TV hasn't always been a force for good in the realm of gay rights. But now a new trend may be emerging: portrayals of straight dudes who are, shockingly, not huge homophobes.
In the past, it's been popular to play gay panic for laughs, because obviously it's super-gross when a gay guy has a crush on you. But in Parks and Recreation's Valentine's Day episode, the very masculine Ron Swanson responded to male attention at The Bulge in a refreshingly panic-free way.
Another panic-free moment comes in Toyota's Super Bowl commercial, when our nebbishy protagonist finds out that his human couch is also available in "male." It's not clear if he's actually bi, or just fine with a coach made of ripped dudes, but whatever the case, he's not all like, "ew a naked dude I have to go barf the gay out!" Win.
A more extended example of non-homophobia appeared last season on Happy Endings. Max doesn't want to come out to his parents for fear they'll be mad that he isn't planning to have kids. His buddy Dave pressures him to come out to them, which maybe wasn't the best move. But when Max tells his mom and dad that Dave is the gay one, Dave's mostly exasperated at Max, not disgusted by the suggestion that he might like dudes.
At the end of the episode, he even helps Max out by pretending to be his boyfriend.
Author Mark McCormack told Salon today that homophobia and "homohysteria" — fear of other people thinking you're gay — are declining among British youth. He says, "The U.S. is further behind but things are changing; homophobia isn't socially acceptable in the way that it used to be." Sadly, there are plenty of places where homophobia isn't just acceptable — it's encouraged. But slowly, the narrative that it's neither cool nor funny to be grossed out by gay guys is gaining strength. Of course, refraining from expressing disgust at someone else's identity is really a pretty basic part of human decency — not panicking when a guy looks at you in a bar doesn't make you some kind of courageous activist. In the real world, gay men (and women) have the right to ask more of their straight allies than this. Still, TV's a pretty conservative medium, and when straight guys on the small screen make it clear they're cool with gay guys, that's a small form of progress.