The Portrayal of Gays and Lesbians on TV,
and How Viewers React
There are several ways in which gays and lesbians are portrayed on television, many of which, arguably, create problems both for the programme maker and for the viewer. Homosexuality is still not fully accepted in today's society and traditional patriarchal portrayals of both men and women are still dominant, with few exceptions to such images. This is, perhaps, particularly true of men. Whilst patriarchal images of the weak, male-dominated woman remain, in many respects such limited views have begun to change within our society. However, men are still seen to be powerful, successful and rational in thinking. It is still uncommon for a man to appear emotional and sensitive. As a result of this homosexuality is rarely seen on network television and representations of sexuality have been severely restricted and largely confined to the cinema. When homosexuals do appear as characters on television programmes, they are usually depicted as negatively as "villains or victims of ridicule" (Gross 1989 cited in Craig 1992, p195). The portrayal of homosexual characters on television is complex in that gayness is, essentially, invisible. Therefore, it is difficult to identify gay or lesbian characters. As a consequence of this, programmes have adopted signs of gayness in order to portray characters' sexualities as quickly as possible. Such signs include certain gestures, clothing and even codes of language adopted in order to visualise an individual's homosexuality. This categorisation of homosexuals is in itself complex. All societies categorise as it enables us to make sense of our environment. However, it has been argued by Dyer (1993, p19) that whilst categorisation may be an activity common to all societies, the categorisation of sexuality is not. Gays and lesbians have been categorised negatively, often being seen to be morally degenerate. This has led to negative stereotypical portrayals of both gays and lesbians which have become so well recognised that certain homosexual organisations such as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD), have challenged such views, arguing that although they may perform homosexual acts, gays and lesbians are, in every other respect, the same as heterosexual people. However, whilst such categorisations of homosexuals on television may have furthered negative stereotypical views it is, although wrong, important to recognise the need for such categorisation when portraying homosexual characters due to a lack of physical differentiation from other characters. When homosexuals are portrayed on network television they are usually presented in a negative stereotypical way. They are rarely presented in a sympathetic manner, and even when this does occur plots tend to focus on heterosexual characters' acceptance of homosexuality. In many cases gay characters are completely defined by their "problem", and homosexuality is often constructed to appear morally wrong. Homosexuality on television is limited to a few plots or subjects such as AIDS and heterosexuals' attempts to come to terms with gayness. As a result of such portrayals, homosexuality is widely viewed as a negative symbol of masculine identity. As seen in the American programme Thirtysomething, homosexual characters are often portrayed and involved in stories concerning friendship with single, female characters whom we know to be heterosexual. In the case of this programme, a female character was associated with the arts and this portrayal merely furthers the stereotypical view that only those involved in the world of art form friendships with homosexuals. Stereotyping provides instant recognition for the viewer, and in this respect it is an important tool for programme makers who require viewers to draw upon commonly held impressions of certain groups of people within society in identifying various characters' lifestyles. Perhaps, an exception to this...
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