Get That Gay Off My TV and That Corn Into My Mouth

I feel like every time someone wants to talk about how important is it for LGBT folks to be on television, they include some story about a Midwestern flame retardant mom watching Glee with her closeted son and then making some passing comment about how, “Maybe the Gay Agenda isn’t going to bring about the apocalypse?” and that gives the son hope that if she finds his Zac Efron posters she won’t kick him out of their cottage. Is that what they live in? Cottages? Anyway, though this may be the case, Nielsen shows the glaring difference between 18-24 year olds in the Midwest verses the remaining U.S. regions in the in one of their many number crunches.

I don’t actually understand the chart above but someone was nice enough to explain it using words which get along much better with my brain parts. Basically, LGBT-inclusive programming was most likely to be watched by college-educated white women and “small white-collar households.” There was also a pretty pronounced difference in how much LGBT TV 18-24 year olds watched on the coasts (more) and how much LGBT TV was watched by the same age range in the Midwest (less). Though LGBT inclusive characters and storylines were part of 24 percent of primetime shows, accounted for 28 percent of primetime viewing and brought in 22 percent of ad revenue, their inability to reach a pretty specific subset of viewers is worrisome. This is not to say that everyone that is pro-LGBT equality must watch LGBT inclusive television but it certainly seems more likely that they would. One thing is for sure: college-educated white females love us. That experimenting in college might not have led to full-blown gay, but they still like to keep up with a bunch of straight white dude’s portrayal of the lifestyle.

Is it cause for concern that an age range that many hope will be the change we want to see in the world isn’t watching Pretty Little Liars? Maybe. When traditional means of persuasion (queer family or friends, traditional information streams, common sense, etc.) don’t work, many look to the media to influence stubborn bigots. But even after bringing a horse to True Blood, that doesn’t mean there’s a way to make them drink corn syrup blood. If Midwestern 20-somethings aren’t watching Grey’s Anatomy, how are we supposed to change their hearts and minds? It’s possible that LGBT inclusive programming isn’t the secret to making friends and allies, and instead just the secret of telling who they already are. Please tell Shonda Rhimes I demand answers.

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Brittani Nichols is a Los Angeles based comedy person. When she's not tweeting about white people or watching television, she's probably eating pizza. Actually, she's probably doing all three of those things concurrently and when she's not doing THAT, she's sleeping. Brittani also went to Yale and feels weird about mentioning it but wants you to know.

Brittani has written 329 articles for us.

41 Comments

  1. ewww corn if it can run a car, should we eat it?

    I live in the MidWizzle, we watch the gays, but sometimes we just watch the strais and wish they were gays. Angie Harmon…be still my heart.

  2. I’m sad to say I don’t want that many LGBT-related shows, except Lip Service. Most are just so boring to me (especially Glee, which I hate, and everyone is surprised because somehow the fact that it has gay/lesbian characters means I should love it). But there are gay characters in Game of Thrones if that counts.

  3. I feel like we need more information. Do 18-24 year-old Midwesterners watch less TV than 18-24 year-olds on the coasts, in general? Do a smaller proportion of them have cable/pay channels? (Because I feel like several of the LGBT-inclusive shows are on cable.)

    Also, how does Nielsen do their surveys now? My family did the Nielsen thing once when I was a kid, and back then they sent you a paper form that you had to fill out, listing all the shows that you watched. I’m sure it’s a little more high tech now, but my point is perhaps 18-24 year-old queers in the Midwest are more likely to be closeted so if they live at home, they don’t want their parents to know they’re watching The Real L Word at 3am.

    Also I find it interesting that 33% of 50+ year-old Midwesterners are watching LGBT reality TV (aka The Real L Word, probs).

    • Actually, they still send you paper surveys! You can fill it out online or by phone too, though. I got one earlier this year. I don’t actually have any sort of cable though and watch all my TV streaming off Hulu/marathoning on Netflix though, so I felt like I didn’t qualify to answer.

  4. Interesting! I have some thoughts though. For one, what kind of programs are including gay characters? Maybe midwesterners just aren’t interested in those types of shows. I mean in order for a show to have gay characters wouldn’t they be looking for a receptive audience/safe bet aka a coastal cultural audience?

    I would like to see a comparison between similar type shows that are considered LGBT inclusive and their non-LGBT inclusive counterparts – ’cause if the midwesterners aren’t watching either, then maybe it’s a regional peculiarity/genre thing versus just a more/less accepting the gays. Not to say pro/anti gay attitudes don’t have any part to play.

    Hmm, I wonder if anyone looked at the breakdown of what types of shows are most likely to have LGBT inclusive characters.

    Also, what is meant by inclusion? Like there is qualitative difference between watching a show that spends time developing its gay characters and those that have a gay character whose gay life happens entirely off screen.

    • Yeah, the settings of LGBT shows may have something to do with it. Off the top of my head, the only particularly LGBT show that comes to mind that isn’t set in the coasts or outside of the U.S. is Queer as Folk (the U.S. version obvs) which is set in Pittsburgh. And I always thought of Pittsburgh as somewhat culturally Midwestern but I don’t know if native Pittsburghians (is that the correct term?) would agree with me there…

      Of course, there are some shows with LGBT characters which aren’t set on the coasts, like Glee being set in Lima, OH. However, I’ve always felt like Glee’s portrayal of life in the suburban Midwest is either way less accepting or way more accepting than the reality, depending on what suits the storyline. Glee’s Lima has always felt more like a Hollywood studio exec’s idea of life in that region than what it’s actually like.

  5. I feel like people aren’t watching the shows FOR the gay characters though, most of them. Especially in the midwest, I’d assume they’re watching the shows in SPITE of the gay characters, and probably manage to swallow it down because the gay characters in a lot of shows are fairly “non-threatening” anyway. :/ I mean, just because a show’s LGBT-inclusive doesn’t really say very much on its own. Lots of shows have “token” gay characters, but the shows still are very very heteronormative.

  6. Maybe the solution is just to have a LGBTQ etc. character forcibly included in every TV show with a cast of over 20 characters. Like, not in any big way, but a girl who when asked for plans for the weekend would say “oh, just hanging out watching TV with the missus”. Or a guy walking down the street in the background holding hands with another guy. Or just someone turning up in a Stonewall tshirt. Little things, y’know? Sort it out, TV networks.

    • Yeah, there definitely needs to be more subtle inclusions of LGBTQ characters. Most writers seem to think that if an LGBTQ character’s sexual orientation/gender identity is irrelevant to the story, there’s just no point in including them.

  7. Sometimes, living in St. Louis, MO I sort of forget im in the Midwest because I’ve had a relatively gay-friendly experience and also I watch PLL, True Blood, and other shows with gay story lines and most of my friends/people that went to my school did/do as well. I also asked my little sister and she said the same for people she knows. I attend college in the Midwest as well (the university of chicago) and its the same thing there. So I’m just going to consider myself lucky.

  8. Yes, we live in cottages, and we ride horses to work, and have barn-raisings on the weekends.

    I don’t want any TV on television, but I do watch some LGBT-inclusive shows on the internet. That probably wouldn’t show up on their surveys, though.

  9. I personally think Glee is a horrible representation of “gay tv”. That’s not me taking a shot at you Brittany. I mean if you look at Santana, the way she hardly EVER had any scenes with Brittany and the way they treated her coming out episode as something targeted towards straight male audiences (the I Kissed A Girl cover and the outing by He who shall not be named) as if any straight males even watch this show. And the whole Kurt thing (OK Kurt’s dad was the only redeeming factor for the Kurt storyline) how Kurt’s bully eventually turned out to be gay himself which I just did not buy at all. And finally how they threw Brittany under the bus in regards of her bisexuality.

  10. Could Midwesterners be less interested in shows that seem to take place primarily on the coasts? The Real L World and The L Word couldn’t interest me any less, partially because the whole LA type of lifestyle they show is just so foreign that I kind of think they made it up?

    Except for Glee, (and Roseanne! <3 Roseanne) I feel like a lot of shows with queer characters take place on the West Coast or New England…don't know how accurate that is since I don't watch too much TV, though.

  11. Maybe its because glee does things like assume ohio has a train system that takes you directly to new york and that Lima and Columbus are only like five minutes away from each other.

  12. Uh, I’m kind of bothered by how assume-y some of this article and some of the comments are about what Midwesterners are like and their average attitude. I mean, I get that it’s tongue-in-cheek and all, but didn’t we just go through this with the South? :P I know I came from a moderately liberal town, for Iowa, but my impression elsewhere has been pretty similar. Around here it’s the people from suburbs that are conservative, in my experience. The small towns and country people are live-and-let-live, mostly casual-Protestant types. I know a lot of people who are vaguely awkward about non-heteros but wouldn’t give a shit about some person on a tv show being glbt.
    I think the commenters who are asking about TV habits are on the button. When I was at school at U of Chicago, where most of the students I knew were from the coasts, I got the impression that y’all out there are used to cable/satellite type packages being the norm. In my hometown in nowhere, Iowa, you have digital boxes, which replace antennas, so it’s like two copies each of ABC and CBS, and then basic cable, which is hella expensive and only the most whitebread of channels (you get Golf, ESPN 2, a bunch of shopping channels… but no BBC America), or you can really pay through the nose for a couple of the cable channels that actually show cable-only stuff (Showtime, HBO, etc.). A lot of people who live outside of a town in the country can’t even get cable, just satellite. (yes, you can actually live that far outside of a town. My best friend as a kid lived just outside town, aka 15 miles away. They had a TV, but just for watching rental movies.) The midwestern states have high percentages of people who live outside urban centers, the urban centers themselves are small, and rural people are just probably not in a place to be able to pay for an expensive satellite package to be able to watch inclusive TV. This problem is in distribution–it’s not like anyone would be making TV to cater to the most conservative people in the Midwest.
    Long comment over! Sorry. :/

    • I took the article tongue-in-cheekily, but I was kind of interested in what the study’s idea of the “Midwest” is. There’s a big difference between downton Chicago and the rural parts of Illinois, or Ann Arbor/Detroit and the western half of Michigan, to give some examples. There’s also a significant cultural divide between the Great Lakes states and the Great Plains states.

      I really wish that these studies took urban vs. suburban vs. rural into account more than regions. As a native Michigander transplanted to the East Coast, I think the urban parts of the Midwest have more in common in these respects with the urban coastal cities than they do with the rural parts of their own states, and likewise, small-town people on Maryland’s Eastern Shore or western mountain regions probably have more in common with small-town Midwesterners than they do with people living in downton Baltimore or D.C.

  13. That’s funny, I’m a midwestern (actually, soon-to-be Bostonian, I’m going to college) 18-year-old who doesn’t watch any of those shows. But I don’t watch TV anyway, so I don’t know how much of that is the specific shows or if it’s just me.

  14. I would take any info based on Nielsen ratings with a huge pile of salt. Not only are they currently being sued* for alleged ratings manipulation*, but Nielsen is only present in about 25,000 houses across the country** and most importantly only monitors TV and DVR viewing.

    This means anyone watching a show online, illegally downloading (obviously), or through a service like Netflix doesn’t count. What age groups are most likely to watch online or illegally download a show? Teenagers and 18-24 year olds.

    Not to say that there may not be a difference in viewership based on region, but what is the statistical likelihood of 25,000 out of over 115 million viewers accurately representing this information? It’s not a valid sample size, nor is it a random sampling and therefore extrapolating complex information like viewership of LBGT shows by 18-24 yr-olds in the Midwest won’t result in reliable, statistically accurate data.

    Sorry to lecture! Nielsen ratings are a huge issue in the current model of how TV networks decide to renew existing shows and green light new ones. A lot of time it’s actually based on commercials viewed during a show, not on viewership of the show itself. And I clearly have too many feelings about it.

    *http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/nielsen-sued-billions-manipulated-ratings-355829
    **as of 2009 which is the most recent info I could find

  15. even if it did have, you know, competent writing and characters i cared about, glee would still be weird to me because it’s set RIGHT HERE in central ohio. like i see fandom posts pretty regularly on my dash (and i don’t even follow any glee-themed tumblrs!) that are like “HOLY SHIT YOU GUYS i took a trip to ohio and they have a street called mckinley street!!! and they have a performing arts school!!!” like yeah? we’re not literally all cornfields.

    also i stopped watching grey’s in early s2 when shepherd was acting borderline abusive to meredith and still being portrayed as ~mcdreamy.~ sorry, i’ve got enough of that shit in my real life.

  16. I think I’m in the minority, but I just can’t get into Glee. I know there is a plot going on, but they still sing a little too much for my taste. With the exception of a couple, I’m not really a fan of musicals. I trust that it is a well thought out show, considering Ryan Murphy is behind it. I liked Nip/Tuck and I LOVE American Horror Story, but Glee just isn’t my cup of tea.

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