Media Mix, Mar. 25, 2012

"onee" talent Mitsu Mangrove

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is yet another discussion of how LGBT issues and people are covered in the media, TV in particular. My use of the American TV drama series Glee and a Japanese variety show featuring “onee talent” could be seen by some as comparing apples to oranges. On Glee, the gay character, Kurt, is bullied at school because of his sexual orientation and the fact that he doesn’t hide it. For dramatic purposes, Kurt’s homosexuality is his most salient characteristic, but the incorporation of Kurt’s gayness into the stories has to do less with how he handles it than with how others do. It places his situation in a social context, but as a character he is fully formed. Onee talent, on the other hand, only seem to exist in the rarefied world of show business. In other words, what makes them special as TV talent is never given a social context. Moreover, their appeal is based on a perception of incongruity, the fact that they were born male but act female; which isn’t to say their individual personalities don’t reveal themselves on television, but that isn’t why they’re there. (And explains why there are no female-to-male cognates for onee talent.)

The lesbian couple profiled on the NHK show, Heart TV, provides the social contrast to the article’s discussion of LGBT issues in Japanese media. The most immediate contrast is in visibility: onee talent are popular because they are highly noticeable. They want to be since they are, by definition, flamboyant, thus making them natural subjects for entertainment shows. But the vast majority of LGBT individuals are not entertainers, as Kanae Doi, the Japan representative of Human Rights Watch, recently wrote in an Asahi Shimbun editorial. Though viewers like onee talent, the average person sees them as something that only exists on TV, and Doi makes the assertion that the media in general avoids discussing LGBT issues unless they have something to do with a special event, such as a lesbian-gay film festival. Consequently, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders will always be characterized in people’s minds as being outside of society, when in fact they are everywhere living lives that are the same as the “heterosexual majority.” Doi argues that social discrimination against LGBT people, as opposed to institutional discrimination, is similar in character to social discrimination against the poor, shut-ins, the disabled, and “foreigners” who were born and raised in Japan, since, like LGBT, these “minorities” are seen as existing on the margins of “normal society.” She believes the solution is for the media to address the “real lives” of LGBT, and I imagine she would approve of the NHK documentary. That said, it should also be noted that “the poor” are no longer (if, in fact, they ever were) a minority, but that may be something the media isn’t comfortable with covering either.

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