Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Column #28: It's getting harder to find me on TV

A recent story in Entertainment Weekly detailed the history of gay teens on TV, and proclaimed "Glee" as a bold new step forward in their representation. Every year, various minority groups issue reports about their representation on TV, usually to lament how few of them are depicted as successful, mainstream Americans.

So, of course, this got me thinking: How well am I represented on TV?

Who, or what, am I? Do I fit neatly into a multi-racial, or gender-specific, or handicapable box?

Well, I was raised in a Jewish family, though I am not personally religious today. I grew up in Florida, though I have since claimed Louisville as my adoptive home.

I am male, heterosexual, and married to a woman. I am co-parenting three cats, who range from adorable to sassy. I am pursuing higher education, and a part-time journalist, and sometimes I book art shows and music concerts around town.

My interests include the various arts, and good food and drink. Uhh, that's about it, actually. Despite my orientation, sports haven't done much for me since I was in grade school.

So where are there people like me on TV? The most obvious example would be IFC's "Portlandia," the wickedly astute satire of all things hip, organic and counter cultural. Though I can laugh at parts of myself, I think it's safe to say that I am not one of the dumpster divers or lesbian bookstore denizens that they focus on.

MTV's "My Life As Liz" offers much needed respite from the pregnant moms and juiced up self-tanners who otherwise dominate that channel. In season one of this faux reality show, we met Liz, a smart, sarcastic teen in a small town who does battle with the mean girls. In season two, she's made the leap to the big city, where there are more like her, though her problems remain much the same.

I can see Liz as an 18-year-old girl version of a younger me, and though she may be a more idealized version of younger me than "Beavis and Butt-head", it's still nice to see that she has a place on the small screen.

NBC's "Parenthood" has a similarly sarcastic and misunderstood teen girl in Amber, who, as in real life, is frequently shuffled to the background by her family, under the assumption that she can take care of herself as they fight about the other children or their jobs.

HBO's "Treme" offers lots of music, and music lovers, and chefs and food lovers, though Steve Zahn's grating performance as a self-centered DJ is irksome. Lance Robertson as DJ Lance Rock, is much more enjoyable on Nick Jr.'s "Yo Gabba Gabba!," though, again, less like me than I'd like. The goofy rapper Biz Markie also makes appearances, as does nerdy music legend Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo. Sadly, I am probably more like Brobee, the program's confused little green weirdo monster, or whatever he is.

After that, it gets harder to find me on TV. Higher education is represented by a pair of law school students on ABC Family's "Greek," though law is far from my field of studies, and the rest of the cast consists of fraternity and sorority members. AMC's "Mad Men" had a bearded beatnik character who was, predictably, a bit obnoxious and eventually written out.

Fox's "House, M.D." has two Jewish characters who actually look like many people in my family, but otherwise the show avoids cliches in their depiction. Jennifer Carpenter of Showtime's "Dexter" is a native Louisvillian pretending to be a native Floridian, which is at least relatable.

Also, I have been told that I look like one of the "Big Bang Theory" nerds, which is great for my self-esteem.

So, the 2010-11 season has been a so-so time in the history of me on primetime TV. Let's hope that next year we'll see fewer middle-class white guys, and more people like me.

c. 2011 Velocity Weekly

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