Monthly Archives: May 2012

An Interview with Michelle Lovretta

Michelle Lovretta (M.A Lovretta) is a producer and writer known for her work on Lost Girl, Relic Hunter, Sorority Wars, Instant Star, Hunt for Justice, and The Secret Circle. Editor Helena Vann sat down with her to talk Lost Girl.

Tell us a little about Lost Girl. What is the premise for the show?

Lost Girl follows the journey of Bo, a woman with a painful past who learns that she’s a succubus — a mythological being who uses sex to feed, heal and kill.  She soon discovers she’s part of an underground civilization of people called the Fae, filled with various creatures from legend and folklore who secretly predate humans in a variety of ways.  Bo sets about trying to find her place amongst the dangerous Fae while searching for her true origins.  Along the way, she creates a new family out of her human best friend Kenzi, her lovers Dyson and Lauren, and her mentor Trick, while trying to use her gifts to help others.

What storytelling techniques do you use on Lost Girl to make the show different than others in the same genre?

Hmm, I’m not sure we have any special “techniques”, per se, but as a nine o’clock Canadian cable show we do have some rare storytelling freedoms compared to a major network series.  From the beginning of development I’ve been continually pleased by how open minded our network Showcase is regarding how we portray the type of elements (sexuality, violence, language) that can send other networks into a pearl-clutching panic.  It’s a real luxury to have that kind of top-down support, especially for a genre show, because genre exists partly to explore the edges and push the boundaries.

True Blood uses sex as a part of their story, while the essence of sex is embedded in your story.  Though the way sex is portrayed is completely different. What were your thoughts on this during the development of the show?

Well, from my perspective and from what I’ve seen of TB, I’d say we’re less explicit and also have the latitude to use sex in a positive and playful way that might not fit the darker tone of their world.  Oh, and we definitely have less blood in our sex scenes!   That was a tiny rule I had, partly from my own squeamishness, but mostly from a need to clarify that we aren’t a vampire show.

True Blood had an interesting double-impact on our show during development, and I think we owe them a debt of gratitude. Genre TV comes in waves and it was definitely not in vogue when I first pitched my little succubus-centric show, so even though I got a pilot order, I actually didn’t expect to get a green light for a series pickup. I can’t recall the exact timeline, but we’d been in development for well over a year before we shot our pilot, and I think True Blood’s order was announced around the same time.  Given its pedigree and network, it was clear to us that they were making a high quality, dark, and very adult show.  That had two interesting effects for us: our show — which was originally intended to be slightly grittier and more adult — was lightened in terms of sexual content and tone, so that we had something different to offer; also, the fact that a genre show was being supported by HBO helped make genre TV attractive again, which I suspect in some tangential way may have helped us get our greenlight.

Why did you decide to portray sex the way you do on the show?

Simply put?  Because it’s the way I personally see sex, so it’s the most natural and intuitive way for me to portray it.   As for the more complete answer, When Prodigy (our studio) asked me to create a show about some kind of bisexual superhero who uses sex as part of her arsenal, my first thought was “hell, yes!”  But after that initial excitement came trepidation – it is so, so incredibly easy with a template like that to create something mind-numbingly insulting, anti-female, and exploitative.  I wouldn’t want my name on that.  And, as someone who respects both the straight and queer communities, I was afraid of alienating either of them in the process… or, of just making neutered, boring TV by overthinking it and being too PC.  Gah!!  The challenge was to create a fun, sex-positive world that celebrates provocative cheesecake for everyone, without falling into base stereotypes or misogynistic (or misandristic) exploitation along the way.  I also really wanted to defend the bisexual community and counter some sad tropes out there (bisexuals are sluts, can’t commit, are just afraid to be gay, yadda yadda) while also valuing and representing female friendships that have nothing sexualized about them at all.

So, I came up with a few internal rules and I moved to Canada that first year to co-showrun the show (with the fab Mr. Peter Mohan) partly just to help institute them:

1. sexual orientation is not discussed, and never an issue;

2. no slut shaming – Bo is allowed to have sex outside of relationships

3. Bo’s male and female partners are equally viable;

4. Bo is capable of monogamy, when desired;

5. both genders are to be (adoringly!) objectified — equal opportunity eye candy FTW.

We haven’t always succeeded on all fronts, granted.  Mea culpa.  It’s hard to honor all those good intentions in the chaotic thick of production when manic rewrites and a million disparate studio/network notes need to be addressed.  But I can tell you we’ve always tried, and that I believe Prodigy intends to continue supporting those original mandates for the life of the show.

To be clear: I’m aware (and thrilled!) that boiled down to our essence we’re just a fun, charmingly-flawed, quip-happy little series about monsters and heartache, and I make absolutely no claims of Deep Meaning or Super Importance!  But, in a way, that in itself is its own little victory: we’re clearly at a point where a main character’s orientation not only doesn’t have to be swept under the rug, but also doesn’t have to be a big damn deal.  Bo has lots of sex, with men, women, humans, Fae, threesomes… and she’s still our hero, still a good person worthy (and capable) of love, and that’s a rare portrayal of female sexuality.  Also, a show built around a bisexual lead doesn’t have to BE about her bisexuality — orientation can just be an interesting element of a story, and not the story itself, and that’s the central spirit of our show.  I consider that “I’m here, I’m queer, and it’s no big deal” approach to a main character still fairly rare and wonderful, at least in North America.  It’s also rare to have a female lead who is so honestly sexual, without judgment.  I don’t profess to be striking any new ground, here — I’m just saying that this is ground I’m very happy and privileged to be building on. In short: however long Lost Girl lasts, and however popular it does or doesn’t become internationally, I think the single element I will remain proudest of is just that we’ve been able to create and put out into the world a sex positive universe where a person’s sexual orientation is unapologetically present and yet neither defines them as a character, nor the show as a whole.

There are many different situations on the show where sex is used. What are the different ways you choose to portray it? And what factors go into that decision?

Because of our mythology, we get to use sex in some unique ways on our show.  As a succubus, Bo urgently needs sex when she’s injured in order to heal herself, which can put her in some interesting situations — like jump starting her relationship with Dyson, our male lead.  Sometimes we use sex as a plot device or inciting incident that brings her a case.  Occasionally, sex is used to explore some sort of social political view, if we can get a good story out of it.  Lastly, and most satisfyingly, sex is used just as a natural evolution and exploration of Bo’s emotional relationships.

I think my favorite sex-related moment on Lost Girl just may be episode 104, written by Jeremy Boxen.  Bo has a house-shaking threesome with a consenting married couple (“we’re gonna need a safe word”) and then the next morning… wakes up HAPPY.  No guilt.  No conflicted emotions, or need to turn it into a relationship, or fears that she’s a slut.  And her human best friend and walking-Lovretta-analogue Kenzi isn’t judgmental or envious — Kenz isn’t into threesomes, and that’s cool.  They accept one another for who they are.

 Are there any deeper themes in mind when you do or don’t use sex?

I’m not the sort of writer who starts from theme, so any that we’ve landed on have been organic and mostly visible in hindsight.  Loyalty and identity are big ones — who you are, who you belong with, what you owe one another, and what transgressions you will or won’t forgive.

I read that Lost Girl is coming to the US. Is this true?  Can you explain the process of moving the show internationally? Did you have to make any changes to the show?

We’re currently airing in Latin America/Australia/UK etc., and starting January 16 2012, we premiere on Syfy in the US.  From what I’ve seen on twitter, we’re being watched all over the world.  I’m really proud of that, and so grateful to our wonderful fans.   As for any potential season-two-onwards changes to the show for Syfy, I may not be the most-informed person to ask?   It wasn’t practical for me to move my family back to Canada for another full season, so I’m currently more of a consulting “fairy godmother” for the show, rather than an active day to day showrunner (although I returned to Canada for six weeks to oversee the new mytharc and help get season two off the ground with Emily Andras and Jeremy Boxen — badasses, both! — and I will continue to write scripts when I can, and give notes when I can’t.)   From what Jay Firestone of Prodigy has told me, it seems that Syfy is being very cool and not requiring many changes, if any.  Our language has been tamed slightly (no more “shitballs!” for Kenz, I guess) but I’m sure everyone can tell from 206, which recently aired, that hot sex is still a part of Bo’s life.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Is there anything more you would like to add?

Most of these questions (and, therefore, my answers) have been canted towards sex, so I’d like to clarify that this show isn’t about sex for me: it’s about relationships, and one of the core relationships on Lost Girl is NOT sexual, by design.  On a show that deals with female sexuality, I felt it was crucial to also demonstrate that sex and romance aren’t the only ways that Bo measures a relationship’s worth, to give the show balance.   Fans may have noticed that Kenzi clarified her hetero orientation at the end of ep 101 — pretty much the only time someone has addressed their orientation directly on our show.  That line was necessary because in production I kept running into directors who wanted to sexualize the dynamic between Bo and Kenzi, to make the show “hotter”.  I was determined to protect their platonic-yet-epic BFF-ness, so I made sure it was written in as canon.   Partly, this was to debunk the gay-panic cliche that bisexual people sexualize everyone, and are incapable of platonic friendship.  But there was another, simpler and more personal reason:I think friendship is the fifth element.  Truly.  I think it’s that substantial and nourishing a thing, so friendship and loyalty are part of the bone structure of Lost Girl, always just under the skin. So, hidden in amongst all the romance and cleavage and threesomes, the Lost Girl Bo and Kenzi relationship is my own little love poem to all the BFFs out there who do it right. I salute you.

An Interview with Brad ‘Cheeks’ Bell

Brad Bell is a fresh face in TV, currently working as a Consulting Producer for VH1′s Pop Up Video. Bell has crafted the online persona of “Cheeks” for years and built a preexisting fan base that he brings to his projects. In addition to short form comedic videos on You Tube, “Cheeks” has also released three albums on iTunes, all of which debuted in the Top Ten Electronic charts. Bell is Executive Producer, Co-Writer, and star of Husbands: The Series, a marriage equality comedy that has become an online sensation and garnered positive notices from The Atlantic, USA Today, and The Advocate. The New Yorker hailed Bell as “the standout” in a rave review — the only one that publication has ever given to a web series. Bell has been nominated for both writing and acting awards for his work on Husbands. Nate Bentley-Johnson sat down with Cheeks to talk about pushing boundaries.

What inspired the original concept for Husbands?

Originally the story I wanted to develop for the web, dealt more with Hailey (played by Alessandra Torresani) and Cheeks’ (played by Bell) character–living in Los Angeles, living in the Hollywood culture and being young. The moral of the story was you’re in your twenties now, time to grow up.  I was talking about it with Jane Espensen over dinner one night. She felt it had aspects to make it really good, but just felt like we’ve seen this story before; we had Will & Grace, and that twenties something story. We got onto a conversation about I Love Lucy, and thought that’s it! A first sitcom that revolves around a young newlywed couple making the same mistakes everyone makes in their twenties.

With the pending changes in gay legislation, do you see the show as being a symbol for that era?

I think it’s reflective of the era that it lives in, like anything I guess. With Mary Tyler Moore (in the Mary Tyler Moor Show) it was a single woman at the height of women’s liberation—I think the show (Husbands) is a product of its generation in many ways.

You’re two main characters wrestle with gender politics and roles within marriage, how did you go about deciding that conflict?

Well the way that I thought about these two characters- they we’re on two opposite sides of the spectrum.  One of them uber butch and athletic (Brady, played by Sean Hemeon), who is very worried about how people perceive him. The other (Cheeks) is completely free spirited and who cares who perceives it as feminine or masculine. The conflict naturally rose from that. (Brady) stands on the end of the spectrum that is very prevalent in the gay community, which is “We’re just like you, we can fit in too”, and the other end you have “No, we’re not just like you and that’s why we’re fabulous.”

Can you describe the road to getting the show picked up by network?

It was the goal to get it on a bigger platform, so more people could see it and appreciate it; perhaps inspire someone to give us money to make a lot more. But I won’t say it was ever like “We want this to be on Television and that is the end goal for us”. It was certainly an avenue we entertained, and would entertain. It was interesting to see the reaction that Television had…

Can you describe that reaction?

That it was inappropriate, controversial, or crossing the line. But it’s not; I mean there’s nothing in it that you wouldn’t see in a sitcom twenty years ago. The fact that there were two men in it, and there was just a much different response. There was a comment that read “Even if you got all the gay people in the country to watch, you still wouldn’t have the viewers”, and that just wasn’t the point.  Most of our viewers are actually straight women.  It was surprising.

In writing and developing the characters, was there a consciousness in how much affection the men could show or what America would be ready to see?

I remember I actually didn’t want them to kiss. Not because I was afraid of the reaction, I wanted it to open up a conversation between them (Brady & Cheeks). Eventually I was talked out of that, I think it was Jeff (Director Jeff Greenstein), he said “That issues been done. Just have em kiss, don’t have a conversation about it before it happens.”

We’ve seen portrayals of white gay culture in shows like Queer as Folk and The L Word. Do you see media reaching an age of more queers of color portrayals?

You know I think so.  Casting people of color, gay or straight, seems to be not a priority in Hollywood–as we’ve seen with Girls. It’s a huge uproar about it, but I guess it’s good that there’s uproar because clearly someone’s paying attention… The tricky thing about gay and black, (Television) doesn’t want to have too much of a minority in one character because they think it makes them less relatable.  Interestingly enough, I’m not sure if minority actors have a thing against playing gay; I sent out a script to a (black) actor and he responded, “Well is it gay, cause I can’t play gay again, I just played gay.” We hadn’t had anyone say that to us before, so that was interesting.

You were speaking of a second season, when can fans expect that second season?

Well we’re shooting it later this month. I’m in the troughs of pre-production right now. I say late July would be the earliest, certainly by the end of August.

What can fans expect from the new season?

We keep talking about what we can say and what we can’t.  It’s season two sort of what we’re talking about now; what is America ready for, what is okay to show, what are they comfortable with. What are gays allowed to be in society?  Should you push those boundaries or wait for things to be different?

So it’s a dilemma you’re wrestling with I take it?

Well yeah, these are still things that are unanswered today.  They are interesting topics of conversations and could play out all sorts of ways in comedy, in fiction. So we’re exploring that.

You can follow Cheeks on Twitter @gocheeksgo.

Perpetuation and Critiques of Familiar Representations in GLEE

FOX’s Glee features a cast rich in diversity in terms of race, sexuality, ability, and personality. The show’s message is that it is good to be different. Glee follows the drama centered on the quirky members of a high school glee club. In the show and in reality, glee club is a place for weird kids. This feature highlights the differences of Glee’s characters, which perpetuate stereotypes about those differences, yet Glee creators want to show that differences are worth celebrating and to critique familiar representations of difference. I am interested in how the representations of difference in the Glee characters perpetuate or critique familiar stereotypes of differences in race, ability, and sexuality. How does Glee represent these differences in narrative, character development, or setting? It is also worth investigating if these representations have changed from the pilot episode to the current season.

Since Glee is a new television show, there have not been similar studies done on Glee specifically; however, many scholars have studied minority portrayals in television in the past. With that said, one article about Glee discusses the differences that mark the members of the glee club in Glee and compares the television show to high school movies. Although Glee has all the features of a traditional high school movie or television show with jocks, cheerleaders, nerds, overachievers, and an encouraging teacher, Glee centers on the relationships among a group of likeable misfits who sing a lot (Bullock 27).

Multiracial interactions in television have been studied for as long as television has been a medium. For example, Weigel’s research may be older than most of Glee’s actors, but it demonstrates that multiracial media promote interracial friendliness, mutual respect, and prejudice reduction when there is equal status among races in the context that allows for cooperative interaction, pursuit for common goals, and positive outcomes (885). Gates also studied biracial friendships portrayed in the media, which he claims has typically been done in a detective setting. While black detectives were regular prevalent characters by the 1990s, their appearances did not address the racism problems in American society because such films and shows simplified issues and resolved them within one narrative (Gates 20-22). The drama of Glee derives mostly from interactions among the characters, but most conflicts do not resolve themselves within one narrative contrasting Gates’ observation.

Glascock compares representations of racial minorities in the media in newer channels to those in established channels. He found that “programming attempting to appeal to a younger and more diverse audience would reflect current social mores in which women and racial minorities are treated more equally” (Glascock 91). Gray’s study found that subtle segregation among minorities in terms of social positions exists even in media produced by minorities because they strive for commercial success (191). Television’s traditional strategies of storytelling through its logics of scheduling, narration, character development, serialization, and flow continue familiar representations of difference (Gray 194). Mastro argues that overt stereotypes have diminished in the media, but subtler raced-based representations and responses are replacing old ones (2). Subtle racial stereotypes are negative because media “that allow viewers to conceal their reactions as race irrelevant are most likely to promote prejudicial responses” (Mastro 5).

A textual analysis of “Asian F,” a recent episode of Glee, and of “Pilot,” the first Glee episode, will indicate how Glee’s representations of differences of race, ability, and sexuality have changed over time. Glee portrays Mercedes as an angry black woman, Santana as an overly sexual Latina, Mike as an overachieving young Asian American, and Kurt as a flamboyant gay male. Glee’s representations of these differences are familiar to audiences. While it is positive that Glee characters represent society’s diversity, depicting familiar representations of difference may be more problematic than helpful in celebrating difference. Though Glee seeks to celebrate difference, the show marks differences in race, ability, and sexuality stereotypically. Familiar representations of these differences both perpetuate and critique such stereotypes by marking these differences in the character development and narrative of the episodes; however, more recent episodes of Glee critique familiar representations more so than early episodes.

Glee’s characters cannot stand alone as a character without their difference marked whether it is their race, ability, or sexuality. For example, Mercedes’s difference is her minority race as an African American woman. She is a diva with a sassy attitude and funky style but struggles with body image (Bullock 29). Mercedes always sings gospel or R&B songs and is often characterized by her loud voice and laziness in contrast to Rachel Barry, New Directions’ star white performer who is an ambitious overachiever (Bullock 29). “Asian F” depicts many familiar representations of Mercedes’ African American race in the episode’s narrative and character development, thus perpetuating stereotypes about her difference. For example, in this episode, Mercedes likens herself to Effie White, the African American diva of Dreamgirls. In a scene at practice, Mr. Schuester pushes Mercedes past her limit, and she dramatically quits New Directions. She accuses the New Directions director of favoring Rachel over her who is equally talented. This scene turns into a reenactment of the Dreamgirls scene when Effie quits the band adding drama to Mercedes’ exit. This is an R&B song from a musical set in 1960s Motown, which is the same genre Mercedes always sings. “It’s All Over” in Dreamgirls blames Effie’s laziness for her exit, so the reproduction of this scene in Glee accuses Mercedes of being lazy as well. The other glee club members also accuse Mercedes of being lazy. Blaming Mercedes’ laziness for her not succeeding in glee club parallels society accusing impoverished African Americans of being lazy, which is a problematic representation.

The character development of Santana in “Asian F” perpetuates stereotypes regarding Latino Americans as verbally aggressive. During the scene when Mercedes quits, for example, Santana demands, “Why are you babying her? She’s gonna throw up because she ate a Quiznos before she came here.” It is significant that Santana made this comment rather than ambitious Rachel or aggressive Puck, two white characters who could have said this line with equal narrative effect. Being verbally aggressive is one familiar trait of Latinos portrayed in the media along with limited intelligence, inarticulate speech, and laziness (Mastro 2). While Santana does not possess these other characteristics, it is important to note that her verbal aggression perpetuates Latino stereotypes in the media.

Mike and Tina are the Asian American characters in Glee and the final minority race represented. Tina is quiet and sometimes passive; meanwhile, Mike is Harvard-bound to study medicine but also likes playing football and dancing. In “Asian F” both characters perpetuate the familiar representation of Asian Americans as smart, overachievers when they are concerned with Mike’s A- grade in chemistry. They refer to the grade as an “Asian F” and worry about disappointing Mike’s parents. This is most evident for Mike in this episode with Tina encouraging him to follow his dreams and his struggle to please his father. Another familiar representation of young Asian Americans like Mike and Tina is their high stress level, and Glee perpetuates this when Mike explains why he considers not auditioning for the musical, “I’m not auditioning. I’m overwhelmed and losing focus football, glee club, bootycamp so we’re ready for sectionals.” This statement is not critical of the Asian Americans as overachievers stereotype because Mike does not say it is wrong that he is overwhelmed; he accepts the feeling as natural. The discourse of young Asian Americans to go to Ivy League universities and become doctors is natural to Mike. In this scene, Mike realizes that his dream of dancing is not realistic. Using these characters in the “Asian F” narrative perpetuate familiar representations of minority races.

The narrative of “Asian F” perpetuates the feminine flamboyant representation of gay male characters with Kurt. He dresses in designer clothes and puts on a confident front hiding his inner fear of bullying (Bullock 29). Kurt is flamboyant in appearance and feminine in demeanor and often sings feminine roles. The Effie White scene in “Asian F” significantly perpetuates this representation of gay male characters. During the scene, the female characters wear pink sequin dresses while the boys wear plain black tuxedos. Kurt bridges the two genders by wearing a tuxedo made of pink sequins. Kurt is neither boy nor girl in this scene, further perpetuating his difference as a gay male because gay men are often depicted as a distinct gender, neither fully male nor female. Kurt also sings a brief solo that was originally sung by a woman in Dreamgirls. This further demonstrates Kurt’s femininity and further distances him from the other males of the group. Because Kurt is the familiar feminine and flamboyant representation of gay male characters, “Asian F” perpetuates the stereotype instead of critiquing it because neither the narrative, character development, nor setting allow Kurt’s character to go beyond this feminine and flamboyant depiction. The narrative, character development, and setting of scenes in “Asian F” further perpetuate familiar images of the differences represented by Glee characters.

Ability is another difference represented in Glee that marks certain characters. Wheelchair-bound Artie is one image of ability. Even though his wheelchair limits his ability in many aspects, he can still participate in glee club in both singing and dancing, though his wheelchair marks his dancing ability. Brittany is the classic dumb blonde cheerleader who is “always coming out with nonsensical comments” (Bullock 29), yet her innocence often makes New Directions members reevaluate their actions and beliefs. It is significant that Artie and Brittany do nothing spectacular in “Asian F” to perpetuate stereotypes of the physically handicapped or dumb blondes. In fact, “Asian F” critiques the dumb blonde representation with Brittany speaking intelligently about politics and feminism. She follows Santana’s tirade about male presidents’ lack of influence with her thoughts, “And where has that patriarchy gotten us? Double digit inflation, economic free-fall, oil spills, war in Afghanistan.” It surprises the other characters and the audience alike that Brittany knows those vocabulary words and concepts. It may appear that Glee used this moment as one of comic-relief; however, it critiques the familiar dumb blonde representation. It shows that Brittany may be naïve about many things, but she knows politics. Even though “Asian F” perpetuates some familiar representations of difference, there are several examples of this recent Glee episode critiquing such representations.

Another example of “Asian F” critiquing familiar representations of difference in the narrative and character development is Mercedes exchanging her funky street style for a more glamorous look during an audition to look “like a leading lady.” This change works because she receives a callback for the lead role, demonstrating that anyone, including African American women, can be a lead. Later in the episode, however, Mercedes and Rachel are offered to share the lead female role. Mercedes feels that Rachel unfairly receives all major solos and roles in New Directions, so she quits this glee club to join a new one. While this is an example of Mercedes’s sassy attitude, it also critiques the common portrayal of whites as lead characters to black supporting roles. In Gates’ article about biracial friendships in the media, he says that the majority of black detectives played sidekicks to the white heroes (22). This is exactly how Mercedes feels about her relationships with Rachel, and she has had enough; she wants to be the star. Mercedes’ defiance is an example of character development critiquing familiar representations of the racial social order.

The plot and character development of Mike and Tina in “Asian F” also critique stereotypes regarding Asian Americans when Mike decides to pursue his dream of dancing. He struggles with the decision to follow his dream or please his parents by going to Harvard and becoming a doctor throughout “Asian F.” His father plays the tough parent who strongly encourages Mike to focus on academics; however, Mrs. Chang plays the opposite of the familiar tiger mom representation. Instead of pushing her son toward Harvard, she encourages Mike to pursue his dream after Mike pleas, “I don’t want to be a surgeon or a lawyer, Mom. I want to be an artist, special. The only time I feel special is when I [dance].”  With Mike choosing art over academics and his mother supporting his decision, Glee critiques the familiar representation of Asian Americans as overachievers in scientific professions. The show’s narrative demonstrates the importance of everyone following their dreams, embracing their differences.

Although Kurt continues to be feminized in “Asian F,” Glee also critiques this representation by featuring other characters and marking his masculinity in this episode. Glee introduced Kurt’s love-interest, Blaine, in season two, but he becomes increasingly prominent. In contrast to Kurt, Blaine is less flamboyant in his personal style, sings more male parts, and is more logical than Kurt’s emotional, feminine personality. Blaine is Glee’s attempt at critiquing the familiar flamboyant gay characters represented in many other media examples. He shows that gay characters do not need their difference marked at all times. “Asian F” also critiques Kurt’s flamboyant representation in the interaction among Kurt, Santana, and Brittany regarding the class president campaign. Santana, being verbally aggressive, states, “Did you know that in the past six years at this school, we’ve only had male student council presidents? And while Kurt may look like Jimmy Fallon’s butch daughter, a vote for him would only empower another frank and beans.” While this comment was intended to be hurtful, it actually illuminates the fact that Kurt is, in fact, male despite his sexuality. This scene marks Kurt’s difference positively in “Asian F,” which critiques the familiar feminine representation of gay male characters.

This analysis focuses primarily on the representations of difference in “Asian F;” however, the analysis would be incomplete without a comparison to “Pilot,” the first Glee episode to see how the representations have continued or changed. Bullock argues, “TV characters need to change and develop as a series progresses, and compelling drama always features its characters facing a series of challenges and obstacles” (30). Glee is no different; its characters have developed from “Pilot” to “Asian F.” For example, Kurt’s masculinity is recognized. In contrast, in “Pilot” Kurt insists on removing his Marc Jacobs jacket and manbag before the football team throws him in a dumpster. The emphasis on his designer clothes and accessory feminize Kurt, marking his difference as a gay character. Also, by allowing the football team to throw him in the dumpster rather than fighting back, Kurt is being passive. This is often a feminine trait in media examples, while being actively aggressive would be more masculine. While there is still a great emphasis on Kurt’s clothes in “Asian F,” other characters acknowledge his masculinity more than in “Pilot;” thus, Kurt’s difference is not as marked, which critiques the familiar representation of flamboyant gay male characters.

Glee’s representation of African American Mercedes has also changed since “Pilot” in narrative and setting. For example, in “Pilot” her New Directions audition is a powerful gospel performance. While this scene showcases Mercedes’ talent, it also contributes to the black entertainer representation familiar in the media. This would not have been a prevalent image of African American women if Mercedes had been featured in more diverse situations. The majority of her screen time is when she is singing; otherwise, she is silent in the background. By “Asian F” Mercedes defends herself more and has more screen time in various situations. The confrontation between Rachel and Mercedes for the lead in the musical is a critique of the familiar representation of black characters playing sidekick to the white hero as described in Gates’ article.

Glee’s representation of Asian Americans has also changed since “Pilot.” For example, Mike was not a character in “Pilot,” but he is a prominent character in “Asian F” as he debates whether to follow his dream or please his parents. The point in the narrative when Mike follows his dream with Tina supporting him critiques the familiar representation of Asian Americans as overachieving subordinate parent-pleasers. Defying his father also defies the stereotype his father symbolizes about Asian Americans. Tina has also changed since “Pilot.” In the past, she has been a stuttering, subordinate character. “Asian F” features Mike and Tina prominently in a narrative without the addition of the prominent characters from “Pilot.”

Brittany, Santana, and Artie, though less significant in “Pilot” or “Asian F,” have also changed in their representation since “Pilot.” For example, Brittany was a silent character in “Pilot.” Because she did not speak, Glee did not represent her as a dumb blonde but not as intelligent either. With her speech about politics in “Asian F,” Brittany’s development is a critique of the dumb blonde familiar representation. Santana was also not a prominent character in “Pilot,” but she has gained prominence by “Asian F” though her actions perpetuate the familiar representation of Latinos. While it is positive that Latino Americans have gained representation in Glee, the representation of Latino Americans through Santana’s character is negative and perpetuates familiar representations of her race. Glee’s representation of disabled people also changes from “Pilot” to “Asian F” in its representation of Artie. His handicap is not mentioned in “Asian F,” which is significant because this lack of marking his difference allows Artie to stand alone as a character without his disability defining him. In contrast, the narrative marks his difference frequently in “Pilot.” One example is when Artie is given the solo during the first New Directions rehearsal; Rachel is upset because Artie cannot dance in his wheelchair. She insists that the soloist must be able to dance, but Mr. Schuester points out that no one can control Artie’s paraplegia and it would not be fair to discriminate against Artie’s handicap. Soon after, Artie demonstrates his wheelchair-dancing skills. This is an early example of Glee critiquing familiar representations of disability and difference.

By presenting familiar representations of difference, Glee both perpetuates and critiques familiar representations of difference. The characters who are marked by the differences continue to be marked; however, there is more critique of familiar representations in “Asian F” than in “Pilot.” This is possibly because Glee hoped to hook audiences with familiar representations, and now that Glee has an established audience, they can take more risks by critiquing the representations they depicted in earlier episodes. Glee is about celebrating differences, so marking differences is inevitable yet critiquing representations of difference is more effective in celebration than perpetuating representations. “Asian F” does a better job of critiquing familiar representations of difference; however, Glee has room to grow as a television show critiquing common stereotypes of race, ability, and sexuality.

Works Cited

Bullock, T. (2011). The Music in Me. Screen Education, (61), 26-35.

Gates, P. (2004). Always a Partner in Crime. Journal of Popular Film & Television, 32(1), 20-29. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Glascock, J. (2003). Gender, Race, and Aggression in Newer TV Network’ Primetime Programming. Communication Quarterly, 51(1), 90-100. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Gray, H. (1993). The Endless Slide of Difference: Critical Television Studies, Television and the Question of Race. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 10(2), 190-197. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Mastro, D. E., Behm-Morawitz, E., & Kopacz, M. A. (2008). Exposure to Television Portrayals of Latinos: The Implications of Aversive Racism and Social Identity Theory. Human Communication Research, 34(1), 1-27. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2958.2007.00311.x

Weigel, R. H., Loomis, J. W., & Soja, M. J. (1980). Race Relations on Prime Time Television. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 39(5), 884-893. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

The Power of News Corp’s Family Values

When the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed, many believed it was the key to promoting competition in the media.  It was the first overhaul of telecommunications in over sixty years and included several changes to the laws governing communication.  In the years since then, however, the controversy over its passing has only grown.  Instead of allowing small businesses a chance to reap the same benefits as corporations, it created an opportunity for the already flourishing corporations to become unrivaled conglomerates.  One company in particular, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, has since become massively profitable and much more capable of supporting its obviously conservative agenda.  It has very little diversity on its board of directors, associated itself with and funded politicians with anti-gay rights agendas, and is, for the most part, homophobic.  With the power it has gained through the Telecommunications Act, and the subsequent growth in disparity between media makers and media conglomerates, News Corp remains unchallenged in its stress on heteronormativity.  The Telecommunications Act of 1996 and subsequent concentration of media ownership has been partially responsible for the lack of respectful representation of queerness on primetime television.

It includes seven titles, the first of which, Title I, “Telecommunications Service”, was to layout the responsibilities of local telephone companies. Title II, “Broadcast Services”, addresses the role the government will play in cultivating broadcasting. Title III, “Cable Services”, is the part that addresses media ownership (“FCC – Telecommunications Act of 1996” 1). This section concentrates on the reform of the Cable Act of 1984, which was the source of the notion that deregulation would cause competition to flourish. To allow for more cable providers, the government gave regulatory authority to local governments. The intention of this reform was to provide a competitive marketplace by implementing a deregulatory system which, unlike the one that had been in place for half a century, relaxed the limitations on the amount of media production one entity could own. The goal was to cultivate competition within individual markets. Title IV, “Regulatory Reform”, is the modification of regulatory forbearance, the interim relief granted by the government in return for future compensation, as well as the way to re-review the regulations every two years (“FCC – Telecommunications Act of 1996” 3). The section titled “Obscenity and Violence”, Title V of the Act, established rules to determine the amount of explicit material on cable television. The sixth title, “Effect on Other Laws”, covers the bearings of local laws or rulings over cable sales. Finally, Title VII, “Miscellaneous Provisions”, was a catch all section with rules to protect consumers from fraudulent billing, invasion of privacy, as well as initiatives for the future of telecommunications (“FCC – Telecommunications Act of 1996” 3).

My focus, a highly discussed aspect of the Telecommunications Act, is Title III. Instead of promoting it, over the past two decades, we have seen the competition in the Television Industry diminish as five main conglomerates have risen to dominate the market: Time Warner, Disney, Viacom, News Corporation, and Bertelsmann. Instead of intramodal, we now see intermodal competition. In January 2000, Time Warner and America Online merged to form the largest media conglomerate in history at a net worth of $350 billion (“TWX Income Statement” 1).

The Radio Industry has experienced a similar concentration of ownership since 1996. The Telecommunications Act revised section 73.3555 to eliminate the law that prevented ownership of numerous national stations and relaxed the local ownership limitations (“Radio Ownership” 2). There was a 5.9 percent increase in the number of commercial radio stations between March 1996 and March 2003, yet there was also a 35 percent reduction in the number of owners (“Radio Ownership” 4). While, in 1996, the top two radio owners had fewer than 65 stations each, by March 2003, Clear Channel Communications owned over 1,200 stations and their closest competitor with a measly 250 (“Radio Ownership” 5).

I will be utilizing the organizational concept of analysis for this review, for it studies content through the perspective that the organization of the production entity. Media scholars who employ this method of examination recognize that differing structures result in differing content, which can be related to the practices and processes of these establishments. An organization is a framework through which people relate to others based on their positions and work together toward a common goal. Brian Ott and Robert Mack give us structure and process which are the basic elements of organizations. Next, we have the three components of an organization’s structural break down: hierarchy, differentiation and specialization, and formalization. Hierarchy describes the levels of authority of the various positions held and how they shape the interactions between employees. Differentiation and specialization refer to the distinct branches and responsibilities of each company, conglomeration or organization. Formalization, perhaps the most important in the light of this paper, is “the degree to which specific practices must conform to accepted organizational and professional conventions,” according to Ott and Mack (48). The term process concerns what the basic structure yields.  If the structure is the skeleton, the process is the flesh of the institution’s body. It is not a wholly free process, as it attaches to and relies on the structure for guidance (49).  We refer to the resulting set of ideals, conventions, and practices as the organizational culture. Every organization, in any market, has a particular organizational culture cultivated within their walls.

The other theory I will employ is the cultural analysis theory, which argues, according to Ott and Mack, media does not reflect the true nature of society’s culture, but rather illustrates a distorted version (124). Obviously, there are discrepancies when groups try to agree on a singular definition of culture, especially because it is not intrinsic to humans but is a social construction. Media scholars who utilize this theory look at race, gender, class, sexuality, and other similar social paradigms; merely the selections of media production can condemn some aspects of culture and laud others. The three constructs of culture to be examined are the physical, the social, and the attitudinal. The physical simply denotes the tangible objects and materials we use. A library would be a clear indication that that culture values education. We classify the interactions, traditions, and practices we employ under the social side of culture. Large dining rooms indicate a value of shared meals. Lastly, the attitudinal aspect includes the ideas and perspectives of society as a whole. Two key aspects of this theory are culture’s collective and rhetorical natures. Collective culture means that to be considered culture, something must be shared by people. Fabricated by humans, culture is rhetorical. We assign meaning to symbols, and since we agree on the meanings of these symbols, they are able to  communicate significance that is not inherent (125).

Here, I use the organizational theory, which contends that a reorganization of such magnitude, as is the concentration of media ownership since 1996, will affect the work these various institutions will generate. The larger a company is, the more shareholders it needs to appease; this means it requires relatively nebulous and elusive opinions with which a greater number of people can relate.  Smaller companies have considerable leave because they have only so many shareholders to satisfy.  When two such companies merge, the smaller of the two often assimilates to match the dominant organizational culture.  The “Big Five” media conglomerations are so large that their primetime TV shows are no longer able to include diverse content.  Any substantial shift from the reality currently portrayed is unlikely, as those responsible for media production are hesitant to deviate from a technique that has made them billions.

Television is, of course, a profit-driven medium, as we see through the ever present commercial interruptions, and is therefore not only bound to accommodate the company’s shareholders, but their advertising partners. Advertisers and sponsors are reluctant to associate themselves with not yet proven programming. Television programming has the responsibility to attract and maintain a large audience to whom advertisers may promote their products. Unfortunately, shows that do not have a large enough fan base lack funding because they fail to generate sufficient revenue. Effectively, this systematically destroys ideals alternative to the dominant and glorifies lifestyles that are socially and fundamentally conservative, as any significant change in programming would threaten their already lucrative arrangement. However, since television is a profit-driven medium, the dominant ideals are not always the guiding factor. Sometimes, when “radical”, or nonconformist, ideas have the potential to increase revenue, drastically, networks are willing to step outside their comfort zone.  Since the Telecommunications Act, the media moguls have only gained power while those who were not already at a certain level of success by 1996 have floundered and definitely not seen the benefits companies such as News Corp has.

In 2009, News Corp was measured as the third largest media conglomerate in entertainment and in 2011 as the second-largest in profits (“Global 500 2009: Industry”).  The majority of the board of directors is comprised of white, Roman Catholics males.  According to the corporation’s website, there are 16 directors on the board, one of whom is a woman.  Three are Murdochs and will be addressed later.  Another director, José María Aznar, has been working for News Corp since 2008.  Aznar, a Roman Catholic, was the Prime Minister of Spain from 1996-2004.  In 2005, the year after Aznar left office, same sex marriage was made legal by Aznar’s successor, President José Luis Rodriquiz Zapatero.  It was around this time, more specifically June 2005, that an opinion poll was taken by government-run Center for Sociological Investigations. It found that despite being a Catholic country, 66% of Spaniards polled favored the legalization of gay marriage while only 27% did not (Giles 1).  One board member, Andrew Knight, is a white male who was educated at a Roman Catholic secondary school (“List of Public Companies Worldwide” 4).  Viet Dinh, a Vietnamese lawyer, is another conservative board member.  He served under George W. Bush as Assistant Attorney General of the United States on the board of the Section on National Security Law of the Association of American Law Schools.  According to News Corporation’s website, he is Roman Catholic.  Dinh is also on the board of financial mammoth Orchard Enterprises Inc. (Nasdaq: ORCD), as well as the committee for the election of Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who later vetoed a gay marriage bill in both 2005 and 2007 (Badash).  Dinh worked with Kenneth Starr in challenging in court the constitutionality of Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 which was the reaction of the government to the several large financial scandals by corporations, which caused their share prices to crash costing investors billions. These scandals, including that of Enron, were the first sign the nation’s financial conglomerates had been taking advantage of their investors.  Similarly Rod Eddington, another board member, serves on both the board of News Corp and that of JPMorgan, a bank that was fined billions of dollars for financing Enron (Johnson 1).  This snapshot of the News Corp board illustrates the lack of diversity of the organization, a trait that undoubtedly impacts the hierarchy and formalization of the entire conglomerate.

Since the 1990 elections, News Corporation CEO, Rupert Murdoch, has personally contributed around $750,000 to political campaigns and committees.  According to research performed by the Center for Responsive Politics, 80% of these contributions have gone to committees and candidates from the GOP.  This number also includes a donation of $250,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee before the laws were changed to prevent the party’s committees from accepting unrestricted donations.  Merely 12% went to benefit Democrats and the remaining $57,500 funded political action committees, such as those for News Corps and Phillip Morris, the nation’s leading cigarette manufacturer (Ronayne).  Murdoch has donated to presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, both of whom oppose same-sex marriage openly on their campaign platforms.  Other politicians who have received contributions from Murdoch personally include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, and Speaker of the House John Boehner (Ronayne).

Each of these politicians fight same-sex marriage.  In June 2000 and June 2002, Senate Minority Leader McConnell voted no to expanding hate crimes to include those based on sexual orientation.  In July 1995, McConnell voted yes to banning affirmative action hiring using federal funds, and a year later voted yes to prohibiting same-sex marriage.  Also in 1996, McConnell voted no to prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation.  In 1997, he voted yes to end special funding for minority and women-owned businesses.  While not particularly surprising, it is remarkable that this politician who voted yes on loosening restrictions on cell phone wiretapping would be funded by a CEO whose company would soon be facing charges of illegal wiretapping (“Summary of Information on Mitch McConnell”).  House Majority Leader Cantor is similarly minded. He voted yes, in 2004, to a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.  Two years later, he voted yes to constitutionally define marriage as between a man and a woman.  In November 2007, Cantor voted no on prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation and in June 2008, he voted again to amend the constitution to define marriage traditionally (“Eric Cantor on Civil Rights”).  Senate Minority Whip Kyl voted yes, with McConnell, on banning affirmative action hiring using federal funds in 1995.  The following year, he voted no to prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation and yes to prohibiting same-sex marriage.  Like McConnell, too, Kyl voted yes to end funding for minority run and women-owned businesses.  The two also voted against setting aside 10% of highway funds to benefit various exploits of minorities and women in March of 1998.  Kyl also voted no on expanding hate crimes to include those based on sexual orientation in 2002 and more recently voted yes on a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage in June 2006 (“Jon Kyl on Civil Rights”).  Speaker of the House Boehner also has anti-same-sex-marriage and anti-affirmative action agendas as evidenced by his history.  As far back as 1998 he voted yes to end preferential treatment by race in college admissions.  In 1999, he voted yes to ban adoptions by homosexual couples in the District of Columbia.  Five years later, in 2004, Boehner voted yes to the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and in 2006 voted yes to constitutionally define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Finally, he too voted no on prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation (“John Boehner on Civil Rights”).  These are simply the politicians to whom Rupert Murdoch has contributed personal funds. News Corporation itself has donated $1 million to the United States Chamber of Commerce, an association which has been aggressively supportive of the GOP’s effort to retake Congress in 2010.  News Corp also contributed $1 million to the Republican Governors Association approaching the US midterm elections of 2010 (Ronayne 3).  These two donations led media critics to question whether the company had crossed an ethical line for a media company, since comparable media conglomerates such as Disney, owner of ABC, and GE, owner of NBC, also make contributions, but in much smaller amounts and split more equally between Democrats and Republicans (Ronayne 3).  As of September 15, 2010, the Chamber of Commerce had spent $6,747,946 to air ads on behalf of Republican Senate Candidates.  This makes the Chamber the biggest spender on congressional races of any interest group (Ronayne 4).  The benefits of News Corp’s staunch support of the GOP must be significant to warrant these historically unmatched donations.

On August 6, 2007, GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, released their first “Network Responsibility Index” which measured each network’s inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer themes or characters in their shows.  FOX, a subsidiary of News Corp, received a rating of “poor,” and was shown to have only 6% of all of their programming hours during a 12 month span to contain queer characters or the discussion of queerness.  This rating was the worst of all the major networks.  ABC was best, and was rated 15%, the CW had 12%, CBS had 9% and barely better than FOX was NBC at 7% (GLAAD).  In a statement released by FOX, a spokesperson said they are “committed to recognizing diversity across our entire schedule, take these issues very seriously, acknowledge that we have work to do, and will strive to enhance the representation of LGBT characters on our air” (Kinon 2).

Two years later, enter GleeGlee is a show on FOX network with explicitly queer themes.  More than any other show on television right now, four of the characters on Glee are queer; however, three of them are white, males, and not particularly active in politically pursuing gay rights.  They are not clearly liberal and their characters and plots are based on this singular trait.  On the surface, the show appears to be “gay-friendly,” but upon closer examination, one can see that the characters are not well-rounded and their storylines seem to hinge on their sexual orientation.  Some other branches of FOX, such as FOX Houston, use the show as fodder for controversial debates.  FOX Houston held a segment of their news program called “Is TV Too Gay?”.  Guests were gay rights activist Ray Hill and Brian Fisher of the American Family Association, a group committed to fighting same-sex marriage (“Is TV Too Gay?”).  The Association has been officially labeled a hate-group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (“Active Anti-Gay Groups”).  Previously, Fisher has called Muslim student associations “parasites” and “toxic cancer” (“Fisher: Muslim Student Associations Are ‘Parasites’ and A Toxic Cancer’” 12).

In 2009, Nigel Lythgoa, host of So You Think You Can Dance, a show on FOX, commented on air to two men dancing together romantically that they would alienate the audience and he would like to see them dance with women (Dehnart).  Bill O’Reilly was discussing a French McDonald’s ad in 2010 that championed the fast food restaurant as a having a “come as you are” atmosphere.  To this, O’Reilly responded, “Do they have an Al Qaeda ad, you know, ‘come as you are’?” Many called upon him to apologize for this comment (Volsky 2).  First noting that Perez Hilton is “gay and a liberal activist,” Steve Doocy, co-host of FOX and Friends, then read a statement from the grandmother of Miss California, Carrie Prejean: “’I don’t know why that gay guy, Perez, was even judging a contest with a bunch of girls. That doesn’t make any sense. He should be judging a Chippendales contest.’”  Doocy then laughed and agreed, “Grandma has got a point” (Goode 1).  In 2010 the Wall Street Journal, also owned by News Corp, ran a photo of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan playing softball with the caption “Court nominee comes to the plate,” which angered activists across the nation.  It was argued that no straight, white, 50 year old, male nominee would be portrayed in such a light (Spillius 1).

Thanks to the benefits of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, felt by News Corporation and the few other media moguls, these conglomerates have no reason to fear any significant new competitors.  They will remain unchallenged in their ability to grow and incorporate further in each branch of media.  The incredible capital of FOX, and its parent company News Corp, gives it a historically unprecedented ability to influence the government.  Since News Corp has been making such an incredible amount of money through the system in place, the directors have a desire to maintain the system as is.  Their beliefs are fundamentally conservative and clearly Murdoch has an ideal he would like to see remain the dominant.  With such a CEO and board of directors, according to the notions of hierarchy, differentiation, specialization and formalization of the organizational theory, the corporation is unlikely to be capable of creating diverse content and three dimensional characters of various other lifestyles.  A single show with superficially gay friendly and controversial overtones cannot eclipse the blatant homosexuality portrayed by most FOX affiliates, as well as the extraordinary financial contributions made by the corporation’s leader to politicians with anti-same-sex marriage agendas.  As a world leader in media production, a position feared and revered for its incredible power, special responsibilities exist such as to report objectively and treat consumers respectfully.  News Corp does neither of those; instead it finances legislation attacking the rights of a group of people they claim to represent respectfully.

Works Cited

“Active Anti-Gay Groups.” Southern Poverty Law Center. Web. 07 Dec. 2011.

Badash, David. “Schwarzenegger Vetoed 2 Gay Marriage Bills Fathered Child Out Of Wedlock | The New Civil Rights Movement.” The New Civil Rights Movement | A Journal Of News & Opinion On Gay Rights & Marriage Equality. 17 May 2011. Web. 12 Dec. 2011.

Dehnart, Andy. “Nigel Lythgoe’s Homophobia Inflamed When Two Men Dance Together on SYTYCD Reality Blurred.” Reality Blurred the Reality TV News Digest. Reality Blurred, 22 May 2009. Web. 07 Dec. 2011.

“Eric Cantor on Civil Rights.” OnTheIssues.org – Candidates on the Issues. Web. 07 Dec. 2011.

“FCC – Telecommunications Act of 1996.” Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Home Page. Federal Communications Commission. Web. 7 Dec. 2011.

“Fischer: Muslim Student Associations Are “Parasites” and “A Toxic Cancer”” Right Wing Watch. Web. 07 Dec. 2011.

Giles, Ciaran. “News & Politics.” Internet Archive: Wayback Machine. The Advocate, 21 Apr. 2005. Web. 7 Dec. 2011.

“GLAAD: GLAAD RELEASES INAUGURAL NETWORK RESPONSIBILITY INDEX.”GLAAD.org. Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Web. 07 Dec. 2011.

“Global 500 2009: Industry: – FORTUNE on CNNMoney.com.” CNNMoney – Business, Financial and Personal Finance News. Cable News Network. Web. 7 Dec. 2011.

Goode, Morgan. “FOX Host Takes Jab At Perez Hilton | GLAAD.” GLAAD.org. GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) | GLAAD, 22 Apr. 2009. Web. 07 Dec. 2011.

“Is TV Too Gay?” Houston Weather, Traffic, and News | MyFoxHouston.com | FOX 26. My FOX Houston. Web. 07 Dec. 2011.

“John Boehner on Civil Rights.” OnTheIssues.org – Candidates on the Issues. Web. 07 Dec. 2011.

Johnson, Carrie. “Settlement In Enron Lawsuit For Chase.” Washington Post: Breaking News, World, US, DC News & Analysis. Washington Post, 15 June 2005. Web. 07 Dec. 2011.

“Jon Kyl on Civil Rights.” OnTheIssues.org – Candidates on the Issues. Web. 07 Dec. 2011.

“José María Aznar López / España / Europa / Biografías Líderes Políticos / Documentación.”CIDOB Home Page. Web. 7 Dec. 2011.

Kinon, Cristina. “Fox Gets ‘F’ for Gay Portrayals.” Daily News. NY Daily News. Web. 07 Dec. 2011.

“List of Public Companies Worldwide – BusinessWeek – BusinessWeek.” Investing & Stock Research by Company and Industry – BusinessWeek. Business Week. Web. 7 Dec. 2011.

Ott, Brian L., and Robert L. Mack. Critical Media Studies: an Introduction. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print.

“Radio Ownership.” Media Bureau Staff Research Paper Series (2003): 1-82. Print.

Ronayne, Kathleen. “Murdoch’s Cash Lines Pockets of Members of Congress – OpenSecrets Blog | OpenSecrets.” OpenSecrets.org: Money in Politics — See Who’s Giving & Who’s Getting. OpenSecrets.org, 21 July 2011. Web. 07 Dec. 2011.

Spillius, Alex. “Elena Kagan ‘outed’ as Lesbian by Wall Street Journal Softball Picture – Telegraph.” Telegraph.co.uk – Telegraph Online, Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph – Telegraph. The Telegraph, 13 May 2010. Web. 07 Dec. 2011.

“Summary of Information on Mitch McConnell.” PoliGu.com – The Political Guide – 2012 Election Headquarters. The Political Guide. Web. 07 Dec. 2011.

“TWX Income Statement | Time Warner Inc. New Common Sto Stock – Yahoo! Finance.”Yahoo! Finance – Business Finance, Stock Market, Quotes, News. 31 Dec. 2010. Web. 7 Dec. 2011.

Volsky, Igor. “O’Reilly Compares Gay People to Al Qaeda.” ThinkProgress. 3 June 2010. Web. 07 Dec. 2011.

Portrayal of the GLBTQ Community in Television: Pre, Mid, and Post-Stonewall

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.
Then- in my childhood, in the dawn
Of a most stormy life- was drawn
From every depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that round me rolled
In its autumn tint of gold,
From the lightening in the sky
As it passed me flying by,
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.
— Edgar Allen Poe, Alone

As an industry, television continues to grow everyday. New programs are developed, previous ones expanded, new characters added, shows get cancelled and the process begins again – as it does every year. Since the dawn of television in the early 20th century it has continually become more progressive as a medium. Every year its rules and regulations change, as does the public’s perception of what is considered acceptable to be on television, going hand-in-hand with the public’s changing perception of the world around them in general.

In the early days of the television boom during the 1940s and 50s, homosexual people were not viewed in a positive way, receiving extreme criticism and even verbal and physical abuse from almost everyone, including police, teachers and even their friends and family. Homosexuality was even listed as a mental disorder until it was removed by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 (UC–Davis, Facts About Homosexuality and Mental Health). Harassment and arrest were very common for members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (GLBTQ) community until the Stonewall Riots of 1969, which is seen as the spark to the modern GLBTQ movement for equal rights.

As the years passed the general public became more tolerant of members of the GLBTQ community. While there are still many cases of homophobia around today, things have become better since television’s beginning. Since the Stonewall Riots we’ve seen an increase of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer community being portrayed in Television. The GLBTQ community has slowly become less alone.

In 1969, before the riots at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York, there was little to no portrayal of the GLBTQ community on the small screen. What was shown portrayed the community in an extremely negative light, with program titles such as Homosexuals and the Problems They Present (Tropiano 269), and Homosexuals Who Stalk and Molest Our Children (Tropiano 3). While many of these programs were only shown on local stations, in 1967, CBS became the first national network to air a program about homosexuality, titled CBS Reports: The Homosexuals. This hour long documentary featured gay men hidden in dark shadows and by large plants to hide their identity, while two anti-homosexual psychologists, Charles Socarides and Irving Bieber, conducted berating interviews. This has since been described as “the single most destructive hour of anti-gay propaganda in our nation’s history” (Besen 129).

Mediums outside of television portrayed homosexuals as monsters. In films such as Frankenstein and Dracula’s Daughter, the monster (or gay character) dies in the end, and those who side with the monster meet an untimely demise as well. For example, in the 1931 Universal Studios interpretation of Frankenstein, the only character who takes the monster in is burned to death in his home by enraged villagers. Contemporary Queer readings of these films point out these analogies to the views held by American society and greatly represented the heterosexual public’s views and fear of the GLBTQ community at the time (Morris).

“Friday, June 27, 1969 found the world mourning the death of [film and television star] Judy Garland. Some have wondered what effect the gay icon’s funeral, which took place in Manhattan, had on the events that would soon transpire.”
-Andrew Matzner. “Stonewall Riots.” GLBTQ: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
.

In the early morning of June 28, 1969 police began to raid the Stonewall Inn as they would any other gay bar, on any other night. But for some reason, as the police were forcing the bar patrons out onto the street, riots broke out. “As to who threw the first punch, accounts are contradictory. Some say it was a drag queen, while others claim it was a butch lesbian, who initially defied the police,” (Matzner 1). Violence spread throughout the crowd and hundreds of Greenwich Village residents began pouring into the streets to watch, join, and help. The violence escalated quickly as the GLBTQ people in the crowd began throwing coins, stones and bottles at the police. At one point during the riot, it was noted that lighter fluid was poured through the windows of the bar as members of the crowd tried to burn the bar to the ground, which at the time, had the police officers barricaded inside (Matzner 2).

Although this has been stated as being the biggest turning point for the GLBTQ community, little of the event was covered on television due to the state of the news at the time and for fear of the “Big 3” networks (CBS, NBC, and ABC) losing advertising and viewers.
However, post-Stonewall Riots television began changing drastically. In the early days of homosexuality being represented on the small screen, stereotypically gay characters were inserted into dramatic television shows (Tipton 1). Post-Stonewall life was much different in many aspects for the Gay Community. They were slowly becoming more tolerated and were molding into the rest of society. Gay characters started being represented on TV more and more, starting in the 1970s, albeit as extremely stereotypical.

“The weekend of June 27, 1969 was a turning point in the struggle for GLBTQ equality. Gay and lesbian activism certainly existed prior to this time, but the confrontations between police and demonstrators at the Stonewall Inn catalyzed the movement, and inspired gay men and lesbians to move their cause to entirely new heights, utilizing entirely new tactics. However, the birth of the Gay Pride Movement was not without controversy, and there continues to be debates about what actually occurred during the riots. Nevertheless, the Stonewall “Rebellion” indisputably holds an honored, if contentious, place in GLBTQ mythology and history” (Matzner 1).

After Stonewall, more and more gay characters started to appear in television shows: “From 1968 to 1974 homosexuals on television were recognizable in programs such as Kojak, M*A*S*H, Police Woman, and Hawaii Five-O because of their routine representation as limp-wristed, effeminate drag queens who walked with a swish and talked in a high-pitched voice” (Tipton 1).  Showing the first, and at that time, only gay characters on television as extremely stereotypical, definitely helped these stereotypes grow and stick with the LGBTQ community. However, this also has to e recognized a first step towards what we see on television today.

“The 16th annual Where We Are on TV report, released by GLAAD, found that 2.9 percent of actors appearing regularly on prime-time network drama and comedy series in the 2011-12 season will portray gay, lesbian or bisexual characters” (Moore 1). While 2.9 percent might not seem like much, it is certainly an increase since the early days of television, and even television around, and soon after Stonewall. Nineteen of the 650 recurring characters on television today are portrayed as homosexual (Moore 1). Small, but indeed still an increase. With GLBTQ characters appearing weekly on television series such as Glee and True Blood, many more members of the GLBTQ community will surely continue to feel less alone.

Works Cited

Besen, Wayne R. Anything but Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth. New York: Harrington Park, 2003. Print.

Matzner, Andrew. “Stonewall Riots.” GLTBQ: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture. Glbtq, Inc., 12 Oct. 2006. Web. 6 Nov. 2011.  <http://glbtq.com/social-sciences/stonewall_riots.html>

Moore, Frazier. “GLAAD: Gay Characters On Network TV Falls In 2011.” Huffington Post. AOL, Inc., 28 Sept. 2011. Web. 6 Nov. 2011. <http://huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/28/glaad-gay-characters-on-network-tv_n_984643.html>

Morris, Gary. Monsters and Drag Queens and Dykes — Oh My! (Queer Horror: Decoding Universal’s Monsters). <http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/23/universalhorror.php>

Poe, Edgar A. “Alone.” The Collected Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Modern Library, 1992. Print.

Tipton, Nathan G. “American Television, Drama.” GLBTQ: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture. Glbtq, Inc., 10 Jan. 2006. Web. 6 Nov. 2011. <http://glbtq.com/arts/am_tv_drama.html>

Tropiano, Stephen. The Prime Time Closet: a History of Gays and Lesbians on TV. New York, NY: Applause Theatre & Cinema, 2002. Print.

University of California – Davis. Facts About Homosexuality and Mental Health. <http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/rainbow/html/facts_mental_health.html>