will undoubtedly win KISS FM's contest after entering of their own choice.
As gay people we seem to be in this "Dancin' for the Massa" phase when it comes to cultural representation and media visibility. Look at popular media representations of gay people in these United States: 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy', 'Boy Meets Boy', 'Will & Grace', several seasons of 'The Real World' TV series.
Too many gays seem to fall all over themselves with excitement that there are gay characters on television and film, "Yay, our existence has been validated!" But what is the quality of those representations? Are gays shown as strong, purposeful and heroic or are we portrayed as shallow, neurotic, lustful, and femininely weak? More often than not, it is the later [sic]. I am glad that gay visibility exploded in the 90s and continues to grow, but to me that visibility seems stuck in a frivolous and/or nihilistic form.
Indeed. I might, however, give an exemption to the Jack character on "Will & Grace" for one basic reason -- almost all characters on sitcoms are exaggerations and stereotypes. That's what makes them funny. Do urban Jews blast Grace's character as a stereotype? Do working class straight white men get indignant about "King of Queens," "King of the Hill" or "Everybody Loves Raymond"? Did female lawyers protest against Miranda Hobbes?
But the main thesis does appear to hold true. The net media image of gays is not only stereotypical, but dysfunctional and even pathological.
Bruce Bawer once quoted a friend as saying: "The only time I ever feel ashamed of being gay is on Gay Pride Day." Today gays can feel embarrassed regularly, with the now-worthless "Queer as Folk" and the worse-than-worthless "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." (By the way, just how gay does one have to be to look at a piece of Levittown trash and come up with "Shave, lose the monobrow and put on a clean shirt!"?)
One of the positive side effects of working nights for six years was growing completely uninterested in prime-time television (and when a good series does come along, Netflix fills the void). But judging from what's out there, I doubt my television habits will change much in the near term now that I live a diurnal life.
Given that New York City and Hollywood are decided "blue," will this negative bias change? Yes, I think so. Blue or not, the media need to make money just like any other business. You make money by giving people what they want. Demand creates its own supply. Straight, gay, red, blue, I think the demand for negative stereotypes will at some point decline, especially given the publicity around gay marriage and gay rights generally (oh, right, I forgot, pushing hard and fast for equal rights was a "bad" strategy that "backfired" -- silly me). We all want television shows and movies that reflect our society, and our society is changing. The media will respond. Slowly perhaps, but eventually.
Just as we're not still watching Ozzie and Harriet or Leave It to Beaver, we won't be watching today's shows tomorrow. We'll be watching better shows (reality TV notwithstanding).
For Discussion: Open Thread -- Are there any portrayals of gay characters that you find especially deserving of either praise or scorn?
UPDATE: For an interesting comparison-and-contrast, observe the silly protest lawsuit being filed in Greece over the (historically accurate) portrayal of Alexander the Great as gay or bisexual. Of course, it's hard to comment on a film that hasn't opened yet. Stay tuned...
Also, for a discussion of "Red TV" versus "Blue TV" generally (not with reference to gay depictions), see this Catherine Seipp piece in NRO. Meanwhile, for similar observations regarding "Fat TV," see Outside the Beltway. Other thoughts at One Gay Date.