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Gay TV and Straight America

Ron Becker

Publication Year: 2006

After decades of silence on the subject of homosexuality, television in the 1990s saw a striking increase in programming that incorporated and, in many cases, centered on gay material. In shows including Friends, Seinfeld, Party of Five, Homicide, Suddenly Susan, The Commish, Ellen, Will & Grace, and others, gay characters were introduced, references to homosexuality became commonplace, and issues of gay and lesbian relationships were explored, often in explicit detail.In Gay TV and Straight America, Ron Becker draws on a wide range of political and cultural indicators to explain this sudden upsurge of gay material on prime-time network television. Bringing together analysis of relevant Supreme Court rulings, media coverage of gay rights battles, debates about multiculturalism, concerns over political correctness, and much more, Becker's assessment helps us understand how and why televised gayness was constructed by a specific culture of tastemakers during the decade.On one hand the evidence points to network business strategies that embraced gay material as a valuable tool for targeting a quality audience of well-educated, upscale adults looking for something "edgy" to watch. But, Becker also argues that the increase of gay material in the public eye creates growing mainstream anxiety in reaction to the seemingly civil public conversation about equal rights.In today's cultural climate where controversies rage over issues of gay marriage yet millions of viewers tune in weekly to programs like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, this book offers valuable insight to the complex condition of America's sexual politics.

Published by: Rutgers University Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

I am deeply grateful to the many people who contributed to this book.The Media and Cultural Studies program in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison offered a rare environment where I was both fully challenged and whole-heartedly supported. I could...

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Introduction: The Importance of Gay-Themed TV

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pp. 1-12

The day after the 2004 presidential election, a disillusioned Jon Stewart and his guest, New York Senator Charles Schumer, tried to figure out how George W. Bush could have won. Given the major issues dominating headlines at the time, the suggestion that a prime-time sitcom had helped put Bush over the top was both comically absurd and strikingly on the mark...

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Chapter 1: Straight Panic and American Culture in the 1990s

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pp. 13-36

In 1991 I was a closeted undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin—aware of my gay sexual orientation but fearful that others were as well.That year the campus gay and lesbian student organization (no doubt inspired by the direct-action strategies employed by ACT UP and Queer Nation) coordinated...

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Chapter 2: Thinking about Gay People: Civil Rights and the Confusion Over Sexual Identity

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pp. 37-79

Shortly after taking office in January 1993, Bill Clinton privately confided to his old friend, civil rights historian Taylor Branch, that his new job had already been unexpectedly thought provoking.1 While Clinton had planned to devote his first days in office to launching the economic reforms...

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Chapter 3: Network Narrowcasting and the Slumpy Demographic

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pp. 80-107

In 1995 Matt Williams, co-creator of the ABC family sitcom Home Improvement, bemoaned one of the most notable developments in network television during the 1990s: the increasing importance of demographic numbers in general, and an obsession with a narrow segment of the...

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Chapter 4: The Affordable, Multicultural Politics of Gay Chic

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pp. 108-135

In this chapter I augment the industry-focused analysis offered in chapter 3 by asking why certain straight viewers might have found gay-themed television appealing. Gay material wasn’t only useful for network executives, I argue, but also for many viewers for whom watching prime-time TV with a gay twist spoke to specific...

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Chapter 5: Gay Material and Prime-Time Network Television in the 1990s

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pp. 136-188

At the 2000 Emmy awards, Will & Grace was a surprise winner, beating out Friends, Frasier, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Sex and the City for best comedy series. In accepting the award, series cocreator Max Mutchnick implied that the show’s victory said as much about the television...

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Chapter 6: “We’re Not Gay!”: Heterosexuality and Gay-Themed Programming

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pp. 189-213

Jerry Seinfeld and George Constanza were anxious to set the record straight on the February 11, 1993, episode of the hit NBC sitcom Seinfeld. Entitled “The Outing,” the episode places sexuality—both homo and hetero—front and center in a plot structured around a 1990s twist...

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Conclusion: Straight Panic in the 2000s

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pp. 214-225

In March 2003 a colleague of mine struck up a conversation with a white, straight, twentysomething man sitting next to her on an airplane.1 Their conversation eventually turned to 9/11 and the young man expressed the renewed sense of patriotism that came over him in the wake of the terrorist attacks...

Appendix A: Select Gay-Themed Network TV Episodes

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pp. 227-232

Appendix B: List of Interviews

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p. 233


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pp. 235-270


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pp. 271-283

About the Author

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p. 284


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E-ISBN-13: 9780813539324
E-ISBN-10: 0813539323
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813536880
Print-ISBN-10: 081353688X

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 21 illustrations
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 76876401
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Gay TV and Straight America

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Homosexuality on television.
  • Homosexuality -- United States -- Public opinion.
  • Public opinion -- United States.
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