Ever since I started watching Spartacus, I’ve made a pleasant -at least for me- discovery: I’ve realized that every TV show of the last years has at least one queer character. So I started wondering what is it that makes the directors/screenwriters create gay and lesbian characters for their shows.
Up until ten years ago, a gay character was something exceptional (just think of Jack from Dawson’s Creek) and the probability of them kissing their partner -and I’m talking about innocent kisses, with no tongue and never lasting more than a second and a half- was so tiny that, whenever it actually happened, you were left wondering if it was true or if you had just imagined it.
Then, all of a sudden, more and more TV shows started creating queer characters, or sometimes even “converting” characters that had been completely straight until the previous season. The most obvious one is Willow from Buffy: the vampire slayer: I used to watch that show when I was about thirteen years old, and her going lesbian like that had left me quite puzzled. How could she had been madly in love with Xander, then with Oz and then with Xander again (all of which were men, at least penis-wise) and then, all of a sudden, realize that she was actually attracted to women? I mean, she had been around many women before and they were all much more beautiful than Tara -after all, it doesn’t take a lot to be more beautiful than Tara-.
Nowadays TV shows that don’t have a gay character are extremely rare. I’m not complaining, obviously, mainly because I’m one of those people who used to watch a show just because there was a gay character in it, but I just don’t get this “gay fever” that seems to affect all screenwriters. Sometimes I almost feel like it is perceived as fashionable or, even worse, a sort of declaration of politically correctness (I’m talking about those shows where none of the main characters are gay, none of their friends are gay, but the brother’s cousin’s friend of the main character, who appears as if out of nowhere one every five hundred episodes, is. He or she will just smirk at the camera as if they were saying “Hey, don’t worry, the screenwriters aren’t homophobes: I’m here!”).
I’ll say it again, I love gay characters, I just hate characters that are only gay.
Let me explain. There are some characters -like Kevin from Brothers and Sisters, Calvin from Greek, Barca from Spartacus– that have specific characteristics that have nothing to do with their sexual orientation. Just like his brothers and sisters Kevin lives his sappy story lines alongside with incestuous family dramas, Calvin is ambitious and a very loyal friend, Barca is an insufferable bastard who dies in an undignified way while trying to gain his freedom. They all have love stories with people of their own gender of course, and it’s often the part that we like the most about them, but if we took off those moves and their tight and flashy clothes (I’m clearly not talking about Barca, because he doesn’t have any moves and he walks around almost completely naked, except for that tiny piece of cloth barely covering his private parts) we’d still be left with something. Kevin’s stories, Calvin’s ambition, Barca’s freedom.
There are some characters on the other hand, that are remembered for nothing except for the fact that they were gay. I’m talking about Jack from Dawson’s Creek, Alex from The OC, Teddy from 90210 the new generation. There only purpose is being gay, representing a world that is still seen as “different”. This is the whole point. If straight people perceived homosexuals as an integrated part of society they wouldn’t feel the need to put a sort of “gay representative” in every TV show.
Some say that gay characters help heterosexuals to accept homosexuality. I personally believe that a gay character that has nothing else to say provokes the opposite reaction. Very often TV show characters are sorted in a category: the jock, the bitch, the girl next door, the best friend, the nerd, the gay guy. There’s no one in the straight category though (well, almost everybody is). The only consequence of this process is that being gay doesn’t come across as something normal, and while the straight guy will be a pain because he’s a serial cheater or he picks his nose, the gay guy will be annoying because he’s gay, period.
The funny thing though, is that in the gay show -yes, I’m talking about Queer as Folk– the few straight characters are obnoxiously stereotypical: the faithful friend, the arrogant bully, the caring mother, the dumb father.
However, things are generally getting better with time and lately the gay characters on TV have stopped being just gay and have started being other things, too. What irritates me, though, is that TV critics keep writing pretentious articles full of exclamation marks whenever a new queer character comes around. Sometimes I feel like between the lines we could almost read a thousand of bewildered oh my gods. I don’t know how it works in the rest of the world, but in Italy we still live in this prehistorical time.
I hope that some day people will sit in front of the TV without noticing the sexual orientation of this or that character and that they will root for them regardless of the person they are trying to win over. I hope that the screenwriters will stop creating gay characters only because they fear that, if they won’t, the queer community will stop watching their show and will start needling voodoo dolls of them. And most of all I hope that in the future there will be more shows like Spartacus on TV, where a macho asshole that is stinky and courageous, faces bravely other men who are just as bad, stinky and courageous and that you could never tell he’s gay except for his kissing and making love to his man several times right there, in front of the camera, with no shame. I watched those scenes along with my father -conservative- and my brother -a teen who believes that the Saint Graal lies between his girlfriend’s thighs- and, guess what, they didn’t say a thing, they didn’t look away and they didn’t make any stupid jokes. I don’t think their behavior had anything to do with my being there, but mostly with the fact that Barca was a really good character who was fighting for his freedom, and they respected him. Straight or not.