The visibility of LGBT characters on TV, particularly on sitcoms, is higher than ever — from Fox’s Glee and ABC’s Modern Family to the new comedies Partners on CBS and The New Normal on NBC. While these characters are being embraced by the mainstream, the gays are still on the fringes of soceity — if you’ve been following this presidential race thingy — leading to what GQ calls gaycism: “the wrongheaded idea that having gay characters gives you carte blanche to cut PC corners elsewhere.”
GQ cites a number of politically-incorrect jokes lobbed at women and racial minorities, such as the likening of vaginas to “tarantulas” on The New Normal or the “Taco Bell chihuahua Spanglish” of MF‘s Gloria, played by Emmy nominee/noted brickhouse Sofia Vergara. To wit, GLAAD’s recent Network Responsibility Index found that the majority of LGBT representations on TV are of white, gay men — white, gay men such as Ryan Murphy (Glee, The New Normal) and Michael Patrick King (Sex and the City, 2 Broke Girls).
King came under fire at a panel for 2 Broke Girls earlier this year for its frequent use of ethnic stereotypes before exclaiming out of exasperation, “I’m gay!” — meaning that as a minority, himself, he’s used to being on the other end of the punchline and therefore he’s not being malicious. According to GQ, though, he’s just another proponent of “lazy racial humor.” And there they have a point.
Racial humor has always been a part of American television because race has always been part of the American dialogue. Comedy is the great leveler in society and its greatest enemy is political correctness. Sitcoms like All in the Family, Maude and Soap were lambasted and lauded in their day for covering then-taboo subjects of racism, rape, abortions and homosexuality. But because they were coming from a comedic center, audiences were able to digest these subjects with a healthy dose of laughter.
Still, there’s a difference between being provocative and being offensive for the sake of being offensive and some jokes are just really cheap. Of course with a name like 2 Broke Girls it makes logistic sense they can’t afford better jokes than the “character Han Lee, the doll-sized, ‘so solly’ Asian diner owner, who’s such a hyperbolic Asian stereotype he’d karate chop Fu Manchu to death in a caricature-off.”
So do gay characters have so-called “carte blanche” to be more politically incorrect than straight characters? Yes and no. It’s a lot easier for one minority to joke with another minority about being a minority, but there’s a thin line writers have to walk between being funny and offensive. The best jokes are both. As for the worst, well, they can’t all be winners, but it’s important to remember that once you can laugh at yourself, no one else can laugh at you.
Except, of course, behind your back.