Saturday, August 4, 2007

Slow Week: Gay Lay May Pave Way To Pay Day

With nothing interesting on TV at the moment, no noteworthy comics coming out this week, and unbearable humidity screwing up my thought processes, I haven't had much to talk about.

Fortunately, idle web-trawling almost always brings up a gem or two. To wit, superherofan has gotten me interested in a plotline currently running on "As The World Turns", an American soap opera.

The show doesn't air here (I'm following the relevant scenes via online clips), and truth be told, I'm not much interested in soap as a genre. But what drew my attention to the Luke/Noah storyline is... well, the fact that it's a Luke/Noah storyline. For context's sake, this is reportedly the first time two boys have coupled up on a mainstream soap opera.

That got me thinking about homosexuality in fiction - specifically, on how the inclusion of a homosexual couple in an actual relationship is considered a Very Big Deal. It used to be that having one gay character, male or female, was a Big Deal (I recall my days as a "Melrose Place" fan with deep shame), so I'm cautiously optimistic that this development represents some kind of progress; at the very least, we've left behind the archetype of the Celibate Gay Man who can't get to first base without the heads of network execs exploding in unison.

(Comics analogy: "Young Avengers" got a lot of press just because Hulkling and Wiccan were in a relationship, but the deepest connection Northstar could have with another man in the early '90s was a firm handshake.)

There's a bit of a dilemma here. On the one hand, this is a major development, because soap operas purport to deliver a mimetic representation of our world (setting aside the obvious absurdities in terms of plot and character development), and yet they're content to blissfully ignore any representation of homosexuality that isn't being used as a Very Special Episode platform. So for a soap opera - a rather old one, at that - to commit itself to a Luke/Noah pairing is significant, because it's acknowledging such things to be a part of our reality.

At the same time, by acknowledging it to be a Very Big Deal, by calling so much attention to the mere fact of its existence, the implicit suggestion is that it's abnormal. There's something deeply problematic about depicting two same-gendered individuals in love as a taboo-buster, because 1) the audience, and the writers, end up defining the characters by their sexuality and it can easily devolve into a Midnighter sort of thing, where the only thing you know about them is their orientation; and 2) the more you point to what you're doing and say "TABOOOOO!", the more you reinforce the very thing you're trying to break down. Can't cross a line if you keep redrawing it.

I have to admit, I'm intrigued to see where this is heading. The skeptic in me tends to doubt that "As The World Turns" can successfully break free of the stigmas, pitfalls and cliches attached to this particular paradigm... but if they can do it, and if they can maintain Luke and Noah as a couple on the same level as any other heterosexual pairing in the series, they could conceivably open the door that much wider for equal representation. And maybe someday having gay characters around won't be such a Very Big Deal anymore.