I’ve read a lot and even written about gay movie cliches in LGBT cinema. Sometimes these cliches are about stereotypes while other times they are dramatic plot devices that we’ve all seen and
loathed loved. I thought I might define and explore a few of these so we all know what we’re talking about, and to see if they are really good or bad.
Let’s start with the stereotypes. These are the easy ones. The flamboyant gay, the snarky drama, the focus on the pretentious and irritating… All gays go to the gym. Gays are florists and stylists. Gays go dancing all the time and then do drugs and have sex. These are the ones that irritate me and apparently some other folks who watch LGBT themed movies. But there are others.
Some of these are stereotypical characters while others develop into a full-blown nightmare plot. There is the lost, about-to-discover him/herself kid. There is the jilted lover who is upset because their partner isn’t out. But let’s not be limited to the gays. There are the angry, ravenous parents who are horrified their child is homosexual. What about the opposite-sex partner who is shocked to make an untimely discovery?
Just looking back at the list we might think that all of these things have been written about, filmed, and viewed a thousand times over. We might be right. Sometimes these cliches are overdone, overused, and just plain over. But it all depends on how they are used.
Some films have used stereotypes on a surface level to make fun or keep people from becoming too uncomfortable. I’m thinking of Queer Eye here… There has been a time and a place for this. When American audiences weren’t used to or maybe even ready for LGBT themes, falling back on common stereotypes sometimes kept things light and entertaining. Granted I don’t think this was some genius idea or was all sunshine for everyone, but the rainbow was visible to some. Where were we before Jack from Will & Grace and the guys from Queer Eye to entertain us and make us laugh. And remember, stereotypes come from somewhere.
Where would this be appropriate in today’s film viewing? One thought would be in markets where audiences are not yet used to seeing gay people on screen. At least through some of these cliches we can see LGBT stories come to life. Another idea would be for comedic purposes, although at this point I have to say that the laugh factor better be pretty good to not be annoying. Still yet, to show the diversity that exists in the LGBT community and really society as a whole would be a valiant use of a stereotype.
Dramatic cliches are slightly different. We have seen stories that go through these time and again. It’s almost like Law and Order – most of the stories have been told and they’re becoming variations on a theme. If we’re going to rehash the main plot of Edge of Seventeen (coming of age, coming out) then we need to look at it from a different angle or someone’s new perspective. But like I said, most of the stories have been told – not all. My DVR still records SVU for me each week.
One of the reasons I started watching LGBT films was that when I was younger I didn’t see myself reflected in movies. Although that has changed, not everyone’s story has been told. Not that each person’s story needs a movie (maybe a Lifetime one…), but there are still many creative ideas and perspectives that deserve their moment.
I suppose my point is that even though these “gay cliches” have been seen before and we don’t always regard them positively, we should be open minded about them. Straight cinema has had over a century to tell their stories and even rehash some of the same stuff, and we still have some great ones every year. Gay cinema is relatively still a teenager, and I’m sure we’ll continue to see the typical, if not stereotypical, pimples and growth spurts.