I don’t watch television. Although I have seen a few episodes of Will and Grace, I admit I have never watched Queer as Folk. The episodes I have seen of Will and Grace I found to be unrealistic stereotypes of the LGBTQ community and not very funny. I do not view these shows as a sign of progress towards a wider acceptance by society but rather a minstrelization of homophobic, sexist, and classist stereotypes presented in such a way as to placate an oppressed community while formulating a corporatized, sanitized model which may be used ultimately to regulate identity. This explains my surprise and apprehension to find a segment of Queer as Folk being used to demonstrate the pitfalls of dating in my Gay Male Relationships class without the benefit of any type of disclaimer or qualifier from the class facilitator beforehand.
I was not disappointed. A younger character in the show was preparing for a date. His date was a doctor, an older man. From the very start of the scene we are told by this man’s friends that anyone over 40 was, well “OLD.” The implication being of course that older gay men are not worthwhile, are pretty much invisible within the community. Of course all of the young, groomed, clipped, toned, white friends were portrayed as being immature; which is agist as well. We were fed the myth of the older man as more successful while the younger man needs to borrow clothing from his friends to look presentable.
I admit that the clip did highlight some information about dating and being open to exploring differences, although in extreme exaggeration. I do also realize that Queer as Folk is ‘just’ a television show, admittedly one I had never seen before. At the risk of making hasty generalizations, let me say why I am concerned with using this sort of teaching aid without first qualifying it. It only serves to re-enforce those stereotypes which are already so embedded in our culture by an out of control media. All too often we take for granted that which is presented to us, we take for granted not only the messages it is imparting on us but we also take for granted our ability to examine and dissect that message with a critical eye. When I hear my fellow class mates refer to all younger gay men as being immature like the ones in the show, I am saddened for the younger gay men in the classroom and in the community. When I heard the remarks being made by the shows characters about ‘old’ men over 40, as a queer man of 51 who often feels invisible within my broader community, I was hurt an offended. When I saw the stereotype of what that ‘older’ gay man is, I knew that it was just that, a stereotype, but it still serves to define and re-enforce what are and are not acceptable notions of success. When I continually hear my fellow classmates refer to men who are sex-positive as ‘sluts,’ when I hear how narrow their expectations are for a prospective dating pool, I know that these media stereotypical messages are having an effect.
The only real interest the media has is its own bottom line. It is not interested in building community, understanding, or bridges. It is interested in profit. What is the best and easiest route to profit? A universal need. A universal consumer. Homogeneity. When we unquestioningly allow the media to define us we lose the ability to control our own futures, to say who we are, to be individuals.