Skip to content

Yep, I’m Going There: Notes on the Newsweek/Setoodeh Controversy

May 13, 2010

This flap between Newsweek and critic Ramin Setoodeh on one side, and Kristin Chenoweth and Glee creator Ryan Murphy on the other, is pretty darn fascinating, don’t you think? Go here for a full summary of the controversy as it now stands, including GLAAD’s statement. It’s also worth your time to read Setoodeh’s (currently) Web-only response to Chenoweth’s and Murphy’s charges, as well as Aaron Sorkin’s potentially iconoclastic views.

This is, at root, an intensely meaningful, tension-filled issue in both personal and political spheres, but this time it’s being fought in the pop culture arena. I feel compelled to use this pop culture-centric forum to ask some questions that I haven’t, thus far, seen elsewhere. If you read these questions and think they’re coming from a place of homophobia, you’re wrong and you probably don’t know me. I’m actually coming from a place in favor of critical thinking and wise choice of targets for issue-related engagement and expression.

1. Was Kristin Chenoweth, who co-stars in Promises, Promises, the play Setoodeh reviewed negatively in his original essay, a valid first source of the outrage that quickly took off through the Internet? Or is it possible that she was motivated by a desire to debunk a negative review of the current source of her paycheck, and she found an anchor for those objections in Setoodeh’s sweeping, incautious comments about gay actors playing straight roles?

2. Did Ryan Murphy, creator of Glee, forget this week’s content of his own show? In the episode, Kurt, an openly gay character, tried to sing a stereotypically masculine rendition of a John Mellencamp song in an effort to connect with his father. The result, as written and portrayed in the show? Kurt’s effort and performance were sincere, even moving, but he was ultimately unconvincing in playing that character (and that’s certainly what he was doing) because it wasn’t true to who he is as a person. Not to put too fine a point on it, because it doesn’t change the fact that some of Setoodeh’s comments are injudicious at best, and offensive at worst. But to this viewer, it certainly seemed that Murphy’s point in this week’s Glee episode was fairly similar to some of Setoodeh’s arguments. So, given his show’s tendency and ability to address sexuality issues with impressive complexity and sensitivity, why would Murphy then be so willing to see Setoodeh’s view in such stark black-and-white terms?

3. For those who wish to work toward ending personal and professional discrimination based on sexual orientation, is organizing a boycott of Newsweek over a theater review an effective use of individual and organizational time and resources? I might suggest that the vast majority of Americans’ lives, regardless of their sexuality, aren’t affected all that much by whether gay actors can get jobs playing straight characters. I might also suggest that, for those who see the issue in these terms, there are far bigger barriers to progressing toward a society in which all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, have the same full rights of citizenship.

4. A final, related question—even strictly within the world of pop culture, for everyone except the actors themselves, are there more important sexuality-related concerns than who gets what jobs? I have to go ahead and answer that question with a big “Yes, I believe there are.” Chiefly, I think it’s more important that the full humanity of gay characters be written and portrayed respectfully. Simply, the pop culture world’s success or failure in challenging stereotypes—rather than reinforcing them—has a greater effect on more people’s lives.

One Comment
  1. May 14, 2010 2:36 pm

    I think that your point regarding last week’s Glee episode is slightly off-kilter. I think that comparing Kurt’s identity crisis and trying to be something else for those who love him best cannot be fairly compared with stage acting. Where stage, or even movie, acting has a great deal of preparation, practice, memorization and is about stepping into and out of a character, Kurt was trying to “ad lib” something 24-7. I think the point wasn’t that you can’t pretend to be someone else for short periods of time, but that you can’t BE someone else.

    I totally agree with you, however, regarding the boycott. Even if a person disagreed with your fabulous points about this type of discrimination affecting so few by comparison, there are other problems with the response. Boycotts of media outlets are famously tricky, due to the fact that they get a great deal of their income from advertisements, but this is especially tricky, considering the whole subscription issue. I think it’s also fair to say that reviews are an expression of personal opinion, so the person ultimately responsible is the review writer.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: