It’s unusual for MTV to get praise for its television programming. But while other outlets and channels are getting criticized for their lack of positive portrayals of gay and lesbian characters, MTV has received the first-ever “Excellent” rating for their programming from GLAAD, or the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. And the primary source of these portrayals? MTV’s host of reality TV shows.
Meanwhile, other American broadcast networks scored much lower in this report. And this phenomenon isn’t limited to the US – the BBC has also come under fire recently for its lack of positive portrayals – and again, it is on reality TV shows that most of the gay characters surface. One point of comparison – while the British study appeared to focus on positive portrayals, there is little indication from the GLAAD study whether any portrayal of gay characters was counted, or whether only positive portrayals were valued.
This isn’t the first time television studios and networks have made a push to portray a discriminated group more fairly and equitably, with portrayal of black characters perhaps the best example of this. It also raises questions on how much is “enough” – for example, should programming reflect the true proportions of each group in the population? Would that be fair for very small groups, who might then be seen very little? Cultivation theory and social comparison reserach suggests that seeing a wide variety of groups on television can shape our understanding of the world, so it seems reasonable that we would encourage these positive portrayals. But how much is enough?