Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Men And Television

There has been a flurry of expression concerning why men seem to be deserting television - led by Kim du Toit's very interesting post. Jane Galt and Craig Henry and Glenn Reynolds have more to report. Some of these commenters have suggested that television's dominant manner of presenting the roles and characteristics of men and women may be involved. That may be part of the issue.

But there seems to be another force at work: American television increasingly presents a tolerant view of homosexuality, and increasingly presents images of gay interaction itself. I am not interested in condemning or condoning that development here. But it is simply a fact that the development has happened and is continuing to happen.

In my opinion, while tolerance of gay lifestyles may (or may not) be increasing in the United States, it is also a fact that the great majority of American men do not feel comfortable being directly or indirectly involved in or witnessing or having their attention drawn to any aspect of gay interaction. It is not just that straight men - and, especially, straight young men - do not want to be propositioned or sexually approached. The great majority of straight men do not want to see or be seen by gay men, or see or be reminded in any way or at any time of gay interactions.

Nor do the great majority of straight men care to be confrontational on this issue at any time. For the most part, straight men simply prefer to avoid locales where gay activities are present, or where one is reminded that gay activities are present or condoned, or where one might be reminded that gay activities are present or condoned. And straight men also prefer to avoid locales which are associated in the minds of other people, such as friends and relations and business associates, as locales where one might be presented with gay images or reminded that gay activities are presented or condoned. In short: One might ask whether some straight men do not want to hang around a television that may produce a gay image. Again, I take no position here as to whether any of the above patterns are right or wrong - but I do believe they exist as described.

Television is not the only locale to be abandoned recently by males where such issues may be involved. Highschool and college locker rooms - and especially locker room showers - are more and more unused. To some extent that is probably attributable to the ever-increasing risk that someone using a miniature electronic device is watching - and recording. But anecdotal evidence suggests that many (not all) men are increasingly uncomfortable in such locales - and increasingly avoid them - simply because there is more tolerance of gay activities. For example, for a lot of reasons, very few men want to be involved in a mess where one man shouts at another "Why are you looking at me!" - especially in an environment in which that looking is no longer much condemned. Deeming something "rude" is not the same as deeming it "sick" or "perverted."

I definitely do not affirmatively believe that the departure of men from television is partially caused by television becoming a more "gay" medium. But I do believe that avoidance of all things gay is a very strong feature of heterosexual male American culture, that it does not take much to activate this avoidance behavior pattern (a pattern which may be what is making the growth of tolerance of gay activities possible, anyway), and that it is worth looking into this feature in determining why the men are leaving.

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