A May 30, 2008 article in The Advocate, the oldest continuing gay publication in the U.S., recounts a recent event at Los Angeles’s Academy of Television Arts and Sciences entitled LGBT: Above and Below the Line in Prime, which looked at how the representation of gays in television has changed. Though they proclaim that “Over the past three decades or so, queer representation on TV has been minimal and mocking at best (as opposed to the early years of TV, when we were completely nonexistent)” and that “there’s a long way to go”, they conclude with the following statement:
The evening was certainly not a bad way to spend a couple hours as well as an encouraging reminder that queer visibility on the small screen is increasing in positive ways — not just on Showtime and HBO, but ABC and the other mainstream networks. A growing number of programs feature one or two queer characters seamlessly woven into the series.
Seamlessly woven? Lock in on those words, they are very important. How has something that was shocking 30 years ago become something that goes virtually unnoticed on prime-time TV? For insight into what went on behind the scenes to bring about this change in perception, let’s take a look at a clip from Dr. Brown’s lecture series Homosexuality, the Church, and Society.
Did you catch that? Look again at this quote from the 1989 book After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the ’90s:
The main thing is to talk about gayness until the issue becomes thoroughly tiresome. . . . If you can get [straights] to think homosexuality is just another thing – meriting no more than a shrug of the shoulders – then your battle for legal and social rights is virtually won.
Such a simple concept, but nonetheless tremendously effective. As a product of the 80’s and 90’s, I can attest to the fact that this very thing happened to me, my family, and my friends … and we didn’t even notice. Homosexuality has become “just another thing”, and thus gay characters on television shows are met with nothing more than a shrug of ambivalence. Lets look at the rest of the goals laid out in the book:
Portray gays as victims. Make homosexuality a civil rights issue. Make gays look good, and those that oppose homosexuality look bad. Solicit funds from organizations and corporations. Is there any question to whether these things have happened over the past two decades? Goals were articulated, pursued, and accomplished, and as a result, society has dramatically changed. But was it really for the better?