I recently read an article titled "Heterosexual Anxiety and Gay Media Visibility" by James J. Dean. In the article Dean summarizes results of a study he conducted on heterosexual perceptions of gay visibility in the media. Dean interviewed sixty people (15 African-American females, 15 white females, 15 African-American males and 15 white males) and analyzed their responses to a variety of questions relating to media exposure of gay characters on television.
Most of the participants' responses that Dean included in the article were completely ignorant not to mention retarded, to me, anyway.
One woman explained her anxiety in terms of her future children seeing these images on TV and 'internalizing' said images and 'choosing' to be gay. I would expect some dumb hick to say such a thing but not a college student. Why would anybody choose to be gay given the ill treatment of these individuals by society. So much for believing a college education will lead to progress and rational thinking.
Another participant remarked on the high number of gay images in the media and how it gives an impression that a large percentage of the US population is actually gay. He seems to think that the gay population in the US is around 5% and that the media's portrayal of homosexuality makes it seem as though the percentage is much higher than it actually is. This is beside the point. When TV was in its infancy, I would estimate that 99% of characters on TV were heterosexual. This did not mean that 99% of the population was heterosexual too. By this person's logic, it would seem that TV programming should only devote a certain percentage of airtime to gay images that corresponds to the percentage of gay people in the population.
By the same token, since white people account for approximately 74% of the US population, this figure should be reflected in the media. This is probably what is already happening or at least it used to be like this. You mostly see white people on TV and this is discrimination. I don't care about the population figures. I believe that there is a lot of room for multiculturalism in television and the media should reflect this.
According to Media Awareness Network, "[m]ost mainstream media content...reinforces white privilege by featuring white characters and addressing white interests and experiences. When programming does feature non-white characters, they usually appear in supporting roles."1
It is because of this inequality that we shouldn't look at population numbers to determine the ratio of programming.
Some of the participants had a problem with Jack's character on Will & Grace. Jack's flamboyancy and femininity made some of the heterosexual male participants uncomfortable. (I for one thought he was hilarious.) One woman expressed concern over Jack's stereotyping. But she, as well as two other participants, felt that gay characters on TV should be more like Will, who seems pretty 'straight' relative to Jack's character. They also seem to think that every gay character on TV has to fit the mold of a role model. Is every heterosexual character on TV required to do the same? It seems to me that only minorities are expected to be role models. That's probably because the media has often portrayed them in stereotypical fashion, if at all.
The heterosexual anxieties expressed by some the participants borders on paranoia. Worrying about their children becoming gay, worrying that a constant gay presence in the media will make it seem as though being gay is normal (what? of course it's normal and people should see it as normal), and feeling uncomfortable with gay people who express femininity is downright intolerant.
Get your heads out of your asses, you homophobes, and evolve already. We've been waiting for you for too long.
1. White Authority in the Media