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A Time for Celebration and Concern: Television’s Current Depiction of the LGBTQ Community

Note: This is actually, by all means, an academic contextual analysis I recently wrote. I’m keeping it the way it was when I submitted it because I feel the direct quotes and work cited are valuable for exploring the representation at hand. Nevertheless, after completing it, I wanted to share it in some capacity. Hope you enjoy –  Dan

Minority depiction and representation within media has always been a contested conversation for multiple reasons. Most importantly the general rule when it comes to representation is people want to be able to see themselves depicted within media and foremost in a positive and explorative aspect. Whether it be the depiction of race, gender, or sexuality, there is a need for global representation of all minorities and tolerance of such perceived differences. The portrayal of the LGBTQ community is just one subgroup to be represented across a spectrum of different opinions and perceptions. Historically speaking, the LGBTQ community has been presented negatively in media. Nevertheless, by the turn of the 1990s, depiction of the community has grown significantly and most impressively within the medium of television. Since the 1990s, LGBTQ representation has increased substantially in size and scope within television. With the past 10 years alone, the latest GLAAD report shows that from 2006 to 2016, the percentage of LGBTQ characters on television has grown from 1.3% to 4.8%. With LGBTQ representation on television never being higher than it is currently, such representation is making an impact in today’s media landscape. While the current state of LGBTQ representation within television has never been greater, such representation is far from perfect. Being instrumental to how the LGBTQ community is represented and perceived, in addition to how it directly influences the community itself, television is one of the most important cultural landscapes LGBTQ people currently have.

To really address the current state of the LGBTQ community within television, it is important to first take a step back and look at the real turning point for representation with the debut of Will & Grace (1998-2006). Before Will & Grace, very little depiction of LGBTQ life could be found on television. The earliest examples could be found with high school teen, Ricky on My So-Called Life (1994-1995), AIDs victim, Pedro Zamora on MTV’s The Real World: San Francisco (1994), and Ellen DeGeneres coming out in her own sitcom, Ellen (1994-1998) in 1997. As Zachary Snider would show within his essay published in the book, Queer TV in the 21st Century: Essays on Broadcasting from Taboo to Acceptance, Will & Grace would go on to make gay couples on television okay. Snider most importantly highlights the show’s “clever trickery” in making gay lifestyle seem more acceptable:

While the imposition of traditional gender roles in real life can certainly limit one’s identity composition and the healthiness of a same-sex relationship, on television, gender-role representations are safe. They are marketable . . . However in the case of Will & Grace, the series engaged viewers for years with heteronormative conventions; hooked these viewers with its characters, silly plotlines, and uncommon character relationships; and then, in its last couple of seasons, abandoned heteronormativity for its characters’-namely Will’s-happiness. (Snider 205)

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Will & Grace (1998-2006)

By following the general rules of the standard sitcom and making the gay-character likable within a heteronormative frame, Will & Grace took off successfully. Will & Grace rode off the classic misinterpretation and misunderstanding dynamic between such character identities and in return created one of the most successful sitcoms around the turn of the century. Presenting the modernized urban family between the four characters, viewers were watching a show that prominently featured two gay male characters whether they really acknowledged it or not. Despite the show’s success throughout eight seasons, the depiction of Will and Jack was not always positive. As Snider points out, Jack was always seen as being portrayed as a “cliché, flamboyantly gay” and Will was often “not gay enough.”  Nevertheless, by the time Will & Grace came to an end, teenage shows such as Dawson’s Creek (1998-2003) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) both prominently featured gay characters, and cable pursued the first real adult gay-centric shows of Queer as Folk (2000-2005) and The L Word (2004-2009).

Conversely, the LGBTQ community has a lot to thank for with Will & Grace. When Will & Grace came to an end in 2006, LGBTQ representation was at a total of 1.3% according to the ’06-’07 GLAAD report. Regardless, there was a total of 25 LGBTQ character regulars in 2006. No longer were gay males being featured as the stereotypical flamboyant queen as the singular representation on television. Jump forward ten years later to 2016 and representation has grown significantly.  Beyond just the overall percentage going up three percent, it’s important to look specifically at the exact representation itself. Most prominently going beyond just the gay male, Lesbian/Bi/Trans representation has grown from a 40% share of LGBTQ characters in 2006 to 53% in 2016. Most importantly the community can see a total of 16 Trans characters (regulars and recurring) within television today. Ten years ago, there were no Trans characters to speak of within television. Still, representation within television is far from perfect. From the lack of intimacy presented on screen, the use of “queer-baiting,” and the recurrence of killing bisexual and lesbian women characters, some areas require significant revision and consideration.

Despite the increasing popularity and representation of LGBTQ characters, the presentation of real intimacy between such characters remains a bigger issue. Take for example one of the biggest hit sitcoms of the past decade, Modern Family (2009-present). Known for featuring a diverse extended family, Mitchell and Cameron are relatively presented as sexless in comparison to the other adult couple counterparts found on the show. In the Buzzfeed article, Television May Be Embracing Gay Characters, But Where Is The Same-Sex Intimacy?, Louis Peitzman chronicles how even today presenting gay sexuality is relatively harder to get across than heterosexual forms of affection:

The hard truth is gay sexuality is considered inherently more risqué than heterosexual sexuality. And that’s not limited to sex — a kiss between a man and a woman is expected on nearly every TV comedy or drama, but a same-sex kiss continues to give pause. (Peitzman)

Due to the non-heteronormative nature of LGBTQ intimacy, a kiss between a same-sex couple serves as a risk. Even the MPAA rating system has been found to rate films with gay content more harshly than those who don’t. It is this conservative mindset that holds back LGBTQ sexuality, out of the fear of protest or losing viewership. In Modern Family alone due to a lack of intimacy and the constant use of nagging between the couple, it can almost be perceived that Cameron and Mitchell do not even like each other and that serves as an issue when presenting a family dynamic and positive representation.

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Modern Family – Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Mitchell and Eric Stonestreet as Cameron. 

Nevertheless, there is, even more, to look at by delving into how the specific camera angles used within network television can shortchange the entire experience of LGBTQ intimacy. After internet protests towards the lack of any exhibited kissing between Cameron and Mitchell on Modern Family, the show would present its first same-sex kiss in the season two episode, “The Kiss.” In the journal article, It’s (Not) in His Kiss: Gay Kisses and Camera Angles in Contemporary US Network Television Comedy, Alfred L. Martin Jr. documents the exact portrayal of the kiss. Discussing the over-the-shoulder angle (OTS), Martin presents the potential disappointment to be found in the shot:

Just as an OTS obscures the speaker during a conversation with another character, in this instance, the OTS obscures the two men’s lips touching during the kiss. When the kiss between Mitchell and Cameron occurs, it is, according to the New York Times’ Dave Itzkoff (2010) a “blink-and-you-missed-it peck in the corner of the screen, unassuming and unobstructive, as some people genuinely prefer their intimacy to be.” (Martin 159)

Even though Modern Family gave into what the LGBTQ fans were asking for, both viewers and critics were disappointed with the execution. As both Peitzman and Martin show within their observations is the lack of queer intimacy isn’t just a sole issue with Modern Family but an issue to be generally be found in any network show featuring LGBTQ characters. The only place where real intimacy can be found is on cable and most likely upon shows that find themselves being rated TV-MA. Despite television being willing to embrace representing and showing LGBTQ characters, they are missing part of the picture by also not embracing such intimacy.

Just as much as there is a need for LGBTQ intimacy, there is also a fine line to be crossed with what is done with such representation. In Kelly Kessler’s journal article, They Should Suffer Like the Rest of Us: Queer Equality in Narrative Mediocrity, she argues that by giving LGBTQ characters a focus but nonetheless, a heteronormative one, you are submitting such characters to television mediocrity:

In short, I think TV writers are writing just as preposterously, wonderfully, formulaically, and at times just plain badly for GLBTs as they are for everyone else. Stereotyped gays, overrepresented young and white gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and feuding queer couples abound, but check out the straights on the tube and you’ll find that they look pretty similar.  (Kessler 139)

 Arguing that such issues of representation should not be focused on the amount of LGBTQ characters seen on screen but the quality presented within each one. Kessler primarily concludes that it is the process of making well-rounded and intriguing LGBTQ characters that ultimately makes the difference. At the same time when such critically received gay-centric shows make the attempt to be explicitly queer, very few are able to make it far, commercially.

In the past three years, four adult LGBTQ-centric shows have all come and gone away. HBO’s Looking (2014-2015), BBC’s companion shows Cucumber (2015) and Banana (2015), and ABC2 (Australia)’s Please Like Me (2013-2016) have all lived out their short lives despite positive critical reception. The BBC companion series of Cucumber, Banana, and Tofu (a web series counterpart) were significant on their own for being interconnected and airing together on the same night during their run. Created by Russell T. Davies, the same show creator as the first mature gay-focused show, Queer as Folk (UK 1999-2000), the three shows were heavily anticipated. Cucumber told the story of a forty-six-year-old gay man, Banana was an anthology series featuring a self-contained focus on different LGBTQ characters within each episode, and Tofu was a queer talk show. The three shows together saw prominence for nearly every spectrum of the community. Nevertheless, the crew and cast were adamant that the show was more than just “gay.” During a cast and crew interview with the London Gay Times, reporter John Marrs documented such sentiments held towards describing the show as more than just “gay”:

If there’s one sentiment we’ve found shared by every member of the Cucumber and Banana cast that we’ve spoken to – and one we hope you’ll agree with as you read these pages – it’s that Russell’s return shouldn’t be seen as a ‘gay series’, or pigeonholed as such. But, in fact, should be recognised for what it truly is – a celebration of life and living, love and lust, sex and sexuality, in whatever form that may take. (Marrs)

Regardless after premiering and achieving critical success, none of the three counterpart shows were picked up for another series. Despite the novel intentions to create LGBTQ-centric television, the US version of Queer as Folk and The L Word still remain the only real past successes.

With a need for more LGBTQ representation and quality characters, several shows have also gone down the wrong path in attracting such a community. BBC’s Sherlock (2010-present) serves as a show that potentially uses “queer-baiting.” Defined as a tactic, intentional or not, to attract viewers through the use of homoerotic subtext without actual such characters being queer themselves, the internet is quick to dig into the possibilities of such subtext. Particularly within an online community, the psychological process that can be found in such deliberate fandom can prove to be incredibly taxing and often hurtful towards those who identify as queer. Such invalidation is depicted in Cassidy Sheehan’s research poster, Queer-baiting on the BBC’s Sherlock: Addressing the Invalidation of Queer Experience through Online Fan Fiction Communities:

In order to undergo “healthy human development,” queer individuals find sources to mirror and validate their identities. When lacking other sources, media such as television may be used. According to Henry Jenkins, “fans construct their cultural and social identities through borrowing and inflecting mass culture images. (Sheehan)

Presenting the negative effect whether intended or not by the writers that “queer-baiting” can withhold, television writers should be conscious of the potential adverse effects to be found within such tactics and avoid employing them at all costs.

A far more dangerous, complicated form of “queer-baiting” can be found most recently in the “bury your gays” trope found in multiple television shows of late. Last year, the death of a lesbian character on the CW’s The 100 (2014-present) sparked controversy for being unnecessary. Due to internet outrage, newly public protest went towards the “bury your gays” trope that has found 95 lesbian and bisexual women characters being killed off within American television over the past forty years. As June Thomas discusses in her article, Why Is TV Killing Its Queer Women? for The Advocate website, she speaks to the importance of the awful effect that the trope can truly carry:

Why does this matter? Because it’s natural for viewers to project themselves onto the people they spend time with every week. It’s downright depressing when a particular type of character — one who’s like you in a fundamental way — keeps meeting the same miserable fate. If fictional lesbians are doomed to die, you can’t blame real women for wondering if they can ever be happy. (Thomas)

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Black Mirror‘s San Junipero serves as an almost-antidote to the “bury your gays” trope

In this current “anyone can die” political sphere of television, writers must realize that there can be a profound impact found within eliminating a show’s minority fueled characters and how they are perceived. Within an already cis-gendered, typically white, heterosexual world, characters that differ from the typical should be living to see another day instead of being casted to the side or thrown away.

Regardless of the dangerous consequences to be found inside the mishandling of LGBTQ representation within television, there still is groundbreaking representation to be found currently. Most significantly within Orange is the New Black (2013-Present) and Transparent (2014-present). Both shows have in the forefront depicted Trans characters along with featuring multiple same-sex and queer relationships. Transparent, especially today serves as one of the most critically well received and talked about television shows currently on air. In Amy Villarejo’s journal article for Film Quarterly, JEWISH, QUEER-ISH, TRANS, AND COMPLETELY REVOLUTIONARY: JILL SOLOWAY’S TRANSPARENT AND THE NEW TELEVISION, she asserts Laura Mulvey’s theorization of the “female gaze” and commends the show for its truly auteur quality:

Countering this dominant arrangement of the gaze, Soloway ensures that Maura is never objectified by the camera, not once, during the entire first season of Transparent. She is never looked at with judgment, which is to say that the camera’s look at Maura—not Mort, but the emerging Maura—is never aligned with a character, nor a spectator, who would misrecognize, dismiss, judge, or mock her. (Villarejo)

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Jeffrey Tambor as Maura in Transparent

Villarejo clearly states that by the show’s standards by featuring such subverting of the “female gaze” typically casted within television and film, Transparent is truly doing something on television that hasn’t been seen before and can be seen as radically revolutionary.  Through the viewer’s eyes, Maura who starts transitioning between gender well into her 60s is seen, recognized, and understood. By never questioning or objectifying her actions, show creator Jill Soloway is creating a “film work for trans emergence.” This form of new Trans representation and acceptance has helped significantly provide a voice for the community but also provide a window for those who have subjectively ever felt different. Ultimately seeing where television as a whole and LGBTQ representation continues from this point will be fascinating to witness.

Due to real Trans representation being so new to fictionalized television, very little studies have been conducted towards the reception and the possible change in perspective such depiction can hold. However, a similar, uncanny movement can be found with LGBTQ youth depiction. Significantly even animated children shows such as The Legend of Korra (2012-2014) and Steven Universe (2013-present) have depicted same-sex relationships and other gender associations. In addition, teenage dramas have grown significantly in importance and recognition. With The Fosters (2013-present) on ABC Family/Freeform, the show has become a media milestone in the depiction of a multi-ethnic family and multiple LGBTQ characters. One of the show’s most significant efforts was depicting the youngest televised same-sex kiss between two boys at the age of 13.  As a result of such a milestone, a scientific study with 469 participants between the ages of 13-21, depicts the emotional involvement and attitude found with such depictions. What the study went on prove was that the majority of the straight and LGBTQ youth held different feelings and attitudes towards the depiction. While the majority of the straight audience, especially within the influential age period with stigmas felt “disgust” towards the depiction, the LGBTQ youth clearly felt different. As both Traci Gillig and Sheila Murphy present within their study, LGBTQ youth was able to ascribe emotionally to such representation:

The findings suggest that LGBTQ youth saw themselves reflected in the portrayal of two young gay characters coming to understand their identity, and these participants strongly experienced the positive emotion of hope, an elevated sense of mental energy, and pathways for goals. (Gillig and Murphy 3843)

In spite of the stigma’s held by the majority of the heterosexual youth in the experiment, the LGBTQ youth response ultimately presents the importance such representation holds within a medium such as television. Television as a form of entertainment can transcend and provide meaning for young people and adults alike in presenting and representing a minority group.

Despite several controversies, LGBTQ representation exists as a significant and forward movement within television. As representation within numbers continues to increase, so does the ways in which television is able to depict different spectrums of the community. Nevertheless so much within the LGBTQ community remains to be explored within television and improved upon. Spectrums such as asexuality remains to this day as a barely touched subject within television. Tropes such as “queer-baiting” and “bury your gays” still prove to exist today, holding an incredibly negative effect. Very few LGBTQ-centric shows receive the commercial success they need to thrive upon, and those networks shows with LGBTQ representations play it rather conservative within depiction. While the LGBTQ community faces such issues and current representation is by no means to be found perfect, it is significant to look at the growth the community as a whole as faced within the past twenty years. Most importantly how representation has gone past one single stereotype to presenting a huge array of characters and issues. With Orange is the New Black and Transparent as the current flag holders for such representation and setting the next landmarks to expand upon, how television significantly grows and develops within the next twenty years; nonetheless, ten, for the LGBTQ community will be fascinating to witness. What is known for the time being is the LGBTQ community within television will not be going away or diminishing anytime soon and will only continue to be a relevant social issue as long as television remains such a powerful and available institution.

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Works Cited

Gillig, Traci K., and Sheila T. Murphy. Fostering Support for LGBTQ Youth? The Effects of Gay Adolescent Media Portrayal on Young Viewers 2016th ser. 10 (2016): 3828-850. Web. 02 Feb. 2017. <http://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/viewFile/5496/1741&gt;.

GLAAD. Where We Are On TV ’06-’07. N.p., 2006. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.                         <http://www.glaad.org/sites/default/files/2006-07%20Where%20We%20Are%20on%20TV.pdf&gt;.

GLAAD. Where We Are On TV ’16-’17. N.p., 2016. Web. 02 Feb. 2017. <http://glaad.org/files/WWAT/WWAT_GLAAD_2016-2017.pdf&gt;.

Hart, Kylo-Patrick R. Queer TV in the 21st Century: Essays on Broadcasting from Taboo to Acceptance. Jefferson, NC: McFarland &,, 2016. Print.

Kessler, Kelly. “They Should Suffer Like the Rest of Us: Queer Equality in Narrative Mediocrity.” Cinema Journal 50.2 (2011): 139-44. Academic Search Complete [EBSCO]. Web. 02 Feb. 2017. <http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?sid=97a44c45-3c8f-40c2-8354-35692c038385%40sessionmgr4007&vid=0&hid=4212&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#AN=59533687&db=f3h&gt;.

Marrs, John. “Cucumber Banana Tofu.” Gay Times. N.p., 2015. Web. 01 Feb. 2017. <http://search.proquest.com/genderwatch/docview/1649049770/FA475A19A0E64461PQ/40?accountid=10477&gt;.

Martin, Alfred L. “It’s (Not) in His Kiss: Gay Kisses and Camera Angles in Contemporary US Network Television Comedy.” Popular Communication 12.3 (2014): 153-65. Academic Search Complete [EBSCO]. Web. 02 Feb. 2017. <http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?sid=b31ea904-ae04-46d0-8ac2-5096bcf093a1%40sessionmgr4010&vid=0&hid=4212&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#AN=97376886&db=ufh&gt;.

Peitzman, Louis. “Television May Be Embracing Gay Characters, But Where Is The Same-Sex Intimacy?” BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed Entertainment, 10 Dec. 2013. Web. 02 Feb. 2017. <https://www.buzzfeed.com/louispeitzman/television-may-be-embracing-gay-characters-but-where-is-the?utm_term=.rvqxJ0YRl#.igzJLWd06&gt;.

Sheehan, Cassidy. “Queer-baiting on the BBC’s Sherlock: Addressing the Invalidation of Queer Experience through Online Fan Fiction Communities.” VCU Scholars Compass, 2015. Web. 1 Feb. 2017. <http://scholarscompass.vcu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1121&context=uresposters&gt;.

Thomas, June. “Why Is TV Killing Its Queer Women?” Advocate. The Advocate, 07 Sept. 2016. Web. 01 Feb. 2017. <http://www.advocate.com/television/2016/9/07/why-tv-killing-its-queer-women&gt;.

Villarejo, A. “Jewish, Queer-ish, Trans, and Completely Revolutionary: Jill Soloway’s Transparent and the New Television.” Film Quarterly 69.4 (2016): 10-22. Web. 2 Feb. 2017. <http://www.filmquarterly.org/2016/06/jewish-queer-ish-trans-and-completely-revolutionary-jill-soloways-transparent-and-the-new-television/&gt;.

 

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How Carol came to be the Most Powerful Queer Film in Years

WARNING: Below are spoilers for the ending of Carol

“Please believe that I would do anything to see you happy and so I do the only thing I can – I release you.”Carol to Therese

Upon this very written line in a letter from one forbidden lover to another, if one had not already seen Carol, this could be presumed to be the final line spoken before the untimely end of one of the two female leads. This isn’t how Carol ends, even though every other queer drama would make you think so. This is perhaps the greatest and most poignant thing about both the movie and the novel that came out sixty years before it. Very few, if any, queer literature or cinema presents a happy ending or an ending where the couple presumably ends up together in the end, as Carol does. Recent films such as Weekend (2011) and Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) present immediate and instant connections between their leads as Carol does, but take place far more in the present. Neither Weekend nor Blue is the Warmest Color present the same level of hope by their conclusion. The very same melodrama found in more historical representations of queer romance in novels and films would often end in tragedy, often to extent of featuring suicide or death towards the end. Recent Academy nominated movies such as Brokeback Mountain (2005) and The Imitation Game (2014) are two great examples of such represented tragedy. Ultimately Carol, more than any other queer film in the past few years, perfectly encapsulates love in the past, the present, and the future through providing actual hope in the end.

Directed by Todd Haynes and based upon the semi-autobiographical novel by Patricia Highsmith, the story of Carol is sixty-four years old. Originally published in 1952 under the title of The Price of Salt and under the pseudonym, Claire Morgan, it wouldn’t be until the 1990 re-release that the book would be published under her real name. When writing The Price of Salt, Highsmith based the story upon a real-life encounter while working at Bloomingdale’s department store. Personally placing a lot of her own self into the character of Therese, an inspiring theatre set designer (changed to photographer in the movie), Highsmith substitutes and expands upon her interaction in the novel. Following Therese after her chance encounter with an older woman while working at a department store, the book would go on to be quite popular in the lesbian community. Published as a lesbian pulp-novel for twenty-five cents, the novel went onto sell more than a million copies. With attempts to adapt the novel into a film since the mid-90s, it wouldn’t be until the attachment of Todd Haynes as director and Cate Blanchett accepting the titular role that the film would become a reality.

Perhaps the biggest change that Haynes brings into his adaptation outside of a career change for Therese, is the presented romance, which isn’t just shown one-way. As the novel strictly presents Therese’s POV, the film takes the opportunity to explore and present Carol individually. Through Haynes presenting the visual equivalent of each other within their public and private lives, and the unbreakable connection between the two and their emotional longing for each other, it no longer seems as if Therese is chasing the ghost of a person as it sometimes seems to be in the novel. When Carol refers to Therese as “an angel, flung out of space”, it feels like a privilege or nearly a miracle that they could have possibly found each other. Even more so that they would possibly even reach a hopeful conclusion with such feelings.

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Attraction plays a huge part in ultimately presenting many notions of love seen in the film and Haynes places major emphasis on this. Through the power of looking, the glances between Therese and Carol linger towards something more. Nearly the entire movie’s sensualness comes from the power of looking. The simple acknowledgement of each other and consciously witnessing how they would prefer not to be with anyone else in the world is what makes the movie feel so captivating. The popular “car tunnel” scene that many writers have referred to, speaks exactly towards captivating such feelings through imagery. Admittedly, by the time they actually physically explore each other, it feels as if they have already experienced everything through the power of looking. Perhaps being the greatest emphasized queer feeling, the necessity of looking finds Carol and Therese finding each other among the masses of heteronormativity. Finding such connections, nonetheless during a time where such love was never spoken about and forbidden, makes any such connection found in the sea of heteronormativity seemingly special.

While Carol features its share of melodrama, neither heroine is overcome by sadness. Even when Carol willingly loses all ties with her daughter, she isn’t forced to apologize for who she it and decides to stay together with Therese. Released during the same monumental year that the LGTBQ community saw one of their biggest political wins in history, to cap off 2015 with Carol feels nothing but a victory. Even with Carol being arguably the most notable exclusion from today’s Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director nominations, Carol stands high on its own for the masses of the LGBTQ community.

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Nothing feels as provident towards representing the greatness of Carol, then when Highsmith went on to publish the novel under her actual name in 1990. Going on to write in the “Afterword”, Highsmith spoke to the appeal of writing a queer novel that isn’t necessarily filled with anxiety and dread:

“The appeal of The Price of Salt was that it had a happy ending for its two main characters, or at least they were going to try to have a future together. Prior to this book, homosexuals male and female in American novels had had to pay for their deviation by cutting their wrists, drowning themselves in a swimming pool, or by switching to heterosexuality, or by collapsing—alone and miserable and shunned—into a depression equal to hell.”

 

While the film Carol is first and foremost aimed at a queer audience, it is simply and primarily a declaration of love for anyone to witness, ultimately making Carol one of the greatest queer films of our generation and hopefully marking a new age in queer filmmaking.

Edited by and Special Thanks to Jordyn Taylor

Passing the Summer Vibes with Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment

When Chance the Rapper, the young Chicagoan rapper released his critically recognized second mixtape, Acid Rap, no one would have predicted his next project to be anything like Surf. Credited as Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment, the album is headed by Chance’s live bandleader and a collection of other artists. Forgoing his immense talent for a team effort, Surf provides contagious positivity and empathy making it a forerunner for album of the summer.

With months of buildup and small tastes of the album and the band’s collaborative efforts released on Soundcloud over the past year, the album finally came to fruition when it was released for free on iTunes last May. Donnie Trumpet otherwise known as Nico Segal as trumpeter, bandleader, producer, percussionist and leader of the extensive group finds the best of both worlds within music. Featuring live instrumentation and drum machines, with sung, rapped, and sing-rapped vocals, the hour long album can’t be tied to down to one genre. Featuring appearances of J. Cole, Jeremiah, Janelle Monae, Erykah Badu, Busta Rhymes, and presenting several instrumentals, the album provides variety like no other.

Still not being signed to any major labels, Chance has been able to use his independence to mainline his band and release the album free for everyone. Upon the same very issue we saw earlier this year, Drake originally intended to release If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late as a free download until Cash Money Records intervened. The album for Drake also stands as the fourth and final studio album on his contract meaning he can finally leave the company. Going back to Surf, even with Chance’s investment into the album and having a vocal appearance on more than half of the songs, the album truly belongs to Donnie Trumpet and his collaborative efforts. Stripping away the fear, anxiety, and darker themes that could have been found in Acid Rap, Surf definitely finds itself being a different experience. At the same time it’s not to say Acid Rap didn’t carry signs of the future, take one listen to “Interlude (That’s Love)” and you’ll find signs of what will come.  Layered with sounds spanning multiple genres, what Donnie, Chance, and the rest of the Social Experiment are able to do is make a collaborative experiment that feels just as nostalgic as it does new.

Releasing samples of their collaborative efforts throughout sites like Soundcloud over the past 15 months, several of the singles that didn’t make it on the album provide the same positivity that was carried into the main course. Most prominently doing their own rendition of the theme song of the popular PBS children’s show Arthur, Wonderful Day” is a lovely tribute that even outshines the original.  Another early highlight would be Tap Dance“, a song that envisions a tap dancer’s two feet battling to obtain synchronicity. With all of the music headed by both Chance and Trumpet being released for free so far, Surf was the first album to be released for free on ITunes (that wasn’t forced upon its users). When asked about the model of providing an abundance of music for free, Trumpet spoke to its use.

“Hopefully it encourages people not to do the same thing but to do maybe a similar idea with a gigantic music platform, bringing it back to being about the people and releasing music and having it be really be about the music and not just a list of names that are easy to find on the internet. What we did was different, and I think that’s why it worked,” Trumpet stated.

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Going back to the album itself, Surf opens with the vibrant “Miracle”– “If it’s a miracle to be alive and well/ If we fell, we feel we’d be OK”. Followed by the elaborate sounds of unity, the song provides the message that it’s a miracle to be alive and more so to be able to live amongst family and friends.  With “Wanna Be Cool”, Chance, Big Sean, and Jeremih show they are perfectly content with being themselves rather than trying to be cool: “I don’t wanna be cool/I don’t want you to be me/You just should be you”. Even when things become darker with the following song “Windows“: “Don’t you look up to me, don’t trust a word I say/ Don’t you end up like me, if you learn one thing today”.  Chance is telling people to strive for their own path to be an individual and to not try to be anyone else besides one’s self. In “Just Wait” the line: “Good things come to those that wait” is repeated multiple times throughout its conclusion. Providing the message that even though bad things may happen throughout life, good things will come your way if one is patient enough. With a large quantity of the songs being about finding the inspiration already inside of you and having a great time, perhaps the best thing about Surf is that it simply feels like summer. Have one listen to the album and it will have the ability to make you feel happy, as if you are at a Summer BBQ, and most importantly as if you are having a good time.

Even the music video for first single of the album is all about having a great time. Shot in one take, Sunday Candy made as an ode to Chance’s Grandma is joined with what looks like a high school theater show along with astounding choreography.

When Chance was interviewed by Complex about the responsibility of being a hip-hop artist and covering the recent hate crimes and incidents occurring throughout the nation, he provided his own perspective on his role within the situation.

“I think, as a black man, I have a responsibility to have knowledge and have an opinion. I don’t necessarily think, as a person of influence, that it’s always my job to influence people regarding my opinion. I try to explain to people a lot: There is no singular black experience or black opinion or black thought. We are united in a lot of experiences. Because I’m a black man, the life that I live is a part of the black experience, but it’s not something I can just pass off as the ultimate,” Chance stated.

With both Chance and Trumpet pushing the musical genre boundaries and the availability of their music, it will certainly be interesting to see what they come up with next. Whatever may follow afterwards for Chance, Donnie Trumpet, and the rest of the Social Experiment, Surf will certainly leave a legacy of its own for simply being accessible and providing unadulterated joy. With a huge ensemble of people and sounds, Surf will continue to provide a good time for summers to come.

Surf can be downloaded for free on ITunes and so can many of the collaborations be downloaded on Soundcloud.

Twenty Songs to Help You Celebrate Pride 2015 Over the Weekend

With the entire world celebrating the ending of Pride month and the miraculous announcement within the United States that same-sex couples can now marry in all fifty states, the LGBTQ community has plenty of reasons to celebrate during the weekend. To help start the weekend properly Beyond has made a twenty song playlist to help get the party started. Highlighting several LGBTQ artists, Queer related songs, and plenty of new and old classics, we hope you enjoy the diverse sounds and discoveries to be found listening to the playlist. Below we have provided links to the complete playlist on Rdio/Spotify/Youtube and individual links for each song. Providing the opportunity to listen to the hour long playlist or to characterize with a specific song, we hope you enjoy the following set of songs.

Rdio Playlist

 

Spotify Playlist

 

Youtube Playlist

 

Without further ado here are the twenty songs:

 

1. Queen by Perfume Genius

For those who need a serious sashaying anthem or those in general who just need a triumphant anthem…

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2. I Know it’s a Good Thing by Shamir

For those who are perfectly content dancing by themselves for the moment…

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3. Crushin’ by A Sunny Day in Glasgow

For those who are drunk in love ( but not in the surfboart Beyonce way)…

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4. Harvey by Alex G

For those who still aren’t over their first real crush…

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5. Lust for Life by Girls

For those who want something more…

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6. Girls and Boys by Blur

For those looking for girls who are boys who like boys to be girls who do boys like they’re girls who do girls like they’re boys (you get the idea)…

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7. Lost in Music ( 1984 Bernard Summers & Niles Rodgers remix) by Sister Sledge

For those who want to be swept away by the music…

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8. Dorthy Dandridge Eyes by Janell Monae

For those who are deep in love…

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9. Chosen by Blood Orange

For those who don’t want to choose between who they really are and who they want to be…

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10. We Exist by Arcade Fire

For those who still have to prove themselves across a group of non-believers…

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11. Won’t Look Back by Duke Dumont

For those are ready to move forward and live it up…

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12. Deceptacon by Le Tigre (Original Version for Rdio/Youtube, DFA Remix for Spotify)

For those who want to throw a party right in their own bedroom…

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13. Dream on by Christian Falk Feat. Robyn

For those who dream…

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14. Blind (Frankie Knuckles Remix) by Hercules and Love Affair

For those who are brave enough to rule the dance floor…

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15. I Hope Time Doesn’t Change Him by The Drums

For those who are have far-away love…

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16. Walking On A Dream by Empire of the Sun

For those who dare to be adventurous…

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17. The Night Comes Again by St. Lucia

For those who want to start out the night right…

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18. Mister by Majical Cloudz

For those waiting to be uplifted by someone..

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19. Too Long by Daft Punk

For those who have waited long enough to celebrate the weekend…

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20. Do It Again by Royksopp & Robyn

For those who are ready to do it all over again…

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Have a great weekend everyone!

-Beyond

Dream On : Representing the Unique, the Different, and the Diverse

There’s no denial that people of a minority can feel they are alone in their feelings. Everyone has  those days they face where it truly feels like no one else can understand where they come from. Who they are. What they want others to know. What they want others to understand. Very often it is incredibly hard to deal with these complex feelings. Such thoughts and complete disbelief in oneself can easily lead to dark places. At the same time, being a minority and knowing there are others all around you that face the same situations and completely different ones alike, can be completely uplifting. This is what I attempt to communicate in the film I created, “Dream On”:

Originally made for a Video Installation project that was displayed on my campus, “Dream On” focuses on the interior mindscape of nine diverse students. Looking upon these nine young adults (including myself) across the regions of race, gender, and sexuality, the film attempts to show the positive and the negative thoughts that may arise with one’s identity. Represented in three distinct parts, “Dream On” presents the darkest insecurities of each person, the positive connotations that arise with realizing that there is a light within every dark cave, and the intersection that comes with meeting others who are  just like you. Completely open for interpretation and conversation, my hopes for “Dream On” is for every viewer to take something away from it.

Inspired by the filmography of Xavier Dolan, the first third of the film is in a 4:3 ratio. Limiting the focus upon each person, the use of space creates a direct portrait of each individual. Encapsulating their identity and presenting access to their interior monologue, the viewer is placed within the mindset of each being. As for the stream of conscious narration that accompanies each shot, the lines were taken from a variety of songs across multiple genres. Not only was this done to establish a relation between the real world and each person but it only shows that such feelings and thoughts can be reciprocated across a array of individuals. Spanning from Kendrick Lamar to Robyn to Arcade Fire, these are lyrics that resonate with what it means to be who you are. Lastly, the use of “Loud Places” by Jamie XX works incredibly well in building up the film. Using the beginning part of the song for the first part, the establishing beat and noises creates a sense of uneasiness. As the video transitions into the second part, the chorus is played along with the new collective set of positive thoughts. Lastly the chorus takes over the sound completely in the third part as each individual is shown in union with others.  The chorus as it repeats: ” I have never reached such heights/I feel music in your eyes,” helps present that things will only get better for each individual and as a group they have found a tightly bound connection between each other.

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While no one has the same exact collective experiences or feelings as another, there will always be someone there for you. Whether they are just behind the corner or across the world, it is important to remember there are people just as different and unique as you are. Just take each day, one step at a time and soon enough you’ll come to a point where everything is good.

Until  then, Dream On.

‘Looking’ for Renewal: Why HBO Should Renew the Only Prominently Gay Show on Television

As one of the most cinematically gorgeous shows on television, featuring some of the greatest naturalistic dialogue and unfiltered depictions of sexuality, HBO’s Looking is only missing one thing. The gay-themed, San Francisco-set drama that just finished its second season has yet to be renewed by HBO. While the creators are cautiously optimistic about their renewal, HBO has yet to release a statement. Although, the show may not be embraced by everyone, nor does it show everyone’s experience with being gay, Looking is for someone.

Improving from its first season, by bringing in more characters from a diverse background and covering topics such as HIV, Truvada, enemas, and open relationships, creator Michael Lannan and Producer Andrew Haigh are able to present characters who do not have to have their lines lessen to broaden their content. Haigh had formerly directed the film Weekend (2012), following a sexual relationship between two men that develops over the course of a weekend, before one man is about to leave the country; Haigh has recently become one of the most renowned queer directors. Focusing on three friends in San Francisco, Looking revolves around their life, relationships, and family. Featuring Patrick (Jonathan Groff), a 29-year-old video game designer, Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez ), a Cuban American artist, and Dom ( Murray Bartlett), a 40 year-old aspiring restaurateur. They are joined by Doris (Laura Weedman), Dom’s best friend since high school, Richie (Raul Castillo), a Hispanic barber and love interest for Patrick, and Kevin (Russel Tovey), Patrick’s boss and another love interest for Patrick. During its second season, Looking introduced it’s breakout character, Eddie. Played by Daniel Franzese known by many as Damian from Mean Girls, Eddie works with homeless trans teenagers and enjoys life while being HIV positive. Presenting a diverse cast of characters, Daniel Franzese shared his thoughts on the Looking’s representation of the gay community.

“We live in a very interesting and diverse world, and the more that we can see interesting and diverse characters, of all sizes, statuses, and everything else appear on screen, and the more that people can see themselves represented, I think the more we’re really being true to the art form of filmmaking,” Franzese said.

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Looking‘s three main characters: Agustin, Patrick, and Dom

Being the first show since Queer as Folk (2000-2005) to prominently revolve around a cast of gay men, Looking is one of the first few shows to put the LGBT characters front-and-center,as opposed to a secondary role. By going beyond many of the stereotypes found within television, as well as making these characters accessible and family friendly, the show is able to represent genuinely real people with their fair share of flaws. By doing so, it provides an authentic and mature look at the life of those living a comfortable life in San Francisco and happen to be gay, allowing the show to explore the lives of its characters without a political force getting in the way.

Looking is able to present a world where everyone is past coming out, and thus, marriage is a possibility. While there is drama and plenty of conflict, it mainly resides in the interior of the characters instead of surrounding exterior projections. Showing the true beauty of each relationship and of San Francisco with beautiful cinematography, the show is different from any other LGBT shows to be featured on television. The most intense scene of Last Sunday’s finale featured a two-and-a-half-minute long take that presents the immersive emotions of a couple arguing. Visually and aesthetically there has never been something along the lines of this scene on television. In the fifth episode of the first season of Looking, titled Looking for the Future, the episode diverges by focusing solely on Patrick as he spends a day with Richie, instead of continuing the storylines of all three of the main characters. The episode follows the two characters walking around San Francisco, getting to know each other over the course of a day.

During the same episode, Patrick and Richie go to a planetarium. What starts as conversation on who is the Ross and Rachel of the relationship becomes a discussion on how sexual positions are defined in a clear heteronormative way. Richie decides that Patrick is the Rachel of the couple because he is the boss and she is the top. Patrick goes on to talk about how being a bottom has always been weird. Bringing in their parents into the situation, Richie asks Patrick if he thinks his parents would be embarrassed if he was a bottom. When Patrick asks Richie, how he feels about the situation, Richie responds on the negative restrictions such terms have. “Those terms were made for people by the internet. How do you know what you are into when you are into a guy? You have to be adaptable, otherwise you are going to miss out.” While on the surface the two are talking about how preferred sexual positions can define a person, it’s a common standpoint that can be found in many other debates. What feels natural and what doesn’t, when heteronormative thinking gets in the way it prevents one from seeing the other side. Both Patrick and Richie don’t just so happen to be gay, but they find their sexuality directly affect their mentality and life. This is one of the shows’ greatest strengths, and what makes it seem very real. From its character’s decisions to their conversations, Looking provides real characters. Just as Looking for the Future provides the audience with a glimpse of how the two are able to spend the day together as they go through their city without any outside concerns, the show is filled with little moments like this.

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Richie and Patrick in Looking for the Future

Taking place in the present, the conversations on Looking focus on not only what is going on currently in the LGBTQ community, but also the past and dreams of the future. By exploring such conversations, a deep understanding of how each character currently stands on many of the issues of being gay are explored, creating an understanding of how gay men not only interact when developing a romantic relationship, but how their surroundings have impacted their ideology and beliefs to become the person they are today.

Murray Bennett who plays Dom, during an interview with Vox Media spoke about what a show like Looking means for him.

Looking is a reflection of where we are now, in terms of, not the entire gay community, but these characters in the gay community. Hopefully, it’s a real reflection of what’s happening to these types of characters. I feel like the show is also a reflection of something more unfiltered, more real. For the most part, shows come along and reflect where we’re at in terms of a community as a whole, and what we’re ready for, and hopefully it pushes boundaries a bit. I think Looking does that. I feel like, hopefully, film and TV with gay content are going more and more toward the real, and away from stereotypes. That’s one of our hopes with this show,” Bennett stated.

Instead of reaching out to just the niche audience that is gay/lesbian entertainment, Looking attempts to reach to a more traditional audience. By selling the reality of such relationships and the believability across the span of a ten-and-a-half-hour season, Looking expresses something new within a genre that has only beginning to develop.


So while the decision is in your hands, HBO, do the right thing by giving Looking at least a third and final season. Help provide these moments of joy and wonder with proper closure.

How Late-Night Television has become a Venue for Social Issues

Upon arriving on stage, Mike Hadreas of Perfume Genius was nervous. Not only was this Hadreas’ debut televised performance, but he would be reaching out to a wide audience unaware of who he was. Walking on stage with heels, a white power suit, a black harness around his neck, and wearing bright red lipstick, Hadreas sang “Queen”. Beginning with the line “Don’t You Know you Queen?” building up to the chorus “No family is safe/when I sashay” Perfume Genius brilliantly embraced his queerness on stage. The same song lauded by Slate last year as perhaps “the year’s best gay anthem” saw the performance just like the song to not conform to heteronormative views on what he does. Inspired by “gay panic” and his previous experiences towards feeling uncomfortable for simply existing as he is, the performance self knowingly wasn’t for everyone but it was definitely for someone. For Hadreas, the realization of how different his performance was from any others didn’t come until he was completely finished.

“Yeah, it was right after I was finished, and in that moment, I kind of relaxed. For weeks I had been nervous about it and up until then, the way that I deal with things that make me nervous is that I completely detach and pretend that they’re not happening, so while performing, I was not really paying attention to the fact that I’m on that show or that these people were there. Then he walked up to me, and I realized that I just did this big thing,” Hadreas stated to Transitional Queer Underground.

This isn’t the first or last time such a performance has been done. We can go all the way back to Elvis Costello’s rebellious move of switching mid-song on Saturday Night Live that caused him to be banned thirty-seven years ago. This was due to his label wanting him to play the fan favorite, “Less Than Zero”, instead of debuting his new song “Radio, Radio” that was against media. Even more infamous is Sinead O’Connor’s performance on the same show in 1992. While singing Bob Marley’s “War”, she presented an image of the Former Pope John Paul II to the camera and ripped it while stating the word, “Evil”. While both of these performers went creatively against the show’s preset guidelines and their record label (Or in Sinead’s case–the general public), artists today have more freedom than ever with their performances.

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Left Top-Run the Jewels, Right Top-Blood Orange, Bottom Left-Kendrick Lamar, Bottom Right– D’Angelo

 

Over just the past few months, several musicians have gone on to reflect the civil unrest of Ferguson and many other cases of possible discrimination. Run the Jewels performed their song “Early” on Letterman asking the audience to “throw their fist and fingers in the air if you have ever lost someone too early”. Devonte Hynes of Blood Orange while performing on Kimmel wore a “Black Lives Matter” sweater with the outline of the continent of Africa. His girlfriend, Samantha Urbani, who also performed wore a sweater saying “Justice and Liberty for All”. When Kendrick Lamar received the honor to be the last musical performer on Stephen Colbert. Performing an untitled song, beginning with a minimal beat escalating to mile-a-minute-rapping, he ended the song with the repeating outro of “Tell ’em we don’t die, we multiply”. The strength of the song alone spoke to how well music can communicate national tension and the need of making a statement. Lamar has gone on to say that the untitled song he performed may not even make it on his next album.  “I just like the energy of the song. I didn’t go on there to sell a single. I just did what I felt,” Lamar said. Lastly, on SNL recently D’Angelo performed his song “The Charade”. With his background singers wearing shirts saying “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe”, D’Angelo couldn’t show the sentiment any better with the line: “All we wanted was a chance to talk, ’stead we only got outlined in chalk”.

Whether speaking to the civil unrest of a nation or making a statement on gender roles and sexuality, the importance that music holds cannot be understated. Reflecting on his performance, Hadreas does not regret anything.

“It didn’t go over perfectly, I’ll be honest, with a lot of people. It’s not just people who read Pitchfork who are gonna see that show, so I got some mean comments but I got some really nice ones too. I’m glad something came from it – it’s funny, some people were telling me it’s not that big a deal to play Letterman, nothing really happens, nobody cares. But it was a big deal to me – I never thought I could get on a show like that, especially when I first started out, and I’m glad I sang that specific song and wore that exact outfit when I was on TV,” Hadreas said.

Bringing something new to the table and letting someone’s voice be heard, artists are reaching the point where they no longer have to ask for permission. An artist can perform in front of a wide audience well knowing the message they are conveying may not reach everyone but it may reach someone. Any artist can try to dress up and play the part of conveying something different but very few artists are able to own it like Perfume Genius or any of the aforementioned artists have. It’s what truly makes such performances feel remarkable and a visionary standout representation of where we are in the world.

Time will tell, how we up evolving, but it’s through the power of music that real conversations begin towards what needs to be changed.