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Guest Commentary: Lashing Out at ‘Eye’

Aug 11, 2003  •  Post A Comment

I have to take issue with TelevisionWeek’s assertions in the editorial “`Queer Eye’ Faces Up to a TV Taboo” (July 28).
The issue as I see it is not that the homosexual lifestyle is being opened up to a broader audience through the willingness of the major networks to expose the viewing public to a broader variety of contexts. The issue is that these contexts continue to be sophomoric contrivances of what the gay lifestyle is and perpetuate the stereotypes that prevent real progress toward the truly important issues that face us as a diverse society.
“Queer Eye” does no more to break down barriers against this stereotypical mind-set than Jimmie Walker did to break down racial barriers with his “Dyn-o-mite!” portrayal of African Americans.
Your editorial correctly states that without advocating lifestyle, television should reflect the diversity and richness of all legitimate groups in America. I couldn’t agree more.
But programs like “Queer Eye” will not lead to tolerance, but more likely to off-color water-cooler jokes about behavior we find entertaining as long as we don’t have to address the real problems associated with it. Do programs like “Big Brother” and “The Bachelor” lead to a better understanding of young adults or relationships?
Let’s face it, there is no ground being broken in this arena, and why not? Because it won’t sell. Sure, we have the “7th Heavens” and the occasional Disney movie that try and depict a heterosexually oriented “normal” life in America. But even those examples can’t survive without the occasional episode of “abnormal” behavior to juice the audience.
There are no shows depicting the true challenges facing gays and lesbians, because television tends to distort relationships of any kind to make it more “sexy” and salable to the general public. “Friends” would not make it through a single season without the innuendo tossed about in each and every episode.
One of the key issues facing gay men and women of all ages is how to change an entrenched attitude that prevents long-term partners from receiving benefits granted heterosexual mates, issues like insuring partners, visitation rights in hospitals and official governmental recognition of these long-term commitments. These issues are legitimate, reasonable concerns that shows like “Queer Eye” will never address or even advance debate.
NBC’s decision is not “free-wheeling,” as you suggest. It is a lemming-like display of the lack of creativity that has spawned the plethora of reality shows inundating the American public today-a trend that in the long term weakens the broadcast networks by providing their affiliates with fare that is locally unsalable and damaging to credibility in the communities we seek to serve.
This is not a “strategy worth emulating,” as your writer suggests, and does nothing but homogenize the broadcast programming landscape with another twist. It combines “reality” programming with the advancement of stereotypical behavior that reduces true, substantive discussion rather than promote it.
John Ganahl is a 32-year veteran of the television station business and has held station management positions for 15 years.