Media Matters: What television and movies say about LGBT Teens and their progression to adulthood.
To start I want to take a look at the class assumption that was the inspiration for the title of this project.
Media Matters: Popular culture is not just a form of entertainment. The media play a critical role in teaching us about the world. Film, television, music, the Internet, advertising, fashion and other forms of popular/digital culture shape the daily lives of all Americans whether we celebrate or resist their influence. We must learn to see the things we take most for granted, to analyze and interpret the media around us in order to understand how these things contribute to how we think about what is “normal,” “natural,” and “good.” In this class, we will take the media seriously as an educating force.
This was the starting point for this project because it is important to acknowledge and analysis those things that shape and form they way we think. Christensen in "Unpacking the myths that bind us," talks about the assumptions we hold and where we get them from. In the trainings I ran for Youth Pride Inc. I frequently heard folks say things like, "Well I don't know any gay people, but I've seen them on TV." I think Christensen would have the same reaction I did, one not of surprise but of disappointment and sadness. These persons take what they see on TV and assume it to be the reality. We all know what happens when one assumes!
Let's look at some of the media texts - primarily in TV and Movies - around LGBT Teenagers.
Here is a trailer for the 1999 movie Boys Don't Cry.
I picked this video for the project because it is a better portrayal of the entire movie as opposed to the official trailer.
Boys Don't Cry, was the first movie I ever saw about a transgender individual. It did not give me the courage I needed to come out. There are other films out there. I recommend the documentary TransGeneration . Here is a quick clip to give you an idea of what it's about.
This is a great mini-series documentary that follows the lives of four trans identified college students.
Another classic LGBT Teen flick is But I'm A Cheerleader. One of the things that is great about this movie is it deals with the issue of perceived sexual orientation and the failure of "ex-gay" programs. "You know it's kind of like homosexuals anonymous"
One of my favorite movies is Latter Days It is the story of a young Morman man who is gay - but can't tell anyone or even admit it. He moves next door to a gay man - and I'll let your imagination do the rest. The story does have a tragic end, but it shows the problem that many LGBT individuals have with religion. It is a story about what happens when shame and guilt are allowed to overcome a person's life and they are denied for who they are.
I could go on, there are so many great films that show the positive and not so positive realities of LGBT life. A great place to check out is LOGO. LOGO is a station owned by MTV that focused on LGBT content. One thing that you may notice, is that for the most part you'll never seen these on main stream television. This is where Leslie Grinner comes into play. In a tongue-in-cheeck sort of way I only put one word down for how Grinner and SCWAMP apply: "DUH!" As we learned from SCWAMP (and paying attention to society in general) there are certain identities that are valued above others. Straightness is one of them. The reason why much of this is never shown on mainstream television is that homosexuality is not something that is valued in our society. To think back to Christensen and the class assumption, media matters because it is portraying myths of invisibility for LGBT individuals. Remembering the Glee episodes we watched earlier in the semester, there are mixed messages in that. Violence, rejection, acceptance, openness. I think it does give a better picture of the complicated experiences of LGBT teenagers - and LGBT individuals in general - than most TV images out there.
Raby's discourses can also be seen here. The violence and self destructive behavior of LGBT teens plays right into the storm. There are hundreds of statistics out there that ultimately say the same thing: that LGBT teenagers are more likely than there heterosexual peers to engage in at-risk behavior. Becoming is also clearly seen not only in the coming out experiences of the characters, but in the coming out process of those around them. Think of the parents in Latter Days and in But I'm A Cheerleader.
These aren't the only images of LGBT folks in the media. There is a very dramatic shift in the images of LGBT teenagers and that of LGBT adults.
There is the hit showtime series Queer as Folk.
Now this trailer is all well and good - it's Showtime getting ready for a new show. But this is a little more what the show is all about.
This is the intro for the show circa seasons 4-5. It shows that this show is definitely about sex! There is a lot of anonymous sex, drug use, etc. It deals with family, coming out, AIDS, and many other issues that effect the LGBT community.
There is the classic Ellen coming out episode.
Ellen faced a lot of backlash in real life for this, but her experience overall on the show was nothing compared to some of the images of LGBT teens.
Then there is Will & Grace. Some praise the show for having openly gay characters, but for my most part Will is normalized to be as straight as possible - while still being gay. Jack - is the joke, the stereotypical image of a gay man. Here's a clip of the show that shows some of the best "gay" moments.
Again, I could go on, but you are probably sick of reading this by now.
I want to go back to Christensen. It is very important to unpack the myths that bind us. I think Queer as Folk does that. It shows the stereotypical images, but also tackles some very challenging issues and forces the audience to look differently at the lives of the characters. This is something that the mainstream Will & Grace could never do.
As times change the images are beginning to change. There are more positive images, mixed in with the classic negative ones, in mainstream television and movies today. There is hope things are changing. To see the next wave, the deconstruction of myth, the further acceptance of LGBT folks in society all we need to do is look to Glee. A mainstream show, that has demonstrated hardship, struggle, and always has a good love story.