To understand just how much progress there's been when it comes to depictions of gay people in popular culture, it helps to read part—part—of Billy Crystal’s comments at the Television Critics Association on Sunday. Asked about his role on the ‘70s sitcom Soap, he talked about how “it was awkward and it was tough” to be the actor playing one of the first gay characters on network TV:
I did it in front of a live audience, and there were times where I would say to Bob, “I love you,” and the audience would laugh nervously, because, you know, it’s a long time ago, that I’d feel this anger. I wanted to stop the tape and go, “What is your problem?”
When some of the most-watched new network dramas of the past year (How to Get Away With Murder, Empire) prominently feature gay characters, when one of the most popular ongoing sitcoms (Modern Family) revolves around men married to each other, when an out gay man (Neil Patrick Harris) is enlisted to host the Oscars, it's good to remember when there was a time not too long ago when depicting any sort of same-sex affection was met with nervous laughter on set.
That's not why Crystal's kicking up publicity right now, though. As part of his TCA comments on Soap, he also suggested that he thought the march of progress had gone too far: “I’ve seen some stuff recently on TV in different kinds of shows where the language or the explicit sex is really you know, sometimes I get it, and sometimes I just feel like, ‘Ah, that’s too much for me.’” The implication as a lot of people saw it: Crystal objects to the presence of gay love scenes on TV.