Celebrating 52 years on the air, CBS’s daytime soap As the World Turns broke ground a few years ago with the relationship between Luke (Van Hansis) and Noah (Jake Silbermann), the first time gay characters were allowed to be anything but bit players in the background. Slowly but surely, the Luke+Noah romance blossomed, and this year the pair were finally allowed to KISS ON SCREEN! But that’s it. While they’ve smooched and hugged some more, the cameras never followed them to the bedroom until just this month, which is status quo for straight couples on the show. Which means World has pushed the envelope more than any other show, but consciously refuses to actually tear the thing open. Either way, GLAAD awarded the show with a Media Award, which “recognize and honor media for their fair, accurate, and inclusive representation of the LGBT community and the issues that affect their lives.” In fact, it’s the second year in a row the soap won. But are they being rewarded for showcasing a gay couple in love, while forcing them to keep the closet door only partially open?
When the characters debuted in all their glorious gaydom, it was obvious they weren’t allowed to kiss — a glaring omission to folks like us, but a way not to send the show’s conservative viewers complaining to the FCC. Now that the “kissing” barrier has been broken, fans are calling for more. Yes, that type of “more.”
Only recently did the two consummate their relationship, which is either a positive image of gay men (who always sleep with each other after the first half-date, right?) or an intentional move not to portray Luke and Noah (or “Nuke,” as fans call ’em) as realistic lovers.
It’s not that World is uncomfortable with that territory (they regularly show men and women between the sheets in PG scenes), but they are when it comes to man-on-man plotlines. Because showing Luke and Noah passionately stripping each others’ clothes off SUGGESTS THEY’RE GOING TO HAVE SEX, which means penis and butts and EWWWW!!
As The World Turns‘ producers at Procter & Gamble Productions acknowledged the fine line they’re walking, notes the LA Times‘ The Envelope blog. Spokeswoman Jeannie Tharrington “conceded last year that the conservative portrayal of Luke and Noah’s love life was due in part to ‘some of the feedback that we’ve gotten.’ Part of that feedback was the threat of a boycott against Procter & Gamble products led by the right-wing political group American Family Assn. of Tupelo, Miss., which denounced the show’s portrayal of homosexuality as ‘repulsive’ and ‘offensive.'”
But GLAAD president Neil Giuliano says they’re giving the show an award not merely to get the stars to attend its awards gala, but because “our job is to reward and recognize when there’s a fair and accurate portrayal of gay life in media. Are they always going to be perfect? No. But we do have an obligation to recognize them and thank people when they do move the needle. We’ve got to balance that with our frustration that it’s not as much progress as we want. … GLAAD has very much a carrot and stick approach, fighting defamation and working in media advocacy. The awards program is the time we recognize people for being fair, accurate and inclusive. It’s not the time we bring out the stick and raise our anti-defamation fists in the air about things people are not doing as well as they should.”
Not good enough, argues The Envelope‘s Tom O’Neil. “Giuliano is missing the point of protests against his awards. As the World Turns didn’t provide a ‘fair and accurate portrayal’ of gay romance in 2007 and 2008 — not unless we believe that gay people don’t kiss and have sex like the heterosexual couples we see engaged in steamy trysts on TV soap operas every day.” (Technically, the time frame of eligibility where ATWT won its GLAAD Media Awards was both during the “kiss” ban and the “intimacy” ban.)
O’Neil has been down this road before. After 2008’s Media Awards, he called on GLAAD to rescind its award to ATWT, making an identical argument then: “It’s an outrage that an organization devoted to battling gay discrimination in the media would honor a TV show that blatantly and notoriously discriminates against gay romance.”
TV Guide Canada‘s Nelson Branco is in agreement. And more so: Why is ATWT being awarded when there’s another show at least equally deserving, with an actual gay actor, positively portraying gay men? “The big story, however, is the oh-so-glaring omission of General Hospital: Night Shift, a critically acclaimed soap opera which featured burgeoning gay couple Eric and Kyle on their soap. The SOAPnet series even hired out gay actor Chad Allen to portray the role of Eric. When was the last time that has ever happened in this industry?”