As we are becoming a more self aware society, we constantly discuss poorly- or under-represented groups in the media. I myself have written about how, even as gay people have started having more positive characters, the vast majority of homosexuals in the media have been unintentionally negative stereotypes. If you read things about Doctor Who (you mean you DON’T read about people’s opinions on Doctor Who?!) you have probably seen an essay or two about how problematic and sexist female companions and the always-male Doctors are. And, of course, there are constantly issues with
Latinos, Blacks, American Indians, Middle Easterners, Asians every ethnicity but whities on TV and in movies.
But the real, most misrepresented minority is so overlooked that they haven’t even been discussed in these injustices. I’m, obviously, talking about people who rarely seem to be main characters, instead being relegated to, at most, the sidekick. People who you see in real life every day but can go hours without seeing in movies or shows.
That’s right: glasses wearers. Foureyes. Um… Is there another disparaging word for glasses wearers? Because, if there is, pretend I’m saying it righttttt HERE.
You get the idea.
As a glasses wearer, I have to strain my already strained eyes to find representations of glasses wearers in pop culture. Let’s start with my favorite show: 30 Rock. Who on that wears glasses? Firstly, Tina Fey — though she actually stops wearing them as much as time goes on. Why do you abandon your roots, Tina? Why don’t you embrace your identity? The other character on 30 Rock who wears glasses is Frank, the porn-addicted super nerd. That last bit will come up later. And that’s still only two of the seven main characters, and there are basically no supporting characters with glasses, either.
Next, let’s look at some other shows: Parks and Recreation, which is about government employees, has zero glasses wearers; Grey’s Anatomy, a show about doctors, has zero glasses wearers; and don’t even get me started on the CSI shows, which are about forensics specialists who seem to all be super models (also, I don’t watch CSI so some might wear glasses but I’m ranting so I can’t take the time to verify that!). The list goes on and on, and continues to be saddening.
How is it that there are so few people with spectacles in the media when national studies show that 64% of adults in America have eye wear? The answer, again, is staring you in the face, but you can’t see it — sort of like the proverbial person with a heavy correction who refuses to wear their glasses because they’re afraid of being labeled a nerd; if you wear glasses, you will be labeled a nerd!
To wear glasses is to be instantly considered both smarter and geekier, both of which are impediments to sex appeal. There is actual advice out there about how people should wear glasses to job interviews because they will look more competent. Somehow, having terrible eyesight is linked to having a bigger brain, as if the reason my eyes are awful is because my bulbous brain is protruding onto my optical orbs and causing them to malfunction. Similarly, when I prattle on about which Final Fantasy game is my favorite and why, people simply nod their heads and say, “Of course you can immediately list that! Your eyes are terrible, THUS you love video games.”
In the time of the war on women, the war on race, and the war on religion, the closest analog to addressing people’s differing perceptions of you based on whether or not you wear glasses is the issue of nerds vs. jocks. Because, OF COURSE, if you have glasses, you are a nerd — not bad eyesight — and if you don’t have glasses you are a meaty, meaty meathead — or, at best, a secret contacts wearer who wants to avoid being ridiculed as a nerd.
Think about it with one of the most famous characters in American pop culture: Superman. When he’s being awesome and saving the world he wears no glasses; when he is being a lame reporter and generally hiding his bad social skills, he is bespectacled.
And you also have the same with Peter Parker and Spiderman in the last completed movie trilogy (we’re talkin’ Tobey Maguire, here). When he’s a boring nerd at the start, he’s got glasses; then he gets bitten by a radioactive spider, and the ultimate way the director can illustrate his drastic physical improvements is GASP! He no longer needs corrective eye wear!!! Praise the lord, he is saved!
Or go back to CSI; the show is actually largely about nerds (“I can tell where his fruit soda came from based on the protein compositions in his milkshake, teehee!”), but they still can’t wear glasses because, as soon as they do, they lose their sex appeal. I mean, like, EVERYONE totes knows if you wear glasses you can only be cute, not sexy, duh! It’s the ultimate “She’s All That” scenario, where someone goes from being an unpopular geek to a super popular prom queen the moment they discard their useful eye wear, despite the fact they were Rachael Leigh Cook the entire time.
As a glasses wearer and a nerd, I must insist you respect my identities! No longer should my physical impediment be linked to my love of Doctor Who and Star Trek. The fact I happen to love geeky things and can very fairly be called a foureyes is pure happenstance, no more related than my lack of religion and my love of puppies.
With all these misrepresentations about glasses wearers, we as a culture need to discuss eye wear and what it actually means versus what it is symbolic for. Can someone do that? Anyone? Because I’m certainly not the one you want to lead a serious sociological discussion.
Posted by clemarchives in Humor, Ramblings, Social Science Tags: CSI, Culture, Eyewear, Glasses, Media, Misrepresentation, negative stereotypes, Nerd, Prejudice, She's all that, Spectacles, Spider Man, Super Man, Terrible, Unfair
Recently, one of my favorite comedy shows, Happy Endings, ended (unhappily, hahahaha PUN). This was a sitcom kind of in the vein of Friends, only I like it more. One of the best parts of Happy Endings is a certain character, Max Blum (Adam Pally). He’s a loveable curmudgeon who is chubby, hairy, and dirty, eats and sleeps most all of his days away, hates committing to relationships, and has no work ethic. Max is a slightly unusual character with all of this, but what makes him completely unique is that he also happens to be gay. In fact, Max is probably the single best gay guy I’ve ever seen in a show (not to mention one of the funniest characters), and it’s because he has such a huge list of vices.
You might think that me pointing to Max as the best gay character is preposterous, as he’s not even necessarily a good character with all of these flaws. You might say, “But there are so many other shows with better representations of gay men!”
There are, after all, many, more positive portrayals of homosexual men. You have Will and Grace, a show with two gay protagonists, where both are relatively successful, witty, well kempt, and fit. Will is masculine enough, and the other gay lead, Jack, is a sassy diva. The current gay comedy dream team, Modern Family, where Mitch is a successful lawyer and Cam is the stay at home dad. Both are witty, fashionable, and urbane. Again, Mitch is somewhat masculine (though still very effeminate) , and Cam is more of a sassy diva. Another show that only had a one season run in 2012-2013 was The New Normal, which is… Surprisingly similar. Both are clean, fit, and well educated. One is a masculine doctor, and the other is a sassy diva who is a producer for a musical TV show. There were also similar gay characters on Partners, but that was pretty bad so I didn’t pay attention.
All of these characters are very similar — they have good comebacks, and are intelligent, funny, clean, successful, kind, fit (generally), and metropolitan — but they’re all similar in good ways, really. Each pair follows a very similar trope, where one is vaguely masculine and one is vaguely effeminate, though both end up just being vaguely androgynous (which is not a problem). Their only flaws are also shared, being that they gossip a bit too much. That, admittedly, makes them pretty great, if a bit too similar. Shouldn’t I be praising Mitch, the lawyer, or Cam, the
mom man who would sacrifice anything for his partner or child? After all, many gay people themselves have embraced the characters as being what people should look to when they think of LGBT people!
Greg, what is wrong with you?!
Max is empowering — more empowering than any of these other characters — in the same way that Liz Lemon, Tina Fey’s character on 30 Rock, is considered empowering: both, while they have some redeemable traits, also have many, many unique flaws. Liz Lemon is successful and attractive, but she’s afraid of commitment, is not afraid of devious action (including going to the AA meeting of the guy she likes to hear his secrets and using her power to create a fake job for a pregnant teenager as a ploy to get the baby), and is addicted to hotdogs.
What makes them both, somehow, role models, is that they are unique. Let’s get one thing straight: stereotypes are inherently bad — even if the traits that are pointed to are positive — because they create a narrow expectation of what is appropriate. It’s like how making a huge amount of Black characters in movies the wise, friendly person who offers white people life advice doesn’t empower Black people; it makes it seem like there’s only one appropriate way for Black people to interact with white people. The same is true when you say that gay men need to dress well, be witty, and know the trendiest spots if they want to to earn a place on prime time TV.
Max is a character with just as many (if not more) bad traits as good ones, what with being chubby, lazy, moody, overly competitive, slovenly, insecure, afraid of commitment, etc. Surprisingly enough, this makes him an amazing gay character because he’s not at all what you expect from a gay character; he’s unique, and he breaks the mold from pretty much every homosexual in mainstream TV. Max’s faults end up being even more empowering for me, as a gay man, than any “positive” stereotypes from other gay characters.
It isn’t really acceptance to say, “I accept you as long as you fit into this box.” A box is, by definition, confining. In movements that are about embracing sexual/ethnic/gender diversity, shouldn’t there be just as much of an emphasis on embracing physical/mental/psychological diversity? The answer is, to put it as simply as possible, “Yes.”
Posted by clemarchives in Serious, Social Science, Television Tags: 30 Rock, Agenda, Argument, Empowering, Entertainment, Faults, Gay, Happy Endings, LGBT, Liz Lemon, Max, Max Blum, Modern Family, Partners, Role model, Sitcoms, society, The New Normal, Vices