Those ‘90 tabloid TV talk shows are the perfect example of something being totally problematic and completely revolutionary all at once.
Man, me and my siblings used to watch these all the time. Twenty-year later I still remember an episode of Ricki that featured two drag queens who were dating. The first one comes on and says she wants to get married to her boo, and, not only that, but she wanted them to transition to become “lesbian lovers.” Then the other one comes out, tells her that she’s cheating on her with a “real man,” and wants to break up. It was like the saddest thing I’d ever seen. I mean, it’s still crystal clear in my mind 20 years later. I can only imagine what kind of effects that had on my notions about gender and sexuality.
I remember once on SJR she had on prostitutes, and Sally actually filmed a scene where she dressed up in stereotypical street walker gear and went out with the girls for the night, and, yeah, that was silly and lurid, but it was one of the first things I saw that actually let sex workers talk about their lives from a real point of view and empathized with them.
Sure, maybe these shows trotted out people as “freaks,” but at their best they actually let these people speak for themselves and broadcasted them directly into America’s living rooms (and most the time by the end of the episode the audience would be behind them if they were decent people). Let’s not forget that alot of the casual outrage at these shows wasn’t so much for them being “problematic” in the way a blog like “Your Favs are Problematic” would bemoan, but because they were giving people from these marginalized walks of life any screen time at all. IDK! There’s actually a book on this I’ve been meaning to buy.