Shortland St's producers have explained their decision to allow a teenage character to describe something she saw negatively as being 'so gay', saying they strive to reflect modern language.
The long-running show has been groundbreaking in New Zealand with its inclusion of gay and lesbian characters and a televised lesbian wedding. It has also incorporated examples of homophobia as reflections of real society. The programme has now raised eyebrows by allowing the inclusion of the divisive phrase 'so gay'.
In an open and in depth response to GayNZ.com Daily News, Producer Steven Zanoski explains the phrase was used in dialogue, not an active story. He says it has been used in the past on Shortland St, but this is the first time it has received any attention.
"Earlier use of 'so gay' by a teenage character to mean 'gauche' or 'stupid' have been pulled up by other characters as inappropriate. I believe it has received attention this time because the phrase passed as normal teenage conversation without censure from an adult character," Zanoski says.
"In this case 'so gay' was used by the teenager Ula. This character has previously argued that being gay is ok after spreading rumours about her boyfriend's sexuality. Mistakenly thinking her mother was a lesbian, Ula went to efforts to set her up with Nicole, the bi-sexual next-door neighbour. Ula is one of the least homophobic roles we have so when she says something is 'gay' she is using it to mean gauche â€“ not as a pejorative at all."
In addressing whether the phrase should be used at all on the programme, Zanoski says Shortland St strives to reflect modern language. "Teenagers will say something is gay to mean bad and have no issue then using the word as a noun without negative implications," he says.
"It is evolvement of our language. The word gay was appropriated relatively recently to become a noun for homosexuality and now both meaning and grammatical use has changed again."
Zanoski says it is certainly not a phrase Shortland St would have used or condoned 10 years ago, but deliberately ignoring it now would be a degree of social censorship that he hopes never applies to the show.
"In similar vein, we have recently had scripts in which a character was referred to as a â€śs'illy sod'. This is a phrase that we could not have broadcast in our timeslot when Shortland St started. Questioning most of our staff â€“ both straight and gay â€“ I was amazed to find that few knew that sod was a derivation of sodomite. No-one felt it mattered nor was insulting in this day and age," he says. "Under advisement, I let it through. I wait for the complaints."
In a poll running on GayNZ.com, the majority of people say they find the use of the phrase 'so gay offensive', however there is clear division, with almost as many people saying they only find it offensive sometimes, they never find it offensive, or they don't care.