Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fall TV

I love the fall TV season. The buzz and anticipation surrounding new shows; the looking forward to returning favorites; the obsessive comparing of personal and critical reactions to the major pilots – it’s all very intense, very geeky, and a lot of fun.

The disappointments are as much a part of it as the good stuff. There’s the inevitable batch of cringeworthy sitcoms, few of which are likely to see in the new year; the critically acclaimed but entirely unwatched show that gets canceled after two episodes (farewell, Lone Star; we hardly knew ye); the new show from Arrested Development alumni, which never had a chance of living up to the weight of expectations; the turgid sci-fi drama you wanted to like, but just couldn’t.

This is a period of ups and downs, of surprise delights and unforeseen let-downs, a time when all the new shows are in fierce contest for a voice and an audience. In a few weeks, we’ll know for certain which nonessential shows we should drop from our overcrowded viewing schedule, which sleeper hits turn out to be unexpectedly enchanting, and which worlds cancelation or quality decline will make us regret falling in love with; a year from now, many of the titles we discuss will provoke nary a flicker of recognition. But for now, we’ll have our fun.

Fall 2010 is not looking like an especially memorable season so far. Compared with last year – which brought us a unique dramedy in the ubiquitous Glee, an old-fashioned sitcom with a contemporary twist in Modern Family, and the absolutely terrific Community – the new crop of shows looks pretty unexciting. Apart from Boardwalk Empire and the late lamented Lone Star, nothing has really gotten the critical saliva gushing, and the majority of the new shows can be described as nothing more flattering than “watchable”.

In terms of diversity on television, however, a couple of potentially quite exciting things are happening. While Glee, Modern Family, and Community were and remain self-conscious about the diversity of their respective ensemble casts, they still have a tendency to foreground the straight white people and give their minority characters short shrift: Glee’s main character is straight white Rachel, Community’s is straight white Jeff, and Modern Family is just now starting to address the problems in its portrayal of its gay couple.

Now, Undercovers gives us a main couple of characters who are both non-white and happily married. Mike & Molly is a surprisingly funny sitcom about two overweight people, who are (for the most part) portrayed as sympathetic and complex human beings, not just walking slapstick factories. It’s not that much to go on, but it gives me hope because both these shows are offering something that the rest simply aren’t. An action-adventure series whose leads happen to be African-American? A show – ANY show – whose main characters are plus-sized? In a country where ethnic minorities constitute over a third of the population, obese people are almost as many, and the demographics in TV shows are obscenely skewed toward thin white people, every step in the right direction is something to be celebrated.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Labels: not just for pickle bottles?

I know that labels are for food and clothes, not people. I know that very well. So why did I choose three potentially incendiary, rarely combined labels for the title of my blog?

The fact is: we define ourselves all the time. It’s how we figure out who we are. Not everyone wants a label for every aspect of their life, but all of us claim membership of some social groups as major aspects of our identity.

The problems with self-definition arise when the labels I use as a convenient shorthand for parts of my identity are misunderstood by others: when people have an instinctive negative reaction to a certain term, or when people understand a given label differently than I meant it, or when people think something is the only (or the most important) aspect of who I am.

And so I’d like to expand on each of my three chosen labels, and explain a little of what they mean to me.


For a lot of people, being gay means nothing more than who they sleep with, but for me it’s part of a much larger system of beliefs and thought. I am a white, middle-class, able-bodied, cis-gendered woman, so I have a lot of privilege. Being gay – being part of a minority group that is still openly and systemically discriminated against in many parts of the Western world – is the thing that made me start to question my privilege in other areas, and to recognize the systemic bias against minority groups that is still prevalent in our supposedly advanced society.

Arguably, it’s because I’m gay that I’m a feminist, that I try to be attuned to instances of racism and ableism and transphobia and classism and ageism, that I reject the network of ingrained prejudice and systemic oppression known as the kyriarchy.


Christians have rather a reputation for being fans of the kyriarchy. In fact, many Christians have heartily embraced it as God’s will for us. I find this rather odd, because, as I see it, the kyriarchy’s biggest critic is this one guy named Jesus.

Jesus railed against the most powerful people in his society. He spent his time on earth with women, with prostitutes, with lepers, with the poor, with dishonest tax collectors – with every marginalized and oppressed group in first-century Palestine. At every turn in the gospel story, it is the downtrodden that witness the key events and play the key roles.

To me, this is nothing less than a condemnation of our earthly systems. All forms of oppression are profoundly ungodly, because the only one we should be serving is God, and that is a free choice. Choosing to be subservient to anything else is idolatry, but at least it is an exercise of free will; forcing others to be subservient is a denial of their free will and thus their humanity. God doesn’t do that, so why do we?


My gayness and my Christianity work together, and, although the combination is frequently challenged by members of both groups, they strengthen each other. That’s something that cannot be expressed too many times or too many ways, for the sake of both gay people and Christians. But it wouldn’t be a true picture of who I am if I didn’t include my geekiness.

I became a Christian a couple of years ago, and I started coming out a couple of years before that, but I’ve been a geek longer than anything else. As a bookish kid, I had a hard time at prep school, and I love that my geekiness is now something that I can own, and through which I can connect with others. I define geekiness as an especial affinity for the worlds of media, pop culture, and fiction: a passionate devotion to books, music, film, TV, and so on.

Gay Christian geek: the three areas of my life are constantly growing and interacting. There is always more to learn about fighting oppression and about God, and about the relationship between them. Filtering pop culture through these lenses helps me to understand more about this world and my place in it.

Writing about these things is my journey. Where I’m going, I can’t yet say. The only thing I know for sure is that I’ll learn a lot along the way.