MATT BAUME is a Seattle-based podcaster and YouTuber who’s the author of a new book with the clever title Hi Honey, I’m Homo! He explores the role that TV sitcoms have played in the advancement of LGBT rights through their ability to project queer lives into American living rooms and psyches. He covers the period from the mid-1960s, with Bewitched, through Modern Family in the 2010s, showing how attitudes changed along with increasing LGBT visibility on TV. He credits TV with helping to move the cultural needle from vilification and erasure through caricature and tokenism to mild acceptance and even celebration today.
Baume reminds us that in the era of Bewitched, “Television programs frequently resorted to disparaging tropes: pansy perverts, insane transvestites, criminal dykes. Whether Americans tuned in to watch sitcoms, dramas, or the nightly news, TV reflected the prevailing belief that queer people were, at best, mincing freaks and, at worst, a public menace.” It wasn’t until the 1970s, spurred by the growing Gay Liberation movement, that community organizers began to pressure the three major networks to stop airing cruel stereotypes and start taking a more realistic approach.
Baume is aware that progress in TV representations may just have been mirroring changes in the larger society. He focuses on the role of sitcoms because he believes they can present social change in a way that’s less confrontational and threatening than other genres. Also, comedy allows people to let down their guard as they’re introduced to unfamiliar, even unwelcome, ideas.
Brian Bromberger is a freelance writer who works as a staff reporter and arts critic for The Bay Area Reporter.