Feature: How Modern Entertainment Builds and Destroys the Stereotypes of the LGBT Community
By Jonathan Fuchs, Copy Editor
For decades, movies, TV, music and other forms of media and entertainment have been more open than ever about portraying the LGBT community in a positive and accepting light. We’ve seen more and more LGBT characters in popular movies and TV shows and LGBT people are beginning to dominate the entertainment industry, inspiring people to be the truest versions of themselves.
At the same time of the rise of LGBT awareness in media, the stigma and stereotyping has only increased. Almost every gay person on TV is portrayed as a white, sassy, well-dressed, “feminine-acting” male with little personality and depth to their character, other than making witty comebacks and being the “gay best friend.” Also, every “out” celebrity is paraded in tabloids, making the fact that they’re queer seem abnormal and overdramatic.
As a member of the LGBT community, a huge reason I was afraid to come out and be open and true about who I am was because of the way the media portrayed queer people. I felt that, because I didn’t act like the popular stereotypes present in today’s entertainment, people would think I wasn’t being true to myself, which would eventually turn to me thinking the same exact thing.
As a kid (before I discovered my sexual orientation), I would see shows and movies on TV like Glee, Will & Grace, Brüno and Another Gay Movie that would both celebrate the community portrayed and use the stereotypes that have been stigmatizing them for so long. Although some could easily argue that these weren’t directed to offend but to challenge the viewer’s mindset on LGBT culture, to me, they always seemed like lowbrow generalizations that only helped the audience keep a simple idea of what the queer community is actually like. Those previous examples could be debated as satire or laughing “with” the audience instead of “at” them, but there are clearly examples of visual entertainment designed to only stir the pot like Gigli, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and Work It.
Over the past few years, shining a spotlight on the LGBT community in a real and inspiring way has been a goal for so many people in the entertainment industry, regardless of the format. For these people, telling stories without relying on low-hanging jokes is necessary in order to gain support from allies and to decrease the stigma on queer people that is extremely present in American culture.
With changing technology, and more modern resources like the Internet, today’s youth have different experiences compared to previous decades. This especially goes for LGBT youth, as the fight for equality has become a lot more successful over the past few years, with the legalization of same-sex marriage in America and more social awareness being made all over the world. With the fight still going on, now focused more on ending anti-discrimination laws and getting justice for victims of hate crimes, LGBT youth have a completely different perspective of the world, and new forms of music, movies and TV are helping to make these experiences more relatable and realistic, and ending harmful stereotypes to normalize LGBT culture in hetero-normative societies.
An example of these kinds of stereotype bashing is the rising musical genre of “queer rock,” which includes acts like Adult Mom, PWR BTTM and Told Slant. These acts are not only loved for their music, but also because they question stereotypes and the generalizing of the queer community through interesting lyrics and styles, which encourage self-expression and the exploring of one’s own sexual and gender identity.
Popular music has been taking a much bigger stand on LGBT awareness by taking inspiration from icons like Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and Boy George. Obvious examples include Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus who have both made songs about LGBT encouragement and created organizations like the Born This Way Foundation and the Happy Hippie Foundation, which both work to promote self-expression positivity and fight injustice to the community.
Recent movies like Blue is the Warmest Color, Keep the Lights On, Tangerine, Carol, Milk and Pride have all been praised for telling entertaining and non-dehumanizing stories of LGBT people going through struggles like relationships and fighting for equality without pandering to a certain audience or relying on jokes that would feel dehumanizing for certain audiences.
There is absolutely no denying that Hollywood has a problem with generalizing not just the LGBT community, but pretty much any non-white, non-male community. While those movies mentioned see LGBT people in a more realistic light, they are still considered independent or low-budget films that show less of an impact on the average American audience. But fortunately, mainstream Hollywood is beginning to accept more LGBT characters in more popular films. This year’s superhero film Deadpool paid close attention to the original comics by keeping the main character pansexual, but never pandering or making jokes about it, normalizing the idea of their orientation for a more unaware audience.
Even television, a format that has provided plenty of offensive stereotypes, is finding ways to show the community in a better way through shows like Gaycation, Looking and RuPaul’s Drag Race that explore the different sides within the LGBT community and encourage viewers to be as open-minded and original as possible.
Shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race that embrace LGBT stereotypes have been using them to help people outside of the community learn more about what it means to live as LGBT and give the community more of an identity and source of self-expression. This show specifically has used these stereotypes without generalizing and by giving each person on the show plenty of personality. It’s also a good way of showing their LGBT audience the pride and happiness one feels when they are as true to themselves as possible, and, even if you act like a stereotype, nothing matters as long as you express yourself with strength and happiness.
Modern media and entertainment has done so much good and bad for the LGBT community; while it’s been increasing the amounts of stereotypes and generalizing for so many years, it’s also been teaching people about what the culture is actually like all over the world. With more people within the community being a big part of the industry, more and more honest pieces can be made about what it’s like to be a part of such a lively and unique group.