Will and Grace, Sex and the City, and more recently Girls have displayed a seemingly harmless pop culture trend: the presence of the Gay Best Friend, risen in part because of an increasingly accepting society and expanding visibility for gay men – but the trend is also representative of more than just another stereotype reducing the multi-faceted identities of individuals down to a ‘type’. It reflects on previous similar minority tropes that have trended into popularity (such as the Sassy Black Woman) where it seems the TV network is testing the waters for new levels of acceptable portrayals of these groups. The 2014 movie G.B.F. highlights the bizarre associations of the trope through a group of girls’ pursuit of the idealized Gay Best Friend (seen in the video below) where by the end, realize how reductive these stereotypes are no matter how well-meaning they may be; it’s ultimately a criticism on the idealized, illogical depictions of gay men in pop culture and media as the style gurus, throwing sass and shade when needed, and existing only to comfort or complement their female friends.
Moze Halperin in Flavorwire sums up this ‘GBF’ phenomenon best: “Gay villainy had been a major cinematic trope long before gay people were given the luxury of getting to throw constructive shade at their girlfriends’ spaghetti straps. Villainy was funneled into the less offensive category of pure sass.” Like the ‘token minority friend’ trope faced by many minority characters on television who are there to fulfill some invisible diversity quota, creating characters not solely represented by their race, sexuality, or any one defining feature is hard. So how do we get out of the trap of these destructive trends that really do more harm than good?
Luckily, the platform for new voices, especially on TV, is growing. LGBTQ media activist Cathy Renna says, “The LGBT community could very easily — and increasingly is — be better represented in our culture in two ways: more diversity and more depth.” The same can be applied to ethnic minorities. Remembering that there is no ‘one’ way or ‘correct’ way to represent or define one race, culture, or identity, in whatever trend pop culture or the media have deemed to be ‘socially acceptable’ or trending at the time, is important. We’ve gone through the Sassy Black Friend, the Strong, Independent Woman, the Gay Best Friend (and more), using these stereotypes with good intentions but with seriously reductive misrepresentations, check-marking inclusions into popular shows like Modern Family, while there is so much more to these characters than the one way they’ve been traditionally represented or their stories told.
Show us the humorless, fashion-ignorant queer men, the heroine whose strength isn’t chalked up to her masculine traits and lack of emotions, the minorities of all identities who don’t come from well-adjusted families or histories. Entertainment doesn’t have to mirror reality, but it has significant power in changing and influencing the perspectives of what is accepted and visible, and it doesn’t have to set any sort of agenda to do so – it just has to be honest.