27 Mar Television Takeover
You’re being manipulated and you may not even recognize it.
I don’t watch much television, truth be told, we don’t even own a television anymore, but my husband and I used to enjoy sitting down and watching a show together in the evenings. On one of these occasions, in the course of the episode it was revealed that one of the dozen or so main characters was gay. Disappointed by this new revelation, I started making a mental list of all of my favorite television shows past and present and suddenly it occurred to me that the majority of them had at least one newly “outed” homosexual character.
It felt a bit like déjà vu because it seemed every show followed the same pattern. Initially the show did not appear to endorse homosexuality. It began with what could be assumed to be a heterosexual cast of characters, but as the seasons continued and I became more invested in the characters and the show’s plot, more characters would “come out” as either gay or bi-sexual, and the show soon proved to be a vehicle to promote the producers views, and make those views seem indisputable. Of course by then I was already too devoted to abandon the show altogether so I would continue to watch despite my principles on the subject.
Initially I thought the influx of homosexual characters on television was an odd coincidence and chalked it up to Hollywood liberalism, but upon further investigation I recently discovered that there is a much greater plan at work. Turns out that there is actually an organization responsible for these character changes. Formerly called “The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation”, but now known only by their acronym GLAAD, the organization was originally formed “to protest skewed coverage of LGBT issues and ‘to put pressure on media organizations to end homophobic reporting’” (Ambrosino).
Now, their mission it is to “[bring] LGBT characters and plotlines to movie theaters, television sets and even comic books — working with writers, producers and studios to ensure accurate and diverse representations of LGBT people on the big and small screens”. Their motto? “Leading the conversation. Shaping the media narrative. Changing the culture. That’s GLAAD at work” (GLAAD). Changing the culture, indeed! In fact, GLAAD attributes America’s major attitude shift in favor of same-sex marriage to television programming.
In reference to a recent poll of millennials that indicated 81% were in favor of same-sex marriage, GLAAD spokesman Wilson Cruz stated “We really cannot deny the fact that the reason for that is because they were in front of their television sets and seeing films and reading newspapers that were really telling the stories of LGBT people.” (GLAAD at Work)
How television influences opinion
The idea that television shows could have such a profound effect on public opinion seemed a bit far-fetched, until I realized the sheer volume of television programming we, as Americans, consume. According to a recent Nielsen report “The average American over the age of 2 spends more than 34 hours a week watching live television, plus another three to six hours watching taped programs” (Hinckley). Thirty-four hours a week; that’s an average of five hours per day, and more than five and a half full days per month spent watching television. That is more time than most of us spend with our family or friends, so in a sense, the characters become like our friends.
Think about it. We listen intently as they reveal their secrets, we mourn their losses, we celebrate their triumphs, and we speculate about what they will do next. By the end of a season, we have become so attached to the characters that we not only feel like we know these people, we start to share their opinions and overlook their character flaws.
Unfortunately, this effect is not lost on the television networks, nor the people at GLAAD. One GLAAD report boasted that “TV hasn’t merely reflected the changes in social attitudes; it has also had an important role in bringing them about. Time and again, it’s been shown that personally knowing an LGBT person is one of the most influential factors in shifting one’s views on LGBT issues, but in the absence of that, many viewers have first gotten to know us as television characters” (Bozell). With this knowledge in mind, GLAAD has set out to make sure the stories of LGBT people are woven into as many programs as possible.
GLAADS role in programming
In fact, every year they conduct an analysis of primetime broadcast and cable television to determine each major network’s level of “LGBT inclusion”. According to GLAAD’s Network Responsibility Index, “each program [is] reviewed for on-screen inclusion of LGBT representations or content. GLAAD analysts [note] whether the LGBT depictions had a minor or major presence in the story, as well as the orientation/gender identity and the race/ethnicity of those depicted”. “GLAAD uses this yearly data to create a clearer picture of the stories and images being presented by television networks, and to encourage networks to include diverse LGBT representations within them” (GLAAD NRI).
“In the 2014-15 season, GLAAD’s study found that 3.9 percent of 813 characters regularly seen on prime-time network scripted series will be lesbian, gay or bisexual, a total of 32 characters. That represents an increase over last year’s 3.3 percent” (CBS). “GLAAD also counted 33 recurring LGBT characters on primetime broadcast series. The number of LGBT characters on scripted primetime cable television continues to rise with an additional 22 regular characters, for a total of 64 in the 2014-2015 season, up from 42 last year. Additionally, GLAAD counted 41 LGBT recurring characters on scripted cable series” (GLAAD WWAT).
May I point out that these statistics only reflect the number of scripted characters appearing during primetime on broadcast and cable networks. It does not include unscripted LGBT personalities on reality TV shows, programs not airing at prime-time slots, or repeated episodes, nor does it count the number of episodes with significant LGBT themes. Needless to say, the LGBT community is well represented on television.
According to GLADD, with all that the LGBT community has achieved in the last several years “it is only fitting that the heightened awareness of our community’s lives and personhood should translate into better media representation as well.” (GLAAD NRI).
However, the Media Research Center’s Culture and Media Institute (CMI) “[has] criticized GLAAD, saying television executives feel forced to feature gay and lesbian characters… ‘So if it seems that you can’t flip through the channels today without running across gay characters or story lines, you’re right. You can’t. And GLAAD’s there to make sure of it.’” (Coleman).
True Statistic of gay population
With television being as homosexually saturated as it is, it’s no wonder Americans have such an inflated perception of the homosexual population. “In surveys conducted in 2002 and 2011, pollsters at Gallup found that members of the American public massively overestimated how many people are gay or lesbian. In 2002, a quarter of those surveyed guessed upwards of a quarter of Americans were “homosexual.” By 2011, that misperception had only grown, with more than a third of those surveyed now guessing that more than 25 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian” (Franke-ruta).
In response to these findings, Stuart Gaffney, a spokesman for the group Marriage Equality USA stated, “My first reaction to that, aside from a little chuckle, is that it’s actually a sign of the success of the movement for LGBT rights,” (Franke-ruta).
Why is this extreme overestimation a sign of success?
Because when you convince the public that same-sex attraction and homosexuality is a very prevalent and common thing, they stop thinking that it’s weird or wrong, they stop fighting against it, and start accepting it. For evidence of this we need only look to public opinion polls regarding same-sex marriage.
So what is the true percentage of homosexuals in America? According to Gary J. Gates a LGBT demographer from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, only “about 3.8 percent self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender… [which] comes out to about 9 million Americans, which if you put them all in one place, it would be about the size of New Jersey” (Gates).
Percentage of Homosexuals by State
What can be done?
So if the LGBT community is such a small minority of the population, why is it that their political interests are being realized at such an aggressive rate?
Because they are fighting largely unopposed.
If we want to “lead the conversation” and “change the culture” in favor of family values we must do more than unplug our televisions or express our disapproval of alternative lifestyles in the comments section of web articles. We need to put our efforts where they may actually promote change.
One way we can promote family values is by being aware of the legislation being considered and contacting our representatives when anti-family bills cross their desks.
Another way is by contacting those who decide what airs on our televisions. According to the Parents Television Council (PTC), an organization that advocates for responsible entertainment, parents who are concerned about homosexual, anti-family, and negative programming, and express their opinion to key decision-makers such as network executives and advertisers, can have a huge impact on television programming (Coleman).
(To get involved visit: http://www.parentstv.org/PTC/networks/main.asp).
Pro-Family values used to be mainstream. In that sense our culture has already changed. But we have no right to be disgruntled by the cultural and political changes happening around us if we aren’t willing to fight equally as hard as the opposition to protect the values we believe in.
The days of standing idly by are behind us. Now it’s either fight back or accept defeat.
Erika Walker is currently a senior at Brigham Young University-Idaho working to complete her bachelor’s degree in Marriage and Family Studies. As a wife and mother, she places high value on the institution of marriage and hopes to be able to help others establish healthy marital relationships.
Ambrosino, Brandon. “‘Duck Dynasty’ Reversal Shows GLAAD Has an Expiration Date | TIME.com.” Time.com. Time, 28 Dec. 2013. Web. 24 Feb. 2015. <http://ideas.time.com/2013/12/28/duck-dynasty-reversal-shows-glaad-has-an-expiration-date/>.
Bozell, L. Brent. “TV Has to Be at Least 42 Percent Gay?” CNS News. Media Research Center, 25 Oct. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. <http://cnsnews.com/commentary/l-brent-bozell-iii/tv-has-be-least-42-percent-gay>.
Coleman, R. Leigh. “Are There Too Many Gay Characters on TV? Conservatives Take on Hollywood Networks.” Christian Post. The Christian Post, 2 Sept. 2011. Web. 16 Feb. 2015. <http://www.christianpost.com/news/are-there-too-many-gay-characters-on-tv-time-to-take-on-hollywood-54966/>.
Franke-ruta, Garance. “Americans Have No Idea How Few Gay People There Are.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 31 May 2012. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/05/americans-have-no-idea-how-few-gay-people-there-are/257753/>.
“GLAAD’s Network Responsibility Index 2014.” GLAAD. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, 30 Sept. 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <http://www.glaad.org/nri2014>.
“GLAAD’s Where We Are on TV Report 2014.” GLAAD. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, 30 Sept. 2014. Web. 16 Feb. 2015. <http://www.glaad.org/whereweareontv14>.
Gates, Gary J. “Gay People Count, so Why Not Count Them Correctly?” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 8 Apr. 2011. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/gay-people-count-so-why-not-count-them-correctly/2011/04/07/AFDg9K4C_story.html>.
recent Nielsen report http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv-movies/americans-spend-34-hours-week-watching-tv-nielsen-numbers-article-1.1162285
Hinckley, David. “Americans Watch TV 34 Hours a Week, Says Nielsen.” NY Daily News. NY Daily News, 19 Sept. 2012. Web. 17 Feb. 2015. <http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv-movies/americans-spend-34-hours-week-watching-tv-nielsen-numbers-article-1.1162285>.
“LGBTs Are 10% Of US Population? Wrong, Says Demographer.” NPR. NPR, 8 June 2011. Web. 16 Feb. 2015. <http://www.npr.org/2011/06/08/137057974/-institute-of-medicine-finds-lgbt-health-research-gaps-in-us)>.
“Number of Gay and Lesbian TV Characters Growing, Says GLAAD.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 1 Oct. 2014. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/number-of-gay-and-lesbian-tv-characters-growing-says-glaad/>.
“This Is GLAAD at Work.” YouTube. YouTube, 9 May 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAGE-Jt-RZ4