For LGBT community, accurate TV representation long overdue

"Parks and Rec" character Leslie Knope, portrayed in the NBC series by Amy Poehler. (NBC)

The world on the other side of our screens is a bit different from our own, but that doesn’t mean television is a world without rules. Watch enough of it and you’ll start to see some patterns.

While many such tropes are unrealistic, some of them, such as the tendency for new babies to fade from existence after birth, at least serve a purpose. "Parenthood" wouldn’t have left a whole lot of room for Leslie Knope’s zany antics and no-holds-barred commitment to local government in “Parks and Recreation,” after all, and it would have been risky for NBC to redefine the show’s formula around newborn triplets.

Other times, a show’s bad writing isn’t the result of practical limitations. As much as I love “Parks and Rec,” its representation of the LGBT community was flat-out terrible.

Sociopathic millennial siblings Jean-Ralphio and Mona-Lisa, as well as Ron Swanson’s nymphomaniac ex-wife, are suggested to be bisexual throughout the show as further evidence of their insanity, and Craig Middlebrooks is every stereotype about dramatic gay men cranked up to 15 out of 10.

Meanwhile, Leslie and Ann’s soul sisters shtick is the definition of queerbaiting – when writers toe the line with straight characters for laughs, or even to lure in LGBT viewers with false promises of representation.

“Parks and Rec” is hardly the only offender. BBC’s “Sherlock” shoots down any chance of hanky panky at 221B Baker Street on an episodic basis, and “Supernatural” is infamous for it’s “will-he-won’t-he-definitely-not” approach to Dean’s possible bisexuality, but as an NBC sitcom it’s probably one of the most widely watched examples.

Despite repeatedly being mistaken as a lesbian couple by the Pawnee public, the joke’s on us – how could anyone possibly think Leslie’s endless adoration for a woman she has described as “a perfect sunflower,” a “cunning pliable chestnut-haired sunfish” and “the greatest human being ever invented” could be anything other than a recurring gag? Queer women don’t exist in NBC comedies, silly.

Fortunately, other shows have done better on both counts. “Gotham” and, of course, “Transparent” have both received praise for their thoughtful portrayal of queer relationships, and I’ll never miss an opportunity to praise how Nickelodeon's “Legend of Korra” brought avatar Korra and her best friend, Asami, together throughout the show’s final season.

Instead of treating them like a joke, the show creators allowed the young women’s relationship to evolve naturally, with many depictions of the two mirroring earlier scenes between Aang and Katara in “Avatar the Last Airbender.” Not only was this notable for taking place on a children’s show, where positive LGBT representation can do a lot to affirm kids’ identities early on, but it also perfectly aligned with the show’s themes of respect, equality and balance.

“It is long overdue that our media (including children’s media) stops treating non-heterosexual people as nonexistent, or as something merely to be mocked. I’m only sorry it took us so long to have this kind of representation in one of our stories,” series co-creator Bryan Konietzko wrote in a statement on his blog.

I couldn’t agree more.


Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.