I love the newspaper comics and that was one of my beats way back in the day here at Bilerico. I stopped that because reading the comics I don't like but are widely distributed was taking up too much time. Now I just follow the ones I like.
Luann isn't one of them. I'm not the target audience, so no problem there. It's a strip about a teenage girl and her group of high school friends, which usually involve goofy hijinks and... thinly veiled, immature sexual references. Here's how America's foremost comic critic, Josh Fruhlinger, put it a few years ago:
Here's what drives me batty about this strip's treatment of romantic relationships: everything's all presented to us as if its something that's supposed to make us all hot and bothered, and yet it's not erotically charged at all, both because of the need to stay within the strict bounds of newspaper strip acceptable content rules and because of the extreme hamhandedness of it all. The fact that it all reinforces the whole "Women are mysterious and manipulative and men are doomed to be trapped forever in their sexual thrall" thing just adds some extra ick.
I'd dearly love nothing more than to stop thinking about the sexual lives of the characters in Luann, but it seems like every other storyline in the strip is entirely about their sexual lives, veiled by this layer of propriety that's all the more baffling considering how blatant the winking and nudging is. The result is that it's like a dirty joke told by an ten year old, today's example being a prime example. "Hey, Toni, I was just thinking about you because ... melons! Ha ha! Get it? Because they look like... you know! Ha!" Christ.
When I wrote about the comics here and elsewhere I would jokingly pick up on gay innuendo, both for laughs and to show how little LGBT content there is in mainstream comic strips (outside of 9 Chickweed Lane and Beetle Bailey... I kid, I kid).
So I was so surprised to see this panel this morning on Josh's site that it took me a few minutes to realize that it wasn't photoshopped:
According to panel one, four reasons to believe you're a gay man are:
- you're worried about physical contact with women,
- you like sewing,
- you're an only child, and
- you were raised by a single mother.
#1 is perfectly reasonable.
#2 is a tired stereotype, but not particularly offensive (there's nothing wrong with sewing). I also have no trouble believing that a character like Luann would say something like that.
#3 is just bizarre - does anyone think that only children are more likely to be gay? Unless it's a sly reference at having an overbearing, coddling mother, which leads me to....
#4 is old-school homophobia. The ex-gay folks constantly blame "distant fathers" for turning kids gay and searching for stuff to blame single mothers for.
Arch-homophobe Paul Cameron, founder of Family Research Institute, an organization that promotes ex-gayism and opposes gay liberation, wrote a list of all the things that can turn a kid gay. Here are two of the items:
- a dominant, possessive, or rejecting mother
- an absent, distant, or rejecting father
I remember this sort of pseudo-Freudianism that was more prominent in the media back when I was growing up; it is an attempt to shame parents with gay children and to make gay people believe that their sexual orientation comes entirely from a mistake made by someone else. This is part of an erstwhile successful agenda to make homosexuality a disease to be cured instead of a status of equal value to heterosexuality.
Anyway, in panel two Gunther realizes he's not gay because "a part" of him knows he's attracted to women, so the possibility of a recurring gay character in a major newspaper comic strip outside of 9 Chickweed Lane ends in one panel.
Luann gets some credit that the character Luann is perfectly willing to accept Gunther as gay, and there might have been the best of intentions in this panel, but, come on. Are there really 15-year-olds out there today parroting the Family Research Institute and Focus on the Family on homosexuality? Character authenticity doesn't explain this (as it explained the grandfather's homophobia in Boondocks when Brokeback Mountain was released) since it makes her she sound like she's coming straight out of 1962 (like strip creator Greg Evans, who was, in fact, 15 in 1962).
More importantly, in a medium so bereft of openly LGBTQ characters, non-traditional families, and healthy sexuality in general, my guess is this is the sort of audience that would just see confirmation for their views in that panel, not a new idea.
(Check out my new blog, follow me on Twitter, and find me on Facebook.)