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Warning: Homosexual Content

By Ann Northrop

gaytv.gif - 6.17 K Well, the Christian Action Network has given me an excuse to discuss something I've been pondering lately--the current state of lgbt characters on prime time television. The CAN is right. There are more and more gay men (in particular), lesbians (maybe) and bisexuals on the networks, and the usual dose of cross-dressing. How are these story lines playing out? Have we been reduced to cardboard stereotypes? Can any of us get a date?

Some thought the demise of Ellen was the beginning of the end. Prognosticators of doom warned we'd reached the end of an exceedingly brief golden age. They were, of course, wrong. Ellen was immediately followed by the creation of the somewhat hideous, but also interesting, Will & Grace. Lesbian and gay characters on other series are holding their own. And now we're seeing a new burst of teen characters exploring their sexual orientations--a logical and valuable progression. We've seen the same thing happen in real life as youth begin to leapfrog their elders and carry our issues forward.

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What now catches my eye about these TV shows, particularly the sitcoms (I can't even force myself to watch prime time dramas), is the plots. Once you introduce gay characters as ongoing regulars, you have to keep coming up with story ideas to justify their existence. So by the second or third season, the writers are virtually forced to dig deeper. I'll give you three examples I've seen recently as I checked out the current scene.

veronica1.jpg - 9.64 K Cast of Veronica's Closet , including Wallace Langham (top right) whose character is a closet-case Veronica's Closet, the Kirstie Alley nonsense, tried to distinguish its gay character by making him a self-deluded closet case. The joke here is that everyone who knows him assumes he's gay, but he's oblivious. Different, but not quite like real life where a gay man closeted at work would be the object of contempt by co-workers who figured it out long ago.

But in real life, the guy would think he's successfully living a double life. Anyway, I caught an episode of the series where the presumably-gay guy is visited by an old friend who's about to marry, but the twist is that the friend is really gay and our guy knows it. So he ends up asking his friend, "Why are you getting married when we all know you're gay?" Hmmmmm.

So gay friend says, "Yeah, I am gay, but I might want to marry anyway. And what about you? Why do you keep saying you're straight when everybody knows you're gay?" Hmmmmmmmmmmm. This is a sitcom? It seems to me this is a nice little piece of surrealism in everyday life, and I have visions of millions of Kirstie Alley fans sitting in their livingrooms going, "Huh?" It certainly was not what I was expecting to see.

Next interesting example? Will & Grace. The first time I checked out this show, I swore I'd never watch it again. It seemed to me all too predictable that "Ellen," an out lesbian, would die and that the next acceptable formula would be gay man-fag hag. Depressing, depressing, depressing. But this is the '90s and things are a little different. Today, this scenario becomes a venue to examine in detail the dynamics of that traditional couple. Nothing is off limits. willgrace1.jpg - 6.96 K Eric McCormack is Will on Will & Grace

I've only seen a few episodes, but they've dealt with a mom's denial of the man's sexuality in hopes he'll marry her daughter, the daughter's confusion over her feelings of friendship/attraction, the gay man's own confusion, his difficulty in risking dating when he's so comfortable with his phony domestic situation. Weird. At first, I thought the show was just trying to have it both ways by implying this couple might actually get together romantically, but now it's clear the writers are actually exploring the complexities of the relationship. Interesting. And the extremely gay best friend, Jack, is, of course, the greatest character of all.

Finally, my favorite, an episode of Spin City. Star Michael J. Fox is visited by an old pal who's now in the Navy. (Are you beginning to smell a formula?) Navy guy, it turns out, is gay and starts making eyes at the show's regular gay character, Carter. They date passionately. Michael is jealous and mean. He gets Navy guy's leave revoked. In the climactic scene, Michael confesses to Carter (we're all pretty angry by now), who's understandably disgusted and pissed off. But then the big final breakthrough. As Carter yells at Michael, we suddenly hear Joe Cocker and what's her name burst into "Love Lifts Us Up Where We Belong," the doors burst open, Navy guy sweeps in through a crowd of cheering office workers in his blinding dress whites, scoops up Carter in his arms and carries him off, back through the crowd (still cheering) as the music swells, the audience screams and the credits roll. Can he get a date!

How fascinating that a prime time sitcom series would put its popular, good-guy leading character in the role of bad guy for breaking up a new gay couple, and then have the payoff be Michael redeeming himself by getting the men together after all--and it's all a takeoff on An Officer and a Gentleman. No wonder Paul Weyrich, hard line right wing founder of the Free Congress Foundation says the culture war has been lost.

I was surprised by each of these sitcoms. I don't watch this stuff, so I didn't realize how far they'd gone, or come. It strikes me as consistent with advances we're seeing elsewhere. As gay people seek recognition and benefits in the workplace, sitcom offices have gay employees.

dcreek1.jpg - 13.03 K Dawson's Creek will deal with the coming out of one of the characters As high schools form gay-straight alliances and Jamie Nabozny sets an example by suing his school for ignoring the abuse heaped on him, Dawson's Creek has a teenager confused about his sexuality and "Party of Five" will do the same with Neve Campbell in March. It's an ever-enlarging cycle of events feeding each other. For those naysayers predicting backlash, don't worry, we'll continue to have our defeats. But check in to the world occasionally and you may be surprised at what's out there.

Courtesy of LGNY:

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