Not the show itself, which is quite charming when it ignores the more ludicrous plotlines that the show has introduced. What's annoying me is the show's depiction of Betty's 12 year old nephew Justin (played by Mark Indelicato). Justin is flamboyantly gay, but the producers keep insisting that we shouldn't read any sexual orientation into the character just because he's different. They've also suggested -- and others have agreed -- that we're being prejudiced and embracing stereotypes if we assume that every little boy that doesn't fit into a particular mold must be gay. Well, okay, I thought, maybe the kid is just different. There are straight kids who love theater and don't love sports. Maybe I am being stupidly narrow-minded. The only problem? Justin is CLEARLY and FLAMBOYANTLY and SUPREMELY GAY. No, gay people do not all fit into stereotypes, but people who do fit every darn stereotype under the sun are in fact almost invariably gay. Justin puts on "Thanksgiving: The Musical" for his family, he loves fashion and wants to sit next to Betty to discuss Stella McCartney's new fall line, when his mom says someone special is coming for Thanksgiving he thinks it's Martha Stewart because he entered a contest to win dinner with her, he prances about the apartment and when his dad gives him a jock strap he of course has no clue what it is but holds it up to his face like a mask and squeals with delight, "Look ma, I'm the Phantom of the Opera," while he floats about the room.
Hey, I really like Justin and the fact that even his estranged dad kind of, sort of accepts that he's "different." But I'm sorry, the kid is CLEARLY intended to be gay. He could be different or like fashion or be an odd duck in a million different ways but every single line this kid utters is coded behavior that inescapably indicates the boy is gay. So why have they created this adorable, positive gay role model of a kid (Justin is comfortable with himself, clearly) and then waste time denying what they've done?
One possibility is the young actor himself. He's only 12 and in the article linked to above he explicitly says we aren't supposed to assume his character is gay just because he acts super-gay every single moment he's onscreen. Now, when casting a gay kid, movie and TV people have a delicate tightrope to walk, even today. By and large, you cast kids who fit the roles they're going to play. So how do you tell parents their kid seems flamboyantly gay and that's perfect for a role, when the parents themselves may not have faced or dealt with this issue yet, even though their little child wants to be an actor? How do you tell a 10 or 11 or 12 year old kid they're playing a queer? What will their friends say? Apparently, casting agents use coded language to indicate what they want (they might say, "we're looking for 'artistic' preteens") without of course expecting they're gonna find some out 11 year old (not many of those, even among kids who want to act). So part of the Faustian deal becomes the fact that they've hired a kid to play gay but don't really say so. Or they don't admit it just to protect the kid and let them feel comfortable with what they're doing.
But at some point, the producers of Ugly Betty should have admitted that they were putting a gay character on screen and made sure they found a 12 year old boy who could handle that. Do they think the actor won't be teased by friends for playing a gay kid just because the network pretends that's not what is going on? This sense of protectiveness for the young actor is the only decent reason I can think of for their farce in insisting the boy in the show isn't gay. But it's getting offensive. If they wanted to leave it vague or just paint a kid who was different, they shouldn't have made Justin Super Gay in EVERY SINGLE MOMENT HE'S ONSCREEN.
It's a very difficult casting challenge: finding a Latino 12 year old kid who can act who is either gay or very comfortable playing a gay kid and has parents who are comfortable with this as well. Is the actor playing him just a brilliant actor? No, typically when casting kids you cast them close to their real-life behavior. In other words, the producers of the show think the actor playing this kid is in fact effeminate and probably gay. And that's something they can't say out loud because they didn't deal with it properly in the first place.
On "Roseanne," Roseanne Barr decided she wanted to want make her son on the show, DJ, gay. She had all sorts of gay characters on the show and the fact that DJ was probably gay had been hinted at for years. But the actor was six years old when hired and Barr had not planned from the get-go to make the kid gay -- how could she have known the show would last nine years? So when the actor begged her not to make his character gay (or rather, not have the character come out), she relented because he wasn't comfortable. On "I'll Fly Away," the very young son of our lawyer hero was quite "sensitive." I thought the kid might grow up to be gay and indeed in a two hour finale that jumped forward many years, they referenced the fact that the character had died of a disease, the implication being AIDS. On "My So-Called Life," of course, Wilson Cruz was gay in real life and more than ready to play a gay character from the get-go. And what we have on "Ugly Betty" is a young character who is gay from the get-go. The producers knew this but failed to do what needed to be done to protect the actor and the role.
"Ugly Betty" is about acceptance and tolerance of people who look and act and behave differently. When the producers try to pretend that WE'RE being narrowminded by insisting a character who behaves like this must be gay, they are being hypocrites. Lying to themselves and to him and to us turns what should be a positive character into one that is pretty disturbing in a way. If even the network and the producers and the actor playing Justin can't accept him for who he is, why should anyone else? And that's exactly the opposite of the message that "Ugly Betty" wants to promote.