Saturday, 11 September 2010

How gay is 'too gay'?

When it comes to generating news headlines, nothing works quite like a 'furious debate'. It suggests heated arguments, the passionate exchange of views and an oppportunuty for the news organisation in question to demonstrate its objectivity and balance.

At least, that's how it's supposed to work. Unfortunately, in the search for easy content and stories that write themselves, the 'debate' is engineered after the fact. The news team invent a topic, choose and inflammatory angle, and then go looking for talking heads to either support their view or shoot it down.

Which is how CNN came to run a story this week entitled "Is The Surge of Gay Characters on TV Sending the Wrong Message?" Filled with ugly rhetoric that makes it sound as though America's moral foundations are being attacked by a well-groomed sleeper-cell of catty best friends, the story wasted no time engaging the services of Dan Gainor, VP of the Culture and Media Institute.

This conservative action group, which pompously pronounces its mission of 'Advancing Truth and Virtue in the Public Square', believes that mainstream TV is 'promoting the homosexual lifestyle' and that can only be "bad for American society". I've never understood the whole concept of promoting a 'gay lifestyle' as though it's referring to an exclusive retirement village on the Florida coast.

Gainor believes that TV shows are "normalising something which a lot of people don't want to see normalised". Which is the 'la la la I'm not listening' approach to a progressive society. His views are then followed by interview footage of a handsome gay couple with their twin kids, talking about the value of visibility and representation. But for some reason, known only to the editorial team, the clip has been artificially aged, giving the sinister impression that the film was found in the flooded basement of a serial killer.

CNN's 'objective position' is also hampered by the fact that its reporters keep pointing out that people like Chris Colfer and Jane Lynch are 'openly gay in real life' with a disbelieving tone that makes it sound like the two actors also regularly release flocks of doves form their sleeves.

The weakest element of the whole story, besides the fact that anyone saw fit to commission it in the first place, is that the whole point of the item is undermined by the final segment.

In its annual audit of the major TV networks, GLAAD assesses the treatment and representation of LGBT characters and personalities - this year finding that there was still a long way for many of the networks to go before they could consider themselves fully inclusive. And yet CNN references this study, even pointing out how several of the networks had scored pitiful ratings. So where on earth did they come up with the idea that there's been a surge of gay characters, when CBS currently doesn't have a single one on any of its shows.

I guess it's too much to hope that a little common sense and professional integrity might one day "invade" TV news coverage.

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