It's officially the new millennium and so far it has brought us school shootings, a reality TV craze so absurd that the latest show actually has four men chained to a woman and gay activists protesting outside the Grammy Awards for Eminem's controversial duet with Sir Elton John. To quote that old Virginia Slim catch-phrase, "We've come a long way, baby" and it shows.

Is my sarcasm too subtle? Well it shouldn't be. The new millennium promised Americans that we would be stepping away from the past and moving into the future, but has anyone actually noticed a difference especially when it comes to Hollywood?

Hollywood has praised itself for being "gay-friendly," spotlighting the sitcom success of "Will & Grace" and making it Hollywood's poster child for the millennium. Even Entertainment Weekly recently released an issue devoted to high-paid, powerful and famous homosexuals in the business, with the cover featuring (what else?) "Will & Grace." Hollywood is practically screaming how it has come out of the closet, yet if one looks closely they really wouldn't notice a difference. In a survey, where ordinary citizens were asked to name recent films that dealt with homosexuality, most were stumped. Some replied with "My Best Friend's Wedding," while others went so far back that they mentioned "The Birdcage." No one remembered last year's Academy Award-winning "Boys Don't Cry" or a handful of other titles, including "Center Stage," "Cruel Intentions," "Chasing Amy," "In and Out" and "But I'm a Cheerleader."

Television is another story. Numerous students thought of the hit shows "Will & Grace," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Dawson's Creek," while many thought of past shows like "Roseanne" and "Ellen" that dealt with homosexuality. Some students thought of Showtime's "Queer as Folk" and the recently canceled "Normal, Ohio."

Still, for the number of shows that have homosexual characters, how many of them actually deal with homosexual relationships? Sure, two of the main characters on "Will & Grace" are gay, but when was the last time viewers watched Jack and Will share a passionate kiss with another man? In fact, despite Jack and Will being public about their sexuality, network writers have Jack marrying a woman (for green card purposes of course) and Will sharing an intense kiss with his female best friend, Grace. "The entertainment industry is an industry; not a business of raising social consciousness, but a business of raising quarterly earnings for shareholders," said professor Charles Fleming, who teaches entertainment reporting. "The broadcast executives who program these shows, and the standards and practices geniuses who answer to them, and the writer-producers they employ are all doing nothing more than reflecting a conservative version of what the audience is telling them it likes."

Those who are open about their real life sexuality fall into the same trap of having networks too conservative to write their stories. Even among the gay characters that are televised, many are stereotyped as flamboyantly gay or butch lesbian types. And while not every man who is gay acts like Jack from "Will and Grace," many films and television shows tend to focus only on these gay stereotypes. The few shows that do represent homosexuals as everyday people also deal with same-sex relationships, and ironically tend to get pushed off network television and onto a more adult-oriented station like Showtime or HBO. Is this because the general public isn't ready to see gay relationships yet?

Or is it because the networks aren't ready to show homosexuals as equal to heterosexuals? Is that why shows like "Normal, Ohio," which was awarded this year's People's Choice Award for John Goodman's portrayal of a gay man, got canceled before they begin, even when there is obviously an audience interested in the show? Shows like "Party of Five" are renewed for seasons at a time in hopes that their ratings will go up, but "Normal, Ohio" isn't given a chance. "Has Hollywood come out of the closet? No," Fleming states. "Does Steve Martin's Oscar night patter so peppered with coy references to homosexuality mean the industry's public stance about homosexuality has changed? I don't think so."

The sad thing about all this is the fact that "Roseanne," still remains one of the few shows that accurately portrayed homosexual characters of both sexes in a way few films and television shows have been willing to do today. Sure, "Dawson's Creek" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" have occasional episodes involving gay characters, but so did "Soap." And while "Will & Grace" made headlines because one of its title characters is a homosexual, so did "Ellen." "Roseanne" was that rare TV show that had homosexual recurring characters both young and old, male and female in relationships, and even aired a lesbian kiss.

"'Roseanne' was certainly ahead of its time, or at least was very different for its time," Fleming said. "I think what it showed is that most Americans will accept any kind of character that is given to them, if the character is delivered to them in a sympathetic way and in a show that is well-crafted. I think the public would absolutely accept an openly, actively gay character if the character were set up properly in a show like 'Frasier' or 'NYPD Blue.'" Will the networks finally give us these types of characters in the new millennium? Will Ellen DeGeneres' new show stay on for longer than her last one after she came out of the closet? One can only wait and see if Hollywood will finally treat homosexuals equally in their programming.

See also: nauseam. While I appreciate the efforts of any minority to see themselves accurately represented in popular television programming, I think their efforts are fundamentally flawed for two reasons.

First, there is no "accurate representation" of an entire group. If you're expecting a show featuring a handful of characters to provide a representative cross section of an entire minority in just half an hour per week, you're fighting a lost cause. One character will not, cannot, stand in for an entire group of thousands or millions of people. He'd never be able to stop talking, for one thing.

Second, you're talking about television here. TV is entertainment for the masses. The characters on a sitcom are, first and foremost, supposed to be funny. The writers are always going to play up the stereotypes toward that end, regardless of their relevance, for as long as it gets them laughs. If you're demanding intelligent production from the majority of your TV shows, you should stop complaining about sitcoms and spend your time promoting PBS instead.

I understand that it's great when certain shows provide "good" stereotypes of your favorite minority, and that it's uncomfortable when other shows provide "bad" stereotypes. But the media has been earning its entertainment dollars by capitalizing on stereotypes since the dawn of the electronic age, and it hasn't stopped yet. As long as the joke gets laughs, they'll keep it going in reruns.

And if the stereotyping gets too much in the way of your enjoyment, just do what I did: kill your television.

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