Monday, December 2, 2013

Alternate Channels

2000, possibly first edition, from Ballantine Books
Steven Capsuto
Alternate Channels: The Uncensored Story of Gay and Lesbian Images on Radio and Television
Original price $18.00, purchase price $2.00
Slightly worn paperback

Unlike Bryant's Bisexual Characters in Film (1997), I felt like this lived up to its potential.  True, Capsuto goes quickly from the 1930s to the '60s, and about half the book covers the '90s, but that's because LGBT (yes, he covers bi and trans images, too) characters increased exponentially over time.  It was interesting to read, for instance, an excerpt from a 1950 radio sketch with Hope, Crosby, and Garland, with her performing a mock wedding for the men.*  Capsuto half seriously says early on that he won't be discussing such maybe-queer characters as Miss Hathaway or Mr. Smith (from Beverly Hillbillies and Lost in Space respectively), but he does consider any character who has at least a moment of same-sex attraction.  

I have to admit that what most pleased me was the chapter called "The Ellen Morgan Story," because here was a show I watched from the beginning (the These Friends of Mine days) until the bitter end, and it bothered me when people (including gays) said it was less funny after Ellen D. and Ellen M. came out.  Capsuto instead believes that this finally gave the show focus, although the angry tone of the second half of the season (when DeGeneres was fighting ABC) hurt the humor.  He also has good things to say about Roseanne, although he misses the classic exchange about lesbians and LensCrafters.

There are some redundancies, and the ending feels a bit rushed-- basically "Now we have Will & Grace, where the likable gay man who never gets to date is the lead character, oh, and by the way lesbians are disappearing in the post-Ellen era," but overall it's a solid, enlightening book.  (The L Word wouldn't premiere till 2004, and at the time this book was published, the British version of Queer as Folk was only a year old and Capsuto might not have seen it.)  Since I no longer watch new programs on television, I Googled and found a few current lists, as well as this article:

Note, the numbers are still impressive compared to even the mid-'90s, although still far from proportional to the real population.  And Capsuto is still lecturing on the topic, as he has since 1989.

*I don't have a "radio criticism" tag, but I am using the one for "film criticism," because Capsuto points out the influence of LGBT film characters in opening doors on the little screen.

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