Children's Exposure to Homosexuality in Popular Culture

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Brittany Harper
Professor Steffler
ENG 1100 O
December 4, 2009
Children’s Exposure to Homosexuality in Popular Culture
The issue of homosexuality is a hot topic because of its religious, political, and social aspects that can be debated. The Family Research Report says "around 2-3% of men, and 2% of women, are homosexual or bisexual" (Gallup). Education on the topic is vital to promote acceptance and this can be done through formals or informal education. Formally, health care professionals or school sexual education classes can educate. But informally, parents, friends, and media are the most influential on people. In the media, homosexuality is portrayed in many ways and through many portals. In subtle ways it can be demonstrated with intimate friendships, inclusivity, hints, stereotypes, references, and physicality. The most easily influenced are children therefore they are the ones who need to be educated. Dennis says, “queering, locating undertows of same-sex desire between putatively heterosexual characters (Doty) is actually easier in programs targeted to children and adolescents than those targeted to adults” (739). Homosexual representations in popular culture on television positively and directly affect the acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transvestite individuals by younger generations. Inclusivity is important in children’s television programs to show viewers that heteronormativity is not the only option available in relationships. One show studied by Dennis uses a Nickelodeon show, Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide, to

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demonstrate how subtle changes in dialogue can send a more positive message. The show is made as a guide to help adolescents survive in middle school or high school and offers tips on how to be successful in aspects not directly related to academics. In one episode Ned says “when you like someone…” when he could have just as easily said “when you like a girl…”(Dennis 742). Changing the tip to include both sexes indicates that the character views a relationship to not be restrained to one sex or the other. While involving a more general target, the program also drops the notion that one sex must always be attracted to the opposite sex.

Lack of such inclusivity leads children to grow up ignorant to the options they have and shows them that homosexuality is unacceptable. When a child relies on parents or formal education for sexual education, homosexuality is often excluded as a topic to be discussed and may be uncomfortable with it later in life when exposure is guaranteed. The largest case of ignorance and avoidance of the subject seems to be in the case of adolescent males, while adolescent girls tend to get a more complete and positive understanding of homosexuality in society (Herek, Cogan, and Gillis).

Although it may be a difficult topic to discuss with children or allow children to be exposed to, depending on the individual’s beliefs or personal experience and knowledge, it is important that they give the children the information necessary to make decisions and judgments for themselves. This inclusivity positively affects children because they have the knowledge to accept individuals who are homosexual when they come in contact with them. In most cases in society, ignorance leads to fear, which is an unnecessary emotion when dealing with gay, lesbian, bisexual or transvestite people.

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Stereotypes, specifically defying stereotypes, are an effective tactic to promote acceptance in children’s television series. Because individuality is so important and applauded in our Western culture the defiance of social norms tends to be a good way to promote change or be noticed. Heteronormative ideals are no exception to this rule and therefore to promote acceptance and shift away from homophobic ideas in the media, homosexuality needs to be more prominent. A good example of how going against the norm is a successful way to get attention is the hit TV...
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