How do you figure?

A week or so ago a prominent anti-gay person stated in an interview that 30% of all characters on TV shows now are gay. That’s horrible, he said, in part because clearly no more than 4% of the population is gay, and the huge numbers on TV were there to desensitize normal people to the existence of gay people. He also talked about how happy and loving gay people as shown on this TV shows are a myth, and went on to assert the gay people are too busy bullying kids to be living productive lives.

Setting aside the fact that even when a Republican administration looked into the issue of kids being bullied it found that the vast majority of the bullying was from straight-identifying adults and kids, and that it was directed at kids who were perceived as being gay or were otherwise non-gender-conforming, his claim is so ludicrous, I’m surprised that even the conservative publication who conducted the interview managed to recreate it without dying of embarrassment.

Also, we’ll just ignore the 4% assertion, as that topic is worthy of a post all of its own.

There are reasons I majored in Math in college, and one of those is that I can’t just leave wrong-sounding numbers alone. I feel compelled to try to figure out just how wrong they are.

I could simply accept GLAAD’s (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) report last year that found about 4.4% of regular characters on scripted network shows this last season were Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender. If GLAAD is correct, than the anti-gay guy’s number is nearly 7 times as high as it ought to be.

But I wanted to dig into the numbers a bit more.

So, I searched the web for listings of prime time network television shows this last season, and tried to figure out which ones should count (it seems obvious that sports and news shows shouldn’t be included, but then I noticed in the interview that the bigot seemed to be including contestants in talent shows as characters, so it wasn’t completely clear that only scripted comedies and dramas were what he was talking about). I decided that my calculations based on web searches weren’t very scientific on my own, (at one point I had a number of 4224 regular and recurring characters, and that seemed as ridiculous at the bigots numbers).

The GLAAD study has slightly more rigorous methods. They came up with 97 scripted programs on the five broadcast networks, and they only counted characters whose actors qualify (under union rules) as playing regulars. That led to a total of 701 characters, of which 31 were identified as non-heterosexual. If the bigot’s percentage was correct, that should have been 210 non-heterosexual characters.

Which next made me wonder where the bigot was getting those 179 characters from?

It’s possible, of course, that he simply made up the number in order to shock the ultra-conservative people from whom he is constantly pleading for donations. But since he’s the president of a federally registered non-profit that identifies itself as promoting morality, that can’t possibly be the case, can it?

Then I thought about what his life is like: giving all these interviews, sending out the constant emails and mailers pleading for money, leading protestors outside legislatures and such, staging press conferences in front of civil rights offices, pretending to be addressing a huge crowd of sympathizers as his employees record the speech for YouTube, and carefully hiding the fact that the number of reporters covering the event far outnumbered the crowd (and most of the crowd were his employees!), and thinking up new ways to repeat the same tired, debunked lies on cable news shows. All of that takes an enormous amount of effort. There is no way he has the time to watch TV shows!

Which led me to realize that he probably spends more time reading LGBTQ news sites and blogs than I do. And it is the case that when they cover pop culture, those sites disproportionately focus on queer characters, or actors and actresses who are either gay or allies. So if one’s primary source of information was from those, it would not be unreasonable to conclude that nearly a third of the characters in all these shows were non-heterosexual.

I hope he doesn’t ever wander into somewhere like FanFiction.Net or the like! Because if you believed all the fanfiction out there, less than 3% of any characters in any show or series in exclusively heterosexual. That possibility might give him a fatal shock!

1 thought on “How do you figure?

  1. “I hope he doesn’t ever wander into somewhere like FanFiction.Net or the like! Because if you believed all the fanfiction out there, less than 3% of any characters in any show or series in exclusively heterosexual. That possibility might give him a fatal shock!”
    Ha ha ha ha ha! 😀

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