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Adios Betty la fea

Timothy Kincaid

April 15th, 2010

For four seasons ABC’s Ugly Betty has delighted us. Drawing on it’s Columbian telenova roots, it was over the top, lunatic, and histrionically dramatic. There were murders, embezzlements, and plots and schemes ranging from sabotaged runways to stolen sperm.

But in spite of the improbable antics (or perhaps because of them) this show managed to present America with a broad range of gay characters, full of depth, unique, and interesting. Gone were the sincere very special after school movie characters who were gay bashed or dying of AIDS. Absent were the poor rejected teen thrown out of the house by conservative and disapproving parents. There wasn’t even the obligatory closedted gay character brought on to bravely come out and fall in love only to be written out once the drama was over.

Instead, Ugly Betty gave us LGBT characters who were integral to the story line and who were as fabulous, fierce, flawed and frantic and the straight characters around them. The more important included:

Marc St. James (Michael Urie) – Marc was the gay stereotype on steroids. He was flamboyant, bitchy, fashion obsessed, self centered, and above all insecure. The personal assistant to the show’s chief villain, Marc was (along with his best friend Amanda) Betty’s tormentor. He ran a daily blog on Betty’s unfashionable attire and came dressed as her for Halloween.

But over the show story arc, Marc came to represent personal growth and redemption. As he developed a fondness for Betty, he also developed character and personal integrity and, in time, his shallowness became more of a mask behind which he quietly did the right thing. Part of his transition is founded on his interaction with Justin, in whom Marc saw a younger version of himself. Once a principle schemer and betrayer, by the end Marc was in many ways the conscience of the show.

Alexis Meade
(Rebecca Romijn) – The first season’s drama revolved around a Mystery Lady who, in bandages, was somehow scheming with the villain, Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa Williams) to take over Mode Magazine. She was revealed to be Alex, the older son of the Meade media mogul, once thought dead but now returning as Alexis after a secret sex change.

This could have been played for laughs – and it was in many ways. And Alexis’ sexuality was a bit confusing as it seems that she had dated women in her male past (perhaps out of expectation) and now dated men. But the show was careful to clarify that Alexis was transgender, not a man in a dress, and that this was not the same thing as gay. And while her transgender status was at times more of a gimmick, this was one of few fully developed transgender characters on a television show.

Alexis was not in the fourth season.

Justin Suarez (Mark Indelicato) – When we first met Betty’s nephew Justin, then a young teen, gaydar across the nation went off. Effeminate, obsessed with fashion and pop culture, and possessed of a vibrant and sunny disposition, Justin was recognizably pre-gay. But unlike shows that go for the easy drama, Justin’s storyline was not all just “picked on at school” or “caught wearing mother’s clothes”. Instead, while Justin was at times tormented and hated P.E., his was a primarily happy life with a supporting mother, cool aunt, and doting grandfather.

Much of the conflict in Justin’s plotline revolved around his family’s uncertainty as to how to be there for Justin without pushing him in any direction. Particularly sensitive was the way in which Marc, as a mentor, never presumed that Justin was gay and was supportive of Justin’s brief exploration of liking a girl. Even half way through the final season, there was no certainty that Justin was a gay character. But in the last few episodes, he came to know himself, find a boyfriend, and come out to his family in a sweet and – for this show – surprisingly non-dramatic way.

So good-bye to Betty and all of her gay family and friends. I’ll miss them.

Comments

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Mark C
April 15th, 2010 | LINK

Thanks for the write up, Timothy. In the first two seasons, I followed the show religiously, but when the writer’s strike in Hollywood caused the show to be interrupted in Season 3, I kind of got sidetracked and missed a few episodes. However, I’m glad to have come back in Season 4 and caught up. After watching the series finale last night, I realized again, what a jewel Ugly Betty was and how like many good shows, this one ended far too soon.

Eddie89
April 15th, 2010 | LINK

My husband and I really do like watching this show.

It certainly did a stellar job in it’s character portrayals, while still being entertaining.

Please note that Justin is actually Betty’s nephew, not niece.

Timothy Kincaid
April 15th, 2010 | LINK

Eddie,

Thanks… i fixed that typo

Regan DuCasse
April 15th, 2010 | LINK

Okay, that gown that Anna Ortz is wearing in this picture…o.m.g!

I wonder where that thing might go after she’s done with it. I wanna wear that bitch!

Emily K
April 15th, 2010 | LINK

Justin finally came out? I kinda would have liked it if they had not had him “come out” or “make official” his orientation. Teens are young and uncertain – I know I was as a young gay teen. So it would have been more authentic in my personal, selfish opinion if they had not pasted a label on him and said “done! he’s a gay now, no more uncertainty or questioning.” After all, sexuality is not always a public thing – we don’t *need* to know all the time what everyone is.

Eddie89
April 15th, 2010 | LINK

I respectfully disagree with Emily. I think that having Justin come out was good for his character, good for our community and good for any gay teens that needed some sort of role model to give them hope and courage to just be who they really are.

In the immortal words of Harvey Milk:

My name is Harvey Milk, and I want to recruit you. I want to recruit you for the fight to preserve democracy from the John Briggs and Anita Bryants who are trying to constitutionalize bigotry…

On this anniversary of Stonewall, I ask my gay sisters and brothers to make the commitment to fight. For themselves, for their freedom, for their country…Gay people, we will not win our rights by staying silently in our closets…We are coming out. We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out. Come out to your parents, your relatives.

Back when I was a teen (many, many, many, years ago) there was nothing like Justin’s character on TV. Or any solid, stable, good gay characters. The ones that were somewhat gay were portrayed in derogatory ways and watching them made me hate myself and tell myself “I don’t want to be gay, if that’s what being gay is like.”

Well, no more!!!

YES WE CAN!

And yes, we have to! If not for ourselves, then for others.

Burr
April 15th, 2010 | LINK

I never watched the show, but from reading the synopsis I like that they didn’t push Justin in any particular direction and let things sort themselves out. I think that’s a healthier and more realistic way of portraying things as they are today for many kids now instead of the cliched constant struggle, as relevant as it may still be for others.

Scott
April 16th, 2010 | LINK

Please don’t refer to “us” when you mean “some of us,” as in “ABC’s Ugly Betty has delighted us.” Believe it or not, some of us don’t watch television.

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