Like when a person on Twitter accuses “Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes of pandering to the gay/lesbian community with her Callie and Arizona storyline. And I quote:
“All you do is pander to the gay/lesbian community. Which is fine. But straight people don't suck, you know.”
Wow, that is some seriously entitled straight person bullshit right there. (And, relax, I’m not saying all straight people are entitled or full of shit, just this particular one.) “Grey’s Anatomy” has a cast of no fewer than 14 main characters, by my count. Two of them happen to be gay and in a relationship. Many, many of the other characters are straight and also in relationships, some of them married even. But that one gay couple is clearly pandering, clearly.
Shonda was, of course, righteously indignant about being called a panderer. She wrote:
“Isn't love universal? Isn't that the point? That you can watch a straight couple in love or a lesbian couple in love and what you see and feel is the LOVE? How is that pandering? Maybe I've been pandering to straight couples all this time.
Another thing: one of the reasons I cast the show the way I did is because I like to turn on the TV and see people who look like me living in a world of diversity. I'm betting there's a lesbian girl out there who likes to turn on the TV and see people who love like her too.
So, you know, yeah I just went all ranty, but come on. Love is universal. Life is universal. Grow up and stop complaining and stop hating on a storyline because the characters are different from you. Because THAT? Is ridiculous.”
Besides rightfully putting that complainer in her place, Shonda got deep into the root of the problem. Which is, how is showing two people in love ever pandering? Do TV shows pander when they show a man and a woman in love? In which case, let’s cancel the entire primetime line-up with the possible exception of “Glee” – but even most of the couples there are straight. Think about that, the gayest show on broadcast television has two possible queer couplings out of more than half a dozen straight ones.
What the wider world sometimes fails to realize is how lonely it can be to turn on the television and never see yourself. Your race, your sexual orientation, your ethnicity, your gender, your religion, your disability, your whatever makes you different. You never flip the channels and think, “God, I wish there were more shows with straight people, like me.” If a show finally gives you an honest glimpse of yourself, well, that’s not pandering. That’s just, at long last, expanding the viewfinder.
When I was little, as an Asian-America girl growing up in the Midwest, I didn’t see a whole lot of myself. Through elementary school there were only two other Asian kids in my grade level. My family watched the evening news together almost every night, and we sat silently as older white men explain the world to us after dinner. And then came Connie Chung. Suddenly, if by magic, there was another opportunity that opened up to me. It wasn’t that anyone had ever told me, honey, you’ll never be a nightly news anchor because you’re an Asian girl. It was that it was intrinsically understood because no Asian girl had ever done it before. Not that I wanted to be a news anchor then. But seeing yourself reflected back in a place you’d never seen yourself before, that’s powerful.
Which brings me back to Grey’s. I watched the big musical last week, like everyone else. I was moved, like everyone else. I kind of wish the singing didn’t get in the way of the larger and more important stories being told. That is, namely, how difficult it still is to be recognized as a legitimate family member, spouse, partner when you’re gay because the law hasn’t yet risen to your level of commitment. And I really, really wish only Callie (and possibly Bailey) did the singing because everyone else, no offense, keep your day job.
But back to the story and its blatant pandering to us gays. How dare Shonda take two central characters on a major American TV show and put them in a near-death situation that only proves to solidify their love and expose our universal frailty? How dare she make us take stock of what makes a family? How dare she make us care for these gay women who want to spend the rest of their lives together? How dare she make some little gay girl out in the Midwest right now watching TV feel a little less lonely? Yep, including gay characters in organic ways and giving them developed narratives is clearly pandering to the gay/lesbian community and should be avoided at all costs.
God, if only more TV shows would pander to us like that. If only.