Friday, February 26, 2010

"Playing it Straight"

But I’m a Cheerleader gives us a tongue-in-cheek look at gender and sexuality stereotypes and the lengths some will go to in order to fit them. Because the movie is so obviously a satire, it is ok for us to laugh at the outrageous antics the kids are forced to perform as part of their “degayification.” Yet some forms of media do not treat the subject with such frivolity, and it is when gender and sexuality stereotypes are taken seriously and treated as real determining factors that we should be concerned. For example:

I spent last weekend holed up in my apartment trying to overcome an illness, which sadly involved a lot of TV-watching. The Fox Reality Channel (a channel that plays all Fox’s old reality TV shows—some trashier than others) followed up a block of episodes of “Beauty and the Geek” with a marathon of a dating show of which I’d never heard, “Playing it Straight.” This show debuted in the summer of 2004 but was cancelled due to low ratings, and only three of the eight episodes actually aired. The premise has a young, attractive woman in a “Bachelorette”-like setting, with fourteen potential suitors vying for her attention. Over the course of the show they go on dates, and she eliminates them one by one. Of course, there is prize money at the end for her and the man she ultimately chooses. The catch—which is not revealed to the woman until after she meets all the men—is that some of the men in the group are gay, and she has to use her “gaydar” to weed them out. If at the end she chooses a straight man, each of them wins $500,000; however, if she is duped and chooses a gay man who is only acting straight, the gay man wins the whole million and she leaves with nothing but a broken heart.

Excuse me for being crude, but does anyone else thinks this sounds f*cked up on a variety of levels? Level one: a woman is lured onto a dating show thinking she’s going to have the fairytale experience of choosing from fourteen men who adore her and getting some cash at the end, but is told retroactively that she could very well end up with nothing because… Level two: many of the men are trying to deceive her to win the money for themselves by… Level three: being not only forced to hide who they are but also… Level four: along with the straight men, judged based on the stereotypes they seem to fit instead of their personalities or even simply their looks. And let’s not forget the straight men in the bunch who thought they’d be competing for a woman’s heart but instead found themselves having to constantly defend their sexuality.

In the very first episode, before she is told some of the men are gay, the woman finds herself in a predicament and has to sheepishly ask the men if any of them could loan her a hair dryer. Not surprisingly, only one man volunteers. Later, after the big secret is revealed, the woman is told she must eliminate two of the men and, naturally, she wants to get rid of the gay men to improve her chances. Since she doesn’t know any of the men yet, she has little to consider when making her decision. Thus, the hair dryer incident proves to be somewhat influential because, as we all know, straight men don’t dry their hair. (She actually chooses not to eliminate him in that episode but eventually does; he does in fact turn out to be gay.)

This hair dryer episode perpetuates a somewhat amusing and harmless stereotype. In a later episode, one man accidentally breaks another’s arm. He is full of grief and guilt and cries in front of the woman; she subsequently eliminates him. Why? She wouldn’t expect such a flagrant display of emotion from a straight man. (The man is, in fact, gay, but that’s beside the point.) This stereotype—that straight men don’t cry—is one of the more damaging ones because, unlike the hair dryer issue, it questions the man’s character and essential being, not just learned behaviors such as grooming practices.

The fact that these more serious reinforcements of the dichotomy of male sexual orientation are made as much a part of this dating show (dare I call it a “game?”) as superficial traits and actions is dismaying. Also dismaying is that this show is not meant to be at all satirical. Films like But I’m a Cheerleader poke fun at stereotypes in a way that points out the ridiculousness of the lengths human beings go to in order to “perform” gender and sexuality. This show does exactly the opposite, teaching people that it is not only acceptable but necessary to use “gaydar” in our everyday lives, sometimes for our own self-protection against those evil homosexuals who are out to fool us.

In case you are wondering, nine out of the fourteen men were gay. However, the woman beat the odds and ended up choosing a straight man and, according to Fox, they were together for two years after the show—a rare “success” in this genre. More information can be found here:


  1. I have never actually heard of this game show. I think it is very ironic in that particular episode that she actually chooses a "straight" man. It further illustrates that men and women are taught what acceptable roles and behaviors are for both sexes. Some people are capable of recognizing when others don't fit their assigned roles. Similarly, I also think that this makes the concept of possessing a gaydar very interesting. Concepts like these make it very difficult for both sexes to act in ways that they would want to act instead of ways that are deemed acceptable.

  2. Lindsay, this totally made me think of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy", a show which I happen to love. After thinking about it in terms of sex, gender, and sexuality stereotypes I realized that this show I loved also perpetuates stereotypes about homosexuals, homosexual men in particular. I liked the show because it seemed to combat homophobia by bringing homosexual men into the mainstream consciousness and highlighting what is so "good" about them. However, after critically looking at the content of the show I found it to be full of homosexual stereotypes that are in turn sexist towards women as well. All the of the different traits the fab five contribute to the show are typical traits of women. One man is in charge of decorating, one cooking, one clothing, one grooming, and one focuses on how the straight man can better his heterosexual relationship. The fact these traditonal women's roles are stereotypically applied to gay men is in turn sexist towards women. So a popular TV show contributes to sexist views of women and stereotypes of homosexuals, how typical! This is another example of how society is told to use these gay stereotypes, althogh in this particular show they are used in a positive way. I do not know if it makes it better that "gaydar" is used in this positive context or not.


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