I could not be more thrilled that the Internet realizes God’s gift to television is fallible, worth taking out of the glass case and looking at from other angles, but homophobia feels like a kneejerk charge. Near as I can tell—and please correct me because I’m not the closest observer of Community, though I did specifically rewatch the last few episodes for these purposes—the
Later, Shirley tosses off a parallel: “What do Hawthorne Wipes have to do with the choice to be gay?” Nobody challenges her because it’s pretty well established at this point, not to mention a classic joke construction (“When did you stop beating your wife?”): it's such a laughable assertion that she sinks herself. Besides, it’s only a joke as a false premise. As a true premise, it’s a completely useless line (since we don't get the answer). And we should note that in "Advanced Gay," Jeff does eventually call gays "a long-suffering community who have the right to wipe whomever and whatever they want." Going back a week, Shirley’s version of the Devil uses “Gay marriage” to scare people, which sounds to me like a pitch-perfect throwaway satire of conservative Christian politics. “Advanced Gay” shares a lot with Parks and Recreation’s great leap forward “Pawnee Zoo” and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s pilot “The Gang Gets Racist.” All three feature people who are not friendly toward gays and, indeed, using them to some extent, until actually spending time with gay people forces them to confront their preconceptions. As the pre-credits conversation where Pierce walks into an assload of innuendo makes clear, the joke’s on them.
More to the point, consider the show’s actual representation of gay men: self-possessed, funny, and most importantly, genuinely homosexual. They might lisp or relax their wrists, but this is not why they’re gay. They’re gay because they want to dance (and more) with other men. And if Footloose taught us anything, it's that dancin' is a gateway drug. I don’t know about you, but the first laugh of “Advanced Gay” for me was Gay 1 winking at Jeff, who, by the way, accepts the compliment with a nod. Just another suitor for Jeff Winger. On top of which, Community gives us a hilarious, unvictimized drag queen, Shangela from RuPaul’s Drag Race (who also showed up memorably on Terriers). Community doesn’t treat gay people like they’re noble creatures or burdens on society; it treats them like everyone else.
Community’s same-sex lover Glee, on the other hand, is the mother of all mixed messages (about anything; pick a subject, Glee’s gone both ways). On the one hand it wants to be all Lady Gaga, be proud, fight bullying, and so we have the dialogue. On the other, it is deathly afraid of defining gayness as gayness, and so we have the actions. Like all gay characters on “family-friendly” television, Kurt isn’t big on PDA, hence the romance between him and Blaine distills to a sweet kiss before Regionals and a lot of hanging out. At least you feel like they like each other. Blaine can’t sing a song without molesting women, just in case you were wondering about Darren Criss the pop dwarf star. The trailers suggest some Doing It might be in store for Kurt and Blaine tonight. Could be a step forward, could be a step back, but at least they’re talking about it.
What I really find insulting is Modern Family, and not just for its dead-tired formulas. Can you imagine Mitchell and Cameron flirting the way Phil and Claire do that Valentine’s Day? Can you imagine the episode in Season 5 where Lily walks in on them? Can you imagine them just going for a romantic dinner like Jay and Gloria? Of course not. These are men who are gay insofar as they say they are and talk fashion and behave flamboyantly and hang out with other gay people who are really an asexual group of men with similar interests (i.e. fashion designers, musicals, and gay icons, which is to say, straight women with business smarts). I thought after the big airport fiasco—Phil and Claire kissing, Cameron and Mitchell hugging like good friends—they realized the problem. Then we had the PDA episode, which completely missed the point, and at last a genuinely sweet kiss during the shaving scene. Since then? We get dramatic in the waves and still end up with some reassuring hugs. If ever a show had token gays, doing all the work of progressivism simply by existing, it’s Modern Family.
Enter Max Blum. Happy Endings’ resident gay has never so much as romantically touched another man—his first on-air kiss was publicized and then cut, no less!—but the only way you could think this show was embarrassed of homosexuality was if you were actually watching Modern Family. Like Community, Happy Endings knows that homosexuality means romantic/physical attraction to the same sex. Max flirts with men, goes on dates, gets laid, and talks about it. He even gets a Notting Hill scene that’s actually touching. Neither Penny, Alex, nor Dave have found such a sincerely romantic scene yet.
These days, homophobia doesn’t manifest openly. When it does, it’s subtle, an absolute refusal to shine some light on our life couched in sympathy for our plight. Which is well-meaning, but positively regressive next to contemporary shows like Happy Endings and Shameless and at long last The Good Wife, whose gay characters are gay and funny and imperfect. Community’s gay bash got to hit a similar target without any gay recurring characters. And more importantly, it used it as a springboard into Shirley’s bigotry, airing comically stupid grievances out loud instead of pretending they don’t exist. Pierce may have even grown a little. Combined with a story about plumbing! How much more pro-gay can you get?