In the local paper a couple mornings back, I ran across this article about the "scant" number of gay leads on network television. From the article:
Sixteen homosexual characters are depicted in network TV series scheduled for the 2005-06 season, a small increase over last year but still inadequate, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said Monday.
Out of 710 characters appearing on a regular or recurring basis on the six major broadcast networks in the new season, about 2 percent are gay, lesbian or bisexual, according to the group’s annual study.
“This is a shocking misrepresentation of reality and of the audience watching these programs,” Romine added in the report of the group’s findings.
From that, one might assume that GLAAD has some hard & fast numbers on the percentage of gays in America to demonstrate this "shocking" inadequacy. Ummm, no:
Although there is no definitive figure available for the U.S. gay and lesbian population, GLAAD believes the number is “certainly higher” than that represented on network television, spokesman Damon Romine said Monday.
What evidence do we have that it is "certainly higher"? How high is "certainly higher"? 5%? 10? And at what point does this discrepancy become of the non-shocking variety? What if the actual gay population is only 2%? Or better yet, what if its only 1%? Would GLAAD then start agitating for fewer gay leads on TV? The answer is, of course, no. And for a very simple reason - GLAAD isn't advocating for reality on TV. If it were, it would be pushing for:
Several HIV+ gay male characters. I can't say a majority because there is no total to compare it against, but the large majority of the total HIV cases in the US are found in gay and bisexual men. I can't think of a single recurring gay character on network television that is HIV+.
Several gay characters that are, or were, severely depressed and suicidal. Gays are far more likely to both attempt and complete suicide. Again, I can't think of a single recurring gay character that was depressed or admitted to ever having attempted suicide.
Drug use among some of the gay characters on television. The use of illegal drugs is particularly prevalent among the homosexual population - any gay drug addicts shown? Any overdoses? How about the connection between drug use and casual sex that contributes to the spread of AIDS among the gay population? None, none and none.
What GLAAD is pushing for is the candy-coated reality of "Cheers". Yes, I said "Cheers". Good old Norm, Woody, Sam, Diane - the whole gang. Arguably, several of the characters were alcoholics, yet none ever suffered from liver disease or other complications. None were ever shown being abusive towards their families, losing their jobs due to their drinking, or passing out in a gutter. No, they all drank to their hearts content but never got drunk and never experienced any harmful consequences for spending every night of their lives in a bar. Heck, there wasn't even any second-hand smoke!
Of course, the primary difference is that there weren't any political organizations pushing for more alcoholics on TV. The deleterious effects of alcoholism are well-known and well-publicized. The same cannot be said of the many negative consequences of being gay. I don't like putting it like that, but the bare, statistical facts show that being gay is likely to be hazardous to your health on many levels. Yet the prevalence of drug abuse, STD's, depression and suicide are not well known by the general population, in part because of the political activism of GLAAD and other like-minded organizations. Which puts their spin on the "shocking" TV numbers in a new light, because it is aimed at an active deception. They want more gay characters, but apart from the occassional pointed story about harassment and those darn judgmental Christians, they don't want the reality of their lives depicted. This deception is aimed at creating more widespread social acceptance and equal rights for things like marriage and legal protections.
By itself, any minority group pushing to gain broader acceptance so it will experience less prejudice is a good thing. Dispelling myths, breaking down stereotypes, creating greater awareness - all very good things. But what should we do if this drive is based on deception? What should we do if it is based on presenting a false reality to the general population? I, for one, think we, as Christians need to start advocating for more sex, drugs & violence on TV, not less. I think TV needs to be a much more startling depiction of reality than it currently is. Why can Rachel from "Friends" sleep with over 30 guys and never once catch anything, experience any serious depression, get pregnant, talk about birth control, or express any serious regrets about her activity? Why, on teen shows like "The OC" (never actually watched it, but the kids in my youth group talked about it), can sex, drugs and drinking be portrayed without any significant consequences? Why is adultery on shows like "Desperate Housewives" portrayed in a sympathetic light? What we need is a far better and more accurate portrayal of reality across the board - not just with gay characters, but every character that involves themself with immoral behavior. Because, quite frankly, we are involved in our own deception when we let those kinds of shows go by without comment. We deceive ourselves, we let our children be deceived, and we let those around us persist in this non-reality, when we let the lie live on.