TV Rant

Re: Where was the gay mafia when I needed a hit?

Jack Kenny, the creator of a recent short-lived television series called The Book of Daniel, wondered why his fellow gays and lesbians didn’t fight back when the American Family Association attacked him. They said that an openly gay man had no business writing a show that mentions Jesus and Christianity. He would have appreciated more articles in the gay press and unspecified forms of uproar and protest. He asks why gay and lesbian people don’t stand up for themselves more often.

Well, in this case I’m sure there are all the usual reasons – people didn’t hear about the controversy in time, they thought it was remote from their concerns, they thought someone else would respond. Isn’t that what the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation is for?

In my case, I have a particular reason I didn’t bother to defend Mr. Kenny and his show. It’s merely a television program, and I don’t care.

Of all the things I could worry about, advocating for quality television is a lost cause. I watched television for forty years, and I never saw anyone whose values or life were anything like my own, so I gave up on it.

The practitioners of this craft might tell you it is the art of the motion picture brought into your living room. But in fact it is the bastard offspring of the carnival barker and the patent medicine huckster.

Although these two dynamic, visual media would seem to be very similar, their differing context leads to differences in their content and its presentation. This is intrinsic to the nature of the media, not just a consequence of how it is done in the USA. When you are in the movie theater, you have already committed a couple of hours of your time to the program. You’re unlikely to go home before it is over or wander through the megaplex to see what else is playing. With television, in contrast, other choices are only a click of the remote control away. The movies can take the time to develop a story at a thoughtful pace, with real characters who have lives and personalities and who develop and grow over the course of the story. Television, however, must constantly bombard you with stimuli to keep you from leaving at any time or else to sell you something during the brief moment it does have your attention. As extreme cases, I invite you to contrast Mildred Pierce against Married with Children. I don’t think I’m cherry-picking my examples. The latter was one of the longest-running prime time series ever.

Here are some of the lies television has tried to tell me.

  • Men are helpless at dealing with women or children.
  • Women are unable to accept the realities of aging.
  • All the people that matter have desk jobs.
  • Religion, in a religious show, consists of dogmatists who preach a god that favors some people while relegating others to second class status and that demands obedience to arbitrary rituals and superstitions.
  • Religion, in a drama or comedy, is the province of good-hearted but simple people, living away from either coast, who sing upbeat hymns and quote inspirational scripture fragments, but who never have to seriously grapple with ethical dilemmas or despair or true evil.
  • Processed food with a brand name on a grocery store shelf is better than unadulterated food purchased at a local farmers’ market.
  • Clear skin, white teeth, and minty breath are essential to social standing.
  • Perfumes and fluorescent dyes in the detergent make your clothes cleaner.
  • Any point of public policy can be decided in isolation, without reference to any effects it might have on anything else.
  • Scientific or political questions can be decided by looking at how many singers and actors are taking a side.
  • How well somebody jumped with a ball or ran with a ball or threw a ball matters after the game is over.
  • If you are unhappy about living in this world, you should take a pill instead of working to improve the world.
  • The only vehicle that can carry more than seven people is the airplane. Public transit does not exist.
  • If you can’t get somewhere in a private passenger car, it’s not worth going there. The car may have four-wheel drive, special off-road tires, and a ruggedized suspension.
  • It really matters what race or national origin someone has, but it’s important and polite to pretend that it doesn’t matter.
  • Throwing one-liners and insults past each other is witty repartee.
  • The most important part of an election is how well the candidates can craft memorable brief slogans and who can dig up dirt on whom, not the content of their policies if any.
  • This one is specific to television in the US: All the educated people in the world speak English.
  • And especially relevant to this group: nobody has a long-term relationship with a same-sex partner.

I haven’t watched television news since September 12, 2001, so I have been spared a lot of the lies about war and peace that have been flung around in the past few years.

So I gave up on watching television altogether. The only TV set in my house is connected to no cable or antenna, just a DVD player for rented movies.

Every once in a while something sounds like it might be worth checking out.

The Gay and Lesbian Resource Center of Des Moines had a viewing party when the US version of Queer as Folk premiered. I went with high hopes. It was good that the characters didn’t have to apologize for their existence. But they turned out to be shallow people in a big city who were mainly concerned with who was going to get laid with whom. They did have to deal with a few issues and obstacles, but these were resolved with little hint of the protracted struggles that would have been involved in real life.

Some people seem to enjoy Will and Grace, so I watched a few episodes from the DVD of the first season. There was nothing new here. These characters were known all the way back in the ancient civilizations of the Near East. We see a eunuch who attends to the needs of a high status woman, and we see a court jester.

I had heard of this new series The Book of Daniel before the first episode aired. It sounded like it might possibly have something thoughtful and meaty to say about the spiritual aspect of life. And if the gay character was not a “problem” but just a member of the family, that would be a plus. But I never saw it. I would have had to make arrangements with a friend who has cable and who would be home the evening that the show was broadcast, and hope that it was not pre-empted that week or moved to a different day. And even if I did manage to see an episode, it might have been the same old trite pap. You know what? I’ve been burned by television too many times before. I didn’t think it was worth the effort to try to get myself in front of a TV set at the right time to see it. And I didn’t speak up when the American Family Association gay-baited the show’s writer. I saved my energy for things that are important to me.

You might suggest this or that show to me as worthy exceptions, but it’s too late. I’m not going to bother again.


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