Television and Sexuality; An Evolution
Throughout its implementation in society, technology has had an active role in arguably every aspect of life. From education and classroom use to everyday activities such as grocery shopping, technology has supported tasks like these in some way, shape, or form. In recent years the impact technology has had on us has without a doubt increased as with our dependence on technology and media. While all of society has been impacted by this, human sexuality has had one of the greatest awakenings through the help of technology and media.
In the early days of television and movies, many stereotypical relationships were depicted and shown with little to no diversity. While this lack of diversity was apparent by race, gender and sexuality it is important to look directly at the lack of sexuality diversity in visual media and technology throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. This concept of heteronormativity is the belief that a heterosexual relationship and sexuality is the primary option and the only one fitting for people to identify as.
Unfortunately, the majority of networks in the media portrayed this belief and mindset directly through their programming. Following the idea of heteronormativity was essentially the norm and nobody had any reason to change this standard. However, in 1997; one woman and one show started a revolution.
Ellen Degeneres, talk show host and world-renowned philanthropist is presently very open about her sexuality. However, that was not always the case. Ellen Degeneres was the star of a sitcom “Ellen”. Premiering in 1993, the show revolved around Ellen and her friends as they made their way through life. Eventually, discussions started revolving Ellen and her sexuality. Many wondered if she would come out on the television show and speculation rose throughout the media and the world.
An episode titled the “Puppy Episode” that aired on April 30, 1997 allowed these rumors to come to fruition. Through a subtle but meaningful way, Ellen’s character came out on the show. In the weeks following the episode, Ellen herself also came out as gay. When asked why she chose to do this; Ellen responded “because it’s okay. It’s okay to be gay.” While Ellen was completely unsure of the aftermath and outcome that would come from coming out of the closet with so many eyes on her, she still continued to do so. She did this in an effort to make life easier for those around her and to create a standard that it is okay to identify this way and that it is okay to be portrayed in technology.
The aftermath that followed the episode is most definitely an example of heteronormativity. Many reporters, public officials and celebrities spoke out against Ellen and the LGBT community following the airing of the episode. One woman featured in a clip from The Ellen Show, states “It is unfortunate that the sitcom Ellen portrays their homosexual lifestyle as normal and acknowledges their behavior.” This statement confirms the idea of heteronormativity as one where people believe that the only way to be in a relationship is through a heterosexual relationship.
In addition to the struggles with heteronormativity, many media spoke in regards to personal conflicts with moralism and morality. This theory of morality and sexuality is a correlation to those that support heteronormativity. Having a predetermined notion on relationships and sexuality stems from the belief that those who identify differently are doing something that is morally wrong. These theories are both proven by the various media who spoke out against Ellen following her coming out.
Fortunately, Ellen stood up for her rights and served as a voice for those who could not speak for themselves. This moment in television history started a movement that allowed us to adapt the culture that we have today.
Presently, technology has become much more relevant and kept up with the times by continuing the conversations surrounding sexuality and other social topics. When aligning the backgrounds of multiple identifying characteristics, intersectionality is the belief that the different diversifies correlate within each other. Intersectionality has been showcased recently through television and other medias, something that would have never been considered twenty years ago.
A show that showcases intersectionality is Orange is the New Black. A Netflix original, this show has constantly challenged heteronormativity, morales, and showcased intersectionality. Orange is the New Black tackles many different social issues and has characters who fall into several different social groups. The show follows prisoners who may be minorities in many different aspects of their lives. Each episode conveys a meaningful conversation on various topics that matter in our society.
Sexuality is very fluid in Orange is the New Black. Many characters struggle with their sexuality throughout the series. However, it is a new, almost modern type of struggle. Instead of being worried to come out and share their sexuality, the majority of the cast has already done this. Their struggles are surrounding love triangles, forbidden love, and many other stereotypical issues surrounding love. This show beats heteronormative beliefs by showing the characters living out their love lives, regardless of sexuality. Something that was seldomly seen twenty years ago.
Thanks to television and technology, society has gotten an inside look at human sexuality and how the struggles people have to establish their own identity. While people of different sexual orientations are still struggling on television, there struggles align so much more with heteronormative relationships that in turn show progress for the LGBT community. The world fought moral battles in the past and now showcase intersectionality in topics surrounding the LGBT community.