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Zack Rosen Headshot

Gay Stereotypes On TV Aren't Offensive... They're Lazy

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I don't think anyone that "complained" was asking for Community to be censored or for it to become a schmaltzy PC pile of shit. I think they were asking me to stick a post-it note on my brain regarding the situation, which I can do without making the show any less brilliant or funny. It will be all the moreso the more I continue to care about the audience's experience.

The above quotation comes from Dan Harmon, creator of "best-sitcom-on-TV, I'll jump-if-you-cancel-it, I-really-will" Community. He refers to a mild outcry at last week's episode "Advanced Gay," whose A-plot revolved around resident bigot Pierce Hawthorne accepting the gay community after his line of moist towelettes becomes iconic for their ability to, presumably, facilitate rimming.

That plot may sound familiar because it is. A recent Simpsons episode turned Moe's into a gay bar. Parks and Recreation played the trope when Leslie Nope became an unlikely hero by inadvertently marrying two male penguins at the Pawnee Zoo. What all three episodes have in common -- and the crux of Harmon's statement -- is that they feature gay stereotypes that haven't been valid since Queer As Folk.

The boys on Community are all of the "Kurt from Glee" school of gay coding: effeminate, immaculately put-together and of the opinion that a drag queen and some glitter turns even the lowliest community college cafeteria into the best goddamn gay club in Colorado.

The trouble is, there a thousand gay stereotypes to be exploited on TV that would feel fresh. Why not make these boys older, hairy bears? Hipper-than-thou indie fags? Punks who can't walk comfortably because they have safety pins through their urethras? Why not, I dunno, have them not be white? All that would reflect the depth of character most other Greendale residents are granted. It would give the impression that anyone on staff had been to a gay bar since their twink cousin dragged them to Sidetracks over their sophomore Christmas break.

The surfeit of effeminate glitter boys on Parks and Rec makes sense. Pawnee's nightlife scene is hardly comparable to that of San Francisco, or even Geneseo. Expecting nuance and creativity on The Simpsons is, at this point, about as fruitful as hoping for an enthusiastic Lou Reed live performance. But Community should know better. In fact, it usually does. That's why I catalogue Harmon's apology as a likely first: a consensus that these stereotypes aren't outright offensive, just indicative of sub-par television writing.

Community's biggest forays into gay jokes were successful. They have turned ambiguous Dean Pelton from a one-note (albeit hysterical) Tobias Funke into an actual character with motives and aspirations. So what if he must also suppress his massive boner for Jeff Winger while nursing a nascent Dalmatian fetish? One of the best gay storylines I've seen on any show involves aggressively misguided liberal Britta Perry enjoying the street cred of her new lesbian friend. Only said "lesbian" is just another straight girl who thinks that Britta is the sophisticated sappho.

Community traffics in stereotypes -- judgemental black Christian, over-achieving neurotic Jew, disaffected metrosexual -- and it would be narcissistic of us homos to complain when we get the same treatment. That is, if the treatment is done right. There are a million stereotypes of what a queer guy can be. To call the one show last week offensive just does a disservice to all the great guys out there who happen to fit the mold. Would you like it if the kind of person you were was offensive to others? Community is one of the few shows out there that has the intelligence and humor to do a gay subplot correctly. Expecting more from them is not an insult; it's a compliment.

For contrast, look at FX's American Horror Story (which I have personally subtitled "Dylan McDermott Crying"). This show boasts the subtlety and verisimilitude of an egg mcmuffin. Jessica Lange's performance alone will keep drag queens employed through the age of flying cars. Yet I couldn't help being offended when the show dragged out Zachary Quinto (who can and has been given better) as a cross between Carson Kressly and the wicked witch of the West Hollywood. He ties a sweater around his shoulders and decorates his house with intensity usually reserved for escaping Bergen Belsen. I'm not offended as a gay man, mind you, just as someone who watches way too much TV and expects some of it to be well-written.

We get Quinto's jock-ish partner as a mild respite until the latter screams that his on-the-side trick is "a power bottom," all but pausing to look at the camera to say, "Yep, we went there." AHS is not a bad show, just one that is better enjoyed when the viewer's sense of logic and intelligence are stowed somewhere outside Ryan Murphy's clutches. I wasn't expecting Keith Charles and David Fisher, just a couple that didn't appear to have read Gay for Dummies minutes before the cameras started rolling.

In the end this all comes down to expectations. Too many talented women are wasted onscreen as boy-crazy waifs or harridan housewives. Black actors play characters who spend about 50 percent of their time playing into or against stale characterizations. It was nice that no one went crying to GLAAD about Harmon and co's misstep on Community. Gay audiences aren't asking to be left out of the joke, just that the joke be a bit more grounded in their own lives.

I have utmost faith that Harmon and co. will learn from their past successes and do the gay story right next time. A personal thanks to you, Dan Harmon, for understanding why audiences were disappointed and sparing us any "my best friends are gay" style comments in your apology. We know you can do it right, and you might be one of the few writers out there who will actually be trying.

In fact, I have the perfect gay guest star for Community. He is unemployed and uses The Huffington Post as an outlet for his rants about TV. He is tall and Jewish and has some limited experience on-screen. And he has a killer idea for a "No Exit" bottle episode where Jeff, Annie and he get locked in the library all day and find the object of their desire to be forever pining for someone who doesn't love them back.

OK, I know I'm as likely to get to Greendale as my dog is to catch her own tail. But give us the gay episode of Community that we all know is possible and I'll count it as a win.