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roseanne And The Kiss

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Roseanne and The Kiss


     This past winter break, myself and one of my best friends were driving
down one of the main roads in our home town of Elmira, New York. I happened to
look up at a billboard that was on the side of the road, and saw a sign that
read something like: “Be safe, be smart, be protected.” I thought to myself
(immediately) “well, that's a big improvement from a few years ago when condom
ads weren't even allowed on television.” Then I noticed, it had the gay symbols
of the upside down pink triangle, and the symbols of two men and two women
together. My first thought was “why is this necessary” then I mentioned that
to my friend. He didn't notice, but we both kind of laughed and agreed that why
does it have to be gay people that need to protect themselves? We (straight
people) are just as much at risk--what was the point? The point is, that it has
become mainstream and accepted to be gay in this society now, so they can do
that. Only three years ago, however, it was a bit different.
     “Roseanne” helped to set a trend in society that has made it more
acceptable to be gay in the media. From the billboard I saw, to Roseanne's now
(in)famous kiss with another woman. Roseanne has contributed to this trend
immensely with her television sitcom.
     To begin with, the series Roseanne has had gay characters on it for a
long time. Roseanne's boss Leon was gay, and after “the kiss” his role on the
show became more outspoken as he got married to his lover in the season after
Roseanne kissed another woman.
     In the 1994, Roseanne had a homosexual encounter with another woman
played by Mariel Hemingway in a gay bar. The episode was entitled “Don't ask,
Don't tell” seemingly making light of Bill Clinton's policy of gays in the
military. The plot of this episode is, that Roseanne goes into a gay bar with
her bisexual friend Nancy, played by outspoken bisexual actress Sandra Bernhard.
Roseanne dances with Nancy's new girlfriend Sharon (Hemmingway). The
situation is uncomfortable to Roseanne's sister Jackie who also went with them,
but Roseanne has a great time. After dancing with Sharon, the two sit down to
chat, one thing leads to another and Roseanne makes a joke which is
misinterpreted by Sharon, and she kisses Roseanne. The rest of the episode
deals with Roseanne's discomfort with the kiss.
     The episode was finally aired, but it went through a lot of trouble to
do so. In fact, it had to have a parental advisory prior to it and was moved
from its usual 8:00 slot, to 9:30.
Apparently, some executives at ABC were uncomfortable with this episode and
didn't want to air it because of the kiss. Steve Weiswasser, President of
Multi-Media Group and Executive vice President TV Network Group had been quoted
as stating that “....it is not a lifestyle most people lead.” What strikes me
as odd, is that I remember how much media coverage about this kiss there was. I
even remember that ABC aired commercials that specifically mentioned the kiss.
The strange thing is, that the show included an openly gay man, and an openly
bisexual woman. If ABC doesn't have a problem with that, then why should they
have a problem with a slight kiss.
     Since Roseanne, and specifically the time of this kiss, there have been
many more gay characters on mainstream television. “Melrose Place” has two gay
men, and one of the times that I watched the show, I saw them coming extremely
close to kissing. Michael J. Fox's new show, “Spin City” has a gay black man as
one of its main characters. This is extremely new since he represents two
minorities in one. These shows have followed the trend that Roseanne helped to
set.
     I feel that this brings a “chicken or the egg” dilemma. Is society
responsible for the new liberal attitude toward gays, or is it that the media
has allowed a more open attitude in its various forms of programming? It's
both. I see it as one feeding off of the other. Another cliché that can be
used would be art imitating life, but we can't really tell. What I am proposing
is that the series “Roseanne” has had a lot to do with the fact that gays have
become so accepted as of late. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against
Defamation/Los Angeles actually gave Roseanne and Tom Arnold a lot regard in
their efforts to show gays as regular, productive and “normal” members of
society.
     When a mainstream television show which appears on one of the three
biggest networks shows gays in the way in which they do, it may (however
subconsciously) get people to lighten up when it comes to homosexuals. This
type of destereotyping gays is similar to what has happened, in particular, to
blacks in America. It used to be that gays were these “swishy” and acted like
a woman with too much estrogen. Billy Crystal played that role on the show “
Soap”. Now, as in the show “Spin City” the gay role is the head of public
relations on the staff of the New York City Mayor. Let alone the fact that he
has broken the perverted “gay” barrier, he has broken the black barrier. He
has stepped out of the role of the thief and the sports star.
     There is no doubt that television has a huge effect on the way we see
our lives and our words. In fact (in a slightly unrelated topic) I was watching
an interview with Australian actor
Jeffery Rush , who was describing how he learned about America. He stated
that he thought that every mother was “Donna Reed” and that everyone lived in
this big white house in suburbia. This impression that people see is profound
enough, I feel. If someone were to have no preconceived ideas about gays, and
they were to watch only the series “Roseanne”, they would think no differently
about those who were partial to the same sex. The media is that powerful!
     I don't know if it is the media, or more specifically this show that
have solely allowed for the integration of gays into our society, but it has
definitely contributed immensely. If one were to look even further back to
classic literature, and classic TV, you wouldn't see gay roles like this. It
may be insinuated that a character is gay, but it wasn't outwardly stated.
Actually, people in recent years have discovered that many characters in classic
media may have actually been gay, but for fear of persecution of the author,
writers and such, it wasn't spoken of or brought “out.”
     So when we look at the media, and the new attitude, we must consider the
factors involved. We must also remember that it is still not that easy to
portray some of these roles because there is, without a doubt, still a feeling
of uneasiness including gay roles on television programs. Still, the
mainstream media has gotten much more liberal in its depiction's of gays.
Roseanne has definitely played a major role in this, and I don't think that the
gay community will forget that, given the fact that the articles by GLAAD that I
read praised them immensely for their efforts. The attitude of the media has
changed so much in recent years, and I believe that more groundbreaking shows in
all genres and for all attitudes and communities will continue to show up in
the mainstream because of shows like “Roseanne.”

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