Whatever happened to “family friendly?”

By Shayna Sage and Gabriel Schneider
Published: November 2009

American media culture has no doubt changed since the days when TV first started out. In 1956, for instance, Elvis Presley was only shown waist-up on the Ed Sullivan show because his provocative dancing, deemed too inappropriate for the public, caused much discussion and concern. Only 50 years later, TV shows are exploring topics such as sexuality, teenage pregnancy and homosexuality, and viewers have certainly been affected by these unorthodox themes.

For a long time, TV producers were reluctant to include homosexual characters in their shows due to widespread discomfort with the subject. In 1997, however, when Ellen Degeneres “came out on her sitcom, she undeniably paved the way for homosexuality in mainstream media.

In following years, shows such as Dawson’s Creek and Will & Grace began to incorporate gay characters into their plots, and more recently, TV shows aimed at teenagers such as Glee, Gossip Girl, Degrassi, The OC, and The Secret Life of the American Teenager have further explored such issues by focusing on the individual struggles and triumphs of the realistic characters.

A recent survey taken by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation found that out of those who say their feelings toward homosexuality have become more favorable in the past five years, about one-third credited characters from TV.

“I think that the portrayal of homosexuality in TV shows can have either a very negative effect or a very positive effect, depending mostly upon the TV show and its content, junior and Gay-Straight Alliance president Rebecca Penzias said. “Some TV shows just show sexuality as something that is very fluid, which I think is generally very positive.

Shows that portray gay characters, such as the recent TV hit, Glee, can arguably influence viewers in a positive way by allowing them to gain a new perspective on those with different sexual orientations.

“It makes people more confident about who they are and unafraid to be themselves because they see that in these shows, they are readily accepted, junior Anastasia Lymer said. “Seeing this kind of diversity on TV makes people feel more accepted.

Junior Phoebe Huth feels that though the new trend has some positive aspects, there could be other ways of portraying the idea of sexual diversity on teenaged based shows. “I feel like homosexuality isn’t positively portrayed in teen shows because they always have the ‘Ëœtoken gay guy’ or a character like that, she said.

“They feel like they need each type of person to fit a stereotype instead of just portraying the teen experience. 

Penzias agrees that TV shows tend to highlight stereotypes. “The biggest issue that I have with TV shows and their portrayals of homosexuality is that the characters tend to perpetuate stereotypes of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals, she said. “I think the media should be using its advantage to conquer stereotypes and promote acceptance, not put additional pressure on LGBT teens to conform.

Senior Jamie Brotsky believes, however, that exposure to controversial subjects on TV can only be beneficial.

“I think people are becoming more comfortable with different sexualities and TV is trying to put it out there, Brotsky said. “That it isn’t such a bad thing.

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