August 15, 2020

TV’s not all just Will and Grace: pop culture skips that “moral ground,”

posted on: Sunday November 4, 2001

By John McHugh

More often than not, trends in popular culture are solid indicators of the values and opinions that a society holds. Anytime one turns on the television or picks up a magazine, it is difficult not to notice social progressions that are evident in every facet of entertainment. The main problem with this natural pattern is that culture is in constant danger of reflecting and thereby reinforcing social changes without any regard for the possible negativity of their impression. Of course this is not always the case, but often times many issues are presented without intelligent discourse. For example, homosexuality is no longer as socially taboo as it was ten or twenty years ago, and typical to its nature, art has imitated life. There are homosexual characters in a wide variety of popular shows. And it’s really not that big a deal. Again, this is an example of pop culture acting as a mirror for the general attitude of society. Now that homosexual characters have assimilated into our usually narrow-minded television world, it is natural for television shows to deal with more of the social issues that homosexuality presents. If anything, the people who produce shows that include gay main characters have a responsibility, especially to the gay community, to present these characters as people dealing with the real issues that are a part of a homosexual’s life. Otherwise, the gay community has a right to point out the tokenism that other slighted demographics have attacked since the Television Age began. This means, however, that the producers of these shows also have a responsibility to present homosexuality-related ethical dilemmas as the complicated problems that they actually are. The only catch is that this must often be done at the cost of political correctness. It will be easier to see my point if I give an example. The other day, I randomly caught an episode of Spin City. In the episode, one guy begins dating his gay friend’s female friend, just as the gay guy decides that he wants his woman friend to be a surrogate mother for his child. The ensuing problem in the episode was whether or not the guy with the new girlfriend should stand in the way of his gay friend’s wish to have a child. There was talk about making sacrifices in the name of friendship, postponing short-term happiness in order to maintain long-term happiness, etc. — all admittedly serious themes. And yet, it’s funny that not even once were the social and ethical implications of the decision considered. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but is the idea of a homosexual male raising a child so widely accepted that the show doesn’t even have to address it as a problem, or at least as a difficult decision? I don’t want to sound too harsh here, but come on. Single mothers get flack for having children out of wedlock, but apparently it’s not a big deal if a single gay male chooses to raise a child. Granted, the primary purpose of sitcoms like Spin City is to entertain, not to take moral stands. But then again, by presenting homosexual parenthood as morally sound, which is a viewpoint that is definitely not incontestable, isn’t the show actually displaying some kind of political agenda? Whether or not it is acceptable for a homosexual to parent a child is not a question I am looking to address right now. No matter what your opinion is on this issue, you would have to be logically blind not to see that there is, at least, an argument for both sides. It is not only ridiculous but it is also cowardly for the mass media to address this issue as if it is not even debatable wrong or not in the least bit controversial. The way that popular culture has embraced tolerance and diversity is absolutely wonderful. As people change for the better, culture reflects this change and thereby reinforces it. But when popular culture presents a viewpoint that is, at best, ethically questionable, and presents it as if it is widely accepted, then the whole process becomes a vicious cycle. This is how we cease to determine our own values and allow a few liberal yuppie media moguls pick them for us. So beware your television, kids. Just because it tells you that something is unanimously unequivocal does not mean that you should not question it.

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