Friday, March 30, 2012

A Guy's Guy...Who Likes Guys.

One of my favorite characters on television right now, Max from Happy Endings (played by Adam Pally), is the perfect example of going against the queer tropes that Raymond discusses in her article. 

If we are speaking to stereotypes of queerness, I don't think we will find it in Max. Yes, he has moments where he may fall into a few assumptions our society has about gay men, but for the most part, he is anything but our average gay guy. Just by looking at him, we can not assume Max is gay. This is not to say that we should do that for anyone, but if we are being realistic, we have to admit it does happen.
The thing about Max is that he is hilarious, but not in the flamboyant, girly kind of way that we see in many characters portrayed as gay men. For example, there are very few gay men on the show Sex and the City that don't fall into the stereotypical gay man persona. On the other hand, Max is a character that relates to a whole spectrum of men, not just gay or straight men. I understand the show Happy Endings is a sitcom with some unrealistic situations, but when it comes to Max, he portrays a real person to me. He's a guy's guy that is in fact into guys. He demonstrated what may constitute as "heterosexual practices" such as like sports and being extremely crude. In addition, Max is afraid of commitment which is something many women would joke about being an issue for the typical straight man. 

And if you watch the show, you would know that Max may not be the most "queer" of the men on the show. His two best friends, Brad and Dave, act in ways that we might not expect of a straight man, crossing the line "between being a man" and being too in touch with their feminine side. All three men on the show in fact show us a type of "fluidity" for what it means to be a straight man as well a the gay character on the show. 

P.S. I agree with Jill, everyone should watch this show!

Modern Family helps their audiences accept gays

I appreciate that Raymond believes that her three glbt tropes inside comedy can potentially subvert heterosexual norms. However, I find it more significant that she argues the idea that the elimination of glbts in television is not imminent for a viewer to have their homophobic tensions resolved. As I read this piece, the show Modern Family kept coming to mind. The three families that are part of the show all live similar lifestyles except for maybe one or two evident characteristics. Cameron and Mitchell, the gay couple, share similar characteristics to the Pritchett's and the Dunphy's. They live in suburbia with the American dream and  a lavish lifestyle. Raymond states that "media critics pointed out [the] rare depictions of glbt people tended both to dichotomize anyone glbt as victim or villain and to reinforce demeaning stereotypes and caricatures" (Raymond, 101). This is not the case for Cameron and Mitchell. They are characterized as equal to the other families. They are showcased equally and are just as important as any of the other characters.

For many viewers this couple should upset them. However, people stay at ease because of the comedic and relatable characters the show casts to its audiences. Raymond argues that in order for people to accept a gay couple in any show, the show's writers would have to end each episode with a "reinforcement of heterosexuality or a containment of homosexuality" (Raymond, 100). But, instead they go another route. Raymond believes that instead the writers can try to queer the straight, or make 'queer a [normal attribute] in mainstream culture" (Raymond, 100).

Cameron and Mitchell share so many other characteristics with the middle-class man. They have jobs, dreams, money, house, child, and white-picket fence. There are overwhelming similarities between them and the viewer that makes it almost impossible for them to discredit the couple. And through the addition of comedy and societal acceptance, the viewer begins to readily watch the show and subconsciously accept this queer couple.

Glbt presence is increasing in television and slowly being accepted by the American culture. However, they cannot be flamboyant or over the top gay. Modern Family has proven that glbts can make it in television, however, there is a certain way to go about it. They cannot try to take over, but they can start being accepted through being portrayed as normal, happy, and similar to their viewers.

Raymond believes that the emergence of the glbt persona in television will "give birth to new meanings and new signifiers attached to queer sexuality" (Raymond, 109). But, I believe that in order to keep the momentum going for these characters, writers of shows need to be careful with how large of an initial impact these characters are going make on the show's plot. They need to start off with small representations of homosexuality before they try to take control, or they will have their audiences straying back to their old homophobic stereotypes and attitudes.

better gay than grumpy...

The presence of the LGBT community in media has changed drastically, especially in the
realm of television. Raymond discusses this transition from a TV culture that merely hinted
at homosexuality to one that is beginning to embrace it on a number of levels. Not only are
gay characters more widely portrayed in modern television shows, there are also more
gay writers and an increase in the number of heterosexual actors who are willing to play
gay characters. Raymond looks specifically at the intersection of the LGBT community and
comedy television, but I think that her argument is applicable to other areas of television as
well. I am especially struck by the evolution of gay characters in television shows that are
targeted at teens/young adults. Raymond argues “what is constructed [in the media] can
come to seem natural and inevitable” which is why I see the plot lines of LGBT teens to be
particularly powerful as they hold great potential.

Glee is well known for its incorporation of a strong LGBT presence. The current season of
the show features a gay couple and a lesbian couple as well as another character that is
coming to terms with his sexuality. Each of these story lines is unique and does a good job
of helping to show that “gays and lesbians are not a homogenous group with a singular,
uncomplicated sense of identity.” Glee shows its characters questioning their sexuality,
discovering the difficulties they face as gay high schools students, and the troubles
associated with exploring a new realm of physical sexuality. But the show also does a
great job of showing its gay characters finding empowerment in their sexuality (“Born
This Way” S2:E18), positive interactions with parents, and how the high school community
can be accepting with time. Glee is a great example of show that manages to appeal to the
mainstream while also incorporating a strong LGBT presence in its plot and characters.
Yet Glee is not unique, there are a number of teen sitcoms that also do an excellent job of
working towards a new portrayal of LGBT youth: Skins (UK and North American versions),
90210, Degrassi: The Next Generation, Pretty Little Liars, The O.C.,  and a number of others. Just as
Raymond argues that the queering of comedy is helping to change the role of the LGBT
community in society, I argue that the queering of teen sitcoms has the potential to make
even more powerful changes in the mindsets of youth.

Queerness and Modern Family

The evolving meaning of the word “queer” is symbolic of the changing culture towards homosexuality. Not long ago, the term was used as a homophobic descriptor, and now comes to embody scholarly research surrounding mostly LBGT issues. Fascinatingly enough, queer studies does not make its stand on only gay issues, it lends itself to a certain openness that will allow for an incorporation of all. The fluidity of its range of topics parallels its view on fixed terms of sexuality. Heterosexuality and homosexuality are not exclusive to one another, and can share qualities and in fact shape how each category comes to be defined. An increasing openness and understanding of such fluidity has allowed for greater representations by the gay community in the media.

“…Shifts in roles and viewer expectations clearly allowed for the appearance of non-heterosexual characters in major and supporting roles; cultural shifts linked to an increasingly visible gay and lesbian movement no doubt helped to buttress such changes” (101). The ABC sitcom Modern Family is an interesting contemporary example to analyze. The gay characters of Cam and Mitchell are humorous, dynamic, and easily likable. Their representation on a major network is refreshing to many of the cliché characters that one can find during primetime. However, the duo of Cam and Mitchell has some oddities to it. You may see them kiss occasionally, but never passionately, and while the main heterosexual couple on the show will openly discuss sex and other innuendos, such humor is left out from Cam and Mitchell’s script. Additionally, the gay men live together and have adopted a baby, yet there never seems to be the discussion of marriage, nor a disgruntled nature towards the fact that laws are repressive towards them.

However, criticizing the representations of these gay men on a major network is maybe too critical. The better option may be to embrace the representation and hope for the best in the future with their story lines. The ABC producers have already taken the “risk” by creating these characters, maybe it is only fair that we give them due time to push the envelope further.

Selling the Illusion of Authenticity or Authentic Authenticity?

Diane Raymond discusses issues of queer theory as mediated via prime-time television in her article “Popular Culture and Queer Representation.” She explains that the definition of “queer” is not fixed or static, but is fluid and in flux and is not limited to “gayness” or homosexuality – which contrasts with previous denotations/connotations of the term(s) (98). Queer theory, as a contemporary and progressive discipline, is multidisciplinary and not “hegemonic” like earlier Marxist and feminist schools (99). Raymond notes that present queer theory rejects any strict dichotomy between “high” and “low” culture, unlike the Frankfurt school in its earlier days (99).

Whereas gay and lesbian characters/demographics suffered symbolic annihilation in popular media as recently as 1995 (Gross), this trend has sharply changed since then – for today, “Network programs are…full of gay/queer characters” (101). As Raymond notes, though, it is somewhat obvious that television is “light-years” ahead of mainstream film (102). Mainstream television mediates/communicates homophobes as the new “other,” contrary to what was depicted in the 1990s, for instance: “It is now homophobes, not gays and lesbians, who are vilified or ignored” (103).

Despite television’s apparent progressiveness, culture today – as a whole, or to generalize – remains extremely homophobic, such that it becomes difficult for the glbt-sympathizer to look past this. Raymond uses the metaphor of a fish in water – in that the fish does not or cannot realize that it is immersed in water since water is all that constitutes the environment. In questioning why queer depiction on television is so prominent nowadays, Raymond infers that the reason is more economically than ethically motivated – “difference sells” and the “static is the enemy of popular media” (105), so, from this perspective, mediated queerness could be simply a product of the desire to make money and keep audiences entertained rather than the authentic impulse to inspire viewers to open their hearts and minds. This latter point really intrigues me.

Just how aware, conscious, sensitive, and/or ethically developed, if you will, are the people who run prime-time television – namely, the individuals who decide or who have decided to make queerness an item of consumption rather than one of repression and otherness? Which dictates economic development – authenticity of compassion and awareness toward previously taboo issues, or merely the cleverness to see that selling the appearance of such authenticity is “difference” and/or “not-static?”

I would like to believe that the people who run mainstream television and the media in general have pure hearts and wise minds, but my gut tells me that – for the most part – this simply isn’t true. I am by no means trying to make any sweeping generalization here. Rather, I am simply attempting to communicate my honest opinion regarding the intentions or motivations underlying cultural changes mediated via popular television in general.

I eagerly anticipate the time when true authenticity sells, when it has the most cash-value since a critical number of humans value and seek to experience it, rather than this transitory context in which we find ourselves – in which media monopolists realize that authenticity definitely has cash-value, and yet, ironically, it would seem that the vast majority of these people are far less authentic, have far less compassion and wisdom, than the ideas that they feed to consumers like you and me.

There is some promise...

Ok so the instant I heard we were talking about Queerness in the media my mind went to one of my all time favorite shows "Queer As Folk". I know some of you may be asking "What the heck is Queer As Folk?" Well I can answer that for you, as stated in the reading it was an incredibly popular show on the Showtime cable channel that involved mainly LGBT characters. Also it ran for 5 "straight" seasons.

While the show does have some flaws like a lacking representation of racially diverse characters, the show never seemed to not push the envelope. Almost everything to deal with gay issues were used. Problems like coming out, drug abuse,  HIV/AIDS, Sexuality (duh!), death, pregnancy, and many more.

After reading the article for today I just wanted to throw out there that TV has jumped forward in a lot of ways. Shows like Queer As Folk, The L Word and even new shows like Happy Endings are showing a lot of promise for the LGBT community. It makes us less of a joke, or side plot of a show just to try and get ratings. Instead we are becoming the main characters who have more than one episode given to them to explore our problems.

So if you have a free weekend or just don't want to do your homework I say take some time to sit down and watch Queer As Folk it will honestly blow your mind! Seriously it's that good, and so out there. But in a good way! Ok I'll stop rambling, but really, you go, watch now.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Still Living In A World of Social Games?

“Like the fish that does not feel the weight of the water, human beings live in a world of social games embodied and turned into second nature” (104). 
   While reading Popular Culture and Queer Representation by Diane Raymond this specific line stood out to me. Through Raymond’s examination of three recurring tropes, (the increased appearance of glbt characters, the gay pretender and the straight mistaken for gay character) she considers the role of the dominate ideology, power relations, and changing popular culture when analyzing specific media texts. The quote above reminded me of the movie Brokeback Mountain; this movie uses the dominate ideology, power in representation, and the popular culture to illustrate “the new glbt characters we see on television are an attractive group both morally and physically” (106). Health Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, the two main characters, could be categorized by many of the terms we use to classify “masculinity.”

   Raymond’s primarily analyses television shows as a way to show the change in glbt representation and argues that, “today’s situation comedies manipulate signs of gayness to create humor and playfulness” (108). I thought it would be interesting to consider the movie Brokeback Mountain because it is a different form of media text; it does not use comedy to address homosexual relationships and although the movie’s storyline takes place in 1963, the movie was released in 2005. I wonder what type of reaction audience members would have if a media text like this was shown in 1963? 
   One movie review states, "Brokeback Mountain is an important and original romance that really and finally portrays the homosexual romance as two humans falling in love and never plays it for clichés, stereotypes, or comedy. It's a heartbreaking, beautifully acted, piece of romance, and deserves to be seen.” I would argue that Raymond would say this type of representation of glbt, although not a comedy or television show, stills works towards and will “give birth to new means and signifiers attached to queer sexuality” (109).

Queer Theory: Glee- Does Bisexuality exist?

One thing before I get started: I haven't watched Glee in quite sometime so if there are any plot twists that I do not mention, please realize that I am only focusing on the first (maybe second) season.

We discussed earlier this semester that media does not represent reality but rather reflects a distorted view of it. Raymond also explains that as more and more homosexual characters appear on T.V., then it might mean that homosexuality is becoming less and less taboo. But she also says briefly on page 106 that "...the possibility of bisexuality, a more fluid sexuality, or even a recurrence is rarely entertained".

I would like to look at the homosexual characters in season's one and two of Glee. We have Kurt, the flamboyant, open homosexual, Blaine, the more manly homosexual who later becomes Kurt's first boyfriend, Karofsky, the football player who bullies Kurt because of his sexuality who later reveals his sexuality when he kisses Kurt, and Santana and Brittany, the members of the cheerios who hint at their sexual experiences together. Santana comes out later as a Lesbian with her love for Brittany.

The season begins with one gay character and as the season went on and the audience demanded more, we were presented with many more situations. But there only seems to be either gay or straight.
It has been suggested that sexuality is a fluid dichotomy that flows between gay and straight, which would suggest that there is such thing as bisexuality. By alienating that kind of characteristic, it seems that those who do associate with bisexuality are also alienated.

Raymond examines this briefly when she describes the short lived homosexual relationships among characters in ER and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (106). Brief homosexual relationships are used as a fantasy or a means of receiving higher ratings.

But let's look at the diversity that the homosexual characters that Glee does offer. Kurt, being the general stereotype dates Blaine, who is a lot like Will from Will and Grace in the sense that he is "less gay" than Jack. I think that this reflects reality in the sense that people are realizing that every gay man or woman for that matter share the same identity, a concept that Raymond touches on herself.

HomoHeteroSexual Queerness

In her essay, Popular Culture and Queer Representation, Diane Raymond discusses the portrayal of homosexuality and, in particular 'queer' identities in today's media. The author describes three very important aspects of queer representation in the media: the phenomenon of the not-quite-so-gay homosexual character who exhibits very stereotypical 'heterosexual' behaviors such as Will from Will and Grace; the trope of people pretending to be gay as in the case of I Now Pronounce you Chuck and Larry (personal example); and finally, the classic case of a heterosexual character being mistaken as gay as in the famous episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry and George are mistakenly identified as gay men by a college reporter.

 The author argues that although the media has evolved to provide explicitly queer characters in television shows (much less in feature movies), these representations are not necessarily positive to the LGBT struggle for equality and acceptance in society. The presence of queer identities in the media was previously only possible if their stories were dominated by some sort of physical violence or if they were being ridiculed for their flamboyance. In the current media, these story lines have evolved to surround a kind of heteronormalization of queer identities.

Queer characters are either portrayed to be stereotypically masculine (except for the being attracted to people of the same sex aspect) or heterosexual characters are given stereotypically homosexual attributes (except for the being attracted to people of the opposite sex aspect) or they are flamboyantly portrayed as homosexual to the point where it becomes comical. For example, the writer emphasizes the character of Will as an example of a homosexual man with strongly 'heteronormative' character traits. She also talks about his relationship with Grace and how they are portrayed almost as a married couple. She sites Chandler's character from Friends as an example of a heterosexual man with stereotypically queer traits. Finally, she uses the character of Jack from Will and Grace as an example of an overly stereotypical homosexual man. The author even makes it a point to point out that Jack's overt flamboyance is almost used as a symbol to indicate that Will is not homosexual enough and can easily be converted to heterosexuality.

Although I agree with the writer on each of these points, I have to argue that the representation of queer identities has evolved greatly since this article was written. Queer identities in the media today are much more relatable to both queer and non-queer audiences in the sense that they are hardly ever portrayed as caricatures anymore, but rather as 'regular' people who also happen to be queer and who are dealing with the everyday issues faced by humans and by people who identify as queer. Although I can not think of any completely realistic representation of queer identity, I am not particularly
bothered since there are absolutely no completely realistic representations in the media. Shows such as Glee (with the character Kurt, among others) and South of Nowhere are leading the game in the representation of 'normal' teenagers who just happen to be homosexual. They are playing a key part in getting society to begin accepting queer folk as regular (relative term, of course) people who so happen to identify as 'queer.' The same way as heterosexual people are people first and then heterosexual.