arduinna: a tarot-card version of Linus from Peanuts, carrying a lamp as The Hermit (Default)
[personal profile] arduinna
[personal profile] dorinda asked a question that I had actually just been thinking about recently myself, so I'm gonna start with that:

Do you think it would be possible to have a story, written today, centered around the Night Court episode "Best of Friends", or would the period-accurate (& therefore sometimes transphobic) handling of some of it make it a non-starter or drawerfic?

So, for background: the Night Court ep 'Best of Friends' aired in 1985, and the main storyline was about Dan Fielding, absolutely giddy with delight at an upcoming visit from his best college buddy. This level of delight is so weird for Dan. He doesn't have friends, see; he has conquests, and he has contacts, and he has people he sucks up to or uses for whatever he needs, but he doesn't have friends. And yet clearly, he adores this guy, Chip, who's coming to see him, and he is so excited! They were drinking buddies and womanizing buddies and they told each other everything and YES! CHIP IS COMING TO VISIT! He has always been Dan's ideal of manhood, and Dan can't wait to relive their former glories.

But what Dan doesn't know is that "Chip" is really Charlene, who was AMAB and struggled terribly with that for years, and who is finally living the life she always wanted and about to get married, and wanted Dan (whom Charlene also adores - it was a genuine friendship) to know the truth, and to get his blessing. (Erk, wrong word; she wants him to be happy for her, because he really matters to her - but she loves her life and isn't going to not live it the way she wants to if Dan can't deal with the truth.)

Okay, so: 1985. Dan Fielding. A big chunk of the episode is Dan's furious, cruel, betrayed reaction to Charlene's appearance and explanation. Transphobic is putting it lightly.

But otoh, it doesn't end there; Dan works through it, and although it's incredibly difficult for him to see that Charlene is the same friend he always loved, he gets there. And he even gets protective of her (which okay, seriously sexist for him to tell her fiance that if he hurts Charlene, Dan will kill him - but Dan is sexist through and through, so it still comes as a sign of progress).

There is just so much scope in this episode for fanfic, looking at Dan's willingness to move past at least some of his rigid way of looking at the world, and how when he loves someone it's intense and real, and how maybe that's why he doesn't have friends - he knows how to do transactional relationships, but not really how to do casual friendships; it's all or nothing with him, and he anchors himself to his real relationships, so he's at risk of being set badly adrift if something goes wrong.

But that said, this would be really dicey to write about today, because even though this episode at heart is about accepting people for who they are, regardless of who that is, it's still done in a mid-80s way, which is 30 years out of date.

I think it could be done, but drawerfic or a locked-down posting might be the way to go. I would hate to see someone looking for trans tags stumble into 80s transphobia (and even 80s trans norms - lots of things were different) without realizing it.

My brain is all aswirl with caveats and but-ifs, but yeah: in this particular case, I think an episode-centered story should be kept more private.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-04 04:06 am (UTC)
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)
From: [personal profile] sholio
You know, I rewatched about 3 seasons or so of this show a few years ago, when it started coming out on DVD, and while certain aspects were awfully cringeworthy and dated now (like Dan's constant sexual harassment played for laughs -- I still love Dan, and I remembered it so it's not like it came out of nowhere, but it's still a lot cringier now than it was for me in the 1980s) ... I was actually very pleasantly surprised at how hard the show tried and how much they got right. I never made it as far as this episode, although I think I vaguely remember it from the first airing (didn't remember she was engaged, though!), but there was another one along those lines in which Dan found out that one of his old friends, a super macho dude who had been in the military, was gay. It played out along similar lines, starting out with Dan reacting with betrayal and ended up with the two of them getting stuck in an elevator together and (if I remember right, it's been a few years) talking it out and getting found after they'd fallen asleep together and were basically cuddling. On the one hand, it's a very '80s sort of Very Special Episode that is clearly centered around the straight character's journey rather than the gay one. But on the other hand, it was, what, 1988 or something?

And the show had a lot of that sort of thing, and a lot of episodes like that. In a way it reminds me of a 1980s version of Community, where it was capable of both missing the boat in spectacularly faily ways, and also getting things right in ways that most other shows of its era didn't.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-04 03:14 pm (UTC)
dorinda: Hands reach for two identical glasses, which are labeled "half empty" and "half full". (halfemptyhalffull)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
The focus is completely wrong - but even then, the show made sure that the gay/trans/whatever character had agency and dignity and depth, which - wow, go them, mid-80s sitcom!

This is really true, and I think can get lost in the shuffle of stereotypes about what "the 80s" and "80s sitcoms" were like. I mean, I was recently reading an article that looked back on lgbt plots in US media of the 1990s, which refreshed my memory of the cultural context and sensibilities of that place and time. And even compared to *that* time, Night Court, which was made earlier, was really different and progressive compared to so much other TV.

Of course, compared to today, it can fall short--after all, 30 years is a long time. And that seems pretty heartening, how some things have changed enough to leave some old ways and opinions in the dust.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-04 03:09 pm (UTC)
dorinda: Screencap from Night Court: Harry lays his head on Dan's chest. (harry/dan_NightCourt)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
Yay my question! Yeah, I've been thinking about this lately, on and off.

looking at Dan's willingness to move past at least some of his rigid way of looking at the world, and how when he loves someone it's intense and real, and how maybe that's why he doesn't have friends

That whole paragraph about Dan is spot-on (of course! You have a tremendous grip on the complexities of Dan's personality). And we get a little bit of insight in this episode into how that was in his youth, which, when I think about it, is kind of amazing. I mean, here's Dan, giant sexist horndog douchebro...whose past relationship with his roommate included said roommate (who at the time Dan thinks is a man) crying in Dan's arms. This is not the traditionally-appropriate high-five-bro dynamic. But it does seem to have been *Dan*'s dynamic, which is fascinating. In all his reminiscences, he doesn't appear to have been carrying any feelings of awkwardness about that.

I can imagine a Dan (Reinhold :D ) who wore his nerve endings on the outside like that at first, who could have that kind of intimate connection with someone else (and not feel awkward or constrained by the rules of toxic masculinity)--but then as he learned how to climb and succeed and escape his rural poverty, he smashed those nerves forcibly back inside. But as you say, this left him with no way of interacting with others besides 1) sexually objectify them (for women), and 2) compete with them (for men)--transactional relationships, which I think is a great phrase that feels spot-on. But there's that Dan/Reinhold inside who is starving for more, and who I think we get to see glimpses of now and then.

But yeah--30 years has pushed a lot of water deservedly under the bridge. (Even aside from the deadnaming and misgendering stuff that the episode does end up disapproving of--which feels advanced for its time--as you mention, the stuff with Bull not understanding can be really cringey and upsetting, with IIRC some unfortunate emphasis on surgery. Yeahhhh the 80s, sigh.)

So even though the episode is amazing in its potential for unraveling Dan right where his biggest neuroses and fears live--gender, sexuality, vulnerability, fluidity--it feels like, in order to be accurate, it might need to include a wodge of toxic stuff. Not that the ha-ha stuff with Bull would need to be continued--but if it were completely detoxified, not only would the tone and context be lost, but also a lot of Dan would be lost, and then what's the point.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-04 04:06 pm (UTC)
killabeez: (Default)
From: [personal profile] killabeez
Wow, fascinating question and answers/discussion. I don't think I ever saw that episode, but I really appreciate hearing your (and everyone's) thoughts on it—particularly about the focus of the story, which made me think of "Death in a Different Place," one of my all-time favorite Starsky & Hutch episodes (that I haven't re-watched in probably 15 years).

It is amazing how, even having had out trans friends for 20+ years, living with a trans partner has opened my eyes to the pervasive presence of transphobia in...well, basically everything. And yet, they were trying.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-05 01:47 am (UTC)
dorinda: Hands reach for two identical glasses, which are labeled "half empty" and "half full". (halfemptyhalffull)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
Oh, "Death in a Different Place" is an interesting comparison. There's the "main character reacts with anger/betrayal" and the "what does this mean about the relationship I had with this person, was it real" and the "what does this mean about ME".

But then, since S&H had two main characters, it maybe kind of gets to have its cake and eat it too, in a sense? Starsky has the lion's share of the kneejerk anger etc. as mentioned. But there's also Hutch, who gets to be more urbane and knowledgeable and calm, and who actually draws a(n oft-quoted) parallel to his & Starsky's relationship. So we see a couple different sets of responses from main characters who knew John Blaine (though Starsky was the closest to him).

In the Night Court episode, in contrast, no one other than Dan himself ever knew Charlene, so no one else has emotional or personal reactions. Which is interesting, now that I think about it, that everyone else (other than Bull in a sense, who is super-sitcom-confused), operating from an uninvolved place, doesn't find Charlene's existence a big deal. No one is made to be a direct mouthpiece for any societal cisnormative principles or whatever.

(Although cisnormativity shows up nevertheless, as ever, in the meta sense of some of the comedy, the choices of where and how to use the laugh track, etc.)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-04 08:27 pm (UTC)
gwyn: (teevee jim ward morris)
From: [personal profile] gwyn
This reminds me a lot of a similar episode (also about the cisgender main character's journey, not the trans person) on WKRP. Similar cringey bits, but also an amazement that they did that in the late '70s and they tried--and by the knowledge and rules of the day, they did a pretty decent job. I remember as a person in my late teens, in fact, being astounded that that was a thing people could do, I knew about some famous people who'd transitioned, but it was always discussed in this almost sniggering way. There's a ton of jokes about it built in to the episode, because ha ha it's so funny ::dies of cringing:: but I still had to at least give them props for doing it at a time when things were really changing and most "average" Americans were freaking the fuck out.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-05 01:52 am (UTC)
dorinda: From a French postcard of 1902: a woman in hat, coat, cravat, and walking stick writes on a pad of paper. (writer)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
Yeah, at that point I suspect the bulk of my knowledge ("knowledge") was from snickering TV jokes referencing Christine Jorgensen that mostly went over my head.

I hadn't remembered there was a trans character on WKRP. Interesting! Who was the cis main character who got the story journey?

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-05 07:18 am (UTC)
gwyn: (dean pelton)
From: [personal profile] gwyn
As you've probably seen from the reply, it was Herb, which…yeah. I was gonna break out my dvds and watch it tonight but I'm still way behind on a book deadline, so I didn't, just to see how it was watching it in light of this discussion.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-06 03:00 pm (UTC)
dorinda: Hands reach for two identical glasses, which are labeled "half empty" and "half full". (halfemptyhalffull)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
I find it interesting that of the early attempts at addressing things like homophobia and transphobia, by including an LGBT guest character and having the poorly-reacting main character learn a lesson, so many of them seem to have been comedies.

I might posit that comedies allow for defusing audience (and producer/studio) tension with lots of jokes, and comedies created these sort of parallel fundamentally-comic universes that might not make homophobic/transphobic executives and viewers panic quite so hard? (I mean not just in the sense of the jokes, but also in the sense that a parallel/comic universe isn't quite as Real as a drama, which helps panicky people feel distance from the thing that panics them?)

Also, of course, comedies allowed for the have-cake/eat-cake thing, where you can be mainly pushing the progressive/inclusive message, but also have homophobic and transphobic jokes intended to be laughed at. Archie-Bunker-style.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-05 04:58 am (UTC)
gramarye1971: Abbey Road street sign in London, marked with fan graffiti (Abbey Road)
From: [personal profile] gramarye1971
*pokes head into the conversation*

There was also that early WKRP episode "Les on a Ledge" where Les Nessman is banned from the Bengals' locker room because word spreads that he might be gay, and Les threatens to jump off the building. That episode definitely had some transphobic aspects (where Johnny tries to get Herb to stop hitting on Jennifer by implying that she hadn't always been a woman), but as I recall the dialogue tried to strike an balance between stating that there was nothing wrong with being gay and yet acknowledging that accusations of homosexuality could wreck a person's career, especially in male-dominated fields like sports. In the end, of course, Les isn't actually gay, it's just a misunderstanding ha ha everything's fine, but it pushes the (sadly still) progressive viewpoint that no one should be discriminated against, let alone feel the need to commit suicide, because of any real or imagined differences in their sexuality.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-05 07:20 am (UTC)
gwyn: (buckaroo jidabug)
From: [personal profile] gwyn
Oh right, yeah, I watched that one when I was watching all the dvds after they came out what was it, last year? I was cringing at the jokes about Jennifer having once been a man. But of course at the time I'm fairly certain I didn't think anything of it. I mean, I was a teen, but still--I don't know that even as an adult I'd have been aware enough to cringe at the time.

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