Gay Iconography: Did ‘Just Jack’ Do More Harm Than Good?

 

People would not still be talking about Hayes' work as Jack if he weren't a gifted comedian. From physical comedy to the oft-quoted one-liners, Hayes stole every scene he was in. In the clip above, he turns an energetic entrance into a hyper monologue about the cute barista he's been seeing.

 

 

There's a great TED Talk by novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche about "The Danger of A Single Story." In it, she says, "The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete." So, yes, there are men who could out-cheer Jack in the clip above, but, as the predominant story of gay men on television at the time, the swishy Jack versus buttoned-up Will dichotomy did little to introduce America to gay men that identified as neither (or both).

 

 

On Will & Grace, it seemed like everyone knew Jack was gay but his mother. See his character's coming out in the clip above. Hayes came out publicly in 2010 via an interview in The Advocate in which he said “I feel like I’ve contributed monumentally to the success of the gay movement in America, and if anyone wants to argue that, I’m open to it. You’re welcome, Advocate.” Three years later he went on to tell the L.A. Times he owed the gay community an apology for not coming out sooner.

 

 

For anyone who doubts the significance of popular culture in our society, this clip of Vice President Joe Biden on Meet the Press is a must-see. Before President Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage, Vice President Biden issued his support and attributed shifting cultural attitudes to the impact of Will & Grace.

 

 

Today, Hayes stars as the divorced gay father of a teenage girl in Sean Saves the World on NBC. In addition to his series, his production company, Hazy Mills Productions, is also behind Hot In Cleveland and The Soul Man on TV Land, as well as Hollywood Game Night and Grimm on NBC.

What do you think? Was it enough for Sean Hayes' work to increase visibility of gay men on television, or did his over-the-top character make it harder for gay men to defy stereotypical perceptions? Let us know in the comments.

Comments

  1. Randy says

    I loved the Jack character (and Karen). Will and Grace, the title characters, were so damned boring.

    I didn’t see Adiche’s TED Talk. Maybe Adiche didn’t see Will & Grace. There were two different main gay characters on the show: Will, and Jack. Will was the “straight” man, but he did show a truth, which is that gay men don’t come from a single mold. Jack fit some common stereotypes, but unlike being THE joke as he might have been on other shows, he MADE the jokes on this show. We must not shy away from stereotypes, but embrace them, exactly because this is what some people hate about some of us.

  2. pete n sfo says

    I’ve recently caught a few episodes of W&G in re-runs. I was kind of shocked by how way-flamboyant, unsophisticated, base, & slap-sticky the show is… which is not to say, I don’t sometimes laugh anyway.

    Jack, was one character in an ensemble. You can’t look at only one part of the whole. Yes, he was over the top; they all were. It’s a sit-com.

    Sometimes it’s the exaggeration that allows people to make room for the every-day. No one is judging rich people based on Karen, or Jewesses based on Grace. But there’s a little truth in all of them and the same is true of Jack MacFarland.

    And, I love that Sean Hayes is such a creative, successful, powerhouse. Put that in your gay-pipe and smoke it!

  3. says

    @Randy, I did see Adiche’s talk and she wasn’t talking about Will and Grace specifically though her general concept would apply.

    The problem with Will and Grace is that it was the only story out there for a lot of people. That isn’t the fault of the show nor is it that fault of its characters but of popular media. In a world with a variety of gay representation on screen, no one would have a problem with Jack as a character.

    BTW I’m watching Will and Grace as I write this.

  4. johnny says

    The show had all of the standard gay types with the volume turned up on all of them. Fem, butch and everything in-between. It wasn’t reality, it was reality on steroids because, after all, it was a sitcom.

    TV (Theater) is still playing to the back row.

  5. Jack Ford says

    I don’t think Jack was any gayer than Will. They both loved musicals/singing/dancing and hated sports. They both had their hags and thought they knew what was best for them. Jack to me was never effeminate, he was just LOUD and irresponsible whereas Will was quieter and took life more seriously. When I first started watching this show at 17, I was always the Will and my best friend was the Jack (even though my name is Jack). As for icon or stereotype – I think both. The trouble is, stereotypes are funny because they’re true. Around that time, the gay community was a lot more insulated. They would only go to gay bars and live their gay lives in a bubble (I did anyway) so I think a lot of gay people acted the same way and thought the same way. Jack probably did represent that community and did us a favour by making it visible. At the same time obviously, we’re only talking about big city gays and relatively young & attractive gay men (being overweight was a cardinal sin). The show was rife with insults to lesbians at the beginning, there was biphobia and queens and “trannie” were ridiculed too.

  6. crispy says

    The gay men who hate Jack are the ones who see a little bit of themselves in his swish, and that terrifies them.

    It’s just so much simpler to be self-confident.

  7. Joey Y says

    I don’t wear harnesses, decorate for a living, participate bitchy diatribes about musical theater, or live in a gym. Where is the write-up about the movie Jeffrey? Oh that’s right. I’m not offended for no legitimate reason…

  8. FM says

    Wow, anyone disagreeing with the ‘femmy’ Jack character as being an ugly stereotype is right off the bat labeled a troll.
    Maybe Jack should have had SOME redeeming qualities as a sissy. Instead they made him into this vapid, narcissistic, money-and-looks centered, age insulting, boyfriend stealing, user dingbat.

  9. KJ says

    When the show first came on TV, I was still closeted, but loved the show immediately – each character with his/her exaggerated faults. Jack coming out to his naive mother makes me laugh to this day.

    I know people like to hate on the shows faults and “datedness,” but for me, it provided a sense that it was in fact going to be all right.

  10. Jack Ford says

    @FM – did you watch the show? Jack may have liked everyone to think he was all of the things you describe but in fact he was intensely loyal, kind and a little insecure. He knew what people thought when they looked at him so he put on a front. Don’t forget he was secretly in love with Will for almost the show’s entire run. He basically just wanted to be loved (like everyone) but he just couldn’t get it right (like many people).

  11. Kevin_BGFH says

    We probably all know someone like Jack. Some people are just naturally more flamboyant. Some choose to accentuate that further while others try to tamp it down a bit. Had Jack been the only gay on the show, it would have perpetuated stereotypes by implying that all gay people act that way. But there were other gay characters on the show, like Will, who acted differently. It’s okay to show that SOME gay people act like Jack as long as you aren’t trying to suggest that ALL gay people do.

  12. will says

    Yes, Jack was over-the-top gay and outrageous and that’s part of what made the show (in this case). Jack and Karen were gloriously outre. It worked for THIS show. We must judge on a case by case basis.

  13. says

    The character I had the most problem with was Will. He was always depressed and could never handle a relationship. That to me was the “stereotypcial” gay male role, because how many times have we heard from the religious nuts that gays are never happy with their lives?

    Jack was who Jack was. He was the gay man living proud and telling the Ricks of the world to “f**k off”. He, along with Karen, were the best parts of the show and not be honest, I would have prefered the “Jack & Karen” over “Will & Grace”.

  14. will says

    Jack and Karen are what gave the show its manic highs. Without them, it would’ve been a more typical-style sitcom. Will & Grace were the basis for the show’s theme (exploring the intense, intimate friendship that a gay man can have with a straight woman), but Jack and Karen exploded the bottle. There was nothing as flamboyant and out-there on television as their brio & left-field gags.

  15. NYCguy says

    Jack was a character. I think this article is somewhat saying, “do you, gay man who isn’t like Jack, agree or disagree that promoting sterotypes is a good thing?” Why are we assuming that all gay towleroad readers are not like jack.

    There are some people who act JUST LIKE JACK and they deserve representation on TV. I agree that in 1998, the number of gay characters was basically just Will and Jack and they represented our community to millions of ignorant Americans. But, still, the “Jacks” of our community deserve representation just as much. And asking the question, “is it bad that Jack promoted stereotypes and reduced gay men to the usual stereotypes” implicitly implies that there is something wrong with stereotypes. Some people live their lives by stereotypes. He’s a character from a sitcom. I expected more from this site – I’ve actually been thinking that a lot lately…

    To all the theater-loving, campy gay men reading this – be who you are and don’t let our own community make you feel inferior.

  16. NoCaDrummer says

    I guess you’re all too young to remember a cable TV show from the mid-80’s called “Brothers”. The flamboyant gay character “Donald Maltby” was probably the first openly gay (and very flamboyant) character I recall seeing, winning the actor a CableACE Awards in 1985. And as time went on, storylines seem to shift from one of the (rather boring gay) brothers more to Donald as being a primary character.

  17. rascal says

    Will is a far more detrimental stereotype than Jack. Will has more masculine behavioral attributes, but is FAR less self-empowered than Jack. Will’s character is painful to watch. Self-loathing, hypocritical, humorless and cowardly, Will is a very poor excuse for a man, gay or straight. Jack, on the other hand, is a power pansy. A level of strength and integrity Will could not even approximate.

  18. Paul R says

    I couldn’t care less if he or his character were femme or masculine. Sean is unpleasant in person. I also agree that Will and Grace were sad characters, yet remind me of people I’ve known. Everyone is different, thank god.

  19. Homo Genius says

    I have mentioned this before… Sometimes I feel it was very Amos and Andy. I think some of the show was accurate but then none of my friends and I discussed being gay every 5 minutes either.

    Here is my personal experience. I had clients who would ask me if I was a “Will” or a “Jack”. I was really offend but had to just grin and bear it. They decided that I was a “Jack”

  20. Scott_D says

    Well the sitcom format/formula requires certain archetypes. Jack & Karen’s rolls were to be the polar opposites of Will & Grace. That’s what made the show work: the clash of opposites.

    Entertainment uses all kinds of stereotypes all the time. Take a look at I Love Lucy.

    I didn’t find Jack offensive, partly because Will was there to balance. The show also had Bobby Canavalle as a gay cop at one point too.

  21. Benzoin says

    I think the Jack character was just fine. Some gay men are theater-loving and campy; and not only is there nothing wrong with it, it’s fine.

    If all the gay characters on the show were campy, then it would be a problem, but it wasn’t the case on that show.

    I think the show served its purpose for its time. It may not meet today’s standards, but it was good then. It definitely seemed to help normalize gays to my straight peers growing up.

    I think the show really helped straights to start elevating their consciousness. I can’t remember how many times I was told by someone “You’re more of a Will than a Jack; not that there’s anything wrong with being a Jack…” Then when the show progressed, people were telling me I reminded them more of other characters rather than Will.

    At the very least, I think the show helped people understand that different gay people are different! We’re not all the same!

  22. Chris says

    First, I would like to remind everyone, it was a sitcom, and a broad one at that.
    Second, at the time, this show was a big deal. A gay male character had never been the core character of a network show before.
    Third, Will and Grace was so effective because it brought gay characters, broad stereotypes or not, into living rooms every week. People laughed, and saw these characters as people, with lreal lives, that was important.
    fourth, the vapid, oversexed best friend is a classic sitcom device, I don’t see anyone complaining that Blanche Devareaux damaged the image of female retirees.
    finally, as a theatre loving stereotype myself….we exist, our existence is not damaging to the community, as a matter of fact, I venture to say that wothout a few of us theatre loving stereotypes, the gay community would never have made the progress it has.

  23. Jack Ford says

    @Mam – Yes, bad gay! Bad gay! I have zero interest in fashion and buy a whole outfit straight off the mannequin in the store hoping they know what they’re doing. Most of the time it doesn’t matter though as it’s sweats and tee-shirt at home.

  24. NotSafeForWork says

    Some of these comments are eye rolling. Who doesn’t have a friend who is like Jack, one like Karen, one like Will and another one like Grace? I have people like this in my life and can name a dozen others. If you can’t see all the colors of the rainbow in your gay life then you are either obtuse or maybe just a cranky d*ouchebag. Pull your head out of the sand. It’s the world we live in. Stop hating on on other gay people just because they express themselves differently than you do.

  25. Rotundra says

    Jack was a blast, however he was no more of an icon to gay people than Sally Struthers was to straight people. Sean Hayes also blew socially when he wouldn’t be upfront and publically gay, especially given that no one in the Free World would have believed that he was straight.

  26. PMFinn says

    I’m more offended by the gay couple on Modern Family than anything Jack McFarland ever did. I think the character gave a sense of empowerment to many “sissies”. He wasn’t a victim, and he sure wasn’t a saint. Audiences didn’t laugh at Jack because he was a stereotype; they laughed at Jack for his aggressive pursuit of men, his shallowness, his delusions of grandeur. Sean Hayes took a sidekick character and made him an equal partner in what eventually became a quartet. I think the only one who didn’t feel so empowered was Hayes himself, whom one wishes had come out sooner, but hey, better late than never.

  27. BostonBeat says

    Nonsense. When it is don’t well, it can be entertaining and in this case “Will and Grace” and the character of JACK were amazing. Funny, great lines and all around a good show. You will never be able to please everyone but for me, this show was ace. The show I fund pretty lame was “The NEw Normal.” Blech.

  28. emjayay says

    Frankly I’m surprised at all the positive and intelligent comments here about the Jack character and W&G. But I totally agree.

    W&G was extremely well written and loaded with gay and theater and dance world material. And it was very popular. And very funny. I think a lot of people actually learned things about those worlds from watching, specific things and attitudes and kinds of humor. Did America know that much about gay cater waiters and acting classes and gay bars etc. before?

    What it was criticised most about back then was that the title characters, Will and Grace, had the major relationship in the show but it wasn’t a romantic one. The show wasn’t Will and Steve. And Will was rarely shown in any kind of actual romantic relationship with anyone until it had been on for years. True, and unfortunate, but that’s what got the show on TV at the time and that’s what enabled it to be popular. It was all really gay, but slipped in by not being about gay sex and love. Dastardly clever I think.

    I only saw the first two episodes of the new Sean show, but it was not well written and directed at all. Instead of campy loaded with jokes exaggerations of reality it was lame exaggerations of nothing.

  29. andrew says

    Jack was an Amos and Andy type character. He allowed straight people to laugh at the silly stereotypical behavior of a gay man just as Amos and Andy allowed white people to laugh at the stereotypical behavior of black people. Neither of those shows move the equality ball forward. Both of those shows allowed even bigots to laugh at the silly behavior of people they consider their inferiors.

  30. says

    Actually @Andrew’s words aren’t true at all, MAM.

    Will & Grace did move the equality ball forward by making gay lives (even sit-com versions of them) more visible. Bigots weren’t watching the show to laugh at gay behaviors; if they were, joke was on them. As with other long-running comedy shows, people fell in love with the characters and responded to them. Jack was a foolish character but no more so and no more stereotypically one than characters on Mary Tyler Moore, Friends, or myriad other sit-coms.

  31. Rikon Snow says

    I still — once a year or so — pull out my DVDs and watch Will & Grace again. They were *endearing* characters and the fact that people could feel affection for them was more important than the precise grade of stereotype that critics perceived. All comedy is about stereotypes in and out of character. Hayes (and the rest of the cast) did a lot to change perceptions simply by being “lovable.”

    Hayes was also in a great little gay film (Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss) back in 1998.

  32. Den says

    At the heart of most opposition to camp gay men in real life or on screen characters is an internalised homophobia. Gay men portrayed as ‘straight acting’ are seen as superior and a better representative of us, why ? Because they aren’t obvious and their homosexuality is subdued and effectively hidden. When was the last time you heard heterosexual men complaining that a character was too obviously masculine or blatantly straight.

    If you didn’t know the premise of Will and Grace and watched the show by accident the character of Will could be seen as straight in many scenes but Jack is clearly and obviously only gay, and deep down that is what still so many gay men find uncomfortable. There is still a desire to be able to ‘pass’ as ‘normal’, and we view camp as inferior to non-camp. Heterosexuals never desire to see straight men portrayed as more camp and ‘gay acting’ and we shouldn’t seek the opposite.

    What’s wrong with camp ? Nothing.

  33. Eric Peterson says

    I remember, back in the 90’s, a co-worker asked me if, as a gay man, I thought the portrayal of Jack was offensive. I thought about it and said “No, because (a) it’s hilarious and (b) for every one of his behaviors, I know a real person who does that. Maybe not all in the SAME person, but…

  34. Rob says

    The show was first and foremost a comedy, and the heart of comedy, I feel, is alienation. Nothin’ funny about contended, smug, rich folks in the suburbs. Contrast drives comedy forward, too, and contrasting Jack with about everything made for a chuckle. Politics are fine, and it’s nice if that helps us somewhere, but to make it fine comedy it can’t be too preachy. And what a comedy it was.

    Sean Hayes’ comedic timing is perfect, like Megan Mulally’s. To form a comedy that works, you need everyone coming from a different angle, and the wider the angle, the better the result.

    We put too large a mantle on folks in the public eye – athletes, entertainers, politicians. They have a job to do, and ones like Sean Hayes nail it each and every time. Works for me.

  35. says

    When I first saw the show I didn’t like it. Will was a sour, sexless character who was unable to have a relationship with a man because his main emotional relationship was with a straight woman, and Jack was a shallow, hypersexual user.

    But when it went into syndication the bug that had crawled up my @ss finally died and I was able to just watch it without that stuff intruding. They really should have made Beverley Leslie a permanent character because the interaction between him and Megan Mulally(sp?) was great. When they were on screen together everyone else disappeared.

    Yeah, Jack was a stereotypical character but the public embraced him. I do think the show introduced gay people to the masses in a way that was mainly harmless. The Gay Best Friend was suddenly desirable, even if being reduced to that was somehow offensive. It was an improvement over previous portrayals and, silly as it was, it did change minds. We stopped being some foreign “other” with our own inscrutable and mysterious rituals and just became, you know, PEOPLE!

    You don’t always get to control how people “like you” are portrayed. Yeah Jack was stereotypical in many ways but he was a huge improvement over the nasty queens and predatory faggots that Vito Russo documented in The Celluloid Closet. He was endearing and that hadn’t been an option in portrayals of gay people before.

  36. Christopher says

    It’s a sitcom, not a documentary. Not every sitcom is going to reach the level of social commentary achieved by “All in the Family”. And frankly, when you compare Jack to “reality” TV and talk show guests, Jack is mild. We all know the flamboyant homosexual, I have a “Jack” in my circle of friends. What Jack did as a character is show the world his feelings, purpose and is not any less human.
    Go back and watch “The Boys in the Band”, Will and Jack represent a part of almost every character in that film.

  37. Marty says

    Tiger, you said what I used to say about will & grace when it was on the air. It had the same societal function and impact for gay visibility and acceptance as “good times” and “the Jeffersons” had for blacks in the 70s. Others had compared it to Amos and Andy, but that’s far too harsh.

    I liked the show, particularly Jack & Karen, because it was so damn funny. But I also remember the sense that most of the time, especially for Will, the punch line of the joke would be “oh, I’m so gay,” or “how gay is that,” which used to infuriate me. I remember aching for a representation of gay life on any screen that came close to mine & my friends. But will and grace broke new ground and from that ground much has grown. There’s so much more variety now…

  38. johnny says

    @NotSafeForWork states:

    “Who doesn’t have a friend who is like Jack, one like Karen, one like Will and another one like Grace?”

    I don’t.

    As a gay man who has been out for over 30 years, I live in a rural area and have a few gay friends, but not many. Among my gay friends are a banker, a mechanic, and a creative director at an ad agency. Two of us are out publicly, the other two are only out to family. The rest of our circle are straight women and men, some are married with kids, some are single.

    There are no theater-goers in the group, none of us are “oversexed”, none of us go to gay bars or bath houses. None of us drink to excess, none of us flit from bed to bed or chase after men constantly. None of us are into Judy or Barbara or Gaga. Basically, were just standard, run-of-the-mill folks. Maybe even a bit boring by your standards.

    We live our lives quietly, do our jobs, pay our taxes, take care of our yards, get together on occasion for dinner or lunch and talk, laugh and share.

    This is the reality of most of the country and is the standard reality of being gay in a rural setting – a setting which makes up most of the U.S. Sure, there are a few flamboyant gays around, but they’re friends of friends who live in the city and visit once in a while. They are fun to be around for a day and then they leave.

    While I can “see” all the colors of the rainbow, it doesn’t mean that they are a daily or even yearly presence in my life.

    So, no, I don’t have a Will, Grace, Karen or Jack in my life at all. And that’s OK with me.

  39. rroberts says

    I agree with @RASCAL on several points. “Will’s character is painful to watch. Self-loathing, hypocritical, humorless and cowardly, Will is a very poor excuse for a man, gay or straight. Jack, on the other hand, is a power pansy. A level of strength and integrity Will could not even approximate.” Will hid being gay and would have waffled if publicly confronted. Jack on the other hand displayed all the in-your-face f*&k you out-and-proud spirit that brought about the gay revolution. Jack would have led the charge at Stonewall, but not Will. Gay culture needs to embrace its nelly, effeminate members – the power pansies – because their honesty enriches all of us. Millions of viewers adored Paul Lynde whose campy, obviously gay humor poked honest fun at everyone.

  40. anon says

    The problem with the show was the lazy writing and generally poor acting. Sean Hayes was the exception to this. He seemed to improve his dialog and had the acting chops to actually connect with the audience. The other three were either wet blankets and/or one-note.

  41. JMC says

    Will & Grace and all of its characters did nothing but endear the general public to gay men. Seeing Jack help Will through his ongoing struggle with self acceptance was eye opening for a lot of viewers, I think. You can’t just bash Will to uplift Jack or vice versa, both characters are totally dependent on the other to work as the writers intended them to.

    I still absolutely adore watching the show in reruns, they really managed to slip in so much for gay viewers despite having to toe the line for reasons we’re all well aware of. Such a hilarious and lovable cast of characters.

  42. Wilberforce says

    I like the usual idea here that because Will wasn’t jumping into bed every ten minutes he was self hating and depressed. Actually, I thought his character balanced Jack’s very well. He was butch and educated and responsible and looking for an ltr. And he is the better actor. Jack did one thing, camp, and really not all that well. Will did many different characters.

  43. JMC says

    Wilber if you’d watched the show with any kind of consistency you should realize that Will did deal with a lot of self loathing and depression and it had nothing to do with how many men he did or didn’t bed. His emotional struggles were central to his character and his friendship with Jack.

  44. Paul R says

    Also, Jack and Will kissed. Another part of the characters’ emotional development. I stopped watching the show, but that was an integral part of their relationship. Conflict and slight resolution.

    Also, @Johnny, yes rural areas make up the vast majority of the US in terms of area. But not in terms of population, especially when suburbs are taken into account. Just to clarify.

    >> 84 percent of the United States’ inhabitants live in suburban and urban areas, but cities occupy only 10 percent of the country. Rural areas occupy the remaining 90 percent.

  45. Rick says

    “Jack was an Amos and Andy type character. He allowed straight people to laugh at the silly stereotypical behavior of a gay man just as Amos and Andy allowed white people to laugh at the stereotypical behavior of black people. Neither of those shows move the equality ball forward. Both of those shows allowed even bigots to laugh at the silly behavior of people they consider their inferiors”

    Exactly. And while you could argue that the first characters of any minority group that appear on TV have to be stereotypical so as to not be too threatenting to the majority…….the problem is that, with gay men, we have never progressed from that.

    Blacks progressed from Step-n-fetch-it to Sanford and Son and on to Cosby…..but gay men, as Modern Family demonstrates, remain in stereotypical mode more than a decade after Will and Grace.

    The reason for that is that both straight society and effeminate gay men are deeply, deeply threatened by the idea of homosexuality and masculinity being portrayed as naturally compatible–a character who was both gay and entirely masculine in demeanor and interests would challenge the entire cultural paradigm that equates heterosexuality to masculinity and homosexuality to absent or deficient masculinity (and therefore to inferiority).

    Both homophobic straight society and the gays who promote and perpetuate the culture of effeminacy want the existing paradigm to continue. They want gay men to continue to be expected to function as pseudo-women, outside the mainstream of society and not respected as men or taken seriously in mainstream roles, other than those that entail some sort of subservience to women.

    What a sad, pathetic state of affairs–and the only thing that is going to change it is for the rest of us to have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to effeminate behavior and refuse to treat gay men who behave that way with any more respect than anybody else does–because they really don’t deserve it and are destroying the credibility and life chances of all the rest of us by continuing to engage in it.

  46. says

    The problem with W&G and almost all sitcoms that follow is that it went for easy laughs over character development. Obviously the laughs are essential for a sitcom but go back and watch some classic shows of the genre (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, for example) and see that you can have both. The characters were written superficially and the actors went full on for the laughs. what else could they do. It is telling that we hear complaints from some gay men about Jack. We don’t hear complaints about rich women about Karen, from Jews about Grace, or lawyers about Will, even though those characters made fun of those groups for big laughs. But people who are rich, Jewish and lawyers are proud of belonging to those groups. A lot of gay people wish they weren’t gay. What’s even more bizarre is that the more Jack-like the gay man, the more likely he is to wince at seeing a gay man like that either in real life or in the media. It’s not so much that not all gay men are like that (most of us are a little bit like that truth be told) but that it’s a lot more complicated than that. I know a lot of straight men who have a stereotypically gay interest or two. And some of the most effeminate men I have known were handy with power tools and fixing a car.

    Interestingly enough, we’re not hearing so many complaints about the couple on Modern Family, perhaps because there is more depth to those characters, more complexity, and they are handled in much the same way that the other couples on the show are. That show is also funny but a little more reality based than W&G. (It’s also one of the most watched shows among Republicans.) Change is slow. Perhaps it was necessary to do something like W&G to make gay characters that are central to a tv series rather than peripheral possible.

  47. Rick says

    “A lot of gay people wish they weren’t gay. What’s even more bizarre is that the more Jack-like the gay man, the more likely he is to wince at seeing a gay man like that either in real life or in the media.”

    Wrong. The people who “wince” at such portrayals are those of us who are not effeminate, do not have a lot of “feminine” interests, do not particularly like women or care to spend our time with them….

    Because there is no diversity in the way gay men are portrayed on TV (all significant gay male characters are effeminate), the overall effect is to reinforce the notion that being attracted sexually to other men equates to being a “sissy”–and straight men (and society in general) are never going to take “sissies” seriously or allow them into positions of authority or power. So the net effect is one of “guilt by association”–you cannot be accepted as a man as long as your sexuality is deemed a form of Un-masculinity…..and this, of course, is why almost no gay men have come out in the sports world, in the corporate world, or in any segment of society other than entertainment and fashion

    So perpetuation of these stereotypes is most definitely retarding progress–we are stuck on “tolerance” but nowhere near acceptance…..and not really getting any closer to the latter than we have always been.

  48. shawnthesheep says

    In my experience, the people I know who loathed the “stereotypes” on Will & Grace were the ones who were very uncomfortable with being gay. My husband came out late in life. When he was first out he hated Will & Grace, especially the “swishy” Jack. I met him a few years later when he was more comfortable with himself. After I re-introduced him to the show, he couldn’t believe that he didn’t like it the first time around.

    I find the characters to be more archetypes than stereotypes. Yes, they each contain easily-recognizable stereotypical qualities, like all sitcom characters every invented, but they also subvert those stereotypes on a regular basis.

  49. andrew says

    @Rick: Your comment that “effeminate gay men are deeply, deeply threatened by the idea of homosexuality and masculinity being portrayed as naturally compatible” is TOTAL NONSENSE. The gay guys that I know and have known over many years, who fit the more “effeminate” stereotype enjoy the reality that there are also “butch” and “macho” gay men in our richly diverse gay community. Your constant criticism of our more “effeminate” gay brothers is so tired, but as a one trick pony, it is all you got.

  50. Rick says

    “The gay guys that I know and have known over many years, who fit the more “effeminate” stereotype enjoy the reality that there are also “butch” and “macho” gay men in our richly diverse gay community”

    Then ask yourself, Andrew, why the gay men in Hollywood who have the ability to see to it that the diversity you refer to is portrayed on screen…….REFUSE to see to it, but instead, continue to churn out “Glee” and the like, in which the ONLY gay characters are lisping, prissy, honey-voiced queens

    Do you honestly believe that such people–or the straight men who have created Modern Family and other such shows–are incapable of creating more masculine gay characters? Of course they aren’t–they can create masculine gay characters and make them funny or serious or whatever they want them to be–but they don’t…..and if you don’t buy my explanation as to why, then what is your explanation for it?

  51. says

    “So perpetuation of these stereotypes is most definitely retarding progress–we are stuck on ‘tolerance’ but nowhere near acceptance…..and not really getting any closer to the latter than we have always been.”

    Speak for yourself. Many of us have managed to find both tolerance and acceptance in our lives. Yet, those who have not managed to get grounded as mature, contented gay men will go through the rest of their days blaming their unhappiness on “effeminate” portrayals on Will & Grace etc. It’s arrested development, and I’m not talking about the TV show.

  52. Rick says

    “Speak for yourself. Many of us have managed to find both tolerance and acceptance in our lives”

    You obviously live in a bubble, Ernie, up there on your farm in Vermont (or whatever). Good for you for having found a life that suits you, but turning a blind eye to the damaging effect that stereotyping in the media has on other gay men who are in different environments from you is selfish and irresponsible on your part.

  53. says

    It’s not turning a blind eye, Rick, it’s disagreeing with you about the effects of shows like Will & Grace and Modern Family on the culture. I see them primarily as positive, you don’t. And I certainly don’t think they’ve held gay men back from tolerance or acceptance, unless those men have other insecurities. That doesn’t mean I don’t think there is work to be done towards greater acceptance, especially in places with few LGBT protections, but railing against so-called effeminacy in gay culture is not important work as far as I’m concerned.

    As for living in a bubble, not really. (My rural blue-collar hometown certainly wasn’t.) But places that are tolerant and accepting and have full LGBT legal equality don’t get that way by accident. They get that way because people made it happen.

  54. andrew says

    @Rick: It is show BUSINESS. The reason we see mostly “effeminate” gay men in movies and on TV is because it sells more tickets in the straight world. It doesn’t reflect the views of our more “effeminate” gay brothers who, in the real world, love and enjoy the rich diversity of our gay world. Unfortunately your bigoted antagonism toward our more “effeminate” gay brothers prevents you from seeing reality. Keep on posting your “one trick pony” posts. It is probably the reason why most people who post on this site dislike you.

  55. says

    I recently came across a video (see below) of Seinfeld poking fun at suicide survivors – not cool, and TV viewers today would consider that a turnoff. I think we have to expect a degree of cultural immaturity from past TV programs. Today, pop culture’s perception of “gayness” has matured, and viewers find less humor in the usual stereotype. And so we have Max Blum from Happy Endings, movies like Weekend, and shows like Looking (well, I’m assuming). This isn’t to say the gay stereotype has disappeared from the screen. Modern Family employs that trope often, but it feels more plausible. Or maybe that’s just the absence of laugh tracks. God, I really hate laugh tracks.

    Seinfeld making fun of suicide survivors: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eh_N5XxWhyU

  56. RFH says

    I did not like the “Will & Grace” show and I especially didn’t like “Jack”. I thought it mocked gay people. I also disliked when Michael Douglas was on the show. My mother thought it was funny and then I knew for sure it portrayed us poorly. This is why I don’t watch his current show and why I couldn’t bring myself to watch “Liberace”. Straight people watch this stuff and stereotype all of us.

  57. jamal49 says

    Having worked 3rd shift most of my adult life and not being a big TV watcher as a rule, it has only been this past year that I have finally watched what would be most of the run of Will & Grace on whichever channel it is that has been showing those repeats. For its time and the context of its time, it’s a pretty funny show and it did manage to touch upon some interesting issues. It was a comedy therefore it was supposed to make people laugh. Some of the situations and dialogue were very funny and “Jack Talk” and the character played by Sean Hayes was quite funny and had much depth. He seemed superficial and shallow but there was more going on than met the eyes. I can imagine that this show did break through to many people who might otherwise have not understood a subset of gay culture.

  58. Whatever says

    The Jack character was so flat and unlikable. He was awful. I love feminine and flamboyant gay men, but his character was just obnoxious. That show was horrible. Those people wouldn’t have been friends or hung out with each other in real life. They didn’t even come across like they liked each other at all. That show was crap. The only positive thing it accomplished was showing some version of gay people. “Just Jack” still makes me cringe. Yuck.

  59. Rick says

    @ANDREW You correctly pointed out in your original post that the only reason straight people want to watch gay men portrayed as effeminate, prissy queens is so they can make fun of gay men and feel superior to us.

    Now it sounds like you are DEFENDING that practice.

    And how on earth would you know whether a masculine gay male character would be accepted if one has never been presented? The creator of “Mad Men” was turned down time after time by the networks, because they did not think the show would attract an audience–so AMC picked it up and it became one of the biggest hits in the last deade. You don’t know whether a certain concept or show is going to be popular until you create one.

    And, quite frankly, characters that straight people will ridicule is the only kind of gay character they will accept, I would rather have no gay characters at all on TV.

    You seem to be distancing yourself from your original observation simply out of your own personal dislike for me. Suit yourself, but to back away from your own convictions simply because I shared one of them is certainly granting me an awful lot of power over your life, isn’t it?

  60. says

    @Rick I agree 110% with Andrew that “effeminate gay men are deeply, deeply threatened by the idea of homosexuality and masculinity being portrayed as naturally compatible” is TOTAL NONSENSE.

    Effeminate gay men aren’t threatened by anything.

    It’s wanna-be macho straight-acting gay men who are so afraid of their own homosexuality that they do everything to prove that they’re just like their straight friends, whom they probably are not out to — those are the ones who are threatened. Your rants here show how threatened you are every time the effeminate gay man raises his limp wrist.

    Straight men are boring. Straight-acting gay men are boring. And you want to put them in a sit-com? Beeotch, please!

  61. TasteExplosion says

    @ Rick.
    I can’t even bring myself to bother reading your posts anymore.
    Oh, here’s another full page or more of Rick monopolizing the space and conversation, and antagonizing people with his sophistic style.
    Towleroad may be a second living-room for you, and on some level you must see us as your friends (or frenemies) or peers.
    But we aren’t your friends, and are not receptive to your approach.
    I have a suggestion; why don’t you try making some real friends offline and spend some time with them, rather than obviously spending lots of time in a place where almost everyone wants you to just FOAD.

  62. says

    Well, my obnoxiously-visible self is proof that it did *GOOD*, thank you very much.

    I was a teen when Will & Grace premiered, and what did I see? In Jack, I saw what I wanted to be: a guy who lived and breathed joy from his every pore. A guy who didn’t care how others perceived him, who experienced life with an ebullience that I, as a teen, was too afraid to embody.

    A gay man who didn’t care what people thought about “what kind of gay man” he was. Who didn’t care if he embodied with Society’s Bigots deemed to be “a stereotype” – he was too busy enjoying *life*. It inspired me. I saw in Jack what I wanted to be – a gay man who lived out loud. Haters be damned.

    Most gay portrayals in media were (and *are*) white-washed in that “acceptable for uncomfortable Straights” manner – not Jack.

    So, more harm than Good? Only to the insecure and closeted. For everyone capable of self-interrogation, Jack was simply Just Jack :-)

    Thank you Will & Grace (and Jack!)

  63. Polar says

    @ KEVINVT; Let me preface by saying I’m not trying to troll or aggress you, but I’m compelled to point out to you that in your attack on Rick, you’re mostly just mirroring his illegitimate arguing style.

    I agree that what Rick says is total nonsense, but some of what you say doesn’t jive either.

    First of all, “gay acting” and “straight acting” are just constructions, and it would be a good idea to start with that before getting into gender roles because otherwise you’re just reinforcing them. And that’s what you did.

    There is no such thing as REAL “straight acting” or “gay acting”, only what people generally perceive to be those things.

    Not all gay men perceived to be straight acting are TRYING to be straight acting or are afraid of their own gayness. Not all gay men perceived to be straight acting are desperate to be seen by their straight male peers as ‘just like them’. Not all gay men who are perceived to be straight are threatened by effeminate gay men.

    I am a gay man generally perceived by gay and straight men to be straight acting. I’m NOT trying to be this way; it’s just the way I am. I’m not controlling my wrists or mannerisms any more than a flambuoyant gay man is amplifying their perceived effeminacy. I am not afraid of my own or anybody else’s gayness. When I had straight friends, I was NOT trying to show them how I was just like them. Not only do I not find effeminate gay men threatening, I like them and find some of them hot.

    I deeply resent you saying that ‘straight acting’ gay men are boring. How dare you. Way to alienate more guys than maybe you originally intended to…

  64. says

    To be the brat I’m known to be : to all you “masculine guys who Hated Jack” – how come you’re not the visible out-there empowered Queen that I am?

    And, since I’ve been called a “Stereotypical Effeminate Queen” by this site’s resident troll, why is it, then, that my entire family, and all my straight friends, are not just “supportive” of the LGBT Community, but are vocal and visible allies and advocates for us as well??

    If’ stereotypical effeminate gays are so bad, and I’m one of them, then why are all the straight people in my life such outstanding and UPstanding advocates for our community?

    Were the ramblings of our troll “RICK” worth a dime, my mother and father, siblings, in-laws, aunts uncles cousins and friends wouldn’t …..well… be doing what they’re doing. And they’re doing it. As my obnoxiously ubiquitous presence documents, with back up.

    So, you hate Jack? Well, he inspired me to come out as a teen. In a big way. Bigger than the haters, that’s for sure.

    How well has “hating Jack” helped you? So far, it’s not made you strong enough to stand up to be counted.

    So, how’s that working for you? 😀

  65. andrew says

    @POLAR: Thank you for those comments. You are 100% correct. It is refreshing to read your reasonable and sound comments on this site that is too often dominated by the authoritarian extremists comments by the likes of Rick, Little Kiwi and their many aliases.

  66. johnny says

    @KevinVT: Hey, thanks for insulting all the straight men who have been my brothers and dear friends and are some of the most INTERESTING and loving people I know, totally far from being boring.

    People who make blanket statements are boring, Kevin.

  67. Kevin says

    Icon Any out homo knows many guys Just Like Jack. They are no more or less embarassing or stereotypical than the ultra butch man, the lipstick lesbian or the butch dyke. All of which each of us also knows. Move on.

  68. Kyle M. Sullivan says

    I HATED that show. Made myself watch several episodes before giving up and allowing the distaste to envelop me. “Just Jack” and Karen’s petty, selfish, obnoxious treatment of others brought me to loathing Will and Grace for letting them get away with it. They reminded me more of abused souses returning to their abusers than anything else.

    If you like this kind of thing, fine; I didn’t like Seinfeld for the same reasons yet people loved it. But it’s pretty sad that you laugh at hateful characters, weak-willed leads, and vulgar stereotypes from the Fifties reconstructed to the New Millennium.

  69. Paul R says

    As for Modern Family, yes the gay characters on the show are stereotypes. So are the hot foreign gold-digging younger wife and the slightly boozed-up suburban mom and her dorky husband.

    Find offense wherever you want to find it.

  70. Rick says

    “Effeminate gay men aren’t threatened by anything”

    On one level, that is actually true. Since you are already at the bottom of society and have no social status to speak of, you don’t have anything to lose….You have already surrendered your masculinity, accepted the notion that you are inferior to straight men (which is what drives your very sexuality), and resigned yourself to a life as a plaything and a prop for the women who use you for cheap entertainment and as a glorified servant–dressing their hair for them, arranging their flowers, helping them pick out their clothes, and acting as their sounding board when they feel like hating on men. Roles you play to perfection.

    But you are not really respected by anybody, including each other (or the women whose underlings you like to be)….and you don’t even respect yourself.

    The reason the idea of a masculine gay men disturbs you and threatens you so deeply is that it takes away the excuse of “that’s just the way I am” when confronted with the affectation that is your effeminate behavior. Because it demonstrates that it is not “just the way you are”, that your effeminacy has nothing at all to do with homosexuality per se, that it, instead has to do with your own lack of self-esteem and sense of inferiority……which you try so hard not to face each and every day of your life.

    And Kevin, you confirm this with the last sentence in your post. You confirm that your effeminacy is, in fact, a CHOICE–and are deathly afraid that if other gay men stop validating that choice, you are going to be left with nothing but your own low opinion of yourself.

    That is the truth, whether some or most of you want to hear it or not.

  71. says

    I think you have to look at the character in the context of the time. Yes, watching Will & Grace nowadays makes me cringe a little bit with some of the stereotypes (still plenty to laugh at though). However, back in the day, this show brought gay culture into people’s homes where they may not otherwise know it at all. I fail to see the harm in that. I think the benefits certainly outweighed the negatives. Also, it’s a sitcom! Sitcoms exploit stereotypes and have larger-than-life characters all the time. I think most people understand that Jack (also Karen) was a caricature.

  72. Grifter the movie says

    I don’t know any campy gays. For real. They only exist online and in the movies for me. All my gay buds are regular joes. Personally, I’m tired of gay male feminine behavior .. It seems fake to me, an affectation. I don’t go out of my way to be prejudiced about it, but, that is the minority of gay men. Most gay men are guy guys.

  73. andrew says

    @RICK: Your mind is so clouded by bigoted hatred of “effeminate” gay men that you are incapable of seeing the truth. My only regret today is that I violated my own rule of never getting into a discussion with posters like you and Little Kiwi, because neither of you are amenable to reason. I won’t waste my time again on the likes of you.

  74. andy3433 says

    I enjoyed the show and the characters. But I did have an issue with W&G: I thought Jack’s character was sometimes a bully when he fat-shamed Will as jokes even though there was no basis to do so. Also, the straight characters seem to have intimate scenes – how many times have Grace woken up in bed with a man – while the gay ones lacked physically intimate scenes.

  75. says

    The fact that someone is “straight acting” and thinks that it’s “natural” only demonstrates what gender theorists have been telling us for… well, at least since de Beauvoir.

    That’s how it works, guys, it’s naturalized. You think it’s just happening. But it’s all about hegemonic heterosexist and heteronormative gender roles that are forced on us by society/culture.

    And then we police each other: example A — Rick. And now some others. I have nothing against straight men, and I doubt any straight men would take my flip comment about straight men being boring very seriously. But queers will apparently be enraged.

    But seriously, it’s something like saying that the most interesting black people are the ones who can pass for white when nobody ever finds out. Those cases are indeed interesting, but only if you know there’s a disconnect there in the first place. If they pass successfully as white, then from the point of view of culture (or on TV) they’re not black. Similarly if you have a character so straight-acting as to pass as straight, then how does that have anything to do with being gay? (and I’m not talking about someone with a boyfriend or having sex) Invisibility. Total invisibility. And this is good?

    Rick, as usual, is way off base with the self-esteem bit as well.

    It’s usually gay men who are “straight acting” who don’t have the self esteem to, say… be out at work, which I’ve been for 25 years now. Oh, and also get elected to the most important college committees, so so much for people not respecting me!

  76. jonvincent says

    Although Jack may have been somewhat of a stereotype, he was funny and amusing and rarely super-bitchy and catty like the “Boys in the Band” characters.

  77. johnny says

    Give me a break, KevinVT… that is one confused, messed up statement.

    Let me see if I get this right:

    From your point of view, if a man is gay and their mannerisms resemble anything close to a hetero male, they are “acting” on some kind of hetero-normative role that was forced on them by society?

    Left to their own desires, they’d twirl and curtsy or resemble Richard Simmons?

    Right, right…

    Sorry, that has not been my experience nor the experience of most gay guys I’ve met who are simply men. There’s a spectrum, we all fall somewhere on it and it has nothing to do with society “forcing” us to be a certain way. Gay and fey are not mutually exclusive nor are they “acts”.

    If that was really the case, then all straight men would be “acting” as well.

    Or, do they get a pass because they are somehow more worthy of being masculine in your world? That’s the very definition of self-loathing in my book.

    According to your statement, all gay men have to be marked with feminine behavior or somehow you’re suspicious it’s an act.

    Odd.

  78. Rick says

    “From your point of view, if a man is gay and their mannerisms resemble anything close to a hetero male, they are “acting” on some kind of hetero-normative role that was forced on them by society?

    Left to their own desires, they’d twirl and curtsy or resemble Richard Simmons”

    Yes, Johnny, that’s EXACTLY what he means and why effeminate gay men fear and hate those of us who are not effeminate.

    The intellectual truth, of course, is that the differences in behavior one observes generally between men and women are not driven by culture–they are driven by nature……and have physiological bases in many cases (differences in hormone levels, differences in brain structure, etc.)

    WThe “philosophy” you see Kevin expounding is a demonstration of how thoroughly effeminate gay men have become the butt-boys of feminists and women, in general….the whole “gender is a construct” ideaa was originally postulated by feminists as a way to allow them to play roles in society that they had not before–and on some level, that was valid–but the Kevins of the world have taken it to another level that is totally invalid–and that even feminists nowadays largely reject…..and the reason he and other effeminate gay men do so is because they are deathly afraid of being held to the same standards of masculinity that straight men are…….

    The thing is, though, that they are never going to get what they want–society is never, ever going to sanction cowardice and “sissyhood” in men of any sexual orientation and the Kevins of the world who iinsist on behaving that way will continue to be rejected by the social mainstream…..and to have their faces pounded into the pavement for being the cowards that they are.

  79. says

    Poor closeted Rick, accusing others of being cowards (irony!) while falsely assuming the “Kevins” of the world have been rejected by the “social mainstream,” when nothing could be further from the truth.

    If you had any self-awareness you’d realize that it’s not the gay men you demonize who are afraid and can’t get what they want, it’s you and those who keep their sexuality in the shadows. All that you attempt to project onto others (over and over, year after year, under multiple juvenile aliases) is what you can’t face within yourself. The Jacks of the world aren’t what’s preventing you from having a normal life with friends and family (which, by the way, I can assure you the “Kevins” of the world have in abundance), it’s the insecurities about your own masculinity.

    But, hey, if it makes you feel better to think that anyone actually fears your bad butch self, keep on deluding yourself …

  80. Knock says

    I’m not surprised to see it took less than a dozen replies for non-Jack-like gays to be described as self-hating.

    Just because you’re a living stereotype doesn’t mean the rest of us are doing anything wrong.

  81. johnny says

    @Rick:

    While I totally reject your assertion that ALL effeminate gay men reject and hate masculine gay men (that’s a blanket statement and can’t possibly be true) I DO agree that “gender as construct” is complete and utter B.S.

    Gender is simply gender, period. But there is also a gender spectrum (which has nothing to do with genitalia) and ALL people fall on that spectrum somewhere.

    It has nothing to do with being a coward, either. That’s just being derogatory and mean for no reason, Rick. Cowardice can be just as present in masculine men as feminine men, they are not mutually exclusive either. Some of the bravest, toughest people I’ve known were ultra-feminine gay men.

    That said, I get really tired of hearing how I’m “self-loathing” just because I refuse to act like the stereotypical gay man. I’m simply being me, people can take it or leave it. And I think that’s how most gay guys are, WHEREVER they fall on the spectrum.

    There are posters on this site who want all gay men to march lockstep to the same drummer and be stereotypical gay clones and tend to think that all gay men are like themselves. I see these folks as urban Nazis, basically, and I don’t really give a F if they like me or my views.

  82. Fenrox says

    Did Mickey Rooney open up doors for Asian actors to be taken seriously?

    No, don’t be dumb.

    Did Sean Hayes open up doors for gay actors to be taken seriously?

    No, don’t be dumb.

    Did both actors push people to outdo them and set the record straight on Asian and gay actors respectively?

    Duh.

  83. says

    People who hate themselves and decide to hate on characters like Jack McFarland make me sad.

    Almost all criticisms of Jack stem from the critic’s innate sexism or fear the complexity of their own humanity. Get over it, already.

  84. says

    So, at first, I was like, “Who is Rick? I don’t know her.” And I actually thought that maybe “Rick” was a device used in this kind of forum in some type of allegorical sense.

    Then I found his contribution to the dialogue, and that is some queeny, deluded Gore Vidalism if I ever read one. And good for you.

    Expressing “femininity” does not mean “weakness” and your presumed masculinity is just another form of costume.

    Act the way you want as long as it hurts no one and proudly express the complexity of your human story. The problem with the “pro-masculine” rhetoric is that it assumes WE are constants and continues a drag competition devoted to a Wal-Mart defined gender system.

    And the main problem I have with Rick’s point of view is that it is ROOTED in his need to feel superior because that is a reflection of his idea of what masculinity is. And good for you. You are expressing your human story, and only some of us are lucky enough to live so blissfully with being typical.

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