Brace Fellow Taylor Clarke ’10 Analyzes Depictions of Homosexuality in TV and Film

Taylor Clarke ’10 kicked off the annual series of Brace Fellow presentations with her project “Queersighted: Portrayals of Gays and Lesbians in the Mass Media.” Clarke’s project focused on depictions of homosexuality in television and film, spanning from the early 1990s to contemporary mainstream media. She first analyzed 1990s sitcoms with gay characters, such as “Roseanne”, “Friends” and “Will & Grace”. She deduced that in most of the sitcoms, the straight characters remained the focus of the episodes and the gay characters, particularly males, played comedic secondary roles. Clarke then compared older sitcoms to contemporary shows like “Desperate Housewives”, “Brothers & Sisters” and “Ugly Betty”. She said that the gay and lesbian roles in these series lasted longer through the seasons and tackled more serious issues. Clarke noted that the rise of cable television and “edgy programming” contributed to the inclusion of gays and lesbians on TV. Clarke said the “socio-political upheaval [regarding] gay and lesbian civil rights” was especially instrumental in incorporating homosexual characters into media. Clarke also presented examples from “The O.C.”, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “House”. She found that most “lesbian” characters were actually not lesbian, but bisexual in orientation. She observed that these characters tended to appear very feminine and held brief “fleeting love interests.” “There is always a male character inserted into [their relationships],” said Clarke. Clarke then moved on to discuss gay and lesbian portrayals in film. She discussed acclaimed movies with gay themes, such as “Brokeback Mountain” and “Milk”. She noticed, however, that these films were mostly tragedies and frequently ended with the death of the homosexual protagonist. Most of the films she analyzed were based on true stories. “It’s easier for Hollywood to make a [movie] if it actually happened,” she said. Most interesting, Clarke said, was the stark contrast in the homosexual portrayals in television and film. While television shows primarily cast gays and lesbians as less-developed characters, films with themes of homosexuality were much more grave. Clarke said that she has “wanted to do a [Brace Fellow] project for a long time.” Although she did not receive the fellowship when she first applied as an Upper, she was accepted into the program when she applied last spring. Clarke drew the inspiration for her presentation from her own experience of coming out and her love of television. “I watch television a lot, and I think that it’s interesting for gays and lesbians to watch television and film because we look for ourselves in it,” she said. “If you are a gay or lesbian teenager right now, it’s very hard to find accurate images of yourself in the media,” Clarke added. She said she chose to explore the idea to see if she was just missing these images. Under the guidance of her faculty advisor Catherine Tousignant, Instructor in English, Clarke spent the summer conducting research. Her resources included books, articles, scholarly works and clips from television shows and movies. Clarke believes that the issues she addressed in her presentation are significant social issues. She said, “In order for gays and lesbians who are coming out to accept themselves, you need to show images of them in the media, to show [society is] accepting.” Clarke’s presentation was co-sponsored by the Brace Center for Gender Studies and the Gay-Straight Alliance. Edward Rotundo, Co-Director of the Brace Center, said, “[The co-sponsorship] shows just how big the overlap is between issues with sexual orientation and issues with gender.” Acknowledging that there are now more gay and lesbian characters in the media, Frank Tipton, Faculty Advisor to GSA, said, “The question now is how those roles are reflecting the gay and lesbian community.” Dominic Dejesus ’10, Head of the Gay-Straight Alliance, said he believes the topic is becoming increasingly relevant in society. Dejesus said, “You can’t tell the story of America without telling the story of our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender brethren. You see [this issue] more and more in the news and in politics… It’s time to see some change in the media.”