Examples of gay stereotypes in television and film over the years in.
April 3, 2013 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Currently working on a project that explores gay stereotypes (and tropes) in American TV and Film along with their effects on society over time.

I will be discussing "Soap", "The Children's Hour" and Ikea's first gay couple commercial, but besides "The Celluloid Closet", I was wondering if there were other areas I could explore for more clips, interviews and examples I may be overlooking. Thanks so much.
posted by poolsidemuse to Media & Arts (62 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You may be interested in this post on Ellen DeGeneres and the shifting US attitude towards homosexuality from the blue.
posted by troika at 9:55 AM on April 3, 2013

Well, there's Three's Company, which was basically an entire series based on John Ritter playing up a bunch of gay stereotypes in order to live in his apartment.
posted by phunniemee at 9:55 AM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Pretty much everything Jack did on Will & Grace would qualify as a gay stereotype if you need more clips.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:55 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Could you clarify if you are looking for a) examples of gay stereotypes, b) examples of TV / film with gay characters or c) websites/books/resources to help you find more film/tv clips?

I took a college mini-student taught course on the dead/evil lesbian stereotype in TV & film; I no longer have the syllabus, but I remember some of what we watched, though not all of it, if that would be helpful.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:56 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

In his Classic Movies series of reviews, Roger Ebert occasionally talks about how, in retrospect, a character in a classic movie may have been gay, or at least attracted to another same sex character. The two I remember are the Claude Raines character in "Casablanca" and the George Kennedy character in "Cool Hand Luke". I think Ebert has talked extensively in defense of his position about Casablanca.

I think he also talks about the characters in his review of Red River, but that is covered in the Celluloid Closet documentary.
posted by Melismata at 9:58 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Felix in the "Odd Couple"?
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:58 AM on April 3, 2013

In the movie "The Eiger Sanction", there's a scene early on where Clint Eastwood is scouting a location prior to attacking it to kill someone, and he does a classic gay guy accent (and gets called "faggot" in return).

Also, one of the main bad guys in the film is openly gay. (One of the last performances by Jack Cassidy before he died.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:58 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

The American version of La Cage aux Folles (Birdcage) and Cameron on Modern Family (TV show) -- the latter is fairly recent - not sure if that's what you're looking for.
posted by la petite marie at 10:01 AM on April 3, 2013

TV Tropes to the rescue, with multiple sub-tropes and hundreds of examples!
posted by googly at 10:03 AM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

The Music of Chance (1993) features a creepy enigmatic gay couple named "Flower" and "Stone". At the time it didn't set off any homophobia alarm bells, but I've wondered whether it would come across very differently twenty years later.

Great film, too.
posted by alms at 10:05 AM on April 3, 2013

insectosaurus, I'm actually looking for all three you listed. Melismata, thank you, I will look into his reviews further. Chocolate Pickle, wow, I will be sure to include that. googly, thanks, I am already mining that. :)
posted by poolsidemuse at 10:09 AM on April 3, 2013

For history: Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) was denounced by nearly everyone involved after it came out.

Also, Cruising (1980) and Maurice (1987).
posted by Sophie1 at 10:10 AM on April 3, 2013

I Love You Phillip Morris (2009) on some level reflects the pervasive Gay Money DINC stereotype.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:12 AM on April 3, 2013

Standford and Anthony on Sex and the City. Pretty much every plot point or dialogue from them was about how gay they were.
posted by girlmightlive at 10:13 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here are a few resources off the top of my head:

Uninvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Theories of Representability by Patricia White (warning: psychoanalytic in approach)

Vampires and Violets: Lesbians in Film by Andrea Weiss

Screening the Sexes: Homosexuality in the Movies by Parker Tyler

Making Things Perfectly Queer by Alexander Doty

The Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender (documentary; similar to Celluloid Closet)

If you really want examples of gay stereotypes in film/TV, there are so many I'm not really sure where to start.
posted by thetortoise at 10:15 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's always been interesting to me that Ryan Murphy had another show on broadcast TV ten years before Glee. Popular was also campy and set in a high school and had several LGBT characters but never really took off like Glee did.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:17 AM on April 3, 2013

Hot l Baltimore featured one of the first gay couples on American television.
posted by xingcat at 10:22 AM on April 3, 2013

Popular was fantastic. Greatly underrated.

The Tom Hanks/Denzel Washington film Philadelphia was among the very first Big Hollywood Movies with Big Stars to address HIV/AIDS and homosexuality.
posted by rtha at 10:25 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Rickie Vasquez, played by Wilson Cruz on My So-Called Life.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:27 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also: The Kindle Paperwhite commercial. The payoff is right at the end.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:29 AM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, you've consulted Vito Russo's book The Celluloid Closet that the doc was adapted from, right? The back has an index of examples.
posted by thetortoise at 10:35 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Modern Family had an episode in which Mitchell and Cam meet some lesbian parents (their daughter, Lily, had a school-yard fight with the lesbians' son). Many stereotypes of both groups are sent up.

The episode is called "Schooled." Here's a clip from abc.com. You may need huluplus to see the full episode.
posted by pompelmo at 10:37 AM on April 3, 2013

In the beginning of My Other Dog's A German Shepherd (audio here, transcript here), Dan Savage talks about the portayal of a couple of gay characters in the late 70's:

There was a recurring gay character on Barney Miller, one of the first on television. Very swishy, total stereotype, carried a purse, owned a poodle. My dad liked cop movies too. And I remember watching one in particular with my dad-- The Choirboys, a 1977 movie[...]

And who should come upon this helpless, bare-assed cop first? A swish carrying a purse, walking a poodle. He takes one look at the cop and says, "I can't believe it. A naked man chained to a tree. That's a crazy, mad, salacious dream." They speak briefly-- the swish and the naked cop.

The cop threatens him, "I'll kill you if you touch me, you fag son of a bitch." This is played for laughs. "I'll rip your damn kidneys. I'll punch your spleen."

The swish replies, "You'd do that for me?" The swish leaves with his poodle, which is dyed pink.

posted by amarynth at 10:38 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Wedding Banquet was ahead of its time, in that it looked at being gay from the POV of someone who wasn't white. It was directed by Ang Lee, who of course went on to make Brokeback Mountain - arguably the most important film of the modern era in terms of blowing apart the gay stereotype.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:43 AM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Butch Bond villain Rosa Klebb was strongly implied to be a lesbian. Her Wikipedia article informs that her name was a pun about the Russian women's rights movement.

(Linked video is juvenile and hilarious.)
posted by Lieber Frau at 11:06 AM on April 3, 2013

My Own Private Idaho is an example of a young homeless street hustler type character which seemed to crop up a lot in the 90s.
posted by fshgrl at 11:15 AM on April 3, 2013

Eiger Sanction's already been mentioned. There was also Freebie + the Bean and The Longest Yard, two more fairly big deal 70s movies where a character was all the more evil because he was gay and/or effeminate (ambiguous in any way). And these are just movies I remember seeing as a kid. I'm sure if you dig into the era, you'll find way more.
posted by philip-random at 11:22 AM on April 3, 2013

also Diamonds Are Forever, Mr. Wint + Mr. Kidd.
posted by philip-random at 11:26 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Vito Spadafore on The Sopranos suffers a horrific and violently homophobic death.
posted by scratch at 11:29 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy
posted by tinymegalo at 11:33 AM on April 3, 2013

There's a flamingly gay stereotype guy in Play Misty for Me. One of his big lines is "Fleet weeeeek!"
posted by Kafkaesque at 11:34 AM on April 3, 2013

In movies and on TV, the lesbians tend to be more femme than in life, even the ones who are supposed to be butch, tomboy, or androgynous. And in brought-to-screens that were based on books, the film characters are femmier than the book versions, too -- if the lesbian relationships even survived the translation intact. For the former, see... The L Word. For the second, see Fried Green Tomatoes or Desert Hearts.

You could also see The L Word for examples of bisexual stereotypes -- that they're wishy-wishy, undecided, in transition, not capable of monogamy, always looking for greener pastures, etc. See Tina, Jenny. I'd say that the show also reinforces the stereotype that they're sex-crazy, but pretty much evvvveryone on there was. Which, let's be honest -- it's half of why I watched it.
posted by houseofdanie at 11:57 AM on April 3, 2013

Paul Lynde was a perennial favourite on the television game show Hollywood Squares. His double entendres were so sly that a lot of people did not get them at the time.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 11:59 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Can't believe I forgot the work of Richard Dyer, who has written extensively on this very subject. See his article "Stereotyping" in Gays and Film and here and here for example. His work might be more theoretical than you want but is key to understanding the subject, I think.
posted by thetortoise at 12:29 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

See also Charles Nelson Reilly.
posted by batmonkey at 12:39 PM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Are there certain themes you're trying to highlight?

An extremely prevalent theme is the tragic homosexual (who must die or at minimum be punished at the end). In this regard, I found Brokeback Mountain a fairly regressive example.

The gay best friend is another common theme - where for decades gay characters could be a side-kick, but not central, to the story. Worth pointing out the parallels to how people of color are presented in predominantly white TV and movies.
posted by latkes at 1:19 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mr. Smithers from The Simpsons
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:43 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

In my heavy-television-watcher opinion, I have to say that Roseanne came to the game first with the most realistic and nonchalantly gay characters way before anybody else thought it wouldn't be weird at all to be gay.
posted by General Malaise at 2:05 PM on April 3, 2013

American Gigolo? Lots of punishment there. Also, saved by the love of a good woman.

The rape in Deliverance. To be honest I'm not sure if it has much to do with gay tropes specifically.

Oh, in Conan the Barbarian, someone comes on to him when he goes seeking Mr. Snake-Monster-God. That's pretty stereotypical. And you should hear Milius and Schwarzenegger laughing about it on the DVD - "This is not PC, hur hur."
posted by glasseyes at 2:32 PM on April 3, 2013

Very few lesbian stereotypes listed here. I've always wondered if the way Ms. Trunchbull was portrayed in the film adaptation of "Matilda" was implictly butch.

Nathan Lane's character Albert and Hank Azaria's Agador from The Birdcage also scream stereotypical gay man.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:41 PM on April 3, 2013

1967: He & She, for the Jack Cassidy character.
posted by Rash at 2:49 PM on April 3, 2013

The gay couples in Woody Allen's Sleeper and the television show Barney Miller might give you a sample of 1970s camp gay sterotypes.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:53 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

The character Hollywood in the movie "Mannequin" was gay, I believe. That was a long time ago.
posted by tacodave at 3:02 PM on April 3, 2013

Does reality TV count? Don't forget Pedro Zamora from "The Real World".
posted by JoeZydeco at 3:11 PM on April 3, 2013

I always wondered about Snagglepuss.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 3:13 PM on April 3, 2013

where a character was all the more evil because he was gay and/or effeminate

This definitely applies to last year's Skyfall.
posted by grapesaresour at 3:14 PM on April 3, 2013

Serge from Beverly Hills Cop.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:25 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Paul Benedict's hotel clerk in This is Spinal Tap.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:32 PM on April 3, 2013

Without being too spoiler-y, this character on Justified.

Roger on American Dad

Stewie Griffin on Family Guy

Mr. Garrison on South Park

The Ambiguously Gay Duo... maybe.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:13 PM on April 3, 2013

For one very good example of the the evil/dead lesbian stereotype, see the Willow/Tara storyline on Buffy.
posted by insectosaurus at 5:18 PM on April 3, 2013

The fact that an overwhelming number of fictional lesbians have sex/hook up with men on TV and in movies. Think about Glee, Nip/Tuck, Skins, All My Children, The Kids Are All Right, Chasing Amy... even on Queer As Folk and The L Word. I'm probably missing some. It's annoying as hell.
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:21 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Consider also Humungus, Wez and their horde in The Road Warrior. Discussion.
posted by gimonca at 6:02 PM on April 3, 2013

1956: Tea and Sympathy
posted by SoftRain at 7:40 PM on April 3, 2013

There's a lot of this kind of thing - common queer tropes and stereotypes - in 70s blaxploitation flicks; this article points to some of them. Lesbian Film Review's "exploitation" tag pulls up more info. Two of the more famous examples:

1) Shelley Winters as a lesbian gangster in Cleopatra Jones:

Mommy is quite the character, a sleazy, power mad racist who wears black leather and has a habit of groping beautiful women in her employ. It’s hinted that these young women must also share her bed, although we never see anything further than her hand on a derriere. When Mommy and Cleo finally face off, Mommy asks, ‘What do you think of my little love nest? You sweet pickininny, you know what turns me on.’ Cleo responds with, ‘You’re liable to find this meat just a little too tough’ before getting rid of the Mommy problem forever. It’s a camp fest.

2) The lesbian bar fight in Pam Grier's Foxy Brown:

At one point, her friend (Juanita Brown, Caged Heat) goes into a lesbian bar for a drink. Unfortunately, it’s a stereotypical, lecherous group of bar patrons, one of whom begins to feel up her friend. To get them out of the bar, Foxy starts a fight by slinging chairs, and chaos ensues. The bar fight is another opportunity to see Foxy in action, but it’s such a negative portrayal of lesbians that it’s a sour point.

There's also a flamboyant gay club owner in Grier's Friday Foster, played by Godfrey Cambridge. Here's an excerpt from an article, "Beyond the Black Macho: Queer Blaxploitation" (you might want to find the full version):

The poster art for Pam Grier's Friday Foster (Arthur Marks, 1975) effectively conveys the distinctive queer presence in blaxploitation. Although gay and lesbian characters were increasingly visible in seventies American cinema, they were rarely (if ever) part of a film's marketing strategy, especially when the film was not meant for a gay audience. In the poster for Friday Foster, though, Godfrey Cambridge's Ford Malotte is given an equivalent position alongside other supporting players such as Eartha Kitt and Yaphet Kotto. Holding nothing back, the poster notes: "Ford Malotte—his yen was for men, not for Friday Foster." Given Cambridge's star status in the genre (Cotton Comes to Harlem, Come Back, Charleston Blue) and the fact that the film was Grier's follow-up to Foxy Brown (Jack Hill, 1974), the foregrounding of Friday Foster's gay elements is surprising. And yet, since the film appeared late in the blaxploitation boom (approximately 1970-76), its poster art also suggests a certain normalization of queer elements in the genre. Villainized or not, the gay or lesbian character (black or white) had by this time become as common in the genre as the pimp, pusher, or private eye.

The women-in-prison genre will have lots of this, too - see Greir's Black Mama, White Mama.

Also, in the original Shaft, Shaft is totally cool with his gay bartender buddy grabbing his ass at one point.
posted by mediareport at 10:54 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Lizzies in The Warriors.

Shaft is totally cool with his gay bartender buddy grabbing his ass at one point

He's a complicated man.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:58 AM on April 4, 2013

John Cooper on Southland.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:02 AM on April 4, 2013

Wow, these are fantastic. Thank you all so much. So many sources I would have never even considered or known about. Thank you all!
posted by poolsidemuse at 11:00 AM on April 4, 2013

More that came to mind:

Vincent in "Eureka" is pretty danged stereotypical.

The entirety of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, with three prominent characters showcasing different stereotypes.

Bound references some stereotypes.
posted by batmonkey at 12:41 PM on April 4, 2013

Don't forget Liberace
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 10:05 AM on April 8, 2013

« Older What are the cultural drivers of innovation?   |   Divorcing my doctor: how to proceed without being... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.