Sunday, February 5, 2012

Queer Imagery on Showtime's Shameless

Ian (Monaghan) and Mickey (Fisher)

Being my first entry, I felt the need to introduce myself a bit. I am not sure if that is customary, but it seems necessary and just kind of weird talking to someone in an unknown internet audience without telling that person who I am. My name is Megan. I am a fourth year senior here at UT and my specialty is female and queer representations in the media... I end up talking about gender and sexuality... well A LOT. Just a little forewarning.

That being said, I have really been interested in the queer imagery presented on Showtime's Shameless series (an American version of UK original). Be aware that I have not fully sat down and analyzed any of the episodes, but I follow it pretty regularly and am sure their is something there, something both helpful and problematic, to talk about. I will give you a bit of background though for those who have not seen the show. The series is set in Chicago and circles around the crazy adventures of the "financially troubled" Gallagher family, a six kid family run by the oldest sister, Fiona (Emmy Rossum), because their single-parent father, Frank (William H. Macy) is a ridiculously inept alcoholic con-man. Within the narrative of the first season, we discover the third oldest brother Ian (Cameron Monaghan), a star pupil in his high school's ROTC program, is in fact secretly gay. He is in his first serious relationship with his boss, Kash (Pej Vahdat), at the corner store at which he works. Kash also happens to be Muslim as well as married with two kids, therefore they both must hide their relationship and only be intimate when they close the store during work hours in the storage room. But soon another guy, Mickey Milkovich (Noel Fisher), a true juvenile delinquent, comes around the store to terrorize Kash, stealing merchandise and spitting wrappers at him. During an episode, Kash says he pulled a gun on Mickey, but he just stole the gun. Ian runs after him to protect his partner and get the gun back, but they both end up falling into bed together (pictured above). Eventually Kash finds the two guys together in the storage room and shoots Mickey, which lands Mickey in jail for six months because he would rather Kash lie and say he was stealing from the store than admit to what really happened and therefore to being gay. In the second season, Mickey gets out and the two guys are secretly together, and Kash ends up running away from his family because he cannot take the secrecy and the lying about his identity anymore.

So obviously A LOT is going on in this show (really it is put together rather well) and I just wanted to talk about a few things I like and do not like about these queer representations. Firstly, these three characters are fairly central to the story line on a major television channel, which is definitely something to point out. Obviously Showtime also has the L Word, so they would not be against queer depictions, but I do think a show of 20 or so characters including 3 gay male characters is important. Also at first glance, I do in fact like the general appearance of the characters. Because all of them do not seem stereotypically feminine or flamboyant as it seems most gay male characters seem on TV, I feel it does challenge what people have come to see as the "acceptable" gay male character trope that is now pretty visible on television. Each of the three characters are visibly masculine. They are fit, hold their stances and bodies in typically masculine styles, and do not attempt to be feminine (not that there is anything at all wrong with that). This then shows that it is possible for "masculine" guys to be gay. Their sexuality is not dependent on their gender expression. Lastly I enjoy the fact that the narrative includes Kash and his struggle between his religion, his culture, and his own personal identity. By depicting this complexity, people can see that queer people come from all different types of backgrounds and beliefs and can sympathize with their hardships.

But alongside these positive aspects, I have found something troublesome with these characters, primarily the fact that each one of them must hide their queer selves in order to remain accepted, and each of them seem relatively OK with that. Both Ian and Mickey are fine with their midnight rendez-vous to the baseball field or somewhere else to be intimate, which of course is never actually shown (just a shot of pants dropping and cut to a new scene). The show seems to even frame this as a good aspect of their odd undefined relationship. Because they have to hide it, it makes things between them even "hotter," it adds the spark of danger and some excitement. But outside of these scenes, they show no need to let others know they are, even though Ian is extremely close to his siblings and he is keeping a whole portion of his identity under locks. Only his older brother finds out, and it was an accident. There is no signs of psychological repression... they are just happy with their off-camera sex and that is all they need in their relationship. Even Kash is the same way. He did not start showing signs of feeling trapped or at odds with his public and private lives until after Ian left him for Mickey. Therefore it seems the show frames gay male relationships as simply sex and nothing more and that is all they need. They can live in the straight public world and sneak off to their private gay world no problem.

That being said, I feel this show should definitely have a more thorough analysis and can provide a lot of insight into how queer representations can be both positive and problematic simultaneously. Let me know what you think if you have seen the show!



  1. I admittedly don't watch enough television to follow this, but I like your analysis. ^^