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1 Dec 2007

is your TV tuned to pink?

Are your TV signals loud and queer? There are more openly gay characters on Singapore TV now than ever before. These days, you can't switch on the TV without seeing at least one openly queer character everyday.

Singapore's neo-conservatives like Thio Li-Ann can rant against gays all they want. But there is one frontier where they have long lost the battle - TV land.

From top: Matthew Rhys plays a gay lawyer in Brothers & Sisters; RobertVerdi, the openly gay co-host of Fashion Police; and singer James Blunt with gay comedian-actress Ellen Degeneres on her show.
There are so many openly gay characters and stars on TV these days that you can't watch television without seeing at least one queer every day.

Last week, on a deadline to finish a project, I spent every night at home working on my laptop. As always, I leave the TV playing in the background so I won't feel alone. And every night, without fail, a gay person would pop up on Channel 5 to entertain me and millions of other TV viewers - without making a whole lot of fuss about his/her sexuality.

On Monday night, I watched my favorite drama Brothers & Sisters where Kevin the gay lawyer tried to work out his issues with his closeted boyfriend Chad. As expected, Channel 5 had to censor the kissing scenes and any dialogue hinting at gay sex. But what was left made it quite clear that Kevin is gay, that he actively dates men, that his family knows he's gay, and that they accept and love him completely.

Spoiler alert.

And if you don't already know, Brother & Sisters' season finale will also reveal that Uncle Saul is - gasp - gay too.

On Tuesday night, I saw Fashion Police where the fabulous bitch of a host Robert Verdi tells me why I will never be able to look like a celebrity. This was followed by Grey's Anatomy whose cast includes the openly gay actor T.R. Knight. He plays a straight doctor named George who was often mistaken for gay in the first season but ended marrying a female colleague anyway. (It's okay, he's not that cute.)

Wednesday night was a bumper night for gay spotting. On the hilariously skanky The Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll, a swishy male choreographer appeared in a T-shirt two sizes too small, snapped his fingers and screamed out his commands to the poor pussies. After midnight, there was a very gay episode of Boston Legal where the slightly effeminate Judge Clark Brown sued an ex-gay organisation for claiming it could cure him of his "same-sex attraction disorder." Brown won the case and was awarded US$350,000 - a sort of gay legal fantasy that only exists on American TV. And after that, there was a rerun of Project Runway 2 where almost half of the contestants are queer.

On Thursday night, I turned off the TV so I could concentrate on my work. I switched it on for a while to catch one of my favorite sitcoms Less Than Perfect on Star World (Starhub Channel 18). And whaddaya know? It was a gay episode too! Former TV stars Valerie Harper (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) and Joanna Kerns (Growing Pains) guest-starred as Owen's two lesbian mothers who had come to visit him at work. When Owen's male boss confessed to having issues with women, Joanna offered to counsel him by saying: "Who knows the soul of a straight man better than a lesbian woman?" Hear, hear!

Finally, on Friday night, I stayed up till 2am to finish my work and ended up catching an episode of The Ellen Degeneres Show. Now I rarely watch Ellen. But when I do, I am truly amazed at the fact that this woman came out of the closet in the 1990s, saw her career collapse because of it, picked it up and rebuilt it brick and brick, and has today become the most successful daytime show host after Oprah, with more fans than she's ever had in her life.

On this particular episode, Ellen interviewed singer James Blunt and asked about his love life:

Ellen: So are you dating anyone right now?
James: No, but I'll give you my number later.
(Ellen gives her audience a bewildered look.)
Ellen: Um, James, I'm gonna have to tell you something about myself later backstage.
(The audience laughs affectionately.)
James: Well, you know, I am actually very effeminate.
(The audience laughs some more and clap their hands.)

Two celebs make gay jokes and the mostly straight audience cheers them on. Talk about climate change.

Of course, all these shows I've mentioned on Channel 5 are imported from the US, where the strength of the gay lobby and the surfeit of gay people in the creative sectors almost guarantee gay representation in TV shows. Our own Singapore-made productions on Channel 5, Channel 8, Suria and Arts Central don't have any openly gay persons. Some have outrageously campy characters and hosts. But none of them are openly gay like Ellen, or Kevin from Brother & Sisters, or Mark from Ugly Betty.

Still, the fact that we get to see Ellen and Kevin and Mark represents a major change.

About 15 years ago, Channel 5 showed Beverly Hills 90210, a popular teen series. One episode featured a gay boy whom Kelly had a crush on and tried to seduce. It was such a sensational TV moment that it created a minor hoo-ha in the newspapers even before it aired. When the episode did air, much of the scenes had been cut and what was left didn't make sense.

Today, an episode like that would go largely unnoticed. And that is the way it should be.

After all, many of us are convinced that homosexuality, bisexuality and transsexuality are as biologically normal as heterosexuality. Indeed, when the day comes where a character's sexuality becomes completely irrelevant to TV audiences - as Ellen's sexuality is irrelevant to her audience - that may be the day when gay activists can finally take a seat and breathe a sigh of relief.

Meanwhile, some of us need to sit down and figure out the answer to a crucial question: How do we get Thio Li-Ann to watch Ellen?

Reader's Comments

Comment #1 was deleted by its author
Comment #2 was deleted by its author
3. 2007-12-01 23:53  
They showed Queer Eye for the Straight Guy in Malaysia in 2005. I don't think Sg was showing it back then. Maybe i'm wrong.
4. 2007-12-02 04:05  
gay tv.

maybe we should lock thio in a tv room 24hrs for a day. (;
5. 2007-12-02 04:40  
'Gay TV' is pretty much a one-trick pony, with 'gay' characters, in general, pandering to the same old 'fabulous' cliches. I'm sick of it/them; sick of the same old sassy (wo)man-eater lesbians, or uber-camp Greek Chorus camp guys.

It's insulting, and reinforces the same old views of 'us' and 'them'. Is a self-proclaimed Fashion Police character the best that I have to align myself/my friends with?!

Cliched characters or seeing sexual stereotyping scattergunned into leading soaps or comedies aren't much reason to celebrate seeing 'us' being 'represented' on the small - or even big - screen.

'We' can be - we ARE - so much more than the meagre, shallow roles thrown up time and again, as comic sidekicks or for a show to be 'controversial', and it's about time we stopped being happy just to see Any kind of lightweight or patronising 'gay' character onscreen...

Yours grumpily,

6. 2007-12-02 08:13  
most of the really gay shows like 'Queer Eye', 'Ellen' and some other really gay talk show are played at the early hours of the morning,,,, when Thio Li-Ann is asleep! ;)
7. 2007-12-02 11:28  
What do we have to think that our TV programs are turning PINK???
During the 70s to the 90s.. we all complaints that our TV programs are so so STR8.... but why now we have to think that its going PINK??
Gay subjects and persons are always around us! Just look around us... who are the best outstanding hair stylist? makeup artise? fashion designers here in Singapore and in the World??
If we are going to go against the gay world... that means that we are going against our own will too.
The most important thing I wanna say is that BE PROUD of who we are!!!
8. 2007-12-02 11:49  
Its irrelevant if its a biological normallity (to be gay). We are each free to choose how we lead our lives (as long as we don't hurt others).

That's human rights.

Please dont start the old "is it nature" or "choice" topic. It's irrelevant.

Anyhow, great story.
9. 2007-12-02 12:23  
Who is that Thio Li Ann ?
Get a life - who are you to dictate other people's sexuality ??? Ask yourself this question first . Do you actually F enough ???? Get a life please !!
10. 2007-12-02 18:26  
There are dedicated gay channels in france such as the one called "Pink TV" (what a coincidence? :) )... the fact that there are no such thing as "straight TV" channels (cause all of them have something gay in them, like in Singapore)... I am equally against these gay channels as well... it doesn't really help the society, besides opening the gap between people with different sexual preferences. The real success will be when this will not be a big deal for everyone... The day when two men kissing on the streets will be no more and no less important than seeing a man and woman doing the same... Even if openly gay cities, this is still sensational, so we're not there yet.
11. 2007-12-02 22:07  
when they get those vain prissy sassy bitchy gay 'sisters' do mud wrestling on TV,,...then that will be SHOCKING PINK on TV....a must watch...back to the Die nasty soaps...California Fitness Orchard Rd gays claws and bicthes at each other...cat fights in the steam room, queens caught in battles of tongue lashing, gossips and back stabbing, up each other's fron, slapping each other's face, ripping at each other's severely coifed hair-dos and yanking at each other's tight designer gym-wears...WOW!!!!
That would be PUKING PINK. Ratings will hit a NEW high.
Comment #12 was deleted by its author
13. 2007-12-03 00:28  
Pls give respect. You may use initials like thio l_a_ or *hio *i *n. Don't use real names.

Different people have different views. If you have never been a neo-conserative spiritual right winger before, you will never understand their passion and their point of view.

Ultimately we have to give a personal account for our thoughts, speech and deed to God after death. Forgiveness is the key in life. Let God vindicate the PLUs.
Comment #14 was deleted by its author
Comment #15 was deleted by its author
16. 2007-12-03 01:19  
People in and out of the little red dot has been complaining since ages about how suffocating the censors are and now you have a brainwashed little pr*ck like Crazy4Manz asking us to talk in codes, in our own domain?

That's what's wrong with the boys in Sg. Some of them have the fear of god ingrained in them from the goverment, until they don't dare to call a spade a spade. Do you spell out everything like a you're speaking in front of 1st graders? For example, would you go, "Wow, that's a very big Cee Ou Cee Kay you have down there." ... ah Christ........!

Basically in your second paragraph, who the hell are you to patronize the other posters and ask them to shut up, just because you assume they don't understand the views and passion of a right winger? Many of us have not joined the Talibans too.... does that mean we should shut up when we see oppressed women and children.

And don't preach here please. Not everyone believes in God and accoding to what I read, people are also sick of those overzealous lots.
Comment #17 was deleted by its author
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20. 2007-12-03 16:06  
DukeNukem, you are talking about your own good self ? Just analise your own posting, look at your third paragrah :)

Shoot me if you want but my spelling skill is very bad, and i prefer to spell it as analise.
Comment #21 was deleted by its author
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24. 2007-12-03 18:59  
"How do we get Thio Li-Ann to watch Ellen?"

roflmao...this is one funny statement.
Now I'm not saying it's impossible- just (highly) unlikely. Honey, I'd say just leave the poor homophobe alone...lest she accuse us of harrassment yet again =p

Seriously though, I'm actually in 2 minds over this. On the one hand I'm happy there's finally visible-sometimes prominent- representation of gay/ lesbians mainstream media. However as some posters have observed, they are mostly - save for the Ellen deGeneres show- stereotypical & to me the best word I can describe such potrayals is 'patronising'. Still, it doesn't really matter as TV is not a big part of my life or leisure ^_*
25. 2007-12-03 19:20  
hahaha!! the bond 22 will have a gay scene where daniel craig had a relationship with the US agent played by jeffrey wright!

hot daniel craig ya!!

I hate the homophobic... why should they hate us? ask the.. why is it a sin for being gay?

i'm lucky i live in London!! its a heaven here!! last wednesday i saw a lesbian couple in a tube , a gay couple in escalator ( all of them are hugging and kissing each other ) in leceister square tube station and people surrounds just smiling...

i feel like heaven in London!!

26. 2007-12-03 20:10  
It is a good thing that gay are creeping out of the closet, if only on TV. But how sad that we are still portrayed as stereotypical characters.

These then become the role models for the future generations, a self perpetuating cyle.

Shame, but at least it is progress of a kind, better than being excluded totally.
Comment #27 was deleted by its author
Comment #28 was deleted by its author
29. 2007-12-03 22:44  
Well if Mediacorp/Raintree want to be more international, as apparently they do, they should stop showing stereotypes, and show more mature representations of ordinary gay characters. All I've seen so far is the slightly offensive type clown gays of the sort we used to get in the UK (along with similar racial and gender stereotypes) in the 1970s.

30. 2007-12-03 23:15  
I think we have to view "Gay TV" as an outreach program of sorts. Imagine being stuck in the middle of no-where USA or some other country and that you feel that you are different than everyone else but can't vocalize it. One day, you turn on the TV and there on the screen is a gay character that "speaks" to what you are feeling. And you realize -- hey, I am not alone, there are other people like me, and I am not sick. That's what Gay TV is about. Also, Gay TV doesn't just show the swishy queens, there are affirmative stories about coming out to your parents or your peers, composers, songwriters, singers and artist who happens to be gay. It is affirming and positive if you will give it a chance. Our struggle is not new -- women's rights, the rights of colored people -- all these people were at one point or another stereotyped in the media but through education and understanding, they all earned their place as equals. Our path is still in its infancy so we have a lot more education and understanding ahead of us -- be patient and compassionate. BTW, why do you think that we are portrayed as swishy queens? All sterotypes have a certain degree of truth to them -- maybe the swishy queens are the most obvious and what people see? While the straight acting macho types just blend in with everyone else? Think about it.
31. 2007-12-04 14:42  
sq163- Lucky u! ^_^

AsianQ- "All sterotypes have a certain degree of truth to them"...you hit right home with this one ^_^ Perhaps instead of getting angry at people typecasting us, we should seize the opportunity for self-reflection & perhaps even 'educate' the hetero masses lol (I'm only joking, honest)...bt you get the picture.
32. 2007-12-06 09:01  
To sq 123,

I do admit that London is a gay heaven and to be honest London is the most happening gay city in Europe. However, i still missed the gay singapore very much despite currently staying in London. ISo what if singaporens gay do not hold hands or kiss in public.... maybe is just an asian conservative thing .... many asians don;t do that. This clearly is not a representation of the view of the society. Many of my singaporeans mates including myself came out to our family and my dad hahhah told me that i wouldn;t believe how gay singapore was in the past . remember the old bugis street??? In the past Singaporeans associate gay and trans people as being sleazy and prosititution. This view however had changed dramatically thanks to the media and even the internet. My point is it is comforting to know that Singaporeans do understand that 'being gay' is not something that just happened or pop out in todays' world. They just need now to gain a better understanding about us ... and many did including many parents of gay kids ...and remember how some singaporeans parents actually stand up and support their kids by writing a book to educate the rest of the public??? This what i am trying to say ...if singaporeans are given the chance to learn they could be stronger advocaters of hoosexuality than most gay people in the world are !
33. 2007-12-09 11:46  
in brother & sister,like any other shows, any reference to the characters having gay relationships were totally censored....most of the episodes dont even make sense.....i think sg tv still got a looooong way to go....

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