I run my mouth about a lot of things, most notably, television. And most people look at me like I have a dick growing out of my head (which is an expression somewhere between disgust and complete fascination, with a twinge of jealousy) when I tell them that I want/expect more from my TV. If you don’t believe by now that television has a unique and unwavering power to influence lives and ideas, you have some serious denial issues. Those issues aside, my question is: if the people who make television understand this, and they most certainly do, how else can you explain Oprah, can’t they use that power for the forces of good rather than evil?
Basically, television gives us enough substance to keep us from whining about minorities and sexism and classism and all those other things disenfranchised grad students and undersexed activists love to talk about, and fills the rest of the half hour with messages that give that substance the big ole middle finger. The two shows (among many) that represent this theory for me are Sex and the City and Will & Grace. Both shows offer notions of a progressive social attitude or at least a less traditional (stereotypical) televisual representation toward both femininity and sexuality on the surface. That’s generally enough to keep 14 year old girls and their parents feeling good about watching “a show that promotes a strong sense of femininity and independence.” But anyone who has seen even one episode of SATC understands what it’s about: fucking and shopping. Yes, the show has four principle characters who are strong independent women, and who together embody a move away from typical domestic and subservient representations… but then what? Lots of fucking and shopping, reducing any feminist initiative into little more than the plot of House Bunny. Young girls growing up with SATC rarely learn that feminism is about equality, not sex. SATC takes the battle for equality and makes it a fuck contest. Forget equal pay and a move away from ingrained patriarchal social constructs, we just want to bang dudes. That’ll teach ‘em.
W&G has a similar position in the battle for sexual equality. “Look at us! Look at us! We have two openly gay men on network television! Give us awards! The fight is over!” It reminds me of this Onion article that ran once the series ended (series-finale-of-will-grace-ends-eightyear-truce-b,1971) but it also feeds right back into my theory for once you get past the fact that Will and Jack are gay, you realize that the show offers very little in the way of validating a homosexual lifestyle as a “normal” American way of life. The show simply provides the masses with a digestible spoonful of homosexuality, not looking to bridge any sort of gap of tolerance. W&G basically states, if you’re going to be gay you’d better be as flamboyant and cock hungry as Jack or we better not be able to tell by looking at you. As I’ve said in many a lecture, I’m not saying that the public is clamoring for as much hardcore gay sex as they can swallow (pun) on Must See TV, but the example of a centered, humanized homosexual would be nice.
To all of you who are quick to argue that it’s not TV’s job to represent anyone properly or help shape our cultural consciousness… shut the fuck up. It’s a cop out. And even if it isn’t their responsibility, does that mean they can’t make an effort to do it? There are countless things in my life that aren’t my responsibility, but I do them anyway, to make the world a better place. Like writing this blog. I don’t have to drop knowledge on you at such an alarming rate, but I do, because I care. And maybe that’s the problem.