Imagine you could tap into an audience of billions at the click of a button? What would you tell them? On TV, heterosexuality is a coercive force on society. It’s what we know. It’s what we’re used to. Gay characters in TV weren’t even introduced until the 70’s (although they were still never in leading roles) and there was still of course an immense taboo around homosexuality at this point. In 2017 there was a record-breaking 6.4% of LGBTQ characters on tv. Understandably this may not seem like a lot, and even though this is ground-breaking for the LGBTQ community, there is still so much more room for a lot more representation. Heterosexuality has always been considered the ‘norm’ in society, but TV could take a huge part in changing and educating society’s view of gay people. There is no doubt that TV is already a great factor in today’s acceptance and awareness of homosexuality because of the vast amount of people TV can reach. Not only can it reach everyone – it should respect everyone too.
Although TV can impact positively on portrayal of gay people, sometimes it can do more harm than good. A lot of TV shows/movies have been recognized and received backlash for featuring homophobic jokes in them. Homophobic jokes may not affect you specifically but imagine hearing jokes repetitively and regularly on TV that ridicule who you are for ‘comedic’ effect. By using homophobic jokes in any TV show, it normalizes the idea that gay people should be made fun of and will only humor homophobes. Even though today it’s hopefully a minority of TV shows that still include harmful jokes, the goal should be to completely eliminate any jokes of a homophobic nature on TV in this zeitgeist.
One example of a controversial TV show that has a history of problematic jokes is: Friends. Friends is undeniably one of the most popular and successful shows of all time, but the lack of diversity in a TV show with 10 seasons is shocking. The main characters are six stereotypical straight white people. You’ve undoubtedly seen Friends, if you haven’t, then you’ve certainly heard of it. Although Friends is amusing and light-hearted, it includes countless debasing jokes towards the LGBTQ community. Although in the past there was no zeal to lay off homophobic jokes on TV as there is now, anyone but a straight white male has had an impertinent joke targeting them. The basis of most jokes is about the fact that Carol and Susan are lesbians. The only two lesbians in the entire show are portrayed as the enemies and are villainized in many different scenarios, for example, Ross and Susan have an ongoing feud throughout the series which is shown in scenes like when Susan wanted her surname included in Ross and Carols baby. This results in an extreme negative impact on portrayal of gay people and instead of inspiring acceptance and understanding it encourages harmful stereotypes and fueling hatred towards the LGBTQ+ community.
Another example of branding gays as villains is Disney. Although Disney has never had an openly gay character, all the villains in Disney are noticeably similar. Disney has received backlash after people came to the realization that a lot of villains in DIsney movies have the personality features of a stereotypical gay man. ‘Jafar’ from ‘Aladdin’, ‘Shere Khan’ from ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘King Candy’ from ‘Wreck it Ralph’. Even though it all might be a coincidence (or Disney subconsciously branding gay people as the villain), it doubtlessly shows features of a stereotypically gay man in a negative way.
Imagine the difference we could make if this generation could grow up with openly gay characters in kids TV shows. If we show children that being gay is okay it could put them at ease when questioning their sexuality. If children have a character they can relate to it can teach them they’re no different to anyone else and start to eliminate the idea that they should to be straight and if they’re anything but that they have to hide it.
Did you know that gay teenagers are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than a straight teenager? LGBT people are exposed to bullying and harassment from the day they come out. They’re made to think they should be ashamed of who they are because they won’t ‘fit in’ with their peers. The argument of ‘children won’t understand’ is completely invalid and is just shirking their role as a parent to teach their kids not everyone will be straight. Saying kids won’t understand love in all forms is saying you don’t want them to understand. If kids see homosexuality being displayed on their favorite TV shows they won’t question it or get ‘confused’. Kids knowing that girls kiss girls and boys kiss boys won’t turn them gay. More representation of other sexualities other than straight isn’t forcing a sexuality on anyone, from young ages society makes it seem unrealistic to be only friends with someone of the opposite sex, so why isn’t that classed as forcing a sexuality but having gay characters is? What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with aiming for a fairer and more equal world?
Thankfully there are some TV shows that do have a positive impact on their audience: Brooklyn Nine Nine. Brooklyn Nine Nine is a police comedy that is a remarkable example of a TV show that doesn’t need offensive jokes to be entertaining. It tackles current issues such as homophobia, sexism and racism, not to mention its wide range of diversity in the cast. The Captain is an openly gay married black man who has always been battling homophobia and racism in the workplace and shares his benign experiences with prejudices. Recently it showed one of their main characters come out to her homophobic parents as bisexual and showed their displeased reaction and the repercussions. By having storylines that viewers can relate to it helps people feel like they belong and more comfortable with who they are. Shows like this can open minds and educate the preconceptions of small minded people.
TV shows and movies should strive to stray from heteronormativity for the greater good. More representation means more acceptance and less prejudices. We need a change in TV and for that to happen we need more people to open their minds and take a step outside their comfort zone. The benefits that will begin to appear from increased representation are endless and will improve the lives of so many people.