Target Audience: Those who are interested in how media has influenced the LGBT community. Essay Question: How has the media influenced the LGBT community and society’s view on the LGBT community? Thesis: One main contributing factor that has impacted our society’s view on gay marriage is how they have been portrayed on the screen, by celebrities and in the media. Rationale: My original paper was supposed to be about weddings and social media but I found that to be too broad and extremely difficult to research. After a couple days of thinking I decided to narrow that topic even more. I decided on how the media has effected society’s opinion on homosexuality because I thought it was interesting to see how much the mass media can affect our views on something so controversial. Strengths and Problems: Argument: Some may argue that the media’s influence is not a good thing because a lot of people are still against homosexuals but I believe it is something that we cannot avoid. My argument is stronger in this final draft, but may still be confusing. Evidence: I spent a lot of time trying to research this topic because this is something I’ve never thought about before this paper so it is very unfamiliar to me. Once I started researching though it was apparent how much TV has influenced me and my views on homosexuality, which can be seen in my introductory paragraph. I was so surprised to find out about the term, contact hypothesis. Before this paper, I knew the definition but wasn’t sure if there was a term for it. Organizational: I definitely tried to make this paper flow more smoothly. Writing the transition were a little difficult though. I still feel like my conclusion is very weak, I struggled for a long time but could not come up with something that would wrap up the essay better. Style: I’m not sure what to describe my style as. I just hope the readers will be able to relate. Revisions and Discoveries: I added more about Ellen DeGeneres, and I also added a paragraph about the film, Valentine’s Day. I took out the paragraph about adopting children because I realized that there wasn’t much correlation with what the media has done. Questions: Am I using the terms of gays, lesbians, homosexuals and LGBT correctly? Which evidence stood out the most?
English Autumn 2013
Media and Homosexuality
What do we typical think of when we hear the word gay or lesbian? Is it a flamboyant male or a tomboy female? Many years ago this may have been the case and to some it still may be. But when I hear the word gay or lesbian I automatically think about my favorite show, Grey’s Anatomy and the lesbian couple who are attractive and nothing like tomboys. Homosexuality is one of the most controversial topics in our society but in the past fifty years our opinions and dispositions have changed. One main contributing factor that has impacted our society’s view on gay marriage is how they have been portrayed on the screen, by celebrities and in the media. On January 11th, 1973 PBS released its first broadcast of, An American Family. The show was a twelve hour documentary series that followed the Loud family of Santa Barbra, California. An American family spanned out into a twelve week show following Bill and Pat Loud and their five children, Lance, Kevin, Grant, Delilah and Michele. This documentary challenged the traditional views of an American middle class family. Unlike shows such as, The Brady Bunch and Leave it to Beaver, which depicted a happy and perfect family, The American Family showed a family going through a divorce and their oldest son, Lance’s decision to tell his parents about his homosexuality (An American Family). Lance is widely believed to be the first gay person in American reality television and because of this it has made him a well-known, “gay icon” to the LGBT community. Lance went on to be a part of a popular band, “The Mumps” and died at the age of 50 in 2001 due to Hepatitis C and HIV. Lance was an inspiration and paved the way for homosexuals in the media. Since Lance Long’s premier on television many popular shows and movies have aired that have a lead or supporting actor/actress that is a homosexual or portrays a homosexual. Most of these portrayals have had a positive influence on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. As more LGBT celebrities came out about their sexual orientation the more acceptable it became for LGBT characters to appear on television. This is a great example of the Contact Hypothesis and the Parasocial Contact Hypothesis. The Contact Hypothesis can be accredited to Gordon W. Allport and states that “under appropriate conditions, interpersonal contact is one of the most effective ways to reduce prejudice between majority and minority group members.” The Parasocial Contact Hypothesis is similar but focuses on one sided relationships. For example, how an individual may know about a celebrity through mass medias but that celebrity does not know about the individual (Schiappa) In 2008 it was briefly legal for homosexuals to become married. Ellen DeGeneres and her partner of then four years, Portia de Rossi took this window of opportunity to become married. DeGeneres lied about her sexual orientation for many years. She made her television debut on The Tonight Show in 1986 and that same year the AIDS epidemic was at its high so a lot of homosexuals were not ready to reveal their sexual orientation due to the fear of being judged or out casted by society. Ten years later Ellen DeGeneres had the opportunity to have her own show, Ellen. Yet she still decided to keep her orientation a secret. In 1997 during the fourth season of her show, DeGeneres decided to come out about her sexual orientation in a sitcom where she is in the waiting room of an airport trying to tell a woman that she is attracted to her, instead she announces it to the whole audience by accidentally leaning over a microphone Ellen DeGeneres is undoubtedly a charming person. DeGeneres has won 49 out of 51 award nominations and won the hearts of many Americans. Just some of the great roles she has been a part of include hosting the Emmy Awards, judging season nine of American Idol and using her popularity to bring awareness to many humanitarian efforts. DeGeneres has supported over 35 different charities including Susan G. Komen for the Cure and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (Neary). Ellen DeGeneres is another perfect example of the Parasocial Contact Hypothesis. We know everything about her because of the media, and by seeing her positive influence on the world we have an inclination to like her. In 2008 the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) did a survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults 18 and older and found that two out of ten changed their views of homosexuals to a more positive view point in the past five years. Thirty four percent said their views were influenced by seeing a gay or lesbian character on television and twenty nine percent said it was by a gay or lesbian character on film (Watercutter). It’s amazing how society’s view of homosexuals can be changed from a negative to a positive understanding by the power of mass medias. Before the LGBT community was represented on television or films, society did not have an accurately representation of what gays and lesbians were like. Probably thinking that being a homosexual is unnatural and even a mental illness! Some people may still believe that but since being exposed to LGBT characters from shows like Friends (Carol and Susan), Grey’s Anatomy (Calliope and Arizona) and Will & Grace it has enabled society to be more welcoming or sympathetic towards the LGBT community and resulting in LGBT individuals feeling less like an outcast. The media has also helped promote the realization that homosexuality is very much a part of today’s culture in the United States. One of the longest running television shows with gay characters is Will & Grace. Over the eight year span on this television show (1998-2006) Will & Grace has earned sixteen Emmy Awards and eight-three nominations with an average of 17.3 million viewers a week at its peak in 2001. Will & Grace is a show that positively portrays two gay men with completely different personalities. Will Truman is a gay attorney whose orientation is not necessarily made clear at first to a viewer but his co-star Jack McFarland fits the stereotypical homosexual male. Jack is “flamboyantly gay, continually unemployed and a self-described actor/dancer/choreographer.” (Schiappa). By showing two different personalities of gay men it can help us better understand that yes, there are homosexual men that are flamboyant but a homosexual man can also take form in a charming and handsome man such as Will Truman. Another idea that was promoted or bought up in Will & Grace is when Will married his long time on-again off-again love affair, Vince and then two of them went on to raise a son together. This brings up the idea of same-sex marriage and how two homosexuals can raise a child together which many people still think is not appropriate but Will & Grace have brought attention to issues like these that the LGBT community have to face daily. Although there aren’t as many films that help bring awareness to the LGBT community there are usually small supporting actors that will portray a homosexual. One movie that comes to mind is, Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day follows intertwining couples and single people in Los Angeles and what they expect on this day of love. There is Holden Wilson who is portrayed by Bradly Cooper. Wilson is on the plane chatting up a character played by Julia Roberts. They start to talk about their lives and how Wilson is recently single. Up until the end of the movie not much is told about Wilson’s personal life. Then there is Sean Jackson, played by Eric Dane who is a top NFL player who is contemplating retiring from his career. During a press conference Jackson says that typically someone retires because they want to spend more time with their families but Jackson has not been able to do that because he is gay and has had to hide his sexual orientation for the sake of his career. The reporters are confused on whether or not Jackson will continue to play. He makes it clear that he is going to continue playing in the NLF but he did not want his goals of having a family postponed due to his previous fear of coming out. One of the ending scenes is Wilson surprising Jackson at his home. Throughout the entire movie I had no idea that either characters were homosexuals. Jackson and Wilson are both very handsome and their characters in the movies showed no signs of the stereotypical gay man. This shows that anyone can be gay and that the “stereotypical” homosexual individual is a stereotype that is slowly dying. By making the characters Wilson and Jackson relatable it helps us as a society have a more accurate representation that anyone around us can be a homosexual and not just the old stereotype of flamboyant men and tomboy females. The LGBT community has come a long way since the 1970’s and they are still fighting for equal rights. Because of the portrayals of gays and lesbians in the media and also the uprising of homosexual celebrities it has helped our society become more open minded and welcoming of the LGBT community when compared to the mindset of the society fifty years ago. Without the media’s influence, where would society be in regards to how much more open minded the world has become of homosexuals? Thanks to the media, it is almost like an approval for individuals that it really is okay to a homosexual and that there is no need to be ashamed. Because if so many people love Ellen, who seems like a normal individual other than the fact that she is a lesbian then there is no need to judge others on their sexual orientation.
"An American Family." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2013.
Gross, Larry P. Up from Invisibility: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Media in America. New York: Columbia UP, 2001. Print.
Neary, Lynn. "How Ellen DeGeneres Helped Change The Conversation About Gays." NPR. NPR, 25 Mar. 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.
Schiappa, Edward., Gregg, Peter. and Hewes, Dean. “Can One TV Show Make a Difference? Will & Grace and the Parasocial Contact Hypothesis.” Journal of Homosexuality 51.4 (2006): 15-37. Web. 10-20 Nov. 2009
Watercutter, Angela. "How Pop Culture Changed the Face of the Same-Sex Marriage Debate." Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 25 June 2013. Web. 31 Oct. 2013.