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Homosexuality in the Media

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It can be rare to see homosexuality portrayed on a media screen so when speaking about a homosexual identity, it has proven difficult to do so without some form of stereotype. However, it is this very stereotype that allows for easy identification with homosexuality in media. In television shows as well as movies, when a homosexual character is present, it is often seen in a stereotypical fashion. When one sees the stereotypes present in a certain character in a movie or on a television show, there is an idea of what to expect from the show, even if this idea is once again, an extension of the stereotype, simply because what was once invisible has been cast onto the visual screen.

The identity of the homosexual seems to stem from a stereotype itself, sometimes as if homosexuals have created their identities based on these stereotypes. When it comes to men, the ideal is effeminate and this will be the focus of the research. So, homosexual male identities are formed from stereotypes of femininity and are perhaps, not true identities at all. They have perhaps been formed by the need to no longer be invisible in media productions, and hence, the public have allowed the stereotype to take over the homosexual identity in order to make it easier to understand this very identity. Visual culture has made accepting the homosexual male easier than before. Before television and film, there was no real visual connection with homosexual traits that could be made in a public domain. Yet, there is an awareness of a struggle to make the visual more visible. This struggle has caused television networks to take notice and try and connect homosexuals with a primarily heterosexual audience.

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Sitcoms such as Will and Grace have opened the doors for a more accepting culture when it came to homosexuality. It can be observed that the homosexual identity has been over exaggerated in order for more people to take notice. Certainly, the character of Jack McFarland in Will and Grace showed a homosexual identity that was perhaps far more effeminate than most homosexuals would prefer to be. They may also not behave in as effeminate a manner, simply be attracted to other males. Jack is flamboyant in his actions and speech, as well as outrageous in behaviour. All this plays into the stereotyped gay man. These characteristics are not true of all homosexuals and this can be seen in title character Will. He is somewhat more masculine, mostly seen in the pitch of his voice and his slightly less effeminate mannerisms. This would likely seem the more honest portrayal of the homosexual, if only to show that homosexuals are just as masculine as men should they want to be. There does not need to be a feminized individual to portray homosexuality.

In much the same vein, The Simpsons presented audiences with the same flamboyance when it came to homosexuality as Jack did from Will and Grace . This is shown in the character of Mr. Smithers in the show who is a suppressed homosexual, although his sexual preference is never confirmed. It is simply hinted at and left to the audience’s imagination. However, this reluctance to confirm his sexuality may be humorous on a surface level, it plays into the fact that many audiences are simply not yet able to cope with a homosexual character in a popular show.As well, in an episode from Season 14 entitled "Three Gays of the Condo", Homer befriends a gay couple and moves in with them. All of a sudden, he becomes a more feminine person with the same characteristics attributed to a stereotypical homosexual. He transforms from his usual unhygienic self to a clean, well-groomed pillar of the homosexual community and while he is shown to have no qualms about sharing a small space with two homosexuals, his stereotypical transformation still shows the exaggeration of the gay man in visual media. The homosexual man has become visible to the fan base of The Simpsons but it has been made into a complete stereotype.

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The two gay men drink wine, buy expensive clothes and even cook well. This is the stereotype of the female being shown here, and the way in which this stereotype presents itself in these moments shows that while audiences are no longer subversive to seeing a homosexual on television, there are still certain stereotypes they wish to see in order to understand exactly what it is they are seeing. So, if a homosexual should appear on television, the only way to identify him is if he is effeminate. Connected to this is the fact that because there are rare occurrences of homosexuality on television, when they do become present, there is a flamboyancy that may not be necessary. It is simply the idea that because airtime for homosexuals is so little compared to heterosexuals, one must see as much as possible of the gay man in the short span of time. This makes for a broad stereotype, where flamboyancy and feminine traits are linked to homosexuals at all times.

The same problems with stereotype and homosexuality arise within the movie world as well. While independent films have more freedom about their content, mainstream media, which will be the focus, has an array of content issues simply because there is a budget that must be met and, in most circumstances, diversity is not the way to ensure that. Because of the content restrictions, there are rare moments of homosexuality shown in mainstream film. Once again, just as with television, homosexuality was a topic to fear and many movie makers would refrain from touching upon it as a main topic. This fear may seem unnecessary but then one must consider that homosexuality was a hidden characteristic for many years. Once the characteristic was easier to approach and display, films began to be made about homosexual relationships. However, in the same flamboyant parallel as television, the very invisibility of the homosexual in films causes movies to be made in a flamboyant manner. It seems to only be recognizable if there is some form of drama to connect with a homosexual identity within the film.

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The two main characters are frightful that their true identity will no longer be invisible to the public. However, when they are discovered by someone, the melodrama that ensues allows the audience to identify that there is a homosexual tendency in what they are viewing. As well, it solidifies the stereotype that gay men are surrounded by drama and stereotypical feminine outbursts of emotion. The film shows the reversal of gender roles. The danger is in becoming the woman of the relationship when one is a man and this causes great confusion for all involved. There is no boundary over which the audience can perfectly understand who the patriarch is in the relationship. This boundary seems very necessary in order to perfectly align each character with a certain idea of they may be. This once again gives the homosexual stereotype more power, wherein the gay man is looked upon as a confused, effeminate type of person. The gay man is also considered silly for his confusion over his sexuality. All this compounds the stereotype, not aiding society in overcoming them. So, films show the same melodrama and flamboyant tendencies that many television programs do when presenting homosexual ideas and characters. The stereotype is further empowered, sending gay men further into invisibility if they are not exaggeratedly effeminate.

Homosexuality is certainly not as common as heterosexuality. In fact, a 2003 consensus reports that only about 1% of Canadians aged 18 to 59 considered themselves homosexual (Statistics Canada). So, it seems quite obvious why homosexuality in media would become an issue for the approximately 99% who do not consider themselves homosexual. There is no way to identify themselves with the other simply because it seems people define themselves through their relationships with the opposite sex. A homosexual identity in film or television becomes harder to share commonalities with. Thus, homosexuality has become invisible to the public, wherein issues with gay men are often ignored simply because society feels endangered by them. The trouble comes when society allows for stereotypes to be made of homosexuals. The idea that they must be a certain way, otherwise they are not gay at all, shows that society will accept seeing homosexuality in media only of it presented in a way they best understand. However, this cannot always be the case but this is simply the way the public wants it. When it comes to mass media, what the public wants, the public gets.

By Mike Jones & David Gelb -- Instructors of Communication Culture and IT at University of Toronto

Sources

Homosexuality in the Media

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Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . factcouraud. (2007, May 22). Homosexuality in the Media. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: http://ocw.usu.edu/English/introduction-to-writing-academic-prose/homosexuality-in-the-media.html. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License