Taboo-smashing television moments

 
 

I like lists. I like to see what other folks call the most this or the best that. I’m often amused by the choices made when discussing the importance of why this or that didn’t make the list. But the best part of reading all the lists that are swirling about in cyberspace is the chance to rip them to shreds later on.

Take this one, for example: "15 Taboo-breaking TV moments," brought to you by the folks over at EW.com. First off, I will be among those to readily admit I do not always have complete command of the English language and the grammatical rules included therein. (I’m certain our esteemed editor would be happy to share with you just how true that statement is.) [She does her thing, I tweak it and we all go home happy. — Ed.] However, I must insist that when you put together a list, your title should generally tell the reader what they — er, he or she — will be reading about.

In this case, "taboo-breaking" implies that the list includes television moments that were either controversial or the first of their kind — maybe both. One of the first openly gay characters on network television, for example.

In addition, "moments" implies something other than an entire series run. It implies individual events or episodes, at least in my world. Something like the first lesbian kiss on television, between L.A. Law lawyers C.J. Lamb and Abby Perkins. (I’m still irked that TV’s first lesbian kiss didn’t involve any actual lesbian characters.)

But neither Billy Crystal as Jodie Dallas nor C.J. and Abby’s smooch made the grade as far as EW.com was concerned. So the appearance of one of TV’s first gay characters (regardless of how you feel about the stereotypical nature in which that character was portrayed) and the first televised kiss between two women are not taboo-breaking moments? So what does make the list?

Swearing, naked butts and the human barbeque. You think I’m joking, but I’m not. The list includes Deadwood for the swearing, NYPD Blue for showing off multiple bare behinds and Jackass for lighting someone on fire with steaks tied to his fire retardant suit. These, in the estimation of EW.com, are taboo-breaking moments.

Now, I should also say that they didn’t get it all wrong. Ellen makes the list for announcing to an airport full of people and the viewing audience, “I’m gay.” Dawson’s Creek makes the list for the kiss between Jack McPhee, played by Kerr Smith, and some guy he met on a train. MTV’s Undressed made the list for all of its promiscuous sex between high school and college kids of all orientations. Sounds like Degrassi and South of Nowhere. Speaking of Degrassi: The Next Generation, it made the list too, but not for anything related to Paige and Alex. Its appearance is due to Manny’s decision to have an abortion.

So, the only lesbian moment to make the list is all about Ellen. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, except that they missed a whole bunch of gay and lesbian moments leading up to and following Ellen’s announcement and the introduction of the toaster oven to the pop culture lexicon. What about All My Children‘s Bianca? What about Picket Fences, Relativity and Once and Again?

I also wonder if EW.com’s editors were compiling their list in a sci-fi vacuum. Science fiction has always allowed storytellers to use futuristic or fantastical settings to tell relevant tales about current issues without pushing people’s buttons. Writers of sci fi can ignore the symbolic references and move on. Despite that license to dream, science fiction has certainly had its taboo-breaking moments. Star Trek put Uhura on the bridge. ST: TNG gave us a Trill who fell in love with Dr. Crusher while in the body of a man — and the love didn’t go away when the Trill was placed in the body of a woman. Deep Space Nine explored the issue again, giving Jadzia Dax plenty to say about it.

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer used magic as a symbolic way to tell the love story between Tara and Willow.

Much as we hate to admit it, we members of the GLBT community are still considered taboo. So we should have had a greater presence on EW.com’s little list. At least, that’s my not-so-humble opinion. What do you think should have made the list?

 
 

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