SquarePants is not the only victim of right-wing hysteria
over queer content on TV. And children are not the
only ones these moralistas are determined to protect.
Conservative groups and their federal allies are
scaring the networks away from anything that might be deemed
indecent at Bible camp. Things that were permissible
in prime time a year or two ago are now verboten.
I'm not just talking about glimpses of female
flesh. The big chill is taking a toll on our very visibility.
Back in 2000 there were 16 comedy series with
regular or recurring gay or lesbian characters. Now
there are only eight, according to the Gay and Lesbian
Alliance Against Defamation. We're faring better in
dramas, thanks to crime shows. The new series
Eyes breaks the mold just by having a black gay
detective, but usually in this genre we're the
victim or the perp. We can be secretaries at the precinct
house, but not cops. We do get to strut our stuff in
reality shows, but everyone knows queers can think
fast and swallow living things. And don't tell me
it's progressive to show gay decorators or body
groomers. Even fundamentalists are willing to trust
sodomites with their hair.
The exception to this pattern is cable, where we
still appear as fully drawn human beings. But these
shows reach only a fraction of the audience that
watches the broadcast networks. In the TV mainstream
we're less likely to be shown leading ordinary
lives than we were a few years ago (and viewers of
American Idol have reason to believe the
closet is back). In short, we're being quietly shoved
to the fringes of entertainment--and not just on television.
A flood of queer-themed indie movies is heading
our way. But these films will open small in just a few
cities and then go to video. When it comes to
big-budget films, the studios seem to be growing skittish.
Last year 12 features had significant or supporting
queer characters. This year, so far, there's
only Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee's tale
of queer cowboys. It remains to be seen how candid this film
will be--or whether it will earn enough to
impress studio heads. That won't be easy if the
movie can't play in states where the religious
reign supreme. Some theaters in those places won't
show IMAX documentaries that mention evolution;
imagine how they'll react to homos on the
When I was a kid
interracial kissing was rare in a Hollywood film because
theaters in the South wouldn't show it. The bigots
decided what the rest of us could see. That may happen
again where gays and lesbians are concerned. And
don't take the freedom of alternative media for
granted. Conservatives in Congress are talking about
subjecting cable TV to the same indecency regs that
govern broadcast networks. The mere threat may be
enough to get that industry to fold.
If you can afford it, you can build a media
world around pay cable, satellite radio, and the new
MTV cable network Logo (assuming it's available
in your area). So why does this matter? Because in America
entertainment has a real impact on social status. The
acceptability of interracial romance in movies
coincided with the rise of racial equality. Films with
same-sex kissing were part of the climate that influenced
the Supreme Court's 2003 sodomy decision.
If gay culture becomes marginalized, the
backlash will affect our prestige in other ways. For
example, it might be more difficult to start GLBT
programs at universities. And if it becomes risky to show us
in anything but the most nonthreatening situations, it
will be even harder to have a frank discussion of
issues that involve our sexuality. Plenty of straight
people would like us to amuse and fuss over them while we
keep our lives to ourselves. That's service, not liberation.
Representation is reality. That's why
GLAAD's work is so important and why our
visibility is such an issue for the Right.