Are gay characters portrayed accurately, and fairly on mainstream television?
Homosexuality used to be a taboo topic on television just 20 years ago. However, starting in the 1990’s, viewers saw a proliferation of primetime television dramas, sitcoms, and reality shows that have regular gay and lesbian characters. In studying literary works such as Ron Becker’s Gay TV and Straight America, as well as Making Things Perfectly Queer by Alexander Doty, it seems clear that popular culture is making an attempt to shape people’s views on homosexuality in entertainment media. Also, Andrew Kopkind, who wrote for the newspaper The Nation, wrote a piece describing what he called The Gay Moment, which helped chronicle the explosion of homosexuality in mainstream television in the 1990’s. According to Kopkind (2003), “The Gay Moment is unavoidable. It fills the media, charges politics, and saturates popular and elite culture.”
What is the reason for this “gay moment” and how are gays and lesbians portrayed on prime time television in comparison to the straight characters and why? There are a number of answers for this, ranging from cultural and social issues to politics.
According to Doty (1993), the portrayals of gays and lesbians in popular culture rests on the belief that a homosexual person is consciously trying to mirror a traditional role played by the opposite sex. Doty contends that the term homosexuality isn’t relative and being a gay or lesbian is more about culture and personal taste than actual sexuality. More recent television shows with gay characters seem to focus more on the aspects of culture and personal taste without talking about what goes on in the bedroom. According to Andersen and Collins (2007), traditionally gays and lesbians, like other minority or oppressed groups, have had the hardship of trying to integrate themselves into a sometimes intolerant society, rather than society helping to integrate them. Trying to act straight, or not trying to act or look like a member of the opposite sex, is one way that gay characters are able to gain more acceptance when it comes to a mainstream television audience. The bottom line is, they must relate, in some way, to heterosexual characters on the show to appeal to a prime time viewing audience, rather than an exclusively gay television network.
Becker (2006) suggests that the increase in homosexual themes in prime time television could be a result of a conscious social and political movement to make mainstream society more comfortable with gays and lesbians. It’s the next step, basically, in gay liberation and making it harder for conservative and bigoted people to ignore them.