Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Why so blue, pander bear?

Let us, for a moment, talk about pandering. What does it mean to pander, exactly? Well, our friends at Merriam Webster say it is “to provide gratification for other’s desires.” Heck, that doesn’t sound so bad. Bring that on. Of course, the connotations of pandering are much less based on simple gratification and much more about exploiting our baser desires. There’s an implied quid pro quo – give a little, get a little. It’s about playing to people’s preferences for not entirely pristine purposes. When people throw it about these days they’re usually talking about politicians. And then sometimes, they throw it at storytellers.

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.

24 comments:

Nefarious Newt said...

*claps*

Entitlement is slowly being broken on the rocks of reality, and those sounds you hear are the last shrieks of the entitled, as they are washed out to sea.

.:backlash:. said...

Where is the "like" button when you need it!

Jon B said...

Awesome post Dorothy. Very well done and so damn true. Thank you.

LaKeeau said...

That's all I was trying to say to the Moron with the pandering statement yesterday. Brava!

Team Serrins Springfield said...

Your best post I've ever read. Very well said. Very well thought out. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Oh man. If you really want to read some straight privilege bullshit then you should try spending some time in damn near any messageboard dedicated to Grey's Anatomy. Even TwoP is immune to the bitchassness of these complaints where I've spent the better part of a week defending the right for gay characters to exist on the show. There is a whole lot of homophobia in that fandom lately. I would stay off the MB's when Calzona get married. It's sure to be nothing but bitterness.

Kristan said...

Well said.

J. Koyanagi said...

I remember a moment in my childhood when I channel surfed my way into a cheesy Lifetime movie about two women in love. I can't remember much else about it, but what stuck with me is the idea that I might not be so strange after all, that maybe there are others like me in the world.

Shame on anyone who calls this pandering.

pmcdee1 said...

Brilliant!

wolfegirl said...

hooray, yes, thank you!!!!!

grey's lost me several seasons ago, but i do love to hear about the callie/arizona storyline on the internets. makes me feel like more of an *actual* person. :D

Ravenwoodwriter said...

Amen, Ms. Snarker. I sent Shonda a tweet that was very similar to your sentiments here. The gist is that, at almost 42 years old, I AM that lesbian out there whose heart soars to see women who love each other on TV. This storyline has turned me in to a fangirl. At almost 42, I am out to friends and family, I am comfortable with who I am, and I am not screwed up about being gay. My life is fine without Callie and Arizona on Grey's Anatomy, but it is a little bit richer with it. Turning on the TV and watching the beautiful spectrum that is GA every week, with all of Shonda's careful exploration of the heartbreakingly beautiful moments, along with the devastatingly difficult ones in life...is transformative TV, in my opinion. I, for one, am grateful. If that is pandering, then please, bring it on.

Anonymous said...

Yes! Yes! YES!!! This is why I read your blog daily (this, and the occasional naked lady!) You hit the nail on the head...I watch Greys because I have to support a show that not only has characters of every size, shape and color, but shows love in all it's fantastic manifestations. I am currently enjoying being pandered to, and if I need to give a llittle, then Shonda has my hour once a week!

maddyzero said...

Thank you, Miss Snarker. You brought a tear to my eye.

Melissa said...

as a Midwestern gay girl (and Catholic too) i couldn't agree more. i am really excited to see how they handle the wedding, especially since it's supposed to be a "formal Catholic wedding".

Anonymous said...

What's with all the panda hating?! I LOVE pandas!!!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRM2ho2qHrU

Anonymous said...

Word!

Anonymous said...

Grey's Gabble also posted about this today and the girl showed up in the comments section basically playing the victim card and eventually got the whole thing deleted because "people were being mean".

Anonymous said...

Brava!

Norma Desmond said...

I know you're a fellow Midwestern gal, but I can't help but cringe every time I see someone write about exposure being beneficial specifically for 'some lonely girl in the Midwest.'

Granted, the Midwest isn't always, in all places, the most gay-friendly, but there are plenty of places in it that are and have vibrant, visible gay communities. Chicago has a whole neighborhood called Boystown that, despite its name, is home to a very healthy LGBTQ community. Milwaukee's gay community puts on one of the best PrideFests around. Madison has an incredibly open and recognized community.

Anyway, sorry, didn't meant to rant... It's just one of those phrases that really irks me.

Norma Desmond said...

Otherwise, yes, of course, I completely agree with you.

Anonymous said...

I'm gay so of course I agree with the annoyance about the gay rant. Straight people get over yourselves.

I love Grey's but; I have been annoyed that the "Grey" in Grey's seems to have taken much more then a back seat (well like not even in the script, back seat) in the last few season's.

I'm sure I'm going to get pummeled. I love Arizona but: Callie ahh, not so much.

The whole singing ep was absurd. But hey in the age of absurdity; what the heck.

I also have trouble with all the acceptance and love this couple get, come on; not one of their co-workers is a hater; yeah thats believable and oh yeah they have NO gay friends. hmm

I applaud Shonda. I just hope a small measure of reality gets injected into this story line. PLEASE!!

sara said...

re. norma desmond's midwest comments, agreed. some people have 'tude about the midwest. i came from there, so it can't be all bad.

re. anon's "I just hope a small measure of reality gets injected into this story line." i haven't actually seen this storyline (only watched a few eps years ago), but in general i vote for more realism in tv. c'mon. who sees themselves in the l word?

sara said...

oh yeah-- and GO Shonda!

Ms☆Go said...

Outstanding post. :)

Agreed.

If it's only pandering when it's not directed at you, well isn't that being just a tad bit selfish?