Thursday, February 9, 2012

Max Blum, Toyota, and quiet acceptance

Jeffrey Songco's excellent piece about Toyota's "It's Reinvented" ad over at the Huffington Post really crystallized my thoughts about last night's Happy Endings. The ad, which features Toyota reinventing various mundane objects and making them better, has been praised as a step away from the heteronormative culture of advertising due to a moment early on concerning a "reinvented couch." The narrator describes the reinvented couch, which is made up of girls in bikinis, as a schlubby Everyman comes into his apartment, looking excited. The narrator then notes that the couch "also comes in guy," the camera cuts to the everyman, and he shrugs, as if to say "That works too."

Songco's excellent analysis notes that the real, radical message of the ad comes through not in the inclusion of the male reinvented couch, but in the guy's nonchalant reaction to it: "It's amazing to see Toyota's "It's Reinvented," not because it showed gay sex, but because it showed a reaction to gay sex as oh, cool, OK. In other words, the gay sex in "It's Reinvented" is a big deal because it isn't a big deal.

Songco's piece clarified, for me, why I liked this ad so much. It also clarified what I found so refreshing about last night's episode of Happy Endings, not to mention the series as a whole. Last night's episode, "The St. Valentine's Day Maxssacre," ended with the show's resident gay bro, Max, reuniting with his ex-boyfriend Grant in romantic scene that was the site of one incredibly hot kiss.

The great thing about the moment wasn't really the kiss itself - although it was an awesome kiss - but the fact that the kiss wasn't treated as anything more than a kiss. It wasn't endlessly hyped or controversial or the subject of self-aggrandizing promotion, and by being none of those things, it was more progressive than any other show on television.

That kind of quiet radicalism is par for the course for Happy Endings. The best element of the show is Max, and the best thing about Max is that he's, as Hulu said when they named him the best character of 2011, "just one of the guys - who happens to be one of the gays." Max is just a regular, well-rounded character. He's not a gay man, but a man who happens to be gay, which is a very important distinction. Unlike, say, Glee's Kurt Hummel, or even Modern Family's Mitch and Cam, Max's sexual orientation is not his entire identity. It doesn't define him.

The very fact that the show doesn't draw attention to Max's sexual orientation, instead treating him just like everyone else, makes Max Blum revolutionary. (Similarly, the show never draws attention to the relationship between Brad, who is black, and Jane, who is white. If you think that's not boundary-breaking, read this and think again.) Instead of celebrating Max for being different, the show just lets him be Max, just like the guy in "It's Reinvented" nonchalantly accepted the male version of the reinvented couch. So let's be more like Happy Endings and Toyota, and just give an oh, it's cool shrug to gay sex. After all, if Max doesn't define himself by his sexuality, why should anyone else?

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