Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Path to Acceptance

Barney (Neil Patrick Harris): OK, here's my thing — if gay guys start getting married, then suddenly the whole world's gonna be doing it. That's how it works: they start something, then six months later, everyone follows. Like now everyone gets manicures.

Ted (Josh Radnor): Yeah. I don't get manicures.

Barney: OK, then, like getting your chest waxed.

Lily (Alsyon Hannigan): You get your chest waxed?

Barney: You know what I mean! Gay marriage is going to cause single life as we know it to die out. Think of how the American family will be strengthened.

The episode of How I Met Your Mother that first aired on this night in 2006, "Single Stamina," is the first time I can remember same–sex marriage being the topic of a sitcom episode.

For that matter I can't really remember anything on TV or in the movies prior to that time that dealt with gay marriage. I suppose there must have been, though. Same–sex marriage seemed (to me, at least) to surge from out of nowhere as an issue in the 2004 presidential election, and that was two full years before "Single Stamina" aired.

Something was its catalyst.

After years of observing the human condition, I have concluded that, like the stages of dying of which Elisabeth Kübler–Ross wrote, people go through stages of acceptance for social concepts that were previously alien to them.

I haven't evaluated this to the extent that Kübler–Ross evaluated her subject, so I don't have names for the stages, only general descriptions.

And those stages follow a recognizable trend line. I suppose the initial stage is a dramatic one roughly comparable to Kübler–Ross' anger and denial stages, a challenge to a long–held principle of the majority. And that, it seems to me, is a pretty good description of the mainstream reaction to the idea of gay marriage in 2004.

By the time the concept is one about which audiences can laugh openly, it seems to me that concept is well on its way to the final stage, acceptance.

Indeed, that appears to be the way things have turned out for gay marriage. Less than 10 years after this episode aired, gay marriage was legal in all states and most territories. It reached a level of social acceptance faster than probably was conceivable to most people a decade ago.

It took longer for the mainstream to accept unmarried couples living together or couples of different races marrying each other. Even today in some places and by some people such things are not taken in stride.

On the road to social acceptance, broadcasting plays a huge (in many ways unappreciated) role of catalyst. It is a mirror as well, reflecting where society stands on that road and sometimes providing perspective on how far society still must travel.

How I Met Your Mother didn't get on a social/political soapbox on this night in 2006 — well, there was one political reference but it was done in such an offhand way that it may not have been noticeable at the time, much less today when more context is necessary. I'll get back to that.

In the episode, Barney's (Neil Patrick Harris) black and gay half–brother (Wayne Brady) came to visit. It was at a rather difficult time in Barney's life. It was winter in New York, and the couples in Barney's circle — Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan), of course, and Ted (Josh Radnor) and Robin (Cobie Smulders), who had recently become a couple — were settling into hibernation mode, in which they didn't go out or do anything. It had been driving Barney nuts.

But Barney's half–brother changed all that. As Lily observed to Robin (who was the only member of the group who had never met Barney's half–brother before), he was just like Barney — except for being black and gay. Robin was only told about James being gay, though — not that he was black.

After his arrival, James told the couples they should go out and have fun while they were young so they all went out to a club, where the theory of single stamina was explained.

Essentially the theory held that one could always tell at a club or a party which people were single and which were in relationships mostly by observing their behavior and body language.

For example, singles stayed on their feet to permit them to move around easily. Couples found the nearest place to sit.

Anyway, the gang began to suspect that, unlike Barney, James was also part of a couple. Their suspicions were confirmed when they saw him apparently sending a text to someone.

They felt they had no choice but to tell Barney that his half–brother was in a monogamous (the word was said in hushed tones around Barney) relationship. When Barney confronted James to find out the truth, James confessed that, yes, he was in a relationship. In fact, they were engaged — and he wanted Barney to be his best man.

Barney couldn't approve — not because it was a gay marriage, but because it was a marriage. And Barney was anti–marriage. He favored one–night stands.

But James convinced Barney to change his mind when he told Barney that he and his fiance were adopting a baby. The thought of being an uncle overjoyed Barney, and he toasted the couple at their wedding. He had come full circle.

I guess this episode was about acceptance — on many levels.

Oh, do you remember when I mentioned there was one political reference in this episode? Of course, you do. It was just a few paragraphs ago.

Anyway, the reference was made at James' wedding when Barney made a toast to the happy couple. Afterward, Lily observed that the toast made the father of James' fiance cry. Then she remarked, "He might have been doing that because he's a Republican."

I have never been sure whether that was a reference to the 2006 midterms or not.

This episode aired a few weeks after Republicans lost control of both the House and the Senate in the 2006 midterm elections. It was probably taped before the elections, but pre–election polls indicated that a sweep was coming. The outcome did not come as a surprise to anyone.

Also, since weddings are traditionally held in June (although they can and do occur in every month in the year), James' wedding may have been in June, possibly five months before the election, and Lily's comment may have been a reference to the difficulties Republicans had been having in all the areas that would come back to haunt them on election night.

And gay marriage was one of many issues in those midterms.

Of course Lily's remark could have been a reference to Republicans' reputation for conservatism.