Last week, As the World Turns fans witnessed a rarity on dramatic daytime television: a passionate kiss between two young men. Sure, you can tune into just about any episode of The Jerry Springer Show and see... well, you can see just about anything. But that’s about sensationalism – over-the-top "stories” that even Jerry Springer has called silly. But the incident on As the World Turns was not designed to be silly, sensational or over the top.
For those of you who either missed the episode or are not an As the World Turns viewer, a clip of the kiss has been uploaded to the YouTube web site – and it has been viewed by well over 150,000 people. Here’s a quick play-by-play. The two young men, Luke and Noah, have had some awkward moments over the past few weeks. They are the same sort of longing glances and awkward pauses that everyone has when they are infatuated with someone – regardless of gender or sexual orientation. On Friday, August 17th’s episode, Luke, who is openly gay, was helping Noah, who is apparently questioning his sexual orientation and battling a homophobic father, with his tie. In true soap fashion, their eyes met and both fell silent. The two men moved closer as an unsure Noah looked overcome by the realization that he could – just possibly – be gay. The two kissed rather passionately and then the show ended. Quite a cliffhanger for the week!
The kiss was a far cry from the you-remind-me-of-my-grandmother peck on the lips shared by All My Children’s Bianca and Lena a few years back. Much to do was made about daytime’s first lesbian kiss, a kiss that lasted... hmmm... maybe a second-and-a-half.
As you may expect, many fans of AMC were outraged by what some called a degradation of morals and the advancement of "the gay agenda.” It’s very similar to the feedback that I have been receiving from fans of As the World Turns.
"I am outraged that ATWT would put a dramatic kiss between two male actor[s],” said ATWT fan Joanie in an email. "I have watched ATWT since I have been a young child and am disgusted with the show. It was one thing to have the characters discussing their sexual orientation but I am outraged that they would put this on the screen. I will no longer watch ATWT and I'm sure that my mother who has watched for years will feel the same as myself. I watched Y&R in the late 70's and early 80's and intend to return. You've lost a long time fan.”
"I really don't care for the close contact of Luke and Noah kissing,” writes Sheri. "My daughter watches also and I would like to see the show without the actual male to male contact. I am fine with being gay, I just would prefer not to see it on my soap that I have been watching for 30 something years. Please leave it to our imaginations. I will not watch the show if I have to watch sex and kissing among the guys. That does not make me feel sexy. I really felt uncomfortable.”
Obviously the very subject of same-sex anything makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Political pundits claim that the results of an entire election may have been driven by the issue of same-sex marriages.
One of the problems, as I see it, is that it is still very much taboo. In spite of programs like Ellen, Will & Grace, Queer as Folk and Noah’s Arc, it’s still very difficult for people to discuss the issue of homosexuality without tempers flaring. For many big city dwellers, someone being gay is just another part of everyday life. I’m frequently amused by folks who remark that there is "no one gay” in their town. As much as I think some reality television is totally over the top, I like watching programs like Wife Swap where people of totally different backgrounds get to experience life in someone else’s shoes. Not every gay person is a promiscuous drag queen running rampant trying to "recruit” new members for the gay community. And let’s face it: every group of persons has some sort of stereotype associated with them.
Many people argue that they don’t want to see a gay storyline on television because they are not gay and cannot relate. I’m a pretty average 32-year-old white guy, but I’ve never used the "I cannot relate” comment when watching The Cosby Show or The Golden Girls. I’ve never tried to solve a murder, but I watch "CSI.” I’ve never come back from the dead (Well that’s not entirely true, click here to read a blog entry about that ordeal), but I watch the soaps.
Further complicating things are persons who revel in "outing” people – whether they are homosexual or not. Tabloid magazines herald the news that so-and-so is really gay. Recent celebrities targeted by sensationalist gay headlines include Tom Cruise, Oprah Winfrey and R&B singer Usher (who, as a random aside, appeared on The Bold and the Beautiful a few years back). With so many people supposedly being gay or closeted, I think it does a disservice to people who really are gay.
But not everyone targeted by these headlines is necessarily a celebrity. With the booming popularity of the Internet and its very much unregulated status, anyone, anywhere can post just about anything about anybody. There have been cases of teens being picked on or slandered on their MySpace pages over their sexuality (or perceived sexuality). There have even been cases when some of these teens have ended up committing suicide because of the teasing and taunting. Heck, I’ve had people post all kinds of things about me here on my Soap Central blog.
"This guy is a piece of work,” wrote an anonymous poster on my blog. "After seeing each other for a few weeks, he's ready to declare undying love and calls you pet names. I try to grin and bear it, but seriously, yuck. Why can't he just understand that some people want to [have sex] without the commitment? Who needs all of the usual dating crap when you can just go to each other's homes and have sex all night? His house is display of feminimity [sic], so I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Gay men are supposed to be up for the [sex] buddy, why ask for more? I like the screwing, so I guess I'll stick around, but it can be really exhausting, and not always in a good way.”
The entry, an apparent prank by someone who was not happy with having their access to Soap Central’s messages revoked, shows just how dangerous the Internet can be. Thanks to the ability to be faceless and nameless on the web, the person didn’t even have the courage to identify themselves.
If it isn’t easy for someone to step forward and admit to posting an Internet blog entry about someone, imagine the courage it must take for someone to identify themselves as gay.