When is Esquire like Homer Simpson? [Updated]

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Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.

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85 Responses

  1. Avatar Michelle says:

    I both read the review (I think Sully linked to it) and watched the first episode of the program. Tod’s comparison to SATC is apt. I found it moderately amusing. I’ll probably watch a couple more episodes to get a feel for where it’s going and to see if I develop an affinity for any of the characters. It seems like the kind of program that grows on you over time; kind of like Girls, which I found similarly “meh” at first and then grew to like.

    The review didn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with the actual show. I don’t know if the writer was trying to be too clever by half or if he can relate only to gay stereotypes, but he missed the mark. But yeah, the portrayal of gay characters on TV has come a long way from Will and Grace.Report

  2. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    People will be talking about it and women too?Report

  3. Avatar veronica dire says:

    Thing is, I’ve never watched SaTC, which turns out to be a minor social liability in some women’s spaces.

    (Although in my queer woman’s book circle no one seems to care.)

    I quite liked Queer as Folk when I watched it years ago. But then, I tried to watch it again recently and couldn’t get past the first season. Not that I didn’t like it. It is very well done. But I pretty much broke down in tears ’cause there are no shows like it for people like me.

    Maybe someday.

    The Esquire article was disgusting.Report

    • I like SATC only because it chronicles (a certain kind of) life in Manhattan from the time I lived there. But I could only stand one of the main characters (Miranda, I think? The lawyer), and found the others either ridiculous (Charlotte) or just plain horrible (the other two). I actually think all four are talented, and by all accounts Sarah Jessica Parker is a truly lovely human being in real life. Yet…. ugh. They were neither realistic nor likable.

      Plus Carrie is a terrible writer.Report

  4. Avatar j r says:

    Esquire has been thoroughly Maxim-ized for some time. Don’t get too worked up about it. It’s obvious trolling.Report

  5. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    Frankly, the show sounds boring.

    I forget, are you pro-Modern Familyor anti-Modern Family? The gay characters in modern family are quite stereotypical (mincing, conflicted, fascinated by choreography and showtunes, etc.), but then again, every character in modern family is quite stereotypical.Report

    • I give “Modern Family” a pass for three reasons, despite their cranking the gay characters’ flamboyance up to 11 all too often.

      1) They give them shades and attributes beyond the stereotypes. (Particularly Cam being both a clown, and a menacing-when-he-wants-to-be football type [who actually loves the game].)

      2) They give them sufficient material to be real human beings and display real emotions (particularly the episode when they drive for a possible adoption that falls through at the last minute).

      3) As you note, every character is written and acted a little bit over-the-top, and all over the excess seems affectionate. Cam’s hysterics are no more overdone than Phil’s bumbling ineptitude or Gloria’s Latin hot-bloodedness. So I give them a lot more leeway,Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Zazzy and I are big fans of MF and routinely watch it, especially now that it is on nearly every night on TBS. I agree that everyone is pretty intensely stereotyped*. But I always found Cam and Mitchell to be the “realest” of the couples. They have the most moments that feel honest, genuine, and sincere. They have the most moments where I watch and think, “Wow… that’s us.” I remember one scene in particular, where they invite their Asian pediatrician over and Lily says her first word: “Mama.” They are devastated in a way I probably can’t or won’t ever understand. But at the end of the show, they realize that Lily is mimicking a doll that says “Mama” and were not confused about who her parents were. They share this remarkable moment as the camera zooms out where Cam literally lifts Mitchell off the ground as they embrace. It was both well acted and conveyed more real emotion than most of the other parents on the show muster over multiple episodes.

        So, while I recognize that my perspective as a straight man is going to differ from those who more readily identify with their “target demographic”… as fathers, as husbands, I find them ‘real’ in a way that their counterparts are not.

        * I feel that Gloria tends to get the worst of this. She is the only Latina female on the show and thus isn’t “balanced” by another character the way all the other ones are. And it just seems like the cheap laughs they have at her expense are the cheapest.Report

      • When Cam and Mitchell bicker and snark, the show is both the most stereotypical and the funniest. Again, I don’t know whether to be offended or to give in to the dense-pack of sarcasm and wit, and I think that discomfort makes my giving in that much more heartfelt. I always wonder if the writers and actors go over the line from good-natured caricature to mockery.

        Mitchell being a lawyer has only been a significant issue in a plot once, and that was explicitly about whether Jay respected Mitchell’s profession and I’ve never had a problem with lawyer jokes anyway.

        Gloria’s Latina-ness and good-but-limited grasp of English is played up for laughs, but not to a point that I think is disrespectful. But she’s not the only Latin — her son Manny is Latino also.

        I think Manny’s character is the least realistic. As eager as a teenager might be to attain adulthood, maturity, sophistication, and confidence, and also to fit in with his peers and the rest of his new family, I’ve never known teens from other countries to so blithely reject their own origins even if they are anxious to conform. Both Gloria and her Colombian ex-husband Javier are very charismatic and clearly enjoy their native culture and Manny seems to not only love and respect but genuinely like both Gloria and Javier. So it seems especially odd to me that he would be so thoroughly Americanized notwithstanding that he has also come to also both love and like his thoroughly American stepfather Jay.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        The issue with Gloria and Cam and Mitch is that their primary quirk is their identity… Claire is uptight, Phil is whacky, Jay is distant… Gloria? Well, she’s Colombian. Cam/Mitchell? Gay. You never hear the other characters discussed in terms of race or sexual orientation. Astute viewers might see Jay as the prototypical red-blooded American male or Claire as the typical white suburban housewife, but they are never named as such.

        One reason I might see C&M as less offensive (besides identifying with other aspects of their identity) is that I don’t necessarily see ther snark as a “gay” thing. Being from the NYC area, snark is just what we do. But they seem to go out of their way to make Gloria a spicy Latina.

        Also, when I referrer to her as the only Latina, I meant female.

        I find all the kids (save for Hailey) to be unbelievable, with Manny probably most so. They’ve triedto explain it as being forced to grow up fast because of the abset dad, but the way it manifested is too cartoonish.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        I’m not latina, but my gut tells me they screw up with the Gloria character a lot. Neither am I (strictly speaking) a gay man, but I find C&M somewhat more tolerable. Since, after all, gays can be funny. I mean, we queers are allowed to be hilarious.

        It’s subtle. And I won’t try to give some list of rules or anything, ’cause it doesn’t work that way. But clearly there is a way to do “edgy” humor that works and a way that does not work. Of course, people want nice simple rules, partly because they want to do the right thing and wish to know what the right thing is — but I also sense that many people want a dodge. People want simple rules, so they can do shitty things and then point to the rules and say, “Nope! I’m not a bigot! See, didn’t break the rules.”

        Never mind who gets hurt. Never mind learning real empathy, doing hard work, having a real sense of what it is like to be relentlessly the punch line.

        But I like C&M. I wonder if the show has gay writers.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        As I said, some of the most tender moments involve C&M. And not in a “They’re big gay softies” way. In a “Wow… those are real human emotions” way. Perhaps it is the writing, perhaps it is the acting. I am also probably drawn to them because their situation most mirrors are own: new parents trying to figure out what they hell they’re doing. I tend to see them first as dads and second as husbands and third as “teh gays”.

        Zazzy and I often play the, “Which one are you” game with the various characters. More often than not, I’m Mitchell. But sometimes I’m Cam. And sometimes Phil or Jay and occasionally Gloria. I’m not sure I’m ever Claire. She’s often Claire and sometimes Mitchell and Gloria.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        And, of course, all that reflects my own personal lenses.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        I was introduced to Modern Family just this past season, and have seen some reruns from earlier seasons since then. The tightness of the writing and directing does set it apart from nearly all of its genre peers (and now, the emmy’s it have received are obvious to me), but I think what it has also singularly done, is give each character a subtle narrative arc. Subtle in that they’re still consistent from year to year but not so that their one note. This I feel is the key thing that prevents each character from entering the stereotype uncanny (and uncomfortable) valley. And has kept the show fresh plus, aside from ‘new baby’, has enabled it to eschew most mid-season sitcom tropes. (as far as I can tell, there are no recurring guest characters -which is a pleasant change).Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        ‘mid-season’ s/b ‘mid-series’.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        @kolohe

        There are a couple recurring guest characters… Gloria ex/Manny’s dad (played by Benjamin Bratt), Jay’s best friend Shorty (played by Chazz Palminteri), C&M’s “friend” Pepper (played by Nathan Lane), Didi, nutty ex-wife to Jay, mom to Claire and Mitchell (played by Shelley Long), and Frank, Phil’s doting dad (played by Fred Willard). All are used to flesh out their characters a bit more beyond their current families. And it doesn’t hurt that they are all strong actors playing roles well suited to them.

        You are dead on that we see the characters grow and shift ever so much to avoid the jokes becoming tired. As Russell notes, Cam’s emergence as the football coach shows another angle to his character that was unexpected given but not unbelievable; you can believe that was always there and just didn’t come out until it had to.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Thanks. The most recent episode had Palminteri with Jennifer Tilly (no slouch either) as his wife. I had seen high profile guest stars, I didn’t realize they brought some of the them back on a recurring basis. (I guess it’s to their credit that they don’t bring them back often enough for an irregular viewer to notice, which again, keeps their particular schticks fresh).

        It strongly contrasts with the 90s/oughts paradigm of taking a particular character’s quirk(s) and amping up over the second half or two-thirds of a series run. (Monica Geller-Bing, I’m looking at you). (because you’re beginning to do it again in the otherwise cromulent enough Cougartown)Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        As an aside, I think the thing that most bothers me about C&M is not so much the stereotype stuff, which like many people I believe is handled with sufficient grace. Instead, what bothers me is their relative desexualization.

        Which, okay, it is a mainstream TV show. I don’t expect Queer as Folk style sex scenes involving steamy showers and Gale Harold’s butt. But still, as far as I can recall there is never a suggestion that these men have sex at all. Which is rather unlike many of the other characters.

        To me this suggests one thing: straight America is ready to embrace safe, desexualized gays, with their well manicured lawns and 2.3 (adopted) kids, but gays who actually fuck each other is still too much.

        (Further evidence: the popularity of safe and asexual Tim Gunn.)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        @kolohe

        I knew I recognized Shorty’s wife but couldn’t place it! I’m not sure any of the listed guest stars have been on more than 4 or 5 episodes each.
        @veronica-dire
        I vaguely remember there being a top/bottom joke once, but I may be mixing it with something else.

        And now that I think of it, there was a weird episode where Phil accidently ended up on a “date” with a gay man, but the details are now escaping me. I remember the jokes being fairly sophomoric and far more “gay sex” innuendos than we ever see with C&M.

        More info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mistery_DateReport

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        @kazzy — I’m sure someone can think of that one time that so-and-so said such-and-such, but on the whole the characters are very desexualized, even more so (I think) than the teen girls on the show.

        I doubt this is an accident.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        On the one hand, they’re deliberately trying to petit bourgeois C&M up to the max extent possible, to swing the pendulum away from the Will & Grace/QaF/QEftSG era. On the other hand, given the explicit contrast with O’Neil & Vergara, you’re right.

        Nonetheless, the central conceit of Modern Family is the re-construction of the family sitcom, after years of de-construction kicked off by the (not-entirely-coincidental O’Neill staring) Married w/ Children. So in a way, I am not surprised they’re going back to the 50s in some way. Not as far as, for instance, having the bedroom contain two single beds separated by a nightstand, but not too far from it either.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        I saw two episodes featuring Kevin Hart as Phil’s much cooler best friend, but according to IMDB those are the only two he’s been on. A shame, because he was really funny.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        @veronica-dire

        My apologies. I entirely agree with you. The joke I recalled (which might not even have been that show) stood out precisely because it was an anomaly. Meanwhile, we have a scene where the Dunphy kids walk in on Claire and Phil (and there is a brief-but-long-enough shot to make clear what position they were in), Phil is constantly making sexual innuendos, and there are other scenes making their sexuality explicit. Jay and Gloria are constantly making sex jokes and, hey, they make a baby together. During the New Years Eve episode, when every couple wants to get away from their family and do something “fun”, C&P sneak off to skinny dip while C&M sneak off to… go to a bar.

        You’re dead on that they are desexualized. It’d work if all the characters were but they are clearly not. So we get sterile gays. Great point.Report

      • @kazzy and @veronica-dire I agree with the complaints that C&M are desexualized (similar to how Will was on “Will & Grace,” at least until I stopped watching after a season or two). That’s my biggest beef with them as a couple, actually. I can’t really see them as a couple who share any sexual chemistry. I think Eric Stonestreet does a really commendable job of making Cam seem like more than just a caricature of a gay man, and I think they come across as having genuine affection for each other, but I have a hard time imagining the two of them “clicking.”

        I did, however, totally buy their going to a gay bar to feel like they still have a nightlife in them in the episode where Phil and Claire go skinny-dipping. I could easily see myself doing the same thing, hoping to reassure myself that I’ve still got it.Report

  6. Avatar Anne says:

    Esquire has this update on the article apparently he was trying to be funny and failed miserably

    UPDATE: We apologize to anyone offended by our attempt at humor in this piece. It reflects one man’s viewing experience. He does not think all gay people are boring. Just this show, a little.Report

    • Avatar Russell Saunders in reply to Anne says:

      Yeah, the update was there when I first read the piece. Color me a deep shade of unimpressed. It’s like saying “Sorry you were offended by the gay jokes. Did I not make clear that they were jokes?” I could tell the guy was trying to be funny without the update’s help, thanks all the same Esquire. I neither thought he succeeded, nor did I find the premise of his jokes anything other than a concatenation of lazy stereotypes in the first place.Report

  7. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Here is a review written by one of my college roommates, who apparently is some sort of big deal writer now. The jerk. He’s gay, for what it’s worth:

    http://www.vanityfair.com/vf-hollywood/looking-is-gay-enough

    Reading Russ’s description, I thought, “Sounds like a gay SATC.” Reading Tod, it sounds like that isn’t too far off.Report

    • Avatar Russell Saunders in reply to Kazzy says:

      1) I had to stop reading halfway through because work, but I agree with most of what I’ve read thus far. I’m sure a depiction of my life, which I posit is as authentically gay as anyone else’s, would bore a viewing audience to tears, To suggest it is thus somehow “limited” is deeply insulting and presumptuous.

      2) I don’t generally care for J. Bryan Lowder. His posts on camp were ridiculous.

      3) Seems like your old roomie and I would get along swimmingly.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        You might! He and I were never that close… he was a friend of a friend really. For reasons I won’t go into publicly on the internet, he kept his circle of friends really tight. But when he’d come back from the drama department parties liquored up, he would have us pissing our pants laughing.

        If you are looking for another writer to follow, he’s more “arts and leisure” than “the gay writer”. ‘Looking’ appears to have just been an overlap between the professional and personal.

        Also, can we talk about this whole “because [noun]” thing? I saw an article wherein someone wrote about how we have to stop doing it. But I didn’t know we even started do it. Is it a young person thing? An old person thing? An internet thing? What the hell, people?!?!Report

      • Finished the article. Agreed with it entirely.

        I do the “because [noun]” thing from time to time for humorous effect, most recently in the “Downton” recap last week. I think it’s used as a way of gesturing toward an explanation without really explaining anything, and I used it to highlight the shoddy way the show’s writers had explained how a particular plot resolved itself.

        I use it rarely, but I’m gonna keep doing so! Why? Because.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Out of fairness to my former roommate, I should clarify and say that he had good reason to keep more to himself… especially when the alternative involved the likes of me.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        I never do it, because grammar.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        I guess someone who can be overly wordy (like myself) might be able to use it to good effect.Report

      • I’m sure a depiction of my life,…would bore a viewing audience to tears,

        Yeah, but what about your blogging?

        Also, I, too, have been wondering about the “because” + [noun] formulation. I actually think it’s a good shorthand for saying something that’s not really important but that you need to convey. If Russell had simply said he’d stopped reading, we’d be left to wonder why, at least for a sentence or two.

        And for some reason, “because of” + [noun], in addition to requiring the typing of an extra word and therefore wasting time, seems to me to say something different. When Russell says he stopped reading “because work,” I get the impression that things got very hectic, perhaps very quickly. If he had said “because of work,” I’d assume that he was reading on his break, and then saw that his break was over or that it was time for someone to come in for a check up or whatever.

        I have no idea if that reading is or ought to be shared by others.Report

      • Yeah, but what about your blogging?

        Golly, I sure hope not!Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        I love saying, “Because reasons,” and because — well, obvi!Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Heh… I didn’t mean to make my mini-tirade seem like an actual attack. It was mostly in jest. Especially because I read an article about how people should stop doing it before I knew people even started doing it. And then the doc did it. And I felt uniquely square. Do such conversations take place after 10pm? I’m in bed by 10pm.

        Growing up stinks.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        I love the Beatles because highwind.Report

  8. Avatar trizzlor says:

    The first sentence pretty much tells you all you need to know. Here’s Stingley’s take on the show’s title:

    HBO has a new show called Looking that’s about three gay guys in San Francisco who are single and looking to hook up. Get it?

    And here’s a comment on the show’s title from the AV Club:

    The word “looking” is spoken dozens of times in the first three episodes of this show, but it’s nothing so clumsy as the series trying to remind viewers what its title is. Instead, it’s about the different contexts for the word when someone is in the process of searching for something, anything. Checking out OKCupid at work? Well, that’s just looking. Getting involved in a three-way? That’s just looking for a way to spice up a potentially moribund sex life. Going to a club or a bathhouse or just wandering around, checking out guys? That’s looking as well. The characters are constantly taken in by surfaces, then realizing how hard it can be to push beyond those to find the real person beneath. They present themselves as perfectly as possible, only realizing how much they’ve fucked up when a date ends disastrously or they look at the job they still hold all these years later, the one they haven’t done anything with.

    Report

  9. And the author is really unfamiliar with gay men in popular media who are neither looking for pumps in their size nor discovering Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions? He’s not seen Kurt on “Glee,” Max from “Happy Endings,” Thomas on “Downton Abbey”…

    Not to mention Omar on “The Wire,” one of the best characters in recent tv history.Report

  10. Avatar Herb says:

    “What the hell is a national culture magazine like Esquire thinking publishing that in 2014?”

    Indeed. 2014 does seem to be the year in which the inevitable backlash discourages straight guys from talking about LGBT subjects.

    Not so sure that’s a good thing, though.Report

    • Avatar Russell Saunders in reply to Herb says:

      Well, thus far 2014 doesn’t seem to have welcomed whatever backlash you’re describing, inevitable or otherwise. A straight guy commented about an LGBT subject in the OP and several more have followed in the comments, and I don’t see anyone discouraging them, much less on the basis of their sexuality. A few days ago another straight contributor wrote a piece about transgender issues here without, to my knowledge, nobody telling him he had no place doing so being he is cis-gendered.

      Straight people are perfectly welcome to comment on LGBT issues. They are perfectly welcome to think “Looking” stinks on ice. But if they object to “Looking” because it portrays gay people simply living their lives without debating which diva is fiercer, a concept apparently foreign to the author of the cited review, then they can expect discouragement as a response. Quite rightly.Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Apologies for being inexact. Of course, I didn’t mean that ALL straight guys will be discouraged from talking about LGBT issues. Just as when you write: “Straight people are perfectly welcome to comment on LGBT issues,” you also don’t mean ALL straight people, either.

        We’re both talking about straight people of a certain quality: those who are not necessarily homophobic, just insufficiently sensitive.

        These not necessarily homophobic, insufficiently sensitive straight guys will indeed face an inevitable backlash –two of them already have– and how welcome their views are is an open question. Caleb Hannan has been all but accused of murder for the Dr. V story, and Mick Stingely had to add a “this is meant to be humorous” disclaimer to what is obviously a tongue-in-cheek review.

        And I hate to show my “gay card” but I’m the son of a lesbian mother. In the 80s, as my parents fought over custody of me and my brother, courts routinely sided with my abusive father in favor of my “sexually deviant” mother, who since she liked girls, obviously had no business being near children. My Mom lost custody of her kids, got kicked out of who knows how many churches, had to live much of her adult life in the closet, and even now is legally prohibited from marrying her partner.

        We’ve come a long way as a culture. We’ve gone from denying women custody of their children to dismissing a gay-themed show as “boring.” Now I’m not ready to declare victory or anything, but in my book, I’m putting that down in the “progress” column.

        (For what it’s worth, I’ve seen promotional materials –which the author of the Esquire piece probably also saw– in which the creators of the show say things like, “We hope the least interesting thing about these characters is that they are gay.” In that context, I took the Esquire piece as a snarky way to say, “Well, ya failed there, guys.”)Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Wait! Are we suggesting that this year many insensitive douchebags might actually shut up?

        To me that seems an unmitigated good.Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        If getting people to shut up is the goal, just know there is no way to make that work just on the douchebags. The insensitive douchebag? He won’t shut up. He’ll just move out of earshot.

        But next time Esquire wants to review a gay-themed show, they may think twice. And just review some other show.Report

      • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        @Herb: A friend of mine has a similar theory that if we (as a society) were more tolerant of mild racism, then people would be more comfortable having conversations about race and crypto-racism would die out faster. Instead, the racists have to gather out of earshot in their klaverns and never confront their problem. Maybe it’s true, though it reminds me a lot of this old Louis CK bit about missing kids. But the great thing about this post is that Russell didn’t tell the reviewer to shut up, but actually wrote out a specific criticism of his cliche position. What could be better?Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        “But the great thing about this post is that Russell didn’t tell the reviewer to shut up, but actually wrote out a specific criticism of his cliche position. What could be better?”

        Russell…and the rest of the internet. Half the mob is sharpening the pitch forks and the rest are nodding along.

        And when we finally get to carve the notches on the club handle, what will we have won?

        Not to dwell on my biography, but my Mom didn’t get to where she is now by collecting scalps. She got there by persevering under stakes much higher than the ones we’re talking about here and not giving much thought or attention to the bullshit, like dumb reviews in men’s magazines.Report

      • @herb

        1) I seriously doubt Esquire will shy away from reviewing gay-themed shows in the future because their “reviewer” couldn’t seem to grok that this particular gay-themed show featured gays behaving like real human beings. Hopefully they will find someone who evinces a little bit more respect for gay people next time. And if they can’t, then they should think twice.

        2) There is no mob, and there are no pitchforks. There are people criticizing the content of a piece published on the Internet under the banner of a major magazine. That’s what happens when you write things on the Internet — people read them and have opinions, and may express them. Like you are expressing your opinion now. Rules of the game.

        3) Your opinion seems to be that, if a major publication puts out an article that says the gays in a show are boring because they don’t conform to the expectations of what one particular straight guy thinks we’re supposed to be like, we just smile politely, because at least the guy isn’t calling us perverts and demanding the show be canceled. I’m afraid I can’t accept that. If your position is “shut up and be glad he’s not calling you a fag,” you’re telling me that I should accept being treated like a punchline because it’s better than some alternatives. And it may be, but it’s not good enough.

        4) I came out when I was 19. I spoke very publicly in favor of marriage equality when my state’s legislature was debating it. My husband and I donated time, money and space to the efforts, both times around. Please do not presume to imply that I limit my efforts on behalf of LGBT equality to pseudonymous responses to heterosexist reviews on the Internet, or that I am attempting to collect scalps. I am calling out someone for expressing views I find retrograde (to say the least), which does not cancel out everything else I and everyone else has done to advance our cause.

        5) I am not demanding the guy be fired, and I’m not really interested in an apology from either him nor Esquire. I am no fan of forced faux apologies, as I have written around these parts many times before.Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Russell, I re-read Stingley’s piece, trying to see it from your perspective….and I just don’t. I don’t see where he was disrespectful or where he demonstrated a failure to grok. Indeed, there’s a similar piece I saw over at Slate by J. Bryan Lowder. I believe Lowder is family, but he makes many of the same points as Stingley, although in a more straightforward, less jocular tone.

        As for whether Esquire backs off on writing about gay subjects, I guess that depends on how much of a third rail it becomes. Phil Robertson deserved his backlash. Grantland and Esquire…I’m not so sure.Report

      • Well, it may end up being that, no matter how much I explain my perspective, you will not come to share it. Vive la différence.

        Yes, I did see the Lowder piece. Kazzy linked to a response by an old college friend of his in Vanity Fair, and I endorse it. Lowder is free to think the gays in the show are boring, but I think he is denying the diversity of the gay experience. I like to drink bourbon and sit around talking with my friends. In the show’s case, the guys are people I’d be happy sitting around talking with. YMMV.

        What I find so objectionable (and which you may never agree with, an outcome with which I would be at peace) is that the Esquire reviewer describes as “strain[ing] credibility” that the gay guys on the show never talk about a hackneyed list of things he think real gays would talk about. I hope my good friend and co-blogger Jason doesn’t mind my dragging him into this a bit, but in the many conversations I have had with him, not once have we discussed fashion or All About Eve. Further, the author of the review seems confused by the low-key depiction of the gay characters as something other than flamboyant queens or ten seconds away from a death rattle. When confronted with gay people who look and talk remarkably like I look and talk (well, OK… they’re cuter than I am), he seems to wonder where the gays he was expecting are.

        Again, you may not ever come to see things from my perspective, and I suspect I shall just have to be content with that.Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Unfortunately, yes, I can only try to see things from your perspective. It is, after all, unique to you.

        And for what it’s worth, I took the All About Eve stuff as a kind of dig at the cultural ignorance of the average straight man, not as something disrespectful to gays. It does, admittedly, appear in the “strains credibility” section, but in fitting with the style of the piece, he makes a semi-serious point (in this case about the lack of Asians), then obliterates it with a joke. He does that in all of his bullet points. It’s kind of the structure of the piece.

        That was the first clue that it was an “attempt at humor.” When you’re trying to be funny, sometimes you take on a persona, and sometimes you say things you don’t actually mean. I don’t think Stingley genuinely thinks it “strains credibility” that there’s been “not one reference to the Wizard of Oz” any more than Jonathan Swift genuinely believed that eating babies was a good idea.

        As you say, though, mileage will vary.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Corollary to Godwin’s law:

        “As an online discussion of an essay of ambiguous intent grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Jonathan Swift or A Modest Proposal approaches 1.”Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Ambiguous intent? I guess it was, pre-“attempt at humor” disclaimer. After that…not so ambiguous.

        Anyway…message received.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Herb says:

      “Indeed. 2014 does seem to be the year in which the inevitable backlash discourages straight guys from talking about LGBT subjects.”

      Excellent point! You can see how much we exactly do that here at the OT. No one ever talks about gay issues at all. Ever. We just won’t allow it.

      Except, you know, most days.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Make take is this: I think it would be an unalloyed public good if white, cishet, middle-class men simply said nothing about social and political topics for a whole 30 days, literally shut up and only discussed weather and sports.

        (Okay, so like somehow the government would have to run. So we’ll exclude active government workers.)

        During that time we all could instead turn into the voices of the rest of us, women, the poor, the queer, on and on. Full service transsexual sex workers could even be given a privileged place to speak.

        I mean, not forever. Not for all time. Obviously cishet dudes have things worth hearing, every so often. But it’s a question of balance, of learning to really listen.

        Maybe 2014. Maybe maybe. Let’s hope.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        If I wish really hard!Report

  11. Avatar Matty says:

    I had a thought the other day when reading about stereotyping on TV. What would happen if we tried the following experiment.

    One group of people comes up with a set of characters, their personalities, relationships etc but doesn’t decide what gender and race they are*. Then they number the characters and a second group assigns gender without knowing the character descriptions. I think seeing how different the results would be from what we are used to would be interesting.

    *I nearly put sexuality in here but I think gender covers it, if you don’t decide whether the married couple are a man and woman you have effectively randomised sexuality.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Matty says:

      Stereotyping on TV is difficult. If every black person on TV is Carlton Banks, you are not capturing the diversity of black Americans. But nor are you if every one is the Fresh Prince. One tack gets you accused of ignorance while the other stereotyping. Ideally, you have multiple representations on multiple shows. So you can have a mincing gay and a tough gay on this show and a dramatic gay and sporty gay on that show etc. Problem is tokenism still runs strong. TV and film is still very segregated. Address that and I think concerns about stereotyping dissipate.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

        It is difficult to do stereotyping well.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

        Ideally, you have multiple representations on multiple shows.

        Why is that the ideal rather than shows being comprised of characters that reflect real people in an honest way rather than the myriad conceptions of “real people”?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        I’m not sure I understand the question, @stillwater .

        Multiple representations in multiple contexts would seem to reflect real people in an honest way. We need “The Cosby Show” and “The Wire”. And while you might have more of one than the other to better reflect broader demographics, that is preferable to only having one, which would ignore important representations on the other.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

        Yeah, that was vague. I was wondering why you think the ideal is to reflect a broader spectrum of lifestyles in any event. It presupposes, at least to an extent, that the purpose of television shows is social engineering or some such rather than entertainment or art or etc.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        @stillwater

        I think the extent to which art (as a collective) seeks to represent life, it should seek to do so honestly. If it does seek this, then an honest representation would show that diversity of humanity. Sure, some black folk would be drug dealers because some black folk are drug dealers. But not all black folk are drug dealers. In fact, most are not. But if the only representations in the entire collection of art include black folk as drug dealers, well, that isn’t honest or accurate.

        Now, a larger question is how much responsibility an individual artist has with regards to the collective. Does someone who wants to do a show about black communities in urban America need to show the Cosbys or the Obamas? No. Not every work of art needs to be a Benneton ad. But when you have major players who are responsible for and control major avenues for art (e.g., NBC), than I think there is some responsibility borne to them.

        Of course, this assumes that honest representations of reality are a goal of art. They may not be. But if they aren’t… well, then make all your drug dealers white. Or green. Why not? It’s not real anyway.

        tl;dr: I think broad and diverse representation is ideal if honest and accurate portrayals are the goal. But reality features people in broad and diverse roles.Report

    • Avatar veronica dire in reply to Matty says:

      Your scheme removes stereotypes, which is good I suppose. But it also whitewashes. In other words, a white middle-class writer who creates “characters he knows,” from the world in which he is familiar, who have quirks that he sees, who have sexual interests (regardless of gender) that match his own, and on and on — when he writes this stuff, and then randomizes race and gender, we end up with a homogenized group of “whites dudes” in virtual blackface and drag.

      It’s a cool experiment. I wouldn’t mind seeing a show done that way, just for the variety. (As long as it avoided literal blackface and drag.) But it does not replace the authentic voices of marginalized people.

      A book such as Nevada wouldn’t work if Maria randomly became a cis black man.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to veronica dire says:

        Ah, but the better question is: Can you tell?

        Here’s a list of 10 comedies (http://www.craveonline.com/tv/articles/623177-the-10-best-tv-comedies-of-2013#/slide/1). Can you name the character that has been switched?Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to veronica dire says:

        @Kim — I probably cannot tell. But the issue is not my perceptive skill, since fooling me is hardly an admirable goal, but true representation.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to veronica dire says:

        v,
        I maintain that true representation comes from knowing enough people that everyone is well represented in your stories.

        … I’m not even sure gay people have it worst off, some of the time. (remember will saying stuff about rural Idahoans?)Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to veronica dire says:

        Let me clarify, you probably won’t fool me about trans stuff. I mean, I doubt I’m perfect, but there are things we know that cis people do not, ideas that are fresh and honest, deep perceptions about our lives.

        Nevada blew my socks off. To be blunt, a cis person could not have written it. No way. Not in a million years.

        However, I doubt I would be so perceptive regarding issues of race, since I’m white, or class, since I’m white collar, and so on.

        I can tell right away, in sharp relief, that the trans characters in Orange is the New Black or Transamerica were written by cis people. I mean, look, the writers try. They did the research. But there is a shallowness, a “checkboxes of the trans narrative” feel that I can sense immediately.

        I assume (but cannot prove) that such things are present for topics where I do not have deep knowledge, such as race and class. I might be entertained. I might be convinced. But what I am seeing is false.Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to veronica dire says:

        “To be blunt, a cis person could not have written it. No way. Not in a million years.”

        Why?Report

      • Avatar veronica dire in reply to veronica dire says:

        Because cis folks lack the direct, first hand experience. So any knowledge they have of trans folks will be second hand, and thus stuff we have already said, perceptions we have already shared — for how else did that cis writer find that fact?

        There are human universals. But there are also particulars that are shared in a group. Some of those particulars are subtle, hidden until someone with insight sees them and can articulate them.

        Imogen Binnie gave us new insights on what it is like to be a certain sort of trans woman in a certain place and time, with certain kinds of relationships, expectations, and so on. She said things about us that had not yet been said. It hit me like a cannon ball.Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to veronica dire says:

        Fair enough. I can’t speak on Binnie’s work specifically, but I’m not sure I agree with the notion that “cis can’t write trans.” It’s true, some experiences are so subjective that no one is going to “know what it’s like” unless they’ve experienced them.

        But it’s also true that language itself cannot convey “what it’s really like” so at best, you’re just going to get shades of the experience, an interpretation of it, vivid though it may be.

        And hell, anyone can do that.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Matty says:

      One of the things I try to do in my writing is to take characters that have already been largely developed, but not entirely, and make them not-white-male. I don’t do this randomly. I look at this pool of characters and think “What kind of changes would this character being African-American or Hispanic make?” If it makes them more interesting, I run with it. Then the race starts influencing the character. Sometimes a minor influence, sometimes more than a minor influence. But it’s a way to assure to myself that I am not forming minority characters based off stereotypes. Some characters I start out with having an ethnicity in mind. (Most of my female characters start out this way.)

      A couple examples include a superhero character that I decided to make Indian-American. He’s based out of Texas and he wears a mask, and so people assume he’s Hispanic. He gets advice from his well-meaning (white) father-in-law to let people keep that assumption because it would help his support in the Hispanic community, but the character just can’t do that (even though from a secret-identity standpoint, he shouldn’t divulge what he is). He later relocates to New Jersey where he is no longer assumed to be Hispanic but still may have to deal with assumptions being made about him because of New Jersey’s Indian-American culture. That sort of thing. I’m not sure how much of this will be undertone and how much expressly written (I’m not sure how big a role the character is going to have). There is a fair amount of character development here that simply wouldn’t have been possible if he was white, and that I probably wouldn’t have done if I decided to make an “Indian-American character.”

      I came up with the idea from a couple of sources. First, when I realized something I was developing had no non-white characters and wanted to change that. Second, when I was watching the commentary of The Shield they mentioned that one of the most prominent female characters was written to be male until they actually found the perfect female casting choice and then Claude became Claudette. I had long considered this to be one of the most interesting female characters on television, and came to the conclusion that the evolution of the character had something to do with that.Report

  12. Avatar Bert The Turtle says:

    Unless those are their actual character names. Then you’ve just rebooted a 90’s girl group as the Spice Gays. I’m thinking Clay Aiken could be the Ginger.Report