Laments of a Capstone Student

So, did I mention that capstone projects are terrifying?  If I didn’t, I’ll tell you now, and probably a few more times. I have so much to do that I sort of think I might drown, and the semester literally started on Monday.

For those of you who don’t have any idea what a capstone project is, it’s a huge project that a student completes near the end of their program to reflect the things that they have learned in some way.  Like I said before, mine is called ‘Caricaturized, Dying, or Actually Straight: The under and misrepresentation of gay and lesbian characters in film.’

If you’re like half of the people in my life, your next question is going to be either ‘why are you studying gay people, are you gay?’ or ‘that doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with journalism, why are you doing your project on that?’

I usually ignore people that ask the first question, mostly because it’s completely irrelevant to their lives or mine.  But, I usually answer the second question by explaining that, no my project doesn’t actually have anything to do with Journalism, and that it doesn’t have to because it is in fact not for my major, but for my honors distinction.

The next question is usually, ‘how did you come up with it?’

And the answer might make me sound a little gay.  But that’s okay.  I came up with my capstone project in the same way that I come up with a lot of the fiction pieces I write, by watching people.

I was sitting on the floor in one of the places I feel safest, a building on my University’s campus that is mostly empty most of the time.  From where I sit, I can see directly in to two faculty offices.  One belongs to the beautiful and incredibly intelligent woman who is now my Capstone Advisor, we can call her A. She’s weird and wonderful and it’s awesome.  The other belongs to the beautiful and incredibly intelligent woman that I take all of my honors courses with, we’ll call her K.  She’s all sorts of things, she’s sassy and spirited and she watches far too much television, but she’s brilliant, and I’ve had nearly all of my honors courses with her.  (You only have to take five, but I think I’m at seven just with her.)

Now, on this particular day, I was working on clearing out my hard drive of all the miscellaneous school things I would never need again. K and A were both in their offices, and I think K might have been watching a sexy video of Alan Rickman.

Anyway, as I was deleting things, I accidentally opened a saved file.  When the file opened and before I could close it again, I caught sight of a single line of text and the little light bulb above my head went ‘bling’.

The file was the syllabus from my first ever honors class.  The class where the aforementioned beautiful and intelligent woman screamed ‘fuck’ at the top of her lungs on accident while doing an acting exercise and was unapologetically sassy every second. (There is zero exaggeration there, seriously, she’s so sassy.) The class where K leaned over me in the middle of a film (Sense & Sensibility, I think) and made a sex joke, because she just couldn’t help herself.  The class that introduced me to the program that would change my life. (Which sounds super dramatic, but is absolutely true.  I’ll tell you about it later.)

One line, from one syllabus, from one class that felt like a lifetime ago.  That’s all it took to show me exactly what I wanted to do for my Capstone project.

The line was a discussion question, it asked us to consider whether the film industry reflected societal norms or changed them. That’s all it was.

My answer? Both.

So, I asked myself another question.  “Is it the responsibility of the film industry to my portray people or groups of people correctly.

My answer? No.

In my opinion, the film industry is completely independent and therefore technically able to depict any person or group of people in any way it wants.  But the writer in me said that was wrong, because the writer in me knows that depicting people incorrectly can be a really bad thing.

Now, the problem with the answers is that in a lot of ways they contradict one another.  I said that the film industry reflects the views of society, and it does. I said that the film industry can alter the views of society, and it does.  I said that the film industry is under no obligation to represent minorities, majorities, individuals, or groups correctly, and it isn’t.

Well then, what happens when the film industry–being that it is now and has often been the only exposure people have to the cultures that are not their own–presents something like the gay culture in a negative way? People start to look at gay culture in a negative way.

When gay characters were originally portrayed in film, they were creepers.  The portrayals gave people the feeling that the homosexual next door was going to kidnap their kid and keep it as a pet. As gay characters on screen changed, the overall view of homosexuality changed.  That’s the power of film.

So now, instead of seeing the creepy homosexual next door on screen we see the stereotypically fabulous gay man, the butch women, the lesbians who don’t have sex, the gay best friend, and other stereotypical representations of gay culture and people.

Which is what my project aims to study. Gay and lesbian characters are often caricaturized (the token gay, the queen, the flamboyant and overly sexualized boy, etc.), terminally ill and dying (cancer usually), or actually straight (like the mom in The Kids are Alright that sleeps with the kids’ father) when we see them on screen.  That’s not any more realistic than the older portrayals.

So, for my project, I’m watching movies, a lot of them, and figuring out what works, what doesn’t, and how it can be changed, because the industry may not have the responsibility to portray people correctly, but Hollywood runs on money and if we demand to see change, eventually they’ll listen, because we the moviegoers are what make them money.

And that’s my capstone, in a nutshell.

It’s terrifying.




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