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An Analysis of the Representation of the LGBTQ Community in Prime-Time Television

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lilly paltsev

on 24 November 2013

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Transcript of An Analysis of the Representation of the LGBTQ Community in Prime-Time Television

The Analysis of the Representation of the LGBTQ Community in Prime-Time Television
"All in the Family": First Glimpse at LGBTQ in TV
Heads turned in 1971 when the prime time family sitcom "All in the Family" was the first show to discuss sexual orientation.

In this episode, the macho father figure assumes that someone is homosexual because of their flamboyant behavior. As it turned out, this assumption was false. But, Archie's masculine buddy reveals that he, in fact, is gay.

Not only did the show openly dealt with homosexuality, but also challenged the stereotypes assigned to gay men. Small steps like this one contributed to the normalization of the LGBTQ communities in television, but sociopolitical events, such as the legalization of same-sex marriage, further accelerated their integration into popular culture.
Analyzing LGBTQ in Prime Time Television
In 1989, Denmark became the first country to legalize same sex marriage.

This made a huge impact on the global movement towards equal rights for this community. Because of this acceptance, LGBTQ content and exposure became more frequent in television.

Yet, even today, the way that this community is represented on television does not necessarily reflect the equality that has been established in liberal Western culture.

By analyzing the representations and depictions of the LGBTQ community on television, it can be identified that these representations contain implicit messages and reflect the dominant view that still exists towards this community today.
Cable Television, invented in 1948, started becoming very popular and common in the early 1980s due to the fact that it was privatized, and therefore less regulated and censored. .
This was desired by viewers because Public Television at the time was so increasingly censored that only very patriarchal content that coincided with the time’s ideology was broadcasted.
In comparison, the fewer regulations on Cable Television tended to mean broadcasting more sex, violence, and profanity, as well as images of racial and sexual minorities, which was considered taboo on Public Television.
Gradually over the years since the 1980s, LGBTQ content has become more evident and common in prime time television. In this framework, racial and sexual minorities are becoming more desirable and commodifiable to the audiences and markets of today.
The Rise of Cable TV
Will & Grace
A sitcom launched by NBC in 1998 that featured the first openly gay male character in a lead role on prime-time television.
As the rise in LGBTQ characters and content on television has consistently been tied to the rise of cable TV, popular prime time shows in the last 20 years have covered this topic extensively.
Airing a program like
Will & Grace
soon after Ellen crashed was a risky move, but NBC was confident that the show would be more successful for a homosexual character, especially because the show’s focus was not on coming out, but instead, on presenting homosexuality as a way of life.
The show de-stigmatizes the representation of the homosexual man by featuring two gay male leads with polar-opposite personalities.

Will’s good-looking, successful and less effeminate character contrasts with stereotypical “gay” behavior, while his flamboyant, Cher-loving, prototypical flamer friend, Jack adheres to it, and is portrayed as an archetypal gay character.

A lack of intimacy is apparent between the two men, rarely spending meaningful time together because of their differences that keep them from engaging in any type of relationship.

This can in fact be regarded as a positive representation, as it demonstrates that gay men can form bonds that are not based merely on sexual intimacy.

In the episode of “Das Boob,” the differences in their personalities and mannerisms are apparent. Jack is seen engaging in stereotypical “gay” activities with Grace, where the first five minutes of the show is spent comparing each other’s breast sizes, while Will is hesitant to join in.
The image of the hyperactive gay who is outrageously obnoxious and sexually loose is reoccurring in Jack’s character in order to differentiate him from Will. Their physical appearances, responsibility levels and the relationships they pursue further contrast them. Jack has multiple boyfriends; flirting with any man, gay or straight, while Will looks for romance, desiring a man whom he can share his life with. Jack’s sexuality is even said to match that of the female “whore.” By defining Will against the promiscuous and ostentatious Jack, Will is presented as a safer, better-assimilated portrayal of a gay man.

Furthermore, the character of Will, whose sexuality is made to be a more subtle part of the show, has been thought to be a cultural breakthrough in television for depicting an attractive male, without the stereotypical style and characteristics so many viewers associate with homosexual men. He has many friends, and he seems to be a voice of reason. Will provides the audience with an attractive, physically fit, and well-assimilated gay character that is very different from the negative stereotypes of gay characters in early television
However, aspects that have made gay life socially
unacceptable and undesirable, such as homophobia,
the AIDS crisis and discrimination are not
recognized, and thus his character is watered
down to depict a type of homosexuality that has never been seen as a problem socially, medically or morally. Furthermore, Will’s
character has been attacked for not being
“gay enough” and for confining the portrayal
of gay men to those who are white and
upper-middle class. Nevertheless, by placing Will, an
out gay man, comfortable with his sexuality, as th
e star of a primetime, television series, Will &
Grace presents the idea of social acceptance of gays and lesbians as a positive one.
The distinct depictions of Will and Jack can be seen as both a success and a tragedy.
Will & Grace
is applauded by GLAAD (The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) for depicting disimilar, yet likable representations of gay men and for portraying their sexuality as simply who they are as individuals. The show also proves that there is not one type of gay man. However, the show’s down fall is in the way it encourages audiences to associate homosexual men as “Wills” or “Jacks” and ultimately compartmentalizes gay people.
Modern Family
is an up-to-date example of gay portrayals in prime-time television and marks the first same-sex parents to appear on Network television. Generally speaking, audiences have responded well to the homosexual depictions in
Modern Family
. Gay Lesbian Association Against Defamation even honored the show with Outstanding Comedy Series in 2012.
Although Cameron is flamboyant and often criticized as being a negative stereotype, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who plays Cameron’s partner on the show had this to say:

“We’re always coming up against the criticism that our characters are stereotypical and don’t represent what it is to be gay. But my argument has always been, I know so many people who are just like Mitchell and Cam, and so many people who are nothing like them. We’re representing a very specific couple in gay America and do not represent the entire gay community with those characters.

The show is extremely effective in applying everyday situations to a plethora of relationships and family structures. Cameron and Mitchell’s storylines very rarely deal with or focus on LGBT issues, but rather as their roles as parents to their daughter Lilly.
Modern Family
not only attempts to portray the gay community candidly, but also encounters issues many modern LGBT audiences can identify with.
In Season 2’s episode “Boy’s Night Out”, Mitchell's father ends up at a dinner with Mitchell, Cameron and their gay friends. Put off at first, Mitchell’s father soon comes around and has a great time with the bunch. In an interview segment of the show, Mitchell reflects his need to hide his true self from his father when he was younger. He talks about how refreshing it is to be able to himself around his father.
In the episode “Bicycle Thief”, the apparent exclusion of homosexual couples in the parenting world is dealt with. Being the more uptight of the two, Mitchell fears that Cam’s flamboyant nature will make parents in their "mommy-and-me" class feel uncomfortable. Cameron attempts to hide his personality, and the result is an awkward and unflattering mess. When he inevitably breaks character and begins to dance wildly with their two-year-old daughter, the parents respond with enthusiastic acceptance. Mitchell recognizes his insecurities and fears of exclusion because of his sexual orientation. He realizes that the “modern family” comes in many forms and that most people are accepting and even embracing of homosexual parents.
The one-hour series started out in 2009 as a show that follows an optimistic high school teacher as he tries to transform the school’s Glee Club and inspire a group of ragtag performers to make it to the biggest competition of them all: Nationals.
is known not only for its incredible singing talent, but for the various intense topics it has covered; varying from homosexuality, homophobia, suicide, death, divorce, marriage, transsexuals, and much more. Focusing on the show’s same sex youth couples, this LGTBQ community on the show has had to deal with and overcome multiple forms of prejudice against them, which for some of them is still ongoing, but each character has always eventually accepted themselves on the show and surrounded themselves with the right people to do this, the Glee Club.
It was definitely a revolutionary moment for the television show
, as well as for the prime time viewing fans of the show, when one of the most anticipated on-screen kisses from the show was between the two homosexual characters, Kurt Hummel (played by Chris Colfer) and Blaine Anderson (played by Darren Criss). The characters’ sexual tension had been evident for over a season prior to this the kiss, leading to the fan-created nickname “Klaine”, so when this kiss finally happened, the fans went wild.
The "Klaine" Kiss
The clip of the kiss was uploaded instantly and repeatedly onto YouTube so that fans could rewatch this moment, and the kiss and the kiss’ reaction blew up on Twitter and Facebook (Even Janna from our group tweeted and uploaded a status about it). The show had already been groundbreaking with its many positive representations of the LGBTQ community, but this massively positive fan reaction to a homosexual kiss was definitely progressive for the portrayals of the normality of homosexuality.
The Kiss
Another important moment that fans yearned for on
was when the character Santana Lopez (played by Naya Rivera) finally came out of the closet. This character had been struggling for a few seasons in relation to her homosexuality and she went very far in denying it, including pretending to date another shameful queer male to keep her heterosexual image strong. Fans watched Santana struggle with finding herself and kept up hoping that Santana would finally come to terms with who she was and be with the woman that she loves, the character Brittany Pierce (played by Heather Morris).
Santana Coming Out
This scene takes place after Santana has finally gotten together with Brittany and her Glee Club friends know of this, but this is the first time she admits that she is gay to the rest of her peers on her cheer leading team, some of which have previously been known as homophobic.
More recently added to the series’ cast of characters is Wade “Unique” Adams (played by Alexander Newell). Wade/Unique is a genderqueer character that varies between their male and female personas.
Wade is their most commonly used look of a typical gay man, but when he performs he becomes Unique, the kick-ass genderqueer bombshell. When she takes the stage, the audience is blown away. This character faces scrutiny often from homophobic peers, but lets loose and can be his/herself when hanging out with the Glee Club.
I'll be there for you... but not in a gay way.
Since the show began in September of 1994 and long after it’s final episode in 2004,
has remained one of the most highly ranked prime time shows on television and sitcoms of all time.

had a lasting impact on viewers that went beyond the television realm. It shaped the way that viewers understood and perceived the idealized culture of Western young adults.

Though a relatively “innocent” and censored portrayal of this culture, “Friends” was still considered radical and progressive in its content, covering subjects such as surrogacy, infidelity and ideas about gender and the LGBTQ community.

However, being a sitcom,
approached these subjects, particularly those regarding LGBTQ, from a humorous angle. The way that the show made jokes out of these serious controversial subjects was often interpreted by viewers as homophobic and transphobic.

For example...
In the episode “The One With the Lesbian Wedding”, jokes are made repeatedly about Ross’s ex being a lesbian. With the widespread popularity and influence of Friends in mind, the way that the show frames the subject of homosexuality has a direct correlation with the way it is viewed by its audience.

It has been argued that the openly gay characters that have been featured on Friends are “written to rarely react defiantly, or insulted, or taken aback at the blatant ignorance hurled their way”.

The representations of homosexual men mirrors those from Al, in which the characters constantly poke fun at Chandler for his sensitive nature, and making jokes out of moments between Chandler and Joey which could be interpreted as intimate and homosexual.

Writer and Professor of Communications and Media Studies, Tijana Mamula, made a fifty-minute compilation of all of the jokes made on “Friends” that suggest homophobia and heteronormativity. Here are some of the highlights:
"The whole point of this project is to show the very extent to which homophobia pervades the show, and how it changes over the years. It only makes sense to do this if you can give an idea of the scope of the issue.”
- Tijana Mamula
So, yes...
“Friends” was a relatively progressive show, as it explored ideas and aspects of our culture that were still considered taboo.

However, its representation of the LGBTQ community was relatively archaic and commonly interpreted as ignorant. It did not reflect the progress that was being made to achieve equal rights for the LGBTQ community.

Modern Family
"Bicycle Thief"
In conclusion...
The way that the LGBTQ community is represented in prime time television has changed drastically over the last two decades. It can be argued that these changes reflect societal views towards this community and how integrated it has become into North American culture. Successful prime time programs have consistently provided a framework for how LGBTQ is represented in popular culture. The ways that these representations have altered throughout the years directly reflect the way society's view of the LGBTQ community has evolved.
The Legalization of Gay Marriage
*Excuse the poor quality of the video*
Full transcript