Reeling off an extremely well-crafted and wonderfully executed Glee last night (with Ms Cheno blowing off everyone on screen with her petite-figure and amazing voice!) I found myself embroiled in quite an interesting tweet conversation ('tweetsation'?) regarding Sandy. It all started with the following tweet (which links here)
To which I asked:
This lead to a very (interested, and heated - the best kind!) conversation regarding LGBT representation which I thought best to air out here in the blog in hopes of fleshing out several sides of the argument and maybe inspire a discussion which I find usually centers on knee-jerk reactions without truly exploring the assumptions and ramifications of the arguments which the discussion elicits and demands.
About Sandy: if you haven't watched Glee (and really: why haven't you!?), you'd probably like to know that Sandy was the Glee Club teacher who - after refusing to give Rachel the star treatment she thinks she deserved - got ousted over allegations of sexual misconduct with his (male) students.
The argument proposed in the tweet, the blog post and the subsequent tweet-sation hinged on the fact that, being a 'pedophile,' Sandy should be "killed or written off" the show. What my tweet tried to raise was the question of LGBT visible representation. Namely: should every LGBT character on (network) TV be primed to be a role model? (We've seen this before with sanitized gays such as Will Truman and Marc St James being hailed as positive images, while the Brian Kennys of TV have been both touted and reviled for their 'bad gay' characterization). There are no two sides to this argument, but instead quite an interesting conversation to be had.
Before we answer the role model question with a resounding yes (a popular, and understandable position) I think we should best look at why we are required to answer positively. Well, from the recently released GLAAD statistics ("Gay characters have reached an all-time high") we can start talking about how despite growing in visibility, LGBT characters still only make up 3% of character on TV altogether. Logic goes, with such limited visibility, we should aim for a positive image, no? I mean, what kind of a community are we showing by portraying a pedophile in a high school on a network show, right? True, but then, should all "TV gays" be role models? Would that be an accurate representation of the (so-called) 'gay community' we are attempting to re-present? I can understand the argument against Sandy as a character (he's kind of a creep), but not quite why the argument then needs to jump to 'we shouldn't see Sandys on TV.' The problem with an argument like this lies in the consequences and the limits of it: where does one draw the line? Do rapists, killers and other reprehensible characters get the same treatment? No we say (unless they're gay) - which seems to me a double standard. Every argument that begins with "we need more LGBT visibility" seemingly comes with a tacit caveat ("but only positive visibility"). That, in theory I can understand, but it proposes a theory of media (and TV in particular) which grants itself too much socio-political power as an ideological machine while altogether stripping the audience of any free-thinking opinions. Case in point: could we not argue that despite Sandy's character, Glee as a whole (with Kurt in particular) advance a positive image of LGBT folk? Yes, you might say, but it is the negative image of Sandy that (hetero)viewers will cling to... which in my view is just an argument that admits defeat (and talks down to its intended audience) from the get-go.
Put differently - the impetus to put a 'good image' on TV gays is ultimately an ideological/political argument which stresses the fact that only by providing an image of well-adjusted gay people will 'we' win over the heterosexuals who are against us. This is the classic "We are just like you!" argument which organizations which I fully respect and admire use constantly to sway everyone from Californian to American Idol voters. This is deeply rooted in a theory of identity politics which I feel is quite out-dated (or at least is in dire need of a revamping) as it reeks of 'affirmative action' ideology. This can be helpful (as we've learned) but it also doesn't fix the problem at stake (namely discrimination and harassment). To require all TV gays to be 'good gays' is to demand equality in visibility, but not in representation: aren't we supposed to be striving for characters whose sexuality isn't their sole raison d'être? Aren't 'good gay characters' supposed to come from 'good writing' (as Glee observed - and was praised for by GLAAD itself - last week) as opposed to a vision of morality/ethics?
Maybe that's my biggest qualm with this specific argument. Whether we agree or not on whether characters like Sandy belong on TV full stop, shouldn't distract us from the fact that he's on a show which very overtly plays with (and tries to undermine) stereotypes (from two dimensional 'jock' and 'cheerleader' we went to 'conflicted glee/football player' and 'celibate' pregnant cheerleader). This, added to the fact that Glee - in tone, style and even subject matter (let alone casting!) - relishes a queer/campy aesthetic, begs the question of why we don't trust the audience to understand that the show itself never advocates (and even paints quite an unsympathetic version of) Sandy's actions. Or is the argument again that 'straight' viewers won't get the tongue-in-cheek tone of the show and will still walk away thinking we're all Sandys? If that's where we begin, we have little ground to gain.
These are mostly more questions than answers, but I don't think a knee-jerk "he's a pedophile what's the doing on TV" is the way to go. I mean, if the argument was couched in the mechanics of the show itself ("Sandy has been used merely as plot device rather than a believable character" - which, let's face it, is true) I'd be more inclined to agree with you in asking Murphy & co. to write him off.
Phew. Okay /rant over.