The Perpetuation of Gay Stereotypes on Screen

I had one of those impulses where I felt I needed to start watching a new series during a period of procrastination – American Horror Story came to mind, and I stumbled across an episode that had a gay couple, one of whom was portrayed by Zachary Quinto. This led me to think, does the media actively represent realistic homosexual characters, and what stereotypes can be disseminated from these characters? From the likes of Damian in Mean Girls to that of Cam and Mitchell in Modern Family, the picture is mixed.

Hollywood has perpetuated a stereotype in which every gay man likes shopping, dancing and being a ‘gay best friend’. This, however, is far from true, and a flawed generalisation that we are all aware of, but tell that to Hollywood. Yet, how can we be annoyed with our heterosexual counterparts mistaking these stereotypes for reality, when the vast majority of gays and characters in mainstream media conform to these?

Mean Girls is probably one of the most popular teen films of our time, where we get the phrase “too gay to function.” This phrase was honed in relation to Damian, a gay character who used words like “fierce”, “own it” and “fabulous” – alongside his camp demeanour and his overprotective nature over his pink shirt. What I find rather striking about Damian’s character is that he is the only character who was never given a love interest. The directors in essence seem to be happy to exploit gay stereotypes, but leave out the only human reality which makes a person gay – the attraction to the same sex. I feel that it may have altered the popularity of the film, yet, we may never know – considering 2004 was nearly ten years ago. I find it rather ironic that Damian is “too gay to function” when he never gets that chance to be explicitly gay and maybe pursue his dream in finding that hunk.

Glee is another culprit in the exploitation of gay stereotypes, through Kurt’s high singing voice, effeminate nature and his immaculate sense of style. Unlike Damian, at least he was given a boyfriend during the progression of the story line, which has not altered the ratings of the show. Community can join this club through scenes where a drag queen and some glitter can turn even the lowliest community college cafeteria into the best gay club in Colorado. The “reality” show The Only Way Is Essex is not exempt from stereotype exploitation either as the first series of the show provided us with the character Harry, whose main portrayal is as a camp stylist in a shockingly pink beauty salon. Even though we are never told he is gay, the creators seem to use the stereotypical characteristics as a short cut.

There are a thousand gay stereotypes that can be exploited on TV that would feel fresh, why not make these boys older, hairy bears? Punks who cannot walk comfortably because of their piercings in their urethras? Maybe have these characters as not white middle-class men, and gives us a more realistic view into the gay world? Of course, we can look back and pick out progressive diamonds in the rough, such as Hanif Kureishi’s My Beautiful Laundrette, and Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing, but these are the exceptions to the rule. These all reflect more depth of character than our current shows on TV. These different dynamics can give an insight to the makings of the gay world – by further showing the way in which various gay men think. A perfect example of this can be from the creators of Will and Grace, where Will Truman was made to be a powerful attorney; or Modern Family in which Mitchell – even though taking on a few feminine characteristics – shows a different dynamic from what is normally seen on screen.

Back to American Horror Story. I could not help but be offended when the show dragged out Zachary Quinto as a cross between Perez Hilton and the wicked witch of Desperate Housewives – Bree van de Kamp. He ties a jumper around his shoulders and decorates his house with such intensity, that you would say he is a flaming homosexual. I would not say that I am offended as a gay man, just as someone who watches way too much TV and expects themes to be exploited in a manner that gives a sense of insight, along with it being well-written. I get Quinto’s jock-like partner as a mild respite until the latter screams that his little “friend” is a “power bottom”, all but pausing to look at the camera and say “Yeah, we went there.” The show, especially this episode can be better enjoyed if the pair could be a typical non-stereotypical couple that appears not to have read the Gay for Dummies handbook.

Yes, there are a vast majority of gay men out there who fit into the stereotypes on show neatly, whether they are camp, fashion savvy, or just fabulous. There are gay men though, who play rugby, enjoy a spot of football now and then, and finally just one of those mates who likes to chug down a pint of beer at the pub. These men are what should be shown a lot more in our current media, scriptwriters who make characters that are supposed to be as realistic as possible need to stop taking the easy route, and become more proactive in building characters.

Ultimately, the media, movies and music is what forms our current perceptions of reality – especially the reality of homosexuality – in which it is more than just an orientation, but a human reality. Scriptwriters and media are our first line in opening people’s minds, instead of perpetuating the otherwise exploitative stereotypes.

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