LGBT viewers want a more realistic portrayal of gays on television

British lesbian, gay and bisexual television viewers said in a recent survey that they wanted a more realistic portrayal of gays on British Broadcasting Corporation-owned  television.

In a study taken by the BBC, viewers said that they wanted to see more images of lesbians and bisexuals as well as alternatives to the stereotypes of gay men shown on the network.

Participants in the survey were divided, with about 37 percent saying the portrayal of homosexuality was “honest, fair and reflected real life” whereas 25 percent disagreed, claiming that the corporation relied too heavily on stereotypes.

The study also showed that a large percentage of heterosexual viewers felt uncomfortable with certain gay content, specifically images of “emotional and physical intimacy” between same-sex characters.

This information could be interpreted in two different ways. Either the audience was disappointed by the lack of realism shown in same-sex couples or they were not used to seeing same-sex couples in any intimate situation whatsoever.

However, it’s safe to say that if the stance on homosexuality is similar between Britain and the United States, then most likely the latter of the two options is true.

In media depictions, lesbians are generally shown as overly sexualized and not taken seriously, while gay men are often shown as effeminate or weak with little depth beyond the occasional quirky comment. Bisexuals and transgendered people are almost completely disregarded in the media, as they were not even part of the survey.

A gay equality charity criticized the BBC for its lack of a realistic portrayal of gays on television. It stated that throughout the 39 hours of television examined on BBC One, only about 44 seconds showed a positive and realistic portrayal of gays. 

This observation seems dramatic, but not unbelievable. Note that the 44 seconds was not the entire length of time that gay characters were shown, but when they were shown in a positive light. Between the drugs, promiscuity and ignorance portrayed by gay characters on television, it’s a wonder that even 44 seconds could be seen as positive.

Queer as Folk, which premiered in 1999 and focused on the lives of three gay men, was one of the original positive and realistic portrayals of gays presented on television. Other shows that followed featuring gay characters often reduced the depth of the characters to comic relief.

Many people are not comfortable seeing openly gay people at all, much less in intimate or thought-provoking situations. Gays and lesbians represent the unknown, and with that there is uneasiness in not knowing what to expect. That does not mean that a particular group should be disregarded or made one-dimensional because of another person’s apprehension. That is what remote controls were made for.

It’s impossible to please everyone. Television shows will always represent certain people negatively to appeal to the audience’s comfort with the negative actions associated with that group. However, this does not mean that these false representations should be accepted, because as soon as they are, they will stop being inaccurate depictions and will become stereotypes.

Published Oct. 19, 2010 in “The Signal”


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