John Inman dies

Gay.com reports the death of John Inman, who played the funny gay Grace Brothers clerk on Are You Being Served?
The character was a flamboyant and friendly fellow at a time when there weren’t many homosexuals regularly on TV (certainly not in the US; I cannot speak with as much conviction on the British scene.) And it’s easy to see his take as being mere conforming to (and thus reinforcing of) a stereotype.
It seems to me that whenever you have a group that has not been portrayed in the media before, you end up with one of two types of portrayal — either thoroughly stereotyped, or so noble and bland that they cannot be recognized as a member of the group. The first is a cheap shortcut, the latter places respectability above both entertainment and realism. Neither is ultimately good for the culture… but they are necessary steps to go through before creators are free to create (and viewers are able to understand) members of the group as diverse and the individual characters as nuanced. At the very least, one character isn’t supposed to represent the group as a whole; Will Truman’s existence makes Jack McFarland permissible.
And one of the nice things is that once we’ve passed through the phase, we can watch the early work differently. When we can see Inman’s Mr. Humphries as a gay character from the fluffier/effeminate end of the spectrum, and not as the gay character, then we may feel more comfortable laughing.
And laugh we shall… because no matter what else one might say, no matter how much one might feel that it’s not sufficiently redemptive, Inman could be damn funny in the role.

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Published in: on March 8, 2007 at 3:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

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