Monday, March 16, 2009

Degrassi: The Next Generation of Gay Teens on TV

TNG reader and frequent commenter Adam Isn't Here submits this post.

Man, there are lots of fags on the TV these days. It’s almost as if you’re not allowed to make a show that doesn’t have a homo in it. Even the pretty-macho Soprano’s, in its final weeks, outed one of their own. And mostly sympathetically too; even if he did get raped to death by a pool cue in the end.

Television has taught us that mobsters can be gay; as can bookstore owners, tenants in drama-prone Los Angeles apartment complexes, fussy pathetic New York lawyers, morose funeral home operators, witch friends of vampire slayers, kick ass Baltimore cops, conflicted drug dealers, cute hilarious drug dealers, creepy Mormon cult leaders, naked survivors, and whatever it is those boring married-gays do on that boring Brothers and Sisters show. That’s right, gays can be boring and earnest too.

But you know what kind of gay you don’t see much of on the ol’ tube? I mean, apart from women, people of color, or anyone who isn’t physically attractive of course. Teens! Which is weird, because television LOVES teenagers. Oh sure, I remember Ricky, (how could I forget Ricky?) but he, like everything else having to do with My So Called Life, was an anomaly. Not any more though.

Just off the top of my head I can think of four gay characters, who are sixteen or younger and featured prominently on their respective shows. I’m not trying to tease you by holding out names this long, the programs I’m referring to are Degrassi, United States of Tara, Skins and Gossip Girl.

Let’s start with Degrassi. Now I should tell you, I’m between the ages of 20 and 35, and I’m Canadian. That means I’ve seen every episode of the original Degrassi several times over. Growing up, Degrassi was inescapable. Inescapably awesome! Of course Degrassi has already dealt with the love that dare not speak its name more than once. This one time everyone was sure Ms. Avery was a lezzer, and that she may or may not have been hitting on Caitlin. It caused quite a stir. Another time Snake’s brother came home from college and told everyone that his relationship with his special roommate was very special indeed. The shame! But no actual student of Degrassi ever came out that I can remember. It took until “The Next Generation” for that to happen, and once it did it snowballed almost out of control. This new Degrassi is crawling with queers; some avowed, some closeted, and others just experimental. Oh to be young again.

The only problem I have with Degrassi’s current gay story line is that it involves another jock. This time it’s a football player who makes a move on the floppy-haired twinky one, only to be gently rebuffed in the “woah dude I think you misunderstood” style of rebuffment. So he gets a girlfriend and starts taking steroids because he thinks it’ll make him straight, all the while sneaking off for long runs in the park where he has rendezvous with an old buddy from soccer camp. It’s all adorably misguided. Frankly I’m just surprised it took Degrassi this long to tackle the very real issue of gay public-park sex.

That’s very titillating and all, but Degrassi already had a gay jock. He was a hockey player and he and his boyfriend were tragically torn in twain so jocko-homo could pursue his professional hockey career in Switzerland or Sweden or someplace. I know, I know, there are gay jocks out there, and I’m sure they feel very underrepresented, poor things. I think it’s great to make the point that gay kids don’t need to be put off athletics or other “manly” endeavours because they’re gay. But they already made that point. Being attractive and athletic, this kid’s already got a leg up, and what with all the same sex action going on at his high school, I’m sure it wouldn’t take him long to come to terms and get in on the fun. Being a homo isn’t exactly a heavy cross to bear at Degrassi.

The encouraging thing about young queers on TV is that it shows kids that it’s all right to be different. Jocks have got enough high school cache as it is, even if they do suck a dick now and then. So how about a deeply affected weirdo who smokes cloves and hangs out in the graveyard? Or a drama fag who really wants to audition for Maria but ends up as the Captain? Or the overweight, insecure video game player? How bout some screen time for them on Degrassi?

To the writers’ credit, the hockey player’s boyfriend was a total flamer. Like, super faggy. And they do have a very limp wristed drama fag, but he’s not gay. He actually got some chick knocked up, and then stole oxycodone from the pharmacy where he worked to pay for diapers. There is no action without consequence in this universe. It is a vicious and wrathful pantheon of gods that watches over the students of Degrassi. Maybe I should cut them a break.


Anonymous said...

Degrassi "goes there"

ikobi said...

Justin Suarez on Ugly Betty? How old is Luke Snyder on As The World Turns?

Kyle said...

They may be in their late teens, but there are one or two gay characters in "Greek"

Anonymous said...

Also Isabelle on "Weeds" and a Spencer and Ashley on "South of Nowhere" (the teen soap that followed Degrassi for awhile... might be off the air now.)

Andrew Pendleton said...

There was a character in the first season of Heroes that was apparently written as a gay teenager, but his agent shot down the notion because he thought it would be career-damaging, so they just cheesily and vaguely hinted it ("I can't love you that way," etc.).

J. Clarence said...

The reason they are not as prominent as straight couples is the fact that it would launch a wave of complaints from social conservatives, and only a few networks are willing to risk it.

I really liked the Greek storyline. It was a really down-to-earth gay relationship minus many of the stereotypes. Hopefully we can see more like it, and hopefully Degrassi becomes more popular stateside because it's pretty good for a teen show.

adam isn't here said...

actually mr clarence, i don't know how true that is. each of the major networks has prominent gay characters. they don't seem too shy about homos, as long as they're not super sexed-up. greek, which has been mentioned a few times, was on ABC Family for chrissakes. a family network! i think it's been a really long time since gay people could claim they were underrepresented in media. my whole "adult" life at least. and honestly, at this point, i think most claims of MISrepresentation are pretty unfounded.

on another note, did anyone else watch nbc's new show kings last night? it was whatever, but one of the main characters is a prince whose father won't give him the keys to the palace because he's a homo.

also: would anyone be interested in more regular gay TV updates? i do watch a lot of TV and often have many many opinions on it.

Anonymous said...

The best Degrassi was 1987 & 1988. After that it became formulaic.

I tuned into Brothers & Sisters for Sally Field and Rachel Griffiths but quickly realized it for the dreck it is. Incredibly melodramatic and overacted it is painful to watch. There are something like 12 dramas every 5 minutes. It struck me as a white high-bourgeois telenovela.

I understood all the "sturm und drang" when I realized the show was created by High Gay playwright Jon Robin Baitz and produced by High Gay producer Greg Berlanti. It's just a Gay fantasy of drama and self-importance in the large incredibly rich and supportive family so many Gays fantasize about having.


Anonymous said...

re: adamisnthere

yeah, Kings was weird. only caught part of it but the homo prince was hot.

it was cool they showed the father's homo hatred so openly. it showed you how ugly homophobia really is. hopefully a few bigots recognized themselves and how ugly they sound.

scantron said...

i love degrassi! is paige still a lesbian?