Student Issues

The portrayal of lgbt characters on television

Are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) characters realistically portrayed on television? Are today’s television shows a reflection of society? When discussing media representation of different groups, especially those we consider marginalised, stereotypes are often a primary concern. However, have we seen a shift in the media’s portrayal of LGBT characters in recent years or are stereotypes still rampant?

GLAAD found an increase in the percentage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters expected to appear on scripted prime-time broadcast television in the 2014-2015 television season, in their annual “Where We Are on TV” report.

The analysis found that a total of 3.9% of series regulars will be LGBT characters, within the 2014-2015 scripted prime-time broadcast television schedule. This figure increased 3.3% last year but it is still down from the record high of 4.4% in 2012. An additional 22 LGBT characters entered our televisions during 2014-2015, raising the total to 64.

Now, evidently yes, there is progress being made in terms of adding more LGBT characters into television shows, but are they realistic and a true image of society today?

Let’s take Modern Family to begin with. Cam and Mitchell.

Modern family is one of my favourite comedies. But lately I have started to question why I enjoy the show, and why it is so comedic. Furthermore, I began to analyse why I am laughing at these characters. The conclusion I have come to is rather worrying.

Yes, Modern Family was one of the first television shows to have an LGBT couple in the script, shown getting married and raising a child. However, I really struggle to find anything positive in the portrayal of this relationship. They certainly live up to the stereotypical gay couple.

The purpose of Modern Family is to depict the “modern family” in a positive light, but have the writers succeeded? No. By stereotyping Cam and Mitchell to the extent that they have through their dramatic storylines I believe that the writers have, in turn, done the exact opposite.

Okay, Modern Family is a comedy, each family in the show is over-exaggerated, I know. Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel that the only reason Cam and Mitchell’s relationship is comedic is because of the fact that they are gay. The writers seem to have exploited the stereotypical gay character simply for comedic effect.

Cam is about as camp as they come and that’s okay. The majority of the time we are laughing at Cam not because he made a witty one liner and deserves the praise, but because of the way he acts in and reacts to various situations due to the way the writers have portrayed him and that is definitely not okay.

Think about it, the reason most of us laugh at Cam more than Mitchell is because Cam is the more feminine gay. Cam becomes one of the comedic hubs of the show whenever he has his hissy fits and when he flails his hands about when he’s excited.

This leaves me with the question, is it still acceptable within the media to use the stereotypical gay character as someone to laugh at? Is this something that should be allowed to be laughed at?

Moving on to look at the other side of this topic. Although there are many television programmes out there with horrifically prevalent stereotypical characters such as Modern Family, there are also television shows that do a pretty decent job of portraying LGBT characters realistically.

Let’s take a look at Orange Is The New Black.

This Netflix original series follows the life of bisexual Piper Chapman along with many other LGBT women as they go about their day to day lives in prison. Based on a true story, Orange Is The New Black offers a character-focused plotline that portrays LGBT women as intricate and real individuals. The series has received a great amount of praise and its call for an end to discrimination, since it started in 2013.

Sexuality is a significant force in the social structure of Litchfield prison, and either because of that or in spite of that, Orange Is The New Black deals with some of the most thorough portrayals of LGBT women on television. Considering the initial scene of the series so openly shows Piper having sex with her ex-girlfriend Alex, from the outset, it’s obvious that lesbian relationships are accepted on the show, as raw and real as they come.

They haven’t sugar coated the relationships with stereotypical characters, or shied away from the sexual aspect of relationships, instead the LGBT women of Orange Is The New Black are shown as realistically as they could possibly be.

To draw this analysis to a close, I think it can be agreed upon that the portrayal of LGBT characters on television have come a long over the years. Yes, there are still shows like Modern Family that reek of stereotypes, but we are also seeing a breakthrough with more and more shows like Orange Is The New Black coming to head, the characters of Orphan Black are an example.

Just like the battle of marriage equality, things will not change overnight. There are still issues with the portrayal of LGBT characters on television, but that will and is changing, slowly but surely. We just have to sit back and let that change happen.