Queer TV characters grow into their own
USC’s decision to host a Visions and Voices panel Thursday on queer television just goes to show that more people today are discussing queer characters and their impact on television.
Over the past 50 years, television has taken large strides to portray more LGBTQ characters. But though queer television is no longer a niche topic, the question remains: Has television done its job in facilitating acceptance of gay culture?
Back in 1922, TV networks danced around homosexuality, as it was perceived to be a sensitive subject. In fact, the Hays Code required industry-internal review of all film scripts, primarily as an acceptable substitute for government censorship.
According to the panel, the first gay character on television came in 1959 in the form of Snagglepuss (then called Snaggletooth). Snagglepuss, who appeared on The Yogi Bear Show, took the form of a flamboyantly pink anthropomorphic mountain lion best known for his catchphrases like “Exit, stage left!” Still, no matter how pink or glitzy Snagglepuss was, his character’s sexual orientation or romantic preference was never explored on TV.
Boy, how times have changed.
Snagglepuss is no more. Not only are LGBTQ individuals portrayed on television without any pretenses, they have real, honest storylines — struggling with problems from the serious to the petty, along with searching for love, whether the person who holds their eyes is a man or a woman.
Modern television writers have clearly attempted to portray a different type of gay character: a character that is an individual with his or her own quirks that cannot be summed up in any one word or one stereotype.
Take Glee, for example. The show has had a massive effect on depicting homosexuality in today’s media. Glee broke ground by showing openly gay romances and taking on the subject of teen bullying. The romance between Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Blaine (Darren Criss) is not just about them being gay in today’s world. Instead, like any struggling relationship, they deal with problems such as monogamy and long-distance relationships.
The show does not only focus on the news that these kids are gay and are struggling with their sexuality — rather, on Glee, the news is that Kurt is in New York and Blaine is still in Lima, Ohio, and the once in-love couple is trying to overcome the impossible difficulties of being apart and dealing with romantic temptations.
At Thursday’s panel, executive producer of The New Normal Allison Adler said it best when she stated that, “there’s a stereotype in invoking the stereotype.” Adler’s show focuses on parenting from the point of a single mother surrogate, a cranky grandmother and two gay men who want to have a baby. The bottom line, Adler said, is that the show is about parenting — and parenting isn’t about sexuality. It’s when that concept does not have to be cleared up — that parenting is parenting no matter the sexuality of the parents — that society’s progress will truly be evident.
Still, though television seems to be progressing to a point where LGBTQ characters can be themselves without any preconceptions, we have not reached that point yet. One only needs to look as far as a controversial article in Newsweek where writer Ramin Setoodeh attacked gay actors that play straight characters to see that there are still misconceptions about queer characters.
Setoodeh wrote that these actors and actresses are simply not convincing as straight men, failing to realize that actors do not play a “sexual identity” but rather the gray lines that make up a character. As shows, such as Glee and The New Normal, have set out to prove, no one person is a simply flamboyant “girly man” or a simply athletic and tough “manly man.” Each character is an individual and thus consists of many distinct traits.
At the end of the day, individuals are all human and are just trying to find their path in life like everyone else. Their identities might not always be clear. But isn’t that what it’s all about? That there is no one stereotype?
Instead of trying to fit an artificial stereotype, these characters are simply real individuals dealing with real problems on a day-to-day basis.
We, as viewers, should embrace that. For now, though, there is something to be said for how television has come a long way since Snagglepuss.
Mollie Berg is a freshman majoring in communication. Her column “Mollie Tunes In” runs Mondays.