Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The "New Normal Thanksgivingfail;" A Real Gay Thanksgiving



Last summer I wrote a review for a non-fiction book written by indie author and well known blog author of "No More Harvard Debt," Joe Mihalic, titled "Destroy Student Debt." In that book Joe talks about how Hollywood distorts our concept of finances...and money in general...in a chapter I found more than interesting because it related so much to how I see Hollywood distorting the LGBT community all the time.

I've posted about the TV show "The New Normal" as few times here. At first, I had a good feeling about it. I really liked it. I now think that's because I really wanted to like it so much because there's so little to watch on TV that gay people can actually relate to. Logo turned out to be a huge bust; Glee is so sticky sweet it makes my teeth hurt. Modern Family is marginal, but not all that accurate. So there wasn't much for gays. I thought we'd finally found a decent TV show. But boy was I wrong. "The New Normal" just took gay characters right back to the 1940's in their Thanksgiving episode last night, to a time where Hollywood used objectify people of African descent as maids, porters, and handymen.

"The New Normal" was created by Ryan Murphy, who also created "Glee." As I said, I had high hopes for this show because the characters seemed likable in the beginning. I also remember feeling that way about Glee, too. But I stopped watching Glee after the first season because the storyline with the gay characters just left me wondering how far anyone in Hollywood will actually go to make a buck. And we are talking about people who are making millions of dollars creating and writing gay content, so I don't feel a hint of guilt expressing my own personal opinions now.

The biggest problem with "The New Normal" Thanksgiving for me was I just couldn't relate to it as a gay man who has been in a twenty year relationship with his partner/husband and has hosted more than a few huge Thanksgivings with family and friends. I'm not sure if the "gay" outfits they wore on that show were more offensive than the political commentary, but I can tell you this: that's not how it works in all gay households. In fact, far from it. First, we don't talk about politics on Thanksgiving. And the main reason why we don't is because there are as many gay Republicans in my circle of gay friends and family as there are Democrats. If there is a "new normal" I think this is a big part of it. Not all gay people are Democrats. Some are liberal Republicans who care about the same issues Democrats care about, but they are fiscal conservatives. And that's just a small part of how it works. But you don't see that on TNN. I don't want this to become a political post about gay people. I'm just giving an example from my own personal experience that I know as many gay Republicans as I do Democrats. And politics is not discussed in our home on Thanksgiving Day. Period.

But to watch "The New Normal" you'd think we're all wearing polka dot shirts, we all have an alter set up for President Obama, and we can't do a simple basic task like picking out a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. That was the scene where I stopped watching "The New Normal" last night. (Actually, Tony said if I didn't change the channel he would throw the TV out the window, and then kick it down the street.) I go to a turkey farm every year, and I usually bring along a nephew or a niece and we pick out a turkey. It's a live turkey just like the one on TNN last night. They chop off it's head, prepare it, and we take it home and eat it on Thanksgiving Day. We don't take a half a dozen live turkeys back home and keep them as pets...not unless I name them Lunch and Dinner. My nieces and nephews never have a problem with this. And that's because I don't make it an issue.

I understand that TV, like fiction, should be larger than life, and exaggerations are necessary in any storyline. But there are so many excellent Thanksgiving storylines out there that range from turkey disasters to family arguments, I have to wonder what the writers at TNN are thinking when they portray gay men as helpless donkeys who can't even pick out a turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner. And WTF ever happened to objectivity? Archie Bunker was a racist, a Republican, and basically ignorant, but he wasn't a beast, and the creator of that show always wrote his lines to show that he was more a victim of his upbringing than an actual racist.

Tomorrow we're having about twenty guests for Thanksgiving. They are all family and we've been hosting Thanksgiving for the past ten years. I have one brother who is recently married for the second time after going through a bitter divorce and it's the first time his new wife is spending Thanksgiving with us. Unfortunately, I won't get to see his kids because they'll be with my ex-sister-in-law for the day. My brother has 50% custody and they alternate holidays. I have a gay brother in New York who will be here, and he couldn't care less about politics. I have a gay nephew in med school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa who is flying in today. He can get political, but he won't be wearing it on his sleeve. Tony's sister and brother-in-law are Republicans who believe in gay marriage, women's rights, and all kinds of liberal things. Shock of shocks! How could that be? I'm a liar, you say! I've lost my mind, you say! Well, I wouldn't be writing about it if it weren't true. Tony has a family of seven, and we all get along well, but they all can't be here for various reasons and we understand that. They have in-laws, too, so we'll see them at Tony's sister's house on Christmas. Basically, we'll be spending Thanksgiving just like millions of other Americans. The only one who won't be here is Tony's dad. Tony's mom passed away ten years ago with pancreatic cancer and his dad remarried. The new wife is interesting (smile).

But the ultimate point of this post is that there is no "gay" Thanksgiving. We all spend the day in different ways just like everyone else. I have two lesbian friends in Brooklyn who will get together with two other lesbians and they have a Thanksgiving most people dream about. They put on their most casual comfortable clothes, roast turkey legs and thighs because they hate the dry white meat, and sit around watching old movies all day eating pumpkin pie. Before Tony and I started hosting Thanksgiving, we would go to family early and then meet a group of good friends at a more formal Thanksgiving dinner that started at nine o'clock Thanksgiving night. Those friends, Stephen and Charles, were older and together for forty years at that time. They are both gone now, but they never did anything casual. Lunch was a black tie affair with them. And Thanksgiving dinner was a well planned event that lasted into the early morning hours of the following day.

When I write posts like this it's because I like to balance some of the douchebaggery I see on TV shows like "The New Normal." I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. Joe Mihalic, a Harvard grad and the straighest guy I know, feels the same way, too. Hollywood screws around with people all the time. They did it to African Americans for too many years to count. They did to Asian Americans as well. There doesn't seem to be an end in sight for gay characters, but if "The New Normal" doesn't last all that long, it's not because the characters were gay. It's because the show didn't resonate with the people they were supposed to be targeting. Oh, I'm sure it will be up for Emmys and Goofeys and whatever other obsolete Hollywood awards are still left, but I don't think that's going to get me to watch it again.



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