The word “masculine” has kind of gone through a transition in fiction—and in real life, but that’s another topic altogether—because the definition has never really been completely static. We all—or a lot of us anyway—still love the Indiana Jones movies, even if most of us realize how problematic—and also downright fucking creepy—those movies are by today’s standards. The same goes for James Bond and other popular franchises. The saga of the Manly Movie Man has officially ended and now writers are trying to approach the whole idea of “good likable male character” from a different angle. There’s nothing more masculine than being completely comfortable with your sexuality and open to expressing your emotions. A good example of this brand new era of male characters is Todd Brotzman from Dirk Gently’s Detective Agency, because I haven’t actually talked about Todd before except in relation to Dirk. But all by himself? Todd is kind of awkward, he’s complex, he has a very strong platonic—“platonic” as far as we know, given that the series was canceled—love for Dirk, and—most importantly—he doesn’t get away with shit. There are actual consequences for Todd being an asshole to Amanda. Even after Amanda partially forgives him, she still doesn’t let him completely off the hook and she’d much rather live her own life away from him. It’s complicated and surprisingly well-written. But enough about Todd, as much as I love Elijah Wood’s stunning performance. It’s time to talk about David Rose from Schitt’s Creek.
David is an interesting character. He has the general mannerisms of a stereotypical flamboyant gay man, right down to the overly dramatic hand gestures. If this show had been made less than a decade earlier, David would have been a punchline. He has pretty much all of the personality traits that have been used to define and mock gay male characters in fiction for literal decades. But what sets David apart from all those demeaning depictions of gay male characters is that David isn’t really mocked for how he acts. While David being over-dramatic is often used as a punchline in itself—like when he ran away from home that one time—he’s actually not nearly as over-dramatic as his mother Moira. Being over-dramatic seems more like something that runs in his family because David was born into a social caste of spoiled rich people. David mellows out a little as the series goes on and he slowly stops freaking out so much over little things. And David’s effeminate behavior is never mocked for being, well, effeminate behavior. Usually it’s the opposite. When male characters show any hint of femininity—even something as simple as an interest in cooking—it’s often used as the punchline to a joke, as both the characters and the narrative itself urges him to “man up”. Basically male characters who don’t perform their masculinity well enough tend to be scorned, mocked, and kicked around by the narrative until they conform, even if the character himself is perfectly content. David is never subjected to this. His character arc is not about him embracing traditional masculinity, it’s about him becoming less self-absorbed and narcissistic. And David is never demonized for being the way he is or talked down to. He doesn’t get told to “man up” by those close to him. Because David is content with himself and he doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone.
There’s also the matter of David’s sexuality, which gets discussed fairly early in the series after he sleeps with Stevie. Stevie tells David that she thought he was gay and David explains—using wine as a metaphor—that he’s pansexual. As well as being the first openly pansexual character on a mainstream television series, David’s sexuality isn’t brushed under the rug as soon as it comes up. Despite ending up with Patrick—a man—the show doesn’t dismiss or ignore David’s sexuality, which is often a problem. It is referenced more than once that David is still attracted to women, non-binary people, etc. despite currently being in a relationship with a man. And just as a side note, Patrick is actually the exact opposite of David personality-wise. This is incredibly important: having two gay characters with different or opposite personalities in the narrative and showcasing that it’s fine to adhere to stereotypes—like David—and it’s also fine to be the exact opposite of most stereotypes. It’s important because shaming men—including gay men—for being flamboyant has been traditional both in fictional media and in real life. It’s unfortunate, because there’s nothing wrong with men—gay or otherwise—being feminine, but gay men tend to be pressured into performing traditional masculinity. There are elements of internalized homophobia in this, as overly masculine gay men will sometimes perpetuate this as well by making fun of their fellow gay men if they act, well, like David. Having a character like David is actually pretty revolutionary and it shows how far fictional media has come in terms of redefining masculinity.
Schitt’s Creek is a huge recommendation of mine and that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It has everything a modern sitcom should: good queer representation, amazing memorable characters, and great writing. It’s just a good show.