I have recently been sucked into the vortex that is the So You Think You Can Dance franchise. The newest installment, So You Think You Can Dance Canada premiered a few weeks ago, and it’s mostly been a fun time, although I have the same issues with it that I have had with the American version.
Among them, there is the mystery I like to call “The Case of the Amazing Invisible Homosexual.” In SYTYCD, this mystery reveals itself in two ways. First of all, despite the number of gay male dancers that have appeared on the show, none of them are ever referred to explicitly as such. Not that I’m asking for it to be made into a big deal that there are gay men in the arts, but it would be nice if, instead of cutting to their moms in the audience, just once the cameras could show their happy boyfriends celebrating.
It would also be nice if the show wasn’t so rigid in its gender expectations. Male dancers who stray too far from the show’s idea of maleness are regularly told to “butch it up” and act more like “men”, not, it is implied, like prancing, delicate women.
This is a common issue in reality TV. I first noticed it on season 5 of America’s Next Top Model, when a contestant on the show, Kim Stolz, an out lesbian, was often berated for being too butch or too manly or for not being girly enough. Wearing a designer women’s polo shirt and sporting a short hair style was apparently enough to upset the judges’ ideas about femininity.
That was 2005. This is 2008 and things have not changed one bit. Another show guilty of rampant gender stereotyping is American Gladiators, a show on which the producers have decided that everyone is a particularly staid 50s sitcom version of straight. When one of the male contestants strays too far from the show’s male ideal, he is treated with a mixture of condescension and revulsion.
“Wow, Bob,” the show’s announcers spit out. “He’s a dancer! Who would have thought a dancer would be able to best our gladiators?”
And when it comes to the female contestants, the only women the show spends any time on are aggressively post-feminist “ladies” who give squealingly enthusiastic interviews in which they extol the virtues of their husbands and how they certainly could never have climbed a rope wall without the help of a good man. Women who don’t meet the stereotype are interviewed about their job or their parents and never mention any relationship that does not meet the show’s “family friendly” standards. I find it suspect that no one on that show has ever even mentioned a same-sex partner. Do they give the interviews which are then never aired, or does the show operate some kind of don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy?
What I would like to see on this coming Fall season on reality TV is one or two same-sex partners actually identified in the audience, fewer male judges deciding what it is to be a woman, and maybe just once, an interview in which a gay man or woman is allowed to say, “I dedicated this dance/run through The Eliminator/walk down the runway to my partner.”