The New Normal
By Jerry Portwood
Will & Grace photo: Everett Collection
Modern Family: ABC
Modern Family is the most popular show on television -- depending on how you measure the ratings power of that covetable 18–49 age demographic.That means, despite what you might think of its stereotypically fey fathers, Mitchell (gay actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cameron (straight actor Eric Stonestreet), the fact is that Modern Family may be the most radical form of propaganda the LGBT community currently has going for it.
Cam and Mitch don’t worry about waistlines and fashion -- as Will and Jack did on Will & Grace -- instead, they are obsessed with rearing their adopted Asian daughter and are contemplating expanding their nuclear family with another child. Every week, millions of Americans are seeing two men raise a daughter, which isn’t unthinkable (we had the first hint of that in the late ’80s with My Two Dads, a show that was ostensibly straight but contained notes of queer fear). But it’s the reason a Facebook campaign to pressure the network, the Disney-owned ABC, to allow Cam and Mitch to kiss, was so revolutionary.
But is this false progress? Nielsen has proclaimed LGBT-inclusive shows “the new mainstream” of television -- with gay-friendly shows capitalizing on 28% of broadcast primetime viewing (and 22% of ad dollars). It explains the competition between Happy Endings and Whitney to be the next Friends-with-a-non-threatening-gay-pal, and why the once-dominant American Idol may finally come out of the closet. Ryan Murphy, however, remains our most prominent culture czar when it comes to queer characters on TV. Although praise for his creation of Glee’s Kurt is trumpeted from the mountaintops (and actor Chris Colfer was recently voted the most-eligible bachelor in Out’s online poll), he’s actually an anomaly. Murphy has typically portrayed deranged, perverse, and despicable homos; just think of Zachary Quinto as one-half of a murderous ghostly gay couple on American Horror Story or the crazy transsexuals of Nip/Tuck. The fact that his new sitcom project for the fall, The New Normal, is about a gay couple and the female surrogate who will carry their baby may be a way to balance out that pathological trail of discarded characters.
So does exposure mean progress? Sure. For any of us who grew up never seeing a man so much as look longingly at another man, these are incredible times. But that doesn’t mean we should think that it’s going to mean marriage equality for all. But seeing two dull dads smooching on TV is definitely something extraordinary -- especially for our parents.