Gay TV and Straight America

Gay TV and Straight America

Gay TV and Straight America

Gay TV and Straight America


After decades of silence on the subject of homosexuality, television in the 1990s saw a striking increase in programming that incorporated and, in many cases, centered on gay material. In shows including Friends, Seinfeld, Party of Five, Homicide, Suddenly Susan, The Commish, Ellen, Will & Grace, and others, gay characters were introduced, references to homosexuality became commonplace, and issues of gay and lesbian relationships were explored, often in explicit detail.

In Gay TV and Straight America, Ron Becker draws on a wide range of political and cultural indicators to explain this sudden upsurge of gay material on prime-time network television. Bringing together analysis of relevant Supreme Court rulings, media coverage of gay rights battles, debates about multiculturalism, concerns over political correctness, and much more, Becker's assessment helps us understand how and why televised gayness was constructed by a specific culture of tastemakers during the decade.

On one hand the evidence points to network business strategies that embraced gay material as a valuable tool for targeting a quality audience of well-educated, upscale adults looking for something "edgy" to watch. But, Becker also argues that the increase of gay material in the public eye creates growing mainstream anxiety in reaction to the seemingly civil public conversation about equal rights.

In today's cultural climate where controversies rage over issues of gay marriage yet millions of viewers tune in weekly to programs like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, this book offers valuable insight to the complex condition of America's sexual politics.


I honestly have to say this is the first time in my life I've
understood the culture wars in the sense of being a guy who
lives in New York and being helpless about the ability to
control whatever political destiny occurs in my own area,
and I realized it's sort of their revenge for us controlling the
TV. … It's them saying we're not crazy about Will & Grace,
so here's what we're going to do about it.

—Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, November 3, 2004

THE DAY AFTER THE 2004 presidential election, a disillusioned Jon Stewart and his guest, New York Senator Charles Schumer, tried to figure out how George W. Bush could have won. Given the major issues dominating headlines at the time, the suggestion that a prime-time sitcom had helped put Bush over the top was both comically absurd and strikingly on the mark. For months, pundits had predicted that the election would hinge on the economy, homeland security, and the war in Iraq. In exit polls, however, a surprisingly large number of voters identified moral values as the issue they were most concerned about. According to post-election analysis, these so-called values voters were struggling, middle-class, middle-Americans, scared less by the chaos in the Middle East or by the employment vagaries of the global economy than by the supposed moral decline of American culture. Atop their list of threats were gays, lesbians, and the big-city politicians, activist judges, and liberal Hollywood elites working to destroy America's moral center. Trying to understand why voters whose economic and political interests were often ill-served by Bush's policies chose to reelect him, Stewart could only conclude: "It really seems like none of it trumped the idea of two dudes kissing."

Given the prominence of gay political and cultural visibility at the time, it isn't surprising that gay rights served as such a powerful wedge issue for Bush and the Republicans. During the summer of 2003, the politics of sexual identity seemed inescapable. That June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Texas's antigay sodomy law in a widely covered landmark decision heralded as the most important civil rights verdict in decades—one that might pave the way for gay marriage. With gay rights on everyone's minds, the divisive election of . . .

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