Considering I’ve been watching the television show Will & Grace since it first aired in 1998, I thought that this paper would be a no-brainer. It’s about two gay men and their incredibly annoying yet lovable straight female friends; like I said, it’s just oozing politics. However, I believe this show is much deeper than just some other gay show (no pun intended). Masked by it moments of comedy and hilarious banter between characters, this show was thought to be “revolutionary” and “ground-breaking”. Most people thought that finally a television show on a major network portrayed openly gay characters in a new light.
A light that made them relatable, often even family-oriented, which was obviously not the party going, AIDS-stricken man that mid-90s culture was used to. Although I agree that the gay men were in fact portrayed in a new light, is this a correct or “positive” representation of gay men? Is there any good representation of gay men on television or are they all negative? My answer to this crucial question is simply there is neither a positive nor a negative representation of gay men and women on television and possibly never will be.
When first turning on this episode or any episode of Will & Grace, the viewer is usually greeted with a tiny harmonious theme yet no opening montage of video clips usually seen on primetime comedies. This makes the show automatically inviting and welcoming the viewer in as part of the show. This tactic is probably used to get the viewer, especially those watching for the first time, to immediately feel comfortable and wanting to watch more. There are no clips of Will kissing any other man which doesn’t implicate that this is a “gay” show at all.
In this particular episode we are met by the title characters that most of the time, appear to be dating. Is this on purpose? Considering Will is a gay man and Grace is his best friend, this might also be used as a tactic to get the viewer comfortable with the fact that Will is an openly gay man. It’s not apparent to a first time viewer that Will is actually gay until the character of Jack comes to the screen. These two characters in particular, are very fascinating in the way they are portrayed as two very different stereotypical men.
On one hand you have Will, a somewhat macho, metro-sexual lawyer, who can be presumed as a straight male if the viewer does not know the premise of the show. On the other hand, you have Jack, who is the quintessential gay male stereotype that is often times portrayed as neither normal nor likeable. However, Jack is made to be a very likeable “little-brother” type to Will, through, what I believe is social constructionism, which is we as humans constructing realities of what we believe is normal or natural (Vasquez, 4/9/10).
This belief that the characters of Will and Jack are socially constructed contributes to my argument that there is no correct representation of gay men in the mainstream media. These characters are just representations of what we believe certain gay men are. Is every gay man as macho as Will or as effeminate as Jack? The answer is more than likely no. To help further my argument, I turn to a totally different show that gives a completely opposite portrayal of gay men and their lifestyles.
The show Queer as Folk was a hit show on Showtime for five years and has gotten critical acclaim for its “honest” representation of gay men. The first episode gives you a run-down of what the entire series is going to be like as the character Justin, a 17 year-old kid, loses his virginity to Brian, 30 year-old advertising executive, with a major attitude problem (OAF, S1/EP1). Now is this an accurate portrayal of gay men? Not really, in my opinion. Although it may be an accurate depiction of the lives of two gay individuals its not a portrayal for all gay men to feel comfortable with.
Brian is shown as very promiscuous, which is a common gay stereotype. This, more than likely, comes from more social constructionism, but from a different social viewpoint than that of Will & Grace. Queer as Folk is constructed and distributed to be appealing to an audience made up of mostly gay males, whereas Will & Grace is constructed to appeal to a broader spectrum of people, which include housewives, working dads, and families sitting at the dinner table. This is most definitely an example of the term broadcasting vs. narrowcasting.
Will & Grace is most certainly an example of broadcasting, in which it works to attract the largest audience possible and is made to fit the presumed “majority” (Vasquez, 4/2/10). Queer as Folk narrowcasts, in which it is made to appeal to a certain group of people in which it builds and maintains a strong smaller marginalized audience group. Will & Grace give a reassuring image of gay individuals in a way that appeal to the middle class white family from the Midwest. I find it funny that Queer as Folk has the word queer in its title considering that term explains the way it is represented.
The word “queer” is historically a term used to threaten or put down but has recently been taken back by the gay community as a term of endearment (Vasquez 4/2/10). In an episode of this show, the character Brian uses the word, which means varied sexual tendencies that challenge sexual “normalcy”, as way to explain to the world that he is better that the “rich heteros”. Will & Grace actually does this as well but in a different context. The aforementioned characters, Will and Jack, are almost in a constant battle of “Homo-gay” vs. Hetero-gay”, meaning there is somewhat of an internal-struggle within their small community that consists of two gay men. This struggle gives you a sense that Will is the very manly gay male that everyone is astonished to know exists, and Jack, the stereotypical one, are constantly at odds.
This is isn’t exactly clear until Will states that he would never be one of Jack’s “play things” in the an episode that finds the two getting caught in bed together (W&G, S5/EP1). This could be argued as a representation of sexuality vs. exualities. Sexuality is a static, unchanging sexual identity which is represented by Jack because he never has a chance at not being considered gay. Sexualities is a term meaning multiple, changeable sexual identities which is portrayed by Will because of his potential to be either gay or straight (Vasquez, 4/9/10). In another episode, it is found out that Will has indeed slept with a woman before so this helps my argument that because of Will’s sexualities or his potential to go either way, he helps to bring in a broader audience.
Given the fact that this particular episode of Will & Grace discusses issues of gays being portrayed on television, all is not lost on the broadcast of this show. It’s discussion of such politics gives it somewhat of a narrowcasting feel but not to the degree of Queer as Folk. However, just because Queer as Folk is narrowed to fit a marginalized audience’s perspective it is not exactly a positive representation of sexualities in the media.
To be quite honest, I don’t think there will ever be a positive representation. Unless you are a macho, manly gay male like Brian or Will, or a 17 year-old looking to lose his virginity like Justin, you will never find an accurate portrayal in your own mind. These television programs show neither negative nor positive constructions of gays. It is our own socially constructed viewpoints that will make them appeal to us, thus making them “positive” in our minds.