It’s great to see Dan Harmon acknowledge some of the problems with last week’s Community — and to stand up for the idea that being thoughtful about representation isn’t a matter of political correctness, but of quality:
In telling this story, we used the notion of a “gay community” as a tool. When you saw gay characters in the story, you weren’t seeing much of them. The two gay characters with lines were clearly gay, from the moment they spoke. The entire time they spoke, they were parts of setups and punchlines about gayness, and the surface never got scratched beyond that…
I cut corners. There was probably a way to do the same episode while somehow quickly and efficiently reminding the audience that gay people are just people that are gay and come in all kinds of flavors other than gay in addition to their gayness…I don’t think anyone that “complained” was asking for Community to be censored or for it to become a schmaltzy PC pile of shit. I think they were asking me to stick a post-it note on my brain regarding the situation, which I can do without making the show any less brilliant or funny.
The larger point that I’m still not sure Harmon sees is that this kind of slip-up is particularly frustrating because Community hasn’t used gay people as anything other than instruments. The show is pretty consistently excellent on race because the diversity of the cast means that the characters are constantly negotiating their assumptions about race as part of navigating their friendships. The moment in “Interperative Dance” when Shirley asks Britta “What is it about being a single white slacker that makes you people so jaded?” only to have Britta reply “Ooh, you people? What do you mean ‘you people’? I cannot believe I got to say that!” is a great little moment, made better by Shirley’s “It’s the little things, isn’t it?” Community should aspire to a moment that great about sexual orientation. It’s smart enough to get there.