Monday, October 4, 2010

Does Embracing the Stereotype Help or Hurt?

Tonight on the Logo Network is the premiere of The A-List, Logo's answer to the "reality" phenomenon that is The Real Housewives series. The guys featured on the series are models, sometime actors, fashion designers, salon owners and pseudo-celebrity hangers-on, each one more famous for being in the public eye than anything else.

True confession time: I do not "get" the appeal of the Real Housewives programs or other similar shows, so clearly I am not the audience for The A-List. But watching the promotional trailer for this show, I can't help but wonder why the stars are all too happy to reinforce the stereotypes of gay men as preening, self-important, body- and status- and fashion-obsessed people.

Take Reiken Lemkuhl, for example. The former Air Force pilot was part of the first gay couple to win The Amazing Race—and by and large, they did so without falling into the typical bitchy ruts gay characters since them have. He has been an outspoken advocate against Don't Ask, Don't Tell and other equal rights issues. And while he may now be more famous for his dating partners than anything else, does he really feel reinforcing people's beliefs about all gay people will do good?

The entertainment world seems to have little problem creating "colorful" gay characters that are total caricatures—Jack on Will & Grace, Marc on Ugly Betty, any of the more outlandish fashion designers on Project Runway—but I feel they struggle with portraying "normal" gay people. There is nothing wrong with people who are flamboyant or colorful or bitchy, but is that the only face the gay community benefits from showing up on television or in the media?

As I posted last week, the gay community has recently been rocked by a large number of suicides of young gay people. Does the reinforcing of campy stereotypes make it harder for these young people to convince their friends and family that they may be different? Does it make acceptance harder?

I don't know the answer to those questions, but I know it's something we need to think about. We can ill afford to have people believe all gay people are like those on The A-List any more than the African-American community can afford the continued belief that all young Black men are thugs.

Sometimes the easy way out isn't the best way.

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