Monday, September 14, 2015

The Golden Girls & Me: 30 Years of Laughs

My favorite show of all time and I both turn 30 this year, a fact that neither of our vanities take pleasure in commemorating publicly.

But a milestone is a milestone.

The Golden Girls premiered 30 years ago tonight on NBC, forever changing the television landscape for the better. In fact, it’s a show often and rightfully credited with creating a premise all its own. It’s a premise that has been duplicated over and over again (see: Designing Women, Living Single, Sex and the City, even HBO’s Girls).

Much has been said and written about how “ground-breaking” and “revolutionary” of a show it was to display four women living and loving (perhaps over-loving) well into their golden years. And that is all true and inspiring in and of it self. But very little has been written about its massive influence on the gay community both then and now.

Back in the mid-80s, The Golden Girls were shedding light on a community beleaguered by stigma and hate. In the context of Reagan's America, their thematic influence from atop of the ratings charts is both puzzling and remarkable.

How did four senior citizen ladies get away with having sex, buying condoms, and saying things like “Gerkonanaken” on national TV? (Shout out to all the true fans that know what that last one means). All kidding aside, this show was breaking ground in tackling real issues with humor and wit.

Long before the Supreme Court OKed gay marriage nationwide (hear that Kim Davis, NATIONWIDE!), Blanche Devereaux’s brother Clayton was coming out and getting married his partner Doug. Long before Transparent and Caitlyn Jenner, we had Dorothy Zbornak’s beloved but misunderstood, cross-dressing brother Phil. Long before the real world met The Real World’s Pedro Zamora, Rose Nylund was dealing with an AIDS scare. Long before Jack McFarland made it OK to be gay, The Golden Girls had Coco the gay cook, and Lazlo the Artist, and Jean the lesbian (not Lebanese, Blanche. Lesbian.) My point here is not to show off how much Golden Girls trivia I can throw out, although I know you’re pretty impressed right now.

My real point is that these were not mere sitcom plots to entertain; they informed, they taught, they inspired. They may have even opened a few hearts and minds at a time when we most needed them.

Their socially progressive themes, masked by the forgiveness’s of old age, often struck a chord with people who felt marginalized and disenfranchised by the rest of the world. For a lot of people dealing with those very issues, these stories were anchors in the storm. 

Of course that’s not to say that The Golden Girls didn’t also go beyond gay issues. Their show also tackled a broken education system, homelessness, drug addiction, poverty, and the injustices of the immigration system. All still hot button issues in America today. It’s perhaps this that keeps their show relevant.

Personally speaking, I came to 6151 Richmond Street for the first time sometime in Middle School and I never really  left. (In high school, my friends and I were so cool that we started a fan appreciation club called the Golden Cheesecake Society, which involved singing the theme song and "Mr. Sandman" repeatedly)… Still an out and proud card-carrying member.

Over the years, we’ve lost many of the show’s central characters. Estelle Getty (my personal favorite) died in 2008. Bea Arthur died in 2009 and Rue McClanahan died in 2010. Several of the supporting cast has also passed, including Herb Edelman who played Stan. Betty White is still around and with the help of the Siempre Viva serum we send her, I’m sure she’ll outlive us all.

On our 30th birthday, I had to pause and reflect on its immense influence on my life. My sense of humor, what little wit I have left, and my take-no-prisoners attitude can all be traced back to this show. A case can also be made for this being the birthplace of my burgeoning feminism.

They have taught me so much about life and death and approaching both with unyielding humor that I simply can’t think of a more important show in my upbringing than The Golden GirlsAbove all else, they taught me how to be a friend.

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