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Friday, March 17, 2017

Disney’s ‘Exclusively Gay Moment’

Written by  Brian George Hose

Last time I wrote about Ryan Murphy’s announcement that the upcoming season of “American Horror Story” will be based on the 2016 election. Murphy played it cool, not saying whether or not the season will feature an actor playing Trump. As luck, would have it, a few hours after I submitted my article Murphy said that there will not be a character based on Trump, much to my disappointment.

I have to wonder how all this played out. Let’s start at the beginning. FX, the network airing “American Horror Story,” is owned by Fox. Fox News has consistently been Trump’s biggest mainstream media supporter and it’s likely they don’t want to risk alienating their fan base and losing ratings. That doesn’t mean that “AHS” won’t create a fictional character that shares many of Trump’s qualities, though. Perhaps they’ve decided a literal representation would be too risky, too controversial. Maybe, to play it safe, they’ll give us a compromise – something close enough to be relevant but different enough to avoid headaches.

This, and the fact that Disney has announced their live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast will feature the studio’s first “exclusively gay moment,” has made me wonder about the power and importance of representation in media.

Growing up, I was always looking for LGBTQ role models in the few movies and TV shows that featured queer characters. I was almost always disappointed. It seemed that gay characters had a tragic quality about them. They or someone they cared about was dying of AIDS. Society didn’t understand or accept them. Even if the character was relatable, there seemed to be an aura of sadness around them, a sense that at any moment tragedy could strike.

I remember being grateful that people like me were becoming visible, but also conflicted because these representations weren’t always flattering. Which brings me back to Disney. I’ll try not to spoil anything about the “exclusively gay moment,” so I’ll just say it’s not especially significant or flattering. The trouble is that, like many LGBTQ characters in mainstream media, the gay story and characters are constructed of stereotypes that don’t fully represent our community.

In context, the gay moments and characters are presented as jokes. I love a good joke, but this kind of humor makes me squirm. Disney is reinforcing age old stereotypes that gay men are effeminate, perfectly groomed, and, because the gay moments are also jokes, not to be respected or taken seriously. It’s how I feel watching “Modern Family,” a popular show featuring a gay couple who themselves embody a number of stereotypes. Much of the humor involves the characters struggling with masculinity and basic competence. There are times when I’m almost offended and think to myself, That joke was written by a straight guy. Yes, it’s nice to be represented on mainstream TV, but is it a representation worth having?

Perhaps Disney, like FX, is presenting a compromise. The decision to leak the “exclusively gay moment” was deliberate, probably to increase interest in the upcoming movie and show how progressive Disney’s family entertainment is. In theory, this should please progressive families and the LGBTQ community, while keeping more conservative viewers happy with stereotypical characters that are easily dismissed as jokes. Again, is this representation worth having?

The real reason I’m writing about this is because it makes me question the progress our community has made. We’ve won the right to marry and, until recently, made a number of strides in the political arena. Should we be grateful that Disney has given us an “exclusively gay moment”? Is this a triumph, or are the stereotypes a backhanded compliment Disney hopes we won’t notice? If our characters and representation aren’t taken seriously, does that mean that our community isn’t either?

Regardless, this is an opportunity to talk about the representation and inclusion of our community in mainstream media. Let’s take advantage of it.

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