Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cheer Theory

After President Obama announced his support for gay marriage three weeks ago, Huffington Post popularized a clip from The Golden Girls in which Blanche talks to Sophia about same-sex commitment. In the clip, Blanche is upset that her brother Clayton wants his boyfriend to be more than just “a pal and a confidant.” Clayton wants to put a ring on Doug's finger, and this blanches Blanche. In familiar sitcom fashion, though, a couple of jokes resolve the issue and Blanche decides to accept her brother's union.

The short article makes a big deal out of a decades-old bit of Saturday TV, and rightfully so. The progressive episode of The Golden Girls aired in January, 1991, only a few weeks after three couples in Hawaii challenged that state's law against gay marriage, a challenge which eventually led to the first ruling that deemed such a law to be discriminatory. So, if The Girls weren't ahead of their time on this issue, they were certainly right in line with it, and the show was always willing to address hot-button topics from the hot-comfort of the lanai.

But ten years before that—and decades before Will & Grace, Modern Family, and President Obama helped establish a new norm—Cheers addressed the topic of gay marriage, too. In the show's second episode, which aired in 1982, Coach, played by the late Nicholas Colasanto, deals with a distressed bar patron named Leo. Coach asks him about his troubles and Leo, who is white, responds: “Last semester, my son comes home from college with his new fiance, who's black.” Coach questions, “Your son's not?” and the live studio audience loudly loves Coach's simpleness.

After another storyline intrudes for awhile, Leo again bends Coach's ear, with a slightly more complex story:

“Last semester, my son comes home from college with his new fiance, who's black.”
“Yeah, I've been thinking about that,” says Coach. “And it's a tough one, but I think I got it. Leo, it's a problem of communication. Here's what you do. You get home, you sit the kids down and you say to your boy. . .What's your boy's name?”
“And what's Ron's fiancee's name?”
“You say, 'Rick, Ron'. . . Rick and Ron?” [cross talk] “Leo, if you're that unhappy about it, just throw him out and tell him you never want to see him again.”
“I can't do that. I love the kid.”
“Oh, I see what you're saying,” says Leo to Coach.
“You do? What?”
“If I can't accept the kid the way he is, I'll lose him.”
“Boy, that's good.”
“Well, when you put it that way, what choice do I have. Thanks Coach.”

Interestingly, Leo uses the word “fiance” to describe his son's partner, so we're thinking of the pairing as a potential marriage. It seems like the word is only included so that Coach can misunderstand the situation hilariously, but even if Cheers is more interested in comic misdirection than the direction of social policy, it's still looking forward. And what's notable is how casually the scene deals with the issue and then discards it. Diane, Cliff, and Norm all cheer for Coach's inarticulate, and perhaps unintentional defense of civil rights, and for a minute Cheers becomes a gay bar, or at least a pro-gay bar. Which makes a lot of sense, considering the comforting lyrics of the theme, “You wanna go where people know, people are all the same.”

But then, as though nothing shocking has happened at all, the talk turns to whether or not Sam Malone only dates dumb women, which is the pressing social question of the episode.

1 comment:

David Grover said...

Don't forget the show's 16th episode, in which Sam's old teammate comes out as gay and the bar is in danger of becoming a gay bar and losing all its customers. There's a great bit where the guys hear there's two gay men in the bar right then, and they try to identify them, only to later discover they were two of the guys doing the searching.

Also, I demand this play some role in this year's Wanczyk Christmas.