Waymon Hudson

Why Do Realistic Representations of Gay Relationships in the Media Matter? Ask EW's Annie Barrett

Filed By Waymon Hudson | May 17, 2010 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Media
Tags: ABC, Annie Barret, Entertainment Weekly, homophobic behavior, kissing, media, Modern Family

The recent blogosphere buzzing about the lack of physical affection between ABC's Modern Family gay couple Cam and Mitchell has really underlined a huge problem with modern portrayals of LGBT families. My recent article ABC's Modern Family: How "Modern" Is Its Gay Couple? and the ensuing comments have been an interesting case study on how LGBT couples are viewed in our society.

cam-and-mitchell_320.jpgBut perhaps the most telling glimpse came from a write up about the Facebook movement to have Cam & Mitchell Kiss from Entertainment Weekly. Contributor to their "PopWatch" section Annie Barrett let this homophobic screed fly about the idea of two men kissing:

Look at Mitchell. He is so sick of having to merely hug that sad clown who just wunna dance at the ballet! Just let them make out in the middle of the airport already. Viewers LOVE that.

So gay men who kiss or give a peck on the cheek to their significant others are obviously "making out", while straight couples are just showing affection. The idea of those queeny, ballet-loving queers kissing are so gross to you and the audience, right Annie?

Herein lies the problem with neutering gay couples in the media. By making it seem not normal for same-sex families to show affection, it gives credence to people like Barrett.

We don't kiss, we "make out."

That peck on the cheek or the kiss between the heterosexual couple? That's "normal." Yet kissing by gays is a hypersexual, physical-only act of pure sex being "shoved down the throat" of America. People like Annie Barrett can't see a gay couple kiss without think SEX, while they can easily separate the idea of sex and affection in straight couples.

Many of the gay commenters on the articles about the Modern Family discussion have said they understand not kissing in an airport because they don't feel safe (a feeling I understand, having been the target of an anti-gay death threat in over the intercom at an airport while traveling with my husband). Why is that? Because we censor and neuter our representations of gay couples or make it a ratings-grabbing event. Playing into that allows people like Barrett and their small-minded attacks on gays to continue, or worse, leads to violence against gays that do dare to show affection in public. That leads to more fear.

When television and media wipes out normal, same-sex affection or makes it a "very special episode" to show a gay couple kissing, it further reinforces that it is outside the norm and allows the very attitude of "gay=gross" to perpetuate. If they simply showed a realistic representation of how real LGBT people interact, it would take away the sting of shock and go a long way in shaping cultural and societal ideas of how gay families interact.

This isn't about Modern Family. This is about people like Entertainment Weekly's Annie Barrett and their close-minded response to the idea of a gay couple kissing and the embracing of an unfair double standard in media representation.

That's why things like the discussion around Modern Family and events like The Great Global Kiss-in are so important. We can't fix a problem and move forward until we put it out in the open.

If we don't talk about it, the only voices out there are homophobic, heteronormative ones like Annie Barrett's. Those are the voices that young LGBT people will hear. And those voice only lead to more problems, not greater acceptance.

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It seems to me these kiss-in events are designed to attract exactly the kind of attention you're saying is bad: that when we kiss in public it's an event, it's something we do in your face to get attention.

Exactly what I DON'T want is for my affection for my boyfriend to be seen as a political act. That's what we're trying to end, isn't it? that self-consciousness?

That's one way to look at it, I suppose. but I think you're looking at the kiss-in in the wrong way. It's a protest against the type of double standard that says same-sex affection isn't "normal".

It's an attempt to show en masse that affection is just that- affection, regardless of the genders involved. Like any protest, it is "in your face". But you can't address a problem without defining it. It's using a simple act to make a political and cultural statement. I think it helps remove the self-consciousness that exists by normalizing that affection.

But besides all that, the real issue is finding a way to combat the views of homophobic people like Barrett. It's a multi-pronged approach- better representation in media, political movement and legislation, protests, etc.

Waymon, I understand the rationale behind the kiss-in. I was kind of there when it was invented, and I did a little protest kissing myself back in the day. I know it's a very satisfying form of protest.

But I'm saying that I think this type of street theatre might make exactly the opposite statement from the one we are trying to make. A kiss-in does not say that homos should be able to casually express affection toward each other in public the same as heteros. It says that when homos kiss in public, it's a big flashy event meant to provoke.

I'd like to suggest that the way to say that homos should be able to casually express affection toward each other in public the same as heteros might be for homos to casually express affection toward each other in public the same as heteros.

When television and media wipes out normal, same-sex affection or makes it a "very special episode" to show a gay couple kissing, it further reinforces that it is outside the norm and allows the very attitude of "gay=gross" to perpetuate. If they simply showed a realistic representation of how real LGBT people interact, it would take away the sting of shock and go a long way in shaping cultural and societal ideas of how gay families interact.

I think Waymon's quote there ties in with what Steven is saying. I agree wholeheartedly with Waymon that the "special episode" type of build up perpetuates the idea that our kisses are abnormal and only able to be tolerated in small doses.

That said, what Steven is saying makes sense too. A kiss in makes our love a "special event" too.

Obviously the answer is more casual PDA by queer couples, but with so many of us who don't feel safe showing public affection with our partners, how do we overcome that. I mean, if we all started with PDA now in a decade or so it'd be normalized; think: Harvey Milk's "come out!" call that's not nearly so radical anymore.

But how do we get over the hump? How do we go from kiss-in to carefree kisses?

To be honest, I included the Kiss-in in the post because I had just written about it and it was taking place that day. It was on my mind.

There is a point to be made that a kiss-in is doing a "very special gay kiss episode" in real life, I suppose. There is also an argument to be made that sometimes protests take the form of a large scale example of that which you are protesting. For example, the National Day of Silence (representing the silence of LGBT youth in schools) doesn't mean we are condoning kids being silent, but that we are showing a symbolic example of the injustice. Same thing with putting tape over a gay soldier's mouth against DADT. I view doing a kiss in in the same vein- a large scale example of what we are fighting against (in this case, the danger LGBT people face when showing affection in public).

Besides getting caught up in that, I think that media representation is a good place to start with normalizing same-sex affection. Shows like Brothers & Sisters handle things very matter-pf-factly. Shows like "Will & Grace" (for all it's faults) & Ellen's sitcom are often cited as contributing to a cultural shift in attitudes towards LGBT folks. That's why it's never a bad thing to push and ask for better representation, especially from shows that are our allies.

And yes, it is a matter of being s out as you can comfortably (and safely) be in your own life as well. That can get tricky, however, when reactions like Annie Barrett's persist.

How is that homophobic? You think she'd abstain from using the term "make out" if viewers were upset that a straight couple wouldn't just kiss already? This is Entertainment Weekly we're talking about. They oversexualize everything.

Yes, we do need more realistic gay couples in film and TV. That doesn't mean we need to have knee-jerk reactions to standard tabloid writing style.

I think that this part:

He is so sick of having to merely hug that sad clown who just wunna dance at the ballet!

is more than problematic as well. Playing the "sissy theater queen" card isn't a winning writing style, in my book.

Peter Lucas | May 18, 2010 7:13 AM

"I just wunna dance at the ballet" is a direct quote from Modern Family. Cameron was imitating Billy Elliot. Cameron is a sad clown on the show. He literally went to clown school. You're reading way too much into this. Looks to me like this brief post was written in support of the Facebook movement as a way of increasing awareness.

I agree that you're way off base in calling this out as homophobic. It's just not.

What's especially frustrating about this whole brouhaha is that now it's gonna be a huge fucking event when Cam and Mitchell do finally kiss. Whereas, if we'd just left the show alone -- a show which more than any other should be given the benefit of the doubt because it has from the beginning shown a realistic, complex, natural, and very funny gay couple -- it may have come naturally as their characters and their relationship is revealed by the writers over time.

I'm left wondering: We keep complaining about how we're so oppressed because straight people make such a big deal out of same-sex affection in public, but who is it making the big deal? Seriously folks, move your feet out of the way when you pull the trigger.

A quick hint: read other blog entries Barrett has done for PopWatch -- she kids. A lot. Once you've gotten a handle on her tone by reading a variety of her work, it becomes more obvious that she's kidding here.

Her sarcasm is directed not at the idea of the couple kissing, but at the push for them to kiss -- RIGHT. NOW. -- from other people.

Btw, "homophobic"? Isn't that a bit...melodramatic?

This is a quote from Joss Whedon on reaction from the network the first time Tara and Willow kissed in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

"Actually they called me and said, 'You know, we got a lot of gays here. On 'Dawson's' and this other...' and I'm like, 'I don't know, I don't watch those shows.' We're going to do this thing. It's true to character, it's what we're going to do. And then they were like, 'Do you have to have the kiss?' I was like, 'Okay, I'm packing up my office.' I never pulled that out, except that one time."

That was 2001. It's political because networks make it political. The episode in question didn't raise any eyebrows precisely because it was true to character and wasn't a silly faux-lesbian kiss ratings stunt. People really don't notice when it just happens in a moment you'd expect people to kiss.

I still think, faux lesbian or not, there's a hugely different standard between two women kissing and two men kissing (and I might add, a man kissing a trans women comes under the category of two men kissing... if not worse).

Waymon, I agree with you about how shameful it is same sex intimacy isn't routinely shown on tv and I agree with Steven that viewing it as a political act takes all the normality out of it and makes it into some outrageous incident instead of an expression of love. I remember coming from San Francisco in the 70s (where same sex couples routinely kissed and held hands... except in a few of the more very straight conservative parts of the city) and then moving to NYC in the 80s where I ONLY saw same sex couples being publicly affectionate in the West Village, gave me a sickening feeling in my stomach. I won't watch a show which has that same repressed culture. Enough already.

The difference is two women kissing on TV is usually exploitation. It's often timed to happen during sweeps. Whether two men or two women, ideally we want affection to be portrayed as something normal, not for "ooooh" or "ewww" effect.

If you've got a gay couple that's been together in a series, and it's not obviously not their first kiss, having them kiss in a situation where you'd expect a couple to kiss won't even register as unusual.

On the other hand, if the networks decide to run a crap load of promos about "the kiss," yeah, people are going to notice.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 18, 2010 1:45 AM

I understand example. I understand public protest too. However when we practice what we preach and have non sexual kissing with straight men we will have arrived. I have close male and female friends I hug and kiss at airports or restaurants or anywhere. Because 95% of the world is heterosexual probably 80% of my friends are too.

We hug and kiss at all meetings public and private because of the history of friendship and affection we have shared. Now, if we just make that the new normal it is great with me. I grew up in the Scottish German chill and have graduated to Italian warmth. I think we all should and there should be no association with PDA's and sexuality at all.

The show's creator, I read, said that it was such a great representation of a gay couple because they adopted and were raising a kid. The affection/sex isn't needed, apparently

He's gay himself, but then I've long since given up assuming that that means anything when it comes to politics. Yeah, the show is a "ratings grabbing event." That's the point of network TV. He could at least just say that instead of saying that the millenia-old stereotype of gay men as eunuchs is something we should be striving for.