In 2012, Ryan Murphy had three distinctive shows airing: the comedy The New Normal, the horror-fantasy American Horror Story, and the musical dramedy Glee. Each show has his signature factor: stereotypes. With all of Ryan Murphy’s highly visible LGBT-infused shows, he relies on stereotypes with minimal diversity and nostalgia. I’m the first to say that I’m obsessed with Ryan Murphy’s wickedly foul imagination. I’m glued to my laptop from Tuesday to Thursday which borderlines on obsession. I understand that his jokes are campy and bombastic. But with all three shows featuring prominent gay characters, is he harming the representation of the LGBT community to the mass audience?
Emily Nussman of the New Yorker writes in her article Queer Eyes, Full Hearts that “Murphy is a pioneer and a radical…he pushes the limits of television in ways as exciting as anyone up on that Mt. Rushmore of TV.” If Ryan Murphy is seen as groundbreaking, why must he consistently rely on tired and dangerous stereotypes? They only perpetuate the stereotype and harm the community, as it is the only perspective leading to mockery.
1995’s Documentary film, The Celluloid Closet, depicts the LGBT community’s representation through the first 100 years of cinema as we have been portrayed as asexual sissies, evil monsters, and tragic figures.
Now, stereotypes aren’t all bad. Using archetypal characters in media is relatable and hooks the audience immediately. Unless you understand the humor and know there are different perspectives, it becomes a problem if you constantly rely on them. His major success, Glee, rides on stereotypes from the flamboyant male fashionista to the exotic lesbian cheerleader to the evil gay. The LGBT community has more diversity than these old, tired tropes.
To understand Ryan Murphy, a viewer needs to know that he does not rely on realism or subtlety. For example, another gay character from Glee, Blaine, attended an all-boys private school where they had zero tolerance on bullying and homophobic slurs. As a former student who attended an all-boy’s private school that was very masculine and slightly homophobic, I had an issue with a fantasy school that sang and danced about zero tolerance. But I understand that the world of Glee isn’t always connected to reality.
However, I do commend Glee for using these characters to shed light on serious issues the community is facing - from bullying/teen suicide to coming out. I do hope the audience knows they’re not the only representation we have for our community. A homophobic-closeted character’s plight was handled admirably as teen suicide and cyber bullying were accounted for. Murphy has also introduced the T in LGBT with Wade and his alter ego, Unique, which is often marginalized and rarely talked about. But again, Murphy started with a stereotype and worked from there.
Murphy’s other shortcoming is minimal diversity and it is prominent in The New Normal. It’s typical of most television shows, but the show focuses on a middle-class (let’s just call them rich) white gay couple in Los Angeles. And therein lies the issue. Where’s the diversity?
According to GLAAD’s Network Survey, 66% of LGBT representation on broadcast TV is Caucasian. Aside from the white gay couple, there has yet to be any prominent lesbian characters. Let’s hope they are more than white and middle-class.
American Horror Story has the issue of highlighting the problems of the past to show how things are better now. The main backdrop is the second season’s setting of the early 1960s. A woman can’t hold hands with her female lover in fear of being ostracized by their community as deviants.
Zachary Quinto, an openly gay actor, questions the methods of the LGBT treatment. “Your hospital still administers electroshock to homosexuality; it’s barbaric,” he says in the second season focused on an insane asylum in a mid-century setting. “Behavior modification is the current standard.”
Murphy is showing it is a time when things were really bad for the LGBT community. It’s been done extensively in war times when dealing with questionable futures to depict happier times of year’s past. For example, the 1944 film, Meet Me in Louis, was set in 1904 when post-WWI I had the nation undergoing a tough transition. In both instances, we are conditioned to feel good about our current situation. While we have made strides, we still have a long way to go.
As much as I am a fan of Ryan Murphy’s genius, he hurts the LGBT community with his one-note stereotypes, minimal diversity, and nostalgia. I get the joke; I hope everyone else does too.