To many of us in the LGBT community, it seems that we are too often stereotyped in the media. In this feature, qnotes explores how our community is portrayed on TV.
There are many examples of gays and lesbians on TV, but it remains highly questionable whether these characters are accurate representations of reality. For most people, it might not matter how LGBT people are portrayed in the media; these media images can seem completely irrelevant to our lives. But for our community as a whole, how we’re represented to people who don’t personally know any openly LGBT individuals is of the utmost importance. These images are the only thing some people know and it is therefore concerning how this affects youth particularly, and even more so LGBT youth.
In the case of comedy programming, LGBT characters themselves often seem to be the punch line, rather than their scenes or their lines. Such representations leave open the question of whether audiences are intended to laugh with us because the stereotypes are ridiculous or if they are intended to laugh at us because the stereotypes are accurate.
During the previous season of “30 Rock”, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) took in her teenaged gay nephew who was portrayed as highly promiscuous, having the word “slut” written across his forehead as part of his experience of Manhattan’s gay nightlife. “30 Rock” has included several gay male caricatures, usually very feminine, as well as the “gay hipster cop” played by Nate Corddry. One very notable exception to the typical gay guy spectacle rule is Oscar from “The Office” who is one of the show’s few sane and normal characters.
Sometimes worse than the ridiculous comedy portrayals are the supposedly thoughtful discussions that take place on network programming. On ABC’s “The View”, Elisabeth Hasselbeck recently told the audience why some women are forming same-sex relationships “after decades of heterosexuality.” Hasselbeck explained, “Older men are going for younger women, leaving the women with no one.” This ignorant thinking did not go unchallenged thanks to Joy Behar, who pointed out that many gays have been “trapped in a system that said ‘get married’.”
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has released its 2009-2010 Network Responsibility Index (NRI), “a report that maps the quantity, quality and diversity of images of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people on television.” In it, GLAAD rates network’s based on this past television season’s primetime programming inclusiveness and fairness with regard to LGBT representation. GLAAD’s report indicates that the broadcast networks vary widely, but the only network to be rated as “Failing” this year was CBS.
On ABC (rated as “Good”) are two sitcoms that regularly portray gay couples positively. In “Modern Family”, Cameron and Mitchell are a gay couple who adopt a Vietnamese baby. GLAAD describes the show as having given viewers a realistic “portrayal of a family not unlike those LGBT families living throughout the country.” Married couple Kevin and Scotty from “Brothers & Sisters” also plan to become parents through surrogacy.
The popular series “Glee” on Fox (“Adequate”) features gay teenager Kurt Hummel who has become a favorite of many people in the LGBT community and is reported to find a boyfriend in the next season. The series grabbed attention in the news when Kurt’s dad ranted against star quarterback Finn Hudson’s use of the word “faggy” in his home.
For the first time in the NRI’s four year history, a network has received the rating “Excellent”. That network, MTV, was commended by GLAAD for including a diverse representation of LGBT people. MTV features reality TV shows like the various editions of “The Real World” in which LGBT characters are often a fixture. In addition, MTV’s sister network is Logo, the LGBT-geared programming network.
Despite the numerous gay and lesbian characters on TV, transgender people are still nearly invisible on most networks. This has been improving recently as exemplified by the announcement that TeenNick’s “Degrassi” will include a female-to-male transgender character in its next season. MTV far outleagued all other networks in transgender content. The cable network even aired an episode called “True Life: I’m Changing My Sex” which included both a transgender man and a transgender woman. While these are clearly steps in the right direction, there is still much to be desired for transgender inclusion and education.
In some cases though, even when transgender people are represented, they might prefer to have been left out completely. A perfect example is an episode of Fox’s animated comedy show “Family Guy” which featured a transgender male-to-female father being reacted to with utter disgust, at one point displayed by prolonged vomiting, and comparing the transgender woman to a sex offender. A similar presentation occurred on Fox’s “The Cleveland Show”. Both programs are created by Seth MacFarlane.