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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

¿HAVE GAYS BECOME MAINSTREAM AND ORDINARY?





With the current season of RuPaul's Drag Race coming
to a close, so too ends the bulk of gay shows on Logo. In a February press release, the Viacom-owned
network announced it was cutting all of its LGBT-focused shows in favor of
material "that reflect gays and lesbians’ increasing integration into
mainstream culture today and their desire for shows that appeal to their
multiple interests." The result is a new line of reality programming like Eden
Wood's World
 and Wiseguys, which are clear reflections of
the popular Toddlers & Tiaras and Mob Wives reality
series on other networks. The only specifically queer programs remaining on the
network are Drag Race and RuPaul’s Drag U, which
is also being revamped to reach a more mainstream audience. As Ben Harvey of The Huffington Post wrote,
"In other words, the new Logo will be a Cuisinart-blended cocktail of
Bravo, Lifetime, and Oxygen, with a pink boa as garnish." 
Why the decision? 




First,
consider that when Logo launched there were two other gay channels on the air, Q
Television Network and here! TV.
 Q Television went
away in 2006, while here! TV is still functioning with its subscription-based
business model. (It should be noted that parent company Here Media, which owns
here! TV, also owns Gay.com, Gay.net, The Advocate, OUT and other LGBT
properties.) So while here! TV viewers pay for their programming, Logo is
reliant on advertisers, and in this tight economy that could be difficult,
especially for a network catering to a specific audience.


Industry publication AdAge posed the question of
"whether niche content for gays has enough profit potential for media
companies and whether catering to audiences' gay identity is still the best way
for marketers to reach this demographic. In short, has gay become too
mainstream for its own media?" AdAge cited Nielsen when looking at Logo's
top-rated show, Drag Race. The article states that the show drew
481,000 viewers for its fourth season premiere, while the season premiere of
Bravo's gay fave show The Real Housewives of Atlanta, which aired
the night before the Drag Race premiere, drew 3.9 million eyeballs.


Thus one could assume this was simply a business
decision. Change the programing to look like these other gay-friendly networks
in hopes of increasing viewers and going for broader advertising dollars.


Not so, says Lisa Sherman,
Executive Vice President, General Manager, Logo. “Our focus at Logo has always
been to develop shows that reflect the full lives of our audience," she
said in another press release. The company
conducted a study with Starcom MediaVest Group that "confirms what we’ve
heard from our viewers on all of our media platforms—they want programs that
reflect their full-life experiences and multiple interests. So, that’s what
we’ll aim to give to them as they continue to live fully integrated lives in
all parts of mainstream culture.” 


Futhering this thought was
SMG’s Esther Franklin, Executive Vice President and head of Starcom MediaVest
Group America’s Experience Strategy. “Our big ‘a-ha’ moment happened when all
the insights and data showed how ordinary LGBT life is today," she wrote.
"For many parts of the LGBT community, people are just living everyday
lives. We haven’t seen that insight portrayed until very recently.”


But are LGBT Americans really
living "fully integrated lives in all parts of mainstream culture"?
Is LGBT life "ordinary" and are we "just living everyday
lives" as these women claim? Such a statement implies that gay people can
have a first date at a TGI Fridays in the suburbs just as comfortably as they
could at a Hamburger Mary's in the gay ghetto. That may be the case for
homosexuals living in New York or Los Angeles, but is it the case for gays
living everywhere else in America?


To back up these statements
were survey results, however it should be noted
that there were "over 1,000 participants" in the survey, some of whom
were straight, and that "both qualitative and quantitative methods"
were used. The effort was launched in New York in June 2011 and revealed that
"53 percent [of respondents] conveyed that they don’t hide being gay, but
that for them it’s not a priority to showcase it. And only 30 percent indicated
that they preferred living and socializing in exclusively gay and lesbian
communities."


"This isn't surprising," observes HuffPo's Harvey.
"Most real-life conversations don't start with 'Hi, I'm a homo.' Instead,
we define ourselves as electropop fans and Foursquare addicts and cat freaks
who just happen to be gay. However, just because we don't lead with 'I'm gay'
doesn't mean we don't want to see gays on reality shows altogether."


And that's really the larger
point in this discussion. If Logo, Lifetime, Bravo or any network wants to
change its programming slate to generate more revenue, then by all means the
executives should make that change. But to say the decision comes from a study
on how LGBT Americans are living their lives today feels somewhat disingenuous,
especially when one considers the continual reports of discrimination,
inequality and attacks happening upon LGBT Americans. Just because gay people
can find LGBT news topics on MSNBC or watch gay characters on Bravo or in an
episode of Modern Family, doesn't mean they don't want a magazine,
website, or television network dedicated to their sensibility.



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