Will & Grace in a Social Media World.
...come on young people with your selfie finger already tightly pressed on “Tweet”! Delete your 140-characters-long indignation. Go back to your gloomy, single camera, unscripted “comedies”, and your game-of-thrones-like shows with the well-directed Medieval barbarities, and the bucket-loads of blood, and the spilled guts, and the rapes, and the incests, and the endless anal-sex scenes. And let us have this at least...
...Grace’s yearning for romance and true love, and her need to find a life long partner, was not in any way, shape, or form seen as anything different, or more valid than Will’s own...
Art & Words by Fanitsa Petrou
The groundbreaking sitcom Will & Grace, returns on TV, eleven whole years after its 2006 finale, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. This unexpected delight, was the result of the hype caused, when the cast was asked by the show’s creators (Max Mutchnick and David Kohan) to reprise their roles in a 10-minute video that was released just before the 2016 Presidential Election, in order to encourage Americans to vote (and also, NOT vote for Trump!)
The gang, (Eric McCormack as “Will”, Debra Messing as “Grace”, Megan Mullally as “Karen” and Sean Hayes as “Jack”, not to mention Shelley Morrison as “Rosario”) was happily reunited on the same set after all those years, proving that they’ve still got it: their reunion wasn’t just a piece of nostalgia, a case of revising a familiar recipe. It felt fresh and on point, and was still wickedly, hilariously, laugh-outloud kind of funny! The writers who in the original series never shied away from poking fun at otherwise well respected pop culture icons (like Angelina Jolie’s weirdness - back when we could still see it, Woody Allen’s ungodly union with his adopted daughter, Ricky Martin’s suspected homosexuality, the shady details of Tom Cruise’s marriage to Katie Holmes, etc), were now having a go at Trump and Melania. Needless to say, the video went viral, reaching over seven millions vews. A fact that caught NBC’s attention, leading to two new, (albeit shorter) seasons!
In its original run, Will & Grace (which was directed by the legendary TV icon James Burrows), has had quite an impressive parade of big name guest stars, among them: Debby Reynolds, Madonna, Cher, Matt Damon, Elton John, Jennifer Lopez, James Earl Jones, Britney Spears, Sharon Stone, Ellen DeGeneres, Patti LuPone, Glenn Close, Kevin Bacon, George Takei, Geena Davis, Demi Moore, Barry Manilow, Joan Collins, Gene Wilder, Alan Arkin, Wanda Sykes, Andy Garcia, Janet Jackson, Mira Sorvino, Candice Bergen, and of course, Michael Douglas in possibly the best cameo of them all! Yet, it was not simply one of the funniest sitcoms, but also one that had left a pretty impressive social mark in the late 90s, early 00’s. With its portrayal of lovable and openly gay characters, it had pushed the boundaries and “normalized” gay people in way that no other piece of pop culture has ever done. The show also treated with empathy, sensitivity but above ALL else, laugh-out-loud kind of humor the coming-out stories of the two gay characters. But more importantly, Grace’s yearning for romance and true love, and her need to find a life long partner, was not in any way, shape, or form seen as anything different, or more valid than Will’s own. Even the American ex Vice President Joe Biden, when speaking about civil rights in terms of same-sex marriage, had acknowledged the show’s social impact when he said: “…I think Will & Grace did more to educate the American public more than almost anything anybody has done so far. People fear that which is different. Now they're beginning to understand." And what more, this was done not by preaching, or by self-righteous, self important declarations, but by over-the-top, vaudeville-like kind of physical comedy, cute song-and-dance routines, endless pop culture references and tons of light-hearted silliness. And that’s no small feat!
Yet, eleven years is a lot of time. The characters existed in world that was in many ways more innocent, just on account of the fact that it was more or less still unaffected by the social media’s profound takeover of society. We now live in a completely different universe: on the one hand, there is globally a tendency to return to “traditional values” (which is another way of saying Right-winged conservative politics that are for once again, embracing sexism, racism and homophobia with total and - unapologetic – abandon. Which means many will have trouble with the anti-Trump references, the irreverent humor and the normalisation of the gay lifestyle of the characters. We already had the first taste of that a couple of days ago, when the talk show host Megyn Kelly - she of the Fox News fame - was interviewing the cast, and when addressing a fan of the series who happens to be gay, she asked him whether or not his gayness was the result of his Will & Grace watching! In her words: “Is it true that you became a lawyer — and you became gay — because of Will?” (That’s some TV show right? Having the power to turn people gay!!! ) And that’s just only half of the problem, as at the other end of the spectrum await the liberals with their own, occasionally humorless agendas.
The thing is, social media has turned everyone into a critic. And has turned young people into the guardians of all that is acceptable, worthy, righteous and “inclusive”. This is the new form of discrimination ironically... Plus bashing other people’ s achievements has become the favorite pass time – if not the actual profession - of an entire generation. The political-correctness scrutiny will undoubtedly pick on this too, until there will be nothing left but bare bones, dressed in purposedly mismatched outfits and oversized grandfather glasses…
Will and Grace (even in that short new clip) has that pre-social media, we-REALLY-don’t-give-a-damn quality. It represents a more optimistic, a more generous, open-hearted era, when breaking the boundaries was the result of the creative process, and was not one’s chosen way of achieving social status, or gaining points in the “social activism” arena. Being open-minded, provocative, subversive was “organic” so to speak. It was the result of being yourself, and not giving a fuck about what everyone else thought, instead of the result of being conscious of what you should support or not, and then carefully and systematically making sure everybody else knows all about it too (so that they will reward you for it with “Likes”!)
Will & Grace also has a certain glossy aesthetic that was made popular in the late 90s, which will undoubtedly be seen by many as “dated”... It reflects a time when sleekness was still OK: in terms of costume design and Art production or even mood, it is shiny, it is glossy, it is unapologetically pretty, it is razzmatazz, it is light, it is silly, it is cheeky. It is fun! It has that feel-good thing we are no longer allowed to like… (For this alone, it feels out of step with our gloomier world) And it has the kind of irreverent humour that - ironically - could very easily be seen as “offensive” today (most things are anyway!) Each joke that was a few years back seen as controversial and ground-breaking, because it normalised gay people, will probably be seen today as actually damaging to them! When you are rewatching old episodes you can’t help but think that seen through the eyes of contemporary political correctness, Jack possibly represents the now utterly “offensive” stereotype of the dramatic, flamboyant, promiscuous gay man, who loves spending his nights “dancing on a box in a sequin tube top” (instead of, Oh I don’t know, writing an angry blog about LGBT rights?) While Will possibly represents the other “tired” stereotype of the tightly wound, sensitive, obsessed with cleanliness gay man (instead of the one who “likes sports” and by that shows that many gay men in fact do??)
When you go down that road, nothing is “safe”: maybe Will is actually “bullying” Jack when he sarcastically points out that he likes bars where “your drinks are being served by waiters in a leather thong and a dog collar”. Maybe they are all fat-shaming each other. Maybe Grace is actually “offensive” to lesbians because she once commented on their lack of hair products. Or because - try as she might - she just couldn’t be one herself! Or maybe the other characters are in fact “shaming” her when they comment on her chicken-eating habits. (Not to mention she should be a vegan. Or at the very least, favor free-ranged chickens and make a point of letting us know!) Or maybe her Jewishness is not portrayed in a manner that is 100% positive to her entire people. Maybe Karen by treating Rosario rottenly she is in fact offensive – by association - to all Hispanic people. Maybe Jack’s complete lack of parenting skills will be the focus of attention, and everyone’ s - heartfelt and serious – concern. Maybe Karen will be advised to join AA - or possibly find God. And maybe everyone’s politics will be seen as unacceptable: maybe Will is too liberal, Karen too conservative, Grace too clueless, Jack too indifferent, etc etc… On the other hand maybe the whole show is (if you are a Trump supporter) "too political"!!
Honestly you can’t really win this! (Not unless everything is homogenized, and every single joke is properly “sanitised” so that ALL groups are sufficiently reassured that they are as important as the next!) Once this political correctness can of worms is opened, all kinds of nasty things will crawl out of it, taking the fun out of this and causing - I fear - Network executives to rethink this: putting it off the air for good (like for REALLY good this time), or worse, forcing writers to take the “middle road”, and walk on the humourless “path of the careful”.
Maybe bloggers will be appalled and be personally insulted by the three-camera / laugh-track sitcom format (they REALLY do hate that, don’t they?!) And maybe they will spend the next months writing two-paragraphs-long angry treatises, accompanied by various tweets written by random people, (which in today’s world is the equivalent of fact-checking…) about the complete lack of “realistic” (aka: awkward and cringe-worthy) sex scenes, or the lack of “socially conscious” story-lines. Maybe they will spend the next few months of their professional lives dissecting each character’s flaws, and comprising lists that attempt to prove point by point how horrible they all are: “24 infuriating things that happened on Will & Grace”, “21 times (insert name) was a bully”, “18 disgusting things done by (insert another name)”, “30 times Jack was offensive to all gays: 1) His “actor / singer / dancer / choreographer so-called career, and his one-man “Just-Jack!” shows. 2) His references to Babarella costumes. 3) His stalking of Kevin Bacon. 4) His celebrating of half-week-versaries. 5) His Cher obsession, and so on, and so on.... And of course: "25 Things That SHOULD Have Happened on the Will & Grace Revival, But Didn't" (This, by people who have never written anything other than said two-paragraphs-long blogs. Or a bunch of tweets...)
Maybe they will be seriously offended by the setup-punchline / setup-punchline fast rhythm, which they will undoubtedly consider to be old fashioned and parochial (conviniently forgetting that it is also the result of some serious talent...) But above all, maybe they will be outraged with the fact that the cast is not diverse “enough”: None of them is trans for one (this alone should do it!) or black, or Hispanic, or Asian for that matter! Plus Jack is “too gay”; Will possibly not gay “enough”; Karen too rich; and Grace, Oh, I don’t know, “not much of a feminist”? Or possibly, “too straight”?
The bottom line is: these are four flawed, outrageous in-a-fun-mirror-kind of-way characters, which makes for great comedy! Can we just leave it at that? Can we just enjoy this? Not everything needs to be a vehicle of identity politics. Not everything needs to compulsorily include ALL forms of sexuality or ethnicity, all forms of religion, race, or social background in order to justify its presence on TV. (I mean isn't that what Netflix is there for?) Not everything that does not include people of colour is necessarily racist - any more than not everything that does include them (usually in the supporting role of the “sassy side-kick” or “black neighbour”), is not! Not everything that does not include at least one cross-dresser / bi individual, who is daily having existential crises, is in fact promoting transphobia. And not everything that has “Indie sensibilities” (which is another way of saying: includes badly dressed, moody, twenty-somethings who are apparently taking Uber taxis ONLY when it rains, smoke pot in crummy apartments, and are having sex on dirty futons) is in fact “artistic”. Some of it, is in fact just self-congratulatory, self-righteous, pseudo-morally-superior, depressive, full-of-itself crap…
And not all humor needs to be black. (Or the kind that makes you wanna take your own life). Not everything on TV needs to be gritty and edgy and dark. Silly is occasionally quite important too! (Not to mention it takes tons of intelligence and talent to do it right!)
In short: come on young people with your selfie finger already tightly pressed on “Tweet”! Delete your 140-characters-long indignation. Go back to your gloomy, single camera, unscripted “comedies”, and your game-of-thrones-like shows with the well-directed Medieval barbarities, and the bucket-loads of blood, and the spilled guts, and the beheadings and the rapes, and the incests, and the endless anal-sex scenes.
And let us have this at least...
Will & Grace in a Social Media World - Art & Words Copyright © Fanitsa Petrou. All Rights Reserved.
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