Wednesday, August 1, 2012

"TV Made Me Gay"

I totally disagree with the argument put forth by the author in this post: TV Made Me Gay (posted July 24). He writes in response to the group "One Million Moms" and their stand against the TV show "The New Normal," which apparently has gay characters. He mocks the idea that TV can have an effect on people- as if you'll suddenly have a weird sensation while watching an episode of "Glee" and immediately become gay.

Wait, really? His argument is "TV doesn't affect how people see the world"? Really?

The controversy over having gay characters on TV is a separate issue and I'm not going to get into that- I just want to challenge this line of reasoning.

Can you imagine someone saying "TV made me feel like my body's not good enough because I'm not skinny" and then someone else replies with this ridiculous narrative about how "oh I was watching 'The Little Mermaid' and then suddenly a weird sensation came over me and I suddenly believed I was fat and worthless"?

"Oh goodness! As a result of this 10-second clip, my views on what a female body should look like are completely changed!" Image source.
No. Everyone knows it doesn't work like that. But the criticism that media is negatively affecting women's self-image is valid, and this effect is generally agreed to be true, right?

I'm not saying this is the same thing as causing someone to become gay. I'm saying that the argument "TV doesn't affect people" is so wrong that I needed to say something and challenge it.

There are so many subtle messages in media that can have very negative effects. What about how minorities are rarely shown, or only in some stereotyped role? I remember one of my Asian-American friends telling me she never saw Asians in a certain role, and so she assumed she wouldn't be able to do that either. I thought it was silly when I heard her say that- but it's real. It may be subconscious; it may be things that, when you actually think about them, you realize they're totally ridiculous- but it still does affect how people see the world.

And I think this is a big deal. I wrote some about what movies say about romance in this post on "The Princess Bride". I wrote about how happy I was to not see the usual sexist tropes in this post on "Megamind". I wrote about my disagreement with the idea that the song "What Makes You Beautiful" is sexist. I wrote about the movie "Think Like A Man", one of the few movies starring black characters. I want to write more on this topic, because media is a HUGE influence on culture (and sometimes a very bad influence).

And what about the advocates of gay rights, who are happy to see TV shows with gay characters? Why do you think they're happy about it? Because it will affect the public's perception of being gay. You could make arguments about whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, but the fact is, it does affect how people think.

And currently, with most TV shows and movies not having any gay characters, it sends the message that gay people don't exist or matter. So this whole issue about "subtle messages in media" is very tricky and nuanced.

You can make arguments about whether it's good or bad to have gay people on TV shows. But one argument I will not accept is "it won't affect what people think about being gay."


  1. good post. If TV didn't affect what you thought, then why bother with advertising??? OMM drives me up the wall!

  2. I have to say I agree with you in that media affects real life. There's a documented phenomenon called Copycat Suicide when someone makes the choice to end his/her own life, and the media gives it attention. Others who see that go, "Hey, that's a great idea!" and follow in the first's footsteps.

    As far as media portrayal of homosexuality goes, I don't think we're going to get anywhere until we move on from making movies and TV shows with campy, stereotypical, flamboyantly gay characters. The biggest indicator, I think, is when we have a movie like the Matrix come out, replacing Trinity with a man, or another huge blockbuster where a character is, for lack of a better term, incidentally gay. What I mean by that is it's not a main focus of the plot, nor is it something that acts as one of the major driving forces, but it's just there, accepted for what it is. Until we hit that point, then we [referencing us gays] still going to have issues.

    1. Addendum- The technical name for the copycat phenomenon is called The Werther Effect

    2. Exactly. Media should reflect real life, rather than perpetuate stereotypes. (This is easier said than done.) I think it makes sense to have "incidentally gay" characters and not make a big deal out of it. I've noticed the same thing for interracial relationships- there's always a big deal made, and it's a driving force in the plot- it's not something that just happens to be the way it is.

  3. I have seen the trailers for the New Normal and the gay characters don't offend me because they are portrayed like my gay friends. Just like straight people. Are there over the top gay characters on TV? Yes there are...Jack on "Will and Grace " comes to mind. What offends me us the so-called "conservative " mother. The writers have obviously never met a conservative or they wouldn't have created such a cartoonish over the top character.

    1. Yeah, ideally media should reflect real life (and maybe inspire/encourage people) rather than perpetuate stereotypes.

  4. So, I don't agree with you that the original post's argument is that "TV doesn't affect how people see the world." I see his post as responding to the opinions and effects of OMM saying that TV shows like the New Normal will make kids gay- not about the TV programming itself. He's discussing how these backlashes and statements impact people's opinions, biases, and their reactions towards the LGBT community because they help foster an atmosphere of hate and fear. The Glee satirical narrative is just an enticer into the meat of the article about the societal impact of these debates even when the TV isn't turned on. As a ridiculous story about "becoming gay," it serves it's purpose- to keep you reading and the conversation going.

    1. So the writer is saying that whatever content is on TV is never going to be as "harmful" as the hate/controversy generated by groups like One Million Moms? Okay, I agree with that.

      But one could argue that if One Million Moms is right about TV shows being a bad influence, then they're doing the right thing by speaking out against it. I think they don't see themselves as manufacturing hate.

      (For what it's worth, I think you're right about their actions "fostering an atmosphere of hate and fear" against the LGBT community, even though they don't do it intentionally.)