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The counterproductive characterization of queer characters is damaging to the LGBT community

The counterproductive characterization of queer characters is damaging to the LGBT community

The counterproductive characterization of queer characters is damaging to the LGBT community
November 01
16:43 2019

These days, media moguls feel they do not have to provide the LGBTQ community with adequate representation in order to earn liberal brownie points, as demonstrated by their characterization of the few queer characters they allow.

I want it on the record that this article is not an accurate gauge of my television preferences, but instead a testament to how I overanalyze any piece of media I digest.

The period drama “Downton Abbey” was both very aesthetically pleasing and superficially entertaining, but neither of these attributes can absolve it of its crime against the LGBTQ community, which was every bit as routinely predictable as the plot. The show’s only notable queer character, Thomas Barrow, was a villain.

I’m not saying that queer people aren’t as inherently flawed as anyone else, or that queer characters must always be portrayed as devoid of any unsavory traits, either. What I am saying is that depicting their one queer character of consequence as innately unsympathetic was a deliberate choice on the part of the show’s creators to earn praise for their open-mindedness without potentially alienating any conservative audience members.

If the people behind “Downton Abbey” actually cared about their LGBTQ audience, they would have taken the counterproductive impact of negative representation into account. The creation of Thomas Barrow could only have promoted antagonism toward the community, and “Downton Abbey” is far from the only television show to resort to this backhanded tactic in order to generate audience goodwill.

“Big Love” was a show about the prevalence of polygamy in Salt Lake City that ran from 2006 to 2011. Despite the sexually liberated nature of the synopsis, “Big Love” only ever accorded a significant amount of screen time to one queer character. Like Thomas Barrow, Alby Grant was a white gay man with almost no redeeming qualities, although, unlike Barrow, he functioned as the show’s primary antagonist and headed a cult. Queer representation was so scarce at that point that the show actually acquired some traction after their confirmation of Alby’s sexuality, which was precisely the promotion that the show-runners had been gunning for.

Let it not be said that the practice of capitalizing on the erasure of a historically oppressed demographic as a marketing strategy died with “Downton Abbey” back in 2015.

My brief foray into the consumption of science fiction began and ended with “Annihilation” in 2018. As a queer woman, I had been very hyped for this movie despite its genre, solely because it featured women working together to eliminate an apocalyptic threat, which is of course an objectively cool premise in any context anyway. Imagine the sense of foreboding I felt when the token Latina lesbian of the group, no doubt driven by her inherent penchant for sexual aggression and unnatural surplus of testosterone, started acting increasingly hostile toward the other women.

Imagine my dismay when she was inevitably and brutally mauled to death by a mutant bear halfway through the runtime, as a sort of karmic punishment for being a brute toward the always effeminate Natalie Portman. These already problematic portrayals of queer characters have even more insidious origins.

The media weren’t always permitted to acknowledge the existence of queer people, but that didn’t stop them from incorporating homophobia into their work. Villains such as Dr. Smith of “Lost in Space” and pretty much every animated Disney antagonist exhibited traits that were often associated with the queer identity. Audiences would then equate these attributes with both depravity and homosexuality and become unable to distinguish between the two.

The inclusion of morally bankrupt queer characters within shows and movies isn’t a tribute to the LGBTQ community so much as it is a love letter to our subjection.

Featured Illustration: Jae-Eun Suh

About Author

Rachel Card

Rachel Card

I am a junior majoring in public relations and minoring in sociology. I was born in Austin, Texas, and currently live in Denton with my roommate and starter cat, Gen.

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