Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Queer Bully: A New Stock Character?

Last night, instead of doing homework, my roommate and I pulled an all-nighter marathon catching up on Pretty Little Liars, which is one of our many guilty pleasure TV shows.  We only got through season one, and I was only there for the second half of the marathon, but the episodes I did see raised a very interesting question for me.  SPOILER ALERT.  One of the girls, Emily, came out at school as lesbian so she could date Maya, but Maya was sent off to a camp for naughty girls.  Meanwhile, her rival, Paige, starts bullying Emily when Emily breaks a record, and harrasses her for her homosexuality.  When Emily's friend reports Paige, Paige thinks it was Emily and tries to drown her.  Long story short, there's lots of bullying going on, but there's one scene where Emily's sitting in her car and Paige gets in and kisses her and tells her not to tell anyone.

...Where have I seen this before?  Oh yeah, they did it on Glee.  Twice.

Now don't get me wrong, I love both of these shows and I'm tickled pink that we finally have sensitive queer representations in the media, but I'm sensing a pattern.  Let's go back to Glee.  Audiences were shocked when Karofsky, one of the main bullies in the show who has been harassing everyone, but particularly Kurt for his homosexuality and gender expression, kisses Kurt in the heat of a fight.  The bully was harassing the out queer student because secretly he was in love with him.  Another character, Santana, has been nothing but rude to her fellow glee clubbers throughout the show, but it is slowly revealed that the motivation behind her bullying is that-- guess-- she's in love with her best friend Brittany.  Now two shows can be seen as a coincidence.  But two characters in the same show?  I smell a stereotype in the making.  The implication in Glee is that all bullies are just repressed homosexuals who are too scared to come out so they make everyone else as miserable as themselves.  And sure, that may be true for some bullies.  But the beauty of ensemble casts is the range of identities and experiences that can be presented.  When all the characters of the same standing have the same traits, however, a stereotype takes root.  Where are the straight bullies?  (Believe me I've met my share.)  The bullies we see that aren't Santana and Karofsky are not fully developed characters (with the exception of Sebastian, who started the show gay and therefore just supports my point, and Sue Sylvester, who occupies a different positionality).  Every time these characters are developed, it seems, the cause of their bullying is internalized homophobia.  This reaction formation resurfaces in PLL's Paige.

Is this a coincidence, or the start of a new stock character: the gay bully?  Only time will tell.  Furthermore, if it is a new stock character, is this still progress, or just tokenization?

Xavia Publius

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