One man's attempt at literacy

Tag Archives: Argument

Totally belongs to Disney YORecently, 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?!

Liz Lemon/30 Rock owned by NBC and such DAWGMax 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.”

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This last weekend, I was at a convention for the company I’m interning at. The company? Just Food. Just Food is about providing urban populations with local food, primarily fruits and vegetables, with an emphasis on helping underserved communities. As you can guess, the convention was comprised of hippies (one teaching assistant poured me some water into a compostable bowl  from a pitcher with the cut of a plant in it, and said, “we’re drinking to celebrate the passion and creation within all of us”) to upper middle class, older progressives.

The crowd, especially the latter group, reminded me of the stereotypical Californian, and a story I had heard but don’t really remember; apparently, my brother was ostracized as a child because he had been born and lived for four years in Los Angeles. See, in Montana, Californians are considered elitists — really, Californian elitists are a pretty commonly accepted group nationwide, but in Montana and the Midwest they are especially well known and despised, to the extent that a politician who drives a Prius (a “California car”) is at a disadvantage.

If Californians are considered elitist, than the people at this conference must surely be elitists, too; everyone there was concerned with waste reduction, fuel efficiency, renewable energy, etc. You know, the same things that Californians are.

In America, we hate the idea of the elite, to the extent that it came to be one of the main talking points in the 2000 election, with Al Gore being that elitist who harped on climate change and George Bush being the champion of guys you’d really like to go have beer with. And the idea of elitism is clearly not even directly linked to money, as Obama was smeared as an elitist even when facing off against McCain, who owned seven homes, 13 cars, and had access to a private jet.

What this spells out is simple: somehow, if you want to help those around you you are an “elitist.” Caring about people who aren’t your family, aren’t directly in your neighborhood, or aren’t a member of your church makes you a member of the elite. After all, why would you want to help those you don’t interact with?

I’m here to say something I am sure I will have to say many, many times in the future: empathy is not elitist. Wanting to protect the environment so that future generations don’t have massive, avoidable flooding, fires, and droughts is not something I should be stigmatized for. Thinking that all people should have access to nutritious food, potable water, and adequate shelter, no matter what part of the world they live in or how economically productive they are, is not something I should feel apologetic for. Thinking everyone should receive a basic education and be free to pursue a higher education if they so choose for free is not something that should earn me ridicule.

These things don’t make me elitist: they make me the exact opposite.

The fact that I think no one should suffer — especially not because of my actions — is not due to some noblesse oblige (the idea that people with power/wealth should take care of lower class people because they’re obligated to). It’s this little thing called I care about other humans. Ignoring people outside your community, your race, your social class, your sexuality — ignoring people at all for any of those reasons — that’s elitist. Thinking others should be fine on their own because you were fine on your own (assuming you actually were ever on your own) doesn’t make you a pragmatic fan of tough love; it makes you an apathetic jerk.

I want to help the poor and the uneducated so one day they are neither poor nor uneducated. I want a safety net that works better and social security that is constantly improving. I want an environment that continues to support both humans and the other species that exist on this planet. You think that makes me an elitist? Then you don’t know what it means to truly care about things that don’t directly benefit you, and that makes you among the most brazenly elitist people I’ve ever met.