The disappearing queer: back in 2000, 16 comedy series had gay characters. Now there are eight. We do strut our stuff in reality shows, but everyone knows queers can think fast.
Back in 2000 there were 16 comedy series with regular or recurring gay or lesbian characters. Now there are only eight, according to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. We're faring better in dramas, thanks to crime shows. The new series Eyes breaks the mold just by having a black gay detective, but usually in this genre we're the victim or the perp. We can be secretaries at the precinct house, but not cops. We do get to strut our stuff in reality shows, but everyone knows queers can think fast and swallow living things. And don't tell me it's progressive to show gay decorators or body groomers. Even fundamentalists are willing to trust sodomites with their hair.
The exception to this pattern is cable, where we still appear as fully drawn human beings. But these shows reach only a fraction of the audience that watches the broadcast networks. In the TV mainstream we're less likely to be shown leading ordinary lives than we were a few years ago (and viewers of American Idol have reason to believe the closet is back). In short, we're being quietly shoved to the fringes of entertainment--and not just on television.
A flood of queer-themed indie movies is heading our way. But these films will open small in just a few cities and then go to video. When it comes to big-budget films, the studios seem to be growing skittish. Last year 12 features had significant or supporting queer characters. This year, so far, there's only Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee's tale of queer cowboys. It remains to be seen how candid this film will be--or whether it will earn enough to impress studio heads. That won't be easy if the movie can't play in states where the religious reign supreme. Some theaters in those places won't show IMAX documentaries that mention evolution; imagine how they'll react to homos on the range.
When I was a kid interracial kissing was rare in a Hollywood film because theaters in the South wouldn't show it. The bigots decided what the rest of us could see. That may happen again where gays and lesbians are concerned. And don't take the freedom of alternative media for granted. Conservatives in Congress are talking about subjecting cable TV to the same indecency regs that govern broadcast networks. The mere threat may be enough to get that industry to fold.
If you can afford it, you can build a media world around pay cable, satellite radio, and the new MTV cable network Logo (assuming it's available in your area). So why does this matter? Because in America entertainment has a real impact on social stares. The acceptability of interracial romance in movies coincided with the rise of racial equality. Films with same-sex kissing were part of the climate that influenced the Supreme Court's 2003 sodomy decision.
If gay culture becomes marginalized, the backlash will affect our prestige in other ways. For example, it might be more difficult to start GLBT programs at universities. And if it becomes risky to show us in anything but the most nonthreatening situations, it will be even harder to have a frank discussion of issues that involve our sexuality. Plenty of straight people would like us to amuse and fuss over them while we keep our lives to ourselves. That's service, not liberation.
Representation is reality. That's why GAAD's work is so important and why our visibility is such an issue for the Right.
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|Title Annotation:||left hook; gay culture and television|
|Publication:||The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)|
|Date:||May 10, 2005|
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