Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Why "Brothers & Sisters" is Groundbreaking for Gay Men

A family drama on a major network television station is hardly the place where you would expect to find men kissing on a regular basis. Thanks to ABC's BROTHERS & SISTERS that is exactly what is happening and I think it is a historically significant moment in network television.

There have always been gay male characters on television even if they didn't dare say they were gay. (Uncle Arthur on BEWITCHED, Dr. Smith on LOST IN SPACE etc.) In the 60's gay characters would turn up as freaky villains on cop shows or pathetic cases on hospital dramas. By the 70's gay characters could finally "come out" of the closet. They usually were not main characters but episode specific. They were there to make a social statement on acceptance. (Remember Edith's friend the Drag Queen on ALL IN THE FAMILY? One of the saddest moments on TV was when he/she was killed and Edith didn't want to celebrate Christmas anymore)

The first openly gay main character on TV was Jodie Dallas on SOAP played by Billy Crystal. He was a much loved character and made some great social statements. (for instance when his baby was taken away from him because he was gay) However when it came to love relationships SOAP took the easy way out. He had a male football player lover (whom he never touched on screen) who left him and the rest of the long series he dated women. (Yes women - even a lesbian!) This was kind of the "joke" - the gay guy that dates women. Not a very good portrayal of gay men.

In the 80's the next major character on TV was Steven Carrington on DYNASTY. The show started out with a storyline about his father not accepting his homosexuality and even killing his ex-lover accidentally. (He saw them hugging goodbye in his house - gasp!) The character then became less gay and dated women for most of the series. (Even Heather Locklear) He did have one brief boyfriend who got killed at the ridiculous wedding massacre but you never saw them kiss or be intimate. (also in the 80's many shows had positive gay episodes like DESIGNING WOMEN, THE GOLDEN GIRLS etc)

The 90's brought us a few supporting characters who were gay (NYPD BLUE etc) but WILL & GRACE was really the next important step. (thanks to ELLEN breaking the door open) This show was full of gay humor, gay references and gay culture not seen on Television before. Though often maligned for being stereotypical Sean Hayes brought a gay character to life who didn't care what anyone thought of his sexual orientation. Will Truman showed at times how tough it was to be gay and be able to "pass". This show was also criticized by the gay community for not showing more male to male affection on the show in a realistic manner. (The first male to male kiss was a joke with Will kissing Jack on the Today show) As the show progressed they did try to show more relationships (Will & the Cop) but they did play it a bit safe to appeal to a wide audience. (I still think it's one of the greatest TV shows for gay people ever - It made a big societal impact)

Now comes a huge surprise with BROTHERS & SISTERS - a dramatic show about a family including a gay brother named Kevin. The great thing about this show is that Kevin is treated like any other character on the show. He isn't on there for social statements or as a scandalous ratings ploy. His character goes on dates, fights with his siblings and is accepted by all of them as an openly gay man. There is no drama about his parents or siblings not accepting him. His being gay is just a fact of the show.

The next thing that is truly groundbreaking (and what spurred me to write this) is how it treats Kevin and relationships. He dates like his brothers and sisters do. The biggest shock of all is that he actually kisses men on screen in a romantic way and in a casual "goodbye kiss" way. The camera even shows the kisses so you can see them (not that back of the head fakery often done to not really show the kiss). It also happens often which also was surprising to me. In the past a gay male kiss might happen once - to show the character is gay but never really happen again.

It used to be that when a gay kiss was going to appear on a network television show there was lots of attention from the press. (Remember the fuss about ROSEANNE being kissed by a woman on her show? - it was a scandal and it was a back of the head fakery kiss too!) There was a scene on THIRTYSOMETHING in the 90's where two male characters (not even main characters) were shown in bed together. There were so many protests that they didn't rerun that episode and those characters disappeared from the show altogether. So far there hasn't been one protest over the show - we'll see if that changes as they push the envelope.

I know there have been Cable shows that have shown gay life honestly (SIX FEET UNDER) and even openly sexual (QUEER AS FOLK) but this is pretty big for network TV.

So cheers to ABC and the creators of BROTHERS & SISTERS for being brave enough to give Kevin a real gay life. If in future episodes he dates a woman....I'm taking it all back.

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