A Gay Old Time

Posted on February 9, 2011 by

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How MTV’s “Skins” had a chance to improve the representation of homosexuals in the media, but didn’t.

By Patrick Bigsby

Sofia Black-D’Elia plays the "hot lesbian cheerleader" character, Tea, on MTV’s "Skins." Photo from mtv.com.

When I heard that the cast of characters in MTV’s “Skins” included a hot lesbian cheerleader, my heart, like the hearts of the rest of the red-blooded straight males in the “Skins” audience, began to beat a little bit faster.

After all, a spirited young hottie who gets a thrill out of her teammates’ tight, sweaty, revealing uniforms (sorry folks, that’s not a link to RedTube), is basically the archetypal heterosexual male fantasy. I was willing to accept that the show was mindless drivel in exchange for the possibility, however remote, that the writers would deem it necessary to include a post-cheer-practice shower scene (again, not RedTube).

Child pornography concerns (legitimate ones at that) aside, it quickly became apparent that the use of lesbian cheerleader Tea as a cheap thrill to lure straight guys into surrendering their Monday nights was contributing to the show’s status as actual mindless drivel.

In the original “Skins,” from BBC America, Tea doesn’t exist. Seeing as how high school football doesn’t have much of a following in England, a cheerleader would seem a little out of place. Instead of Tea, there is Maxxie. I hesitate to call Tea an equivalent to Maxxie since their behaviors are quite different.

Mitch Hewer played Maxxie on the original Skins series. Photo from wetpaint.com.

Tea keeps her sexuality a secret from her most of her Mafioso family out of fear that they would reject her. Maxxie’s father, a blue-collar construction worker, is accepting and supportive of his gay son, as is the rest of his nuclear family. Maxxie rebuffs a straight male friend’s desire to experiment sexually, saying that he is “not a hobby.” Tea encourages the advances of a straight male friend who is convinced he can convert her to heterosexuality (another chestnut in the male fantasy oeuvre). After a friend refuses to tell his parents about Maxxie’s sexuality, Maxxie turns his back. Tea stays quiet while her family jokes about another girl being a lesbian.

In other words, Maxxie is secure in his sexual identity and potentially a role model to young people struggling to come out and Tea is not.

Gay and lesbian television characters are often stereotypes, sometimes demeaning ones. Maxxie doesn’t entirely escape that trend; he’s a well-coiffed aspiring professional dancer. However, given that he maintains stable romantic relationships, stands up to schoolyard ignorance, and doesn’t wear assless chaps in a Pride parade (basically, he behaves like any given real-world homosexual), he is a significant step forward. His homosexuality isn’t a plot line, it’s just a character trait.

Instead of capitalizing on Maxxie’s narrative interest and potential for improving the portrayal of gays in the media as established in the original series, MTV’s version of “Skins” has reverted to using homosexuality as a marketing tool. Yes, I, a straight man, would rather see girl-on-girl than guy-on-guy. But I, as a television consumer who happens to be a straight man, would prefer to do away with tired stereotypes in order to improve the storytelling.

Patrick Bigsby

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