After doing a little reading on Star Trek and teh Gay (two of my favorite things), I’ve been thinking a lot about how some of my favorite shows stack up in terms of queer representation.
But then I thought, why stop there?
Thus, I present to you, in no particular order, a report card on issues of sexuality, gender and race for some of my favorite shows.
[Spoiler warning: if you’re not up to date on these series, I might be revealing plot info you didn’t want revealed. You’ve been warned.]
[Okay. I realize this isn’t a single series. Deal with it.]
The sexuality grade was pretty clear-cut. The only instances of queer sexuality that come to my mind at all are… okay, actually only one instance: the episode of DS9 where alternate reality Kira and Dax appear to be lovers. As for gender, the franchise gets a lot of points for putting women in positions of power, but that’s balanced out considerably for the ridiculous perpetuation of binary gender roles. Seriously, by the 24th century, with all the races humans has discovered, the options are still just male and female? (There are some TNG exceptions to that, but by and large, even the most “alien” of species have clear gender division.) Race was similarly tricky. While non-white characters have always been a mainstay of bridge crews–the first interracial kiss on television was on TOS, after all–the franchise also has a nasty habit of casting black actors as aliens. Particularly Klingons. [Disclaimer: I haven’t yet seen any episodes of Enterprise.]
CSI [the original, not Miami or NY]
Although later seasons have gotten a bit better, early episodes of CSI tended to frame issues of queer sexuality as intertwined with deviance and crime. To be fair, the show did that with all kinds of “others,” including little people and gamers. But the emphasis was overwhelmingly on lurid queer acts and bodies. (I almost thought they redeemed themselves a bit with Lady Heather, but then she became a murder suspect too. Oops.) The total lack of queer representation among regular characters also bugs me, but maybe that’s just because I have a huge celebrity crush on Jorja Fox. As for gender, the show does a good job of presenting women in positions of power, but it also has a huge problem–like all crime shows I’ve seen–with playing up sexualized violence against women. Oh, and my roommate and I had a drinking game involving the number of times Willows came into work wearing something really inappropriate. As for race, along with Warrick there have been a number of regular detectives and other police officers who aren’t white, but the show also plays up a variety of non-white criminals, often the tired kinds of criminal stereotypes we’re used to seeing on TV.
I’m not one to give this show a “Hey, they make fun of everybody!” pass–I do think some of Kelly’s jokes have crossed the line, f’rinstance–but I do think most of the potentially really offensive humor comes from a pretty realistic place. That is, Michael Scott. His overwhelming ignorance and insensitivity are sadly plausible, and I do think the makeup of the office is a pretty good reflection of the current state of many businesses. So while I’d love to see more non-white upper management, it makes sense that the bulk of the black characters work in the warehouse instead. The homophobia Oscar has to deal with on a daily basis is, again, pretty realistic, and he also gets the chance to be Just A Guy In Accounting sometimes. The low marks for gender come from the fact that pretty much all of the female characters in any position of power have either disappeared (Karen, invisible branch manager) or self-destructed (Jan).
Friday Night Lights
I give the show props for sneaking in a lesbian mayor without making a huge deal of it, but it’s about time an episode approached that head-on. I also give FNL high marks for focusing pretty equally on the show’s female characters, particularly since early episodes made me think all the women were only going to be cheerleaders or girlfriends. (Many of them still are, but they’re giving main characters more depth as the series progresses. Tyra is a great example.) As for race… the show has at least discussed racism from the pilot episode onward, and I think they’ve done it in a pretty thoughtful way. But with a squad made up of so many black players, why have Smash and Santiago been the only non-white characters to receive any significant focus? With Smash continuing on only as a minor character, and Santiago apparently gone for good, I’m really hoping some new characters will fill that void.
This is another one that’s hard to grade. Is it so offensive it’s funny? Does self-consciously offensive humor get a pass? The sexuality grade wasn’t hard for me–while I thought there was potential in the Gretchen Thomas character, I’m getting a little tired of all the “Lemon must be gay! That’s why she can’t get a man!” jokes. Plus Devon Banks, while hilarious, is also a ridiculous gay caricature. As for gender, for every strong female character (Liz) there’s a stereotypical foil (Jenna). Not to mention the number of transphobic jokes that have made me cringe. What’s up with that? I think the show is slipping in some thoughtful conversations about race (see last episode, on calling Salma Hayek’s character “Puerto Rican”), but I also think Tracy’s character slips into easy stereotypes.
[I know this show has finished its run, but I had to include it.]
It’s a little sad that one of my favorite shows of all time has such a poor report card. Zero queer characters, despite the fact that Michel embodies so many gay stereotypes. Plenty of strong female characters, but they’re also all defined by their relationships to men. And can you count the number of regular non-white characters? I sure can: Michele, Lane, and Mrs. Kim. Oh, and Caesar. That’s a whopping four.