The television show, “Will and Grace” is a groundbreaking show because it is one of the first televised sitcoms to feature a predominantly gay cast and focus largely on life as a homosexual. The show centers on Will Truman, a successful gay lawyer, his best friends Grace Adler and Jack McFarland, and Grace’s assistant Karen Walker. Grace and Karen are both straight women while Will and Jack are both gay men, creating a dynamic previously unexplored in television. The show tackles topics of friendship, love and relationships, but also deals with gay issues and life in the gay community. Incorporating common stereotypes of the gay and lesbian communities often for comedic affect, the show pushes the boundaries of social theories by alternating between representing them seriously and for comedy’s sake. This unique cast of characters enables the show to also incorporate and illustrate several social theories, including social constructionist theory, queer theory, and push-pull immigration theory.
Karen’s maid, Rosario, is a minor character on the show but one that is utilized frequently as a comic foil for Karen. The relationship between Karen and Rosario also represents a good illustration of how push-pull immigration theory is incorporated into the program. The push-pull migration theory refers to the concept that unfavourable factors in one’s home country like poverty, joblessness or war can push a person out of their country while favourable economic or living conditions in another country pull them towards migrating to that country. One of the repeated comedic elements between Karen and Rosario is Karen’s claiming to have rescued Rosario from a host of horrible conditions in her home country when the two of them are arguing. She threatens to send Rosario back to the country she came from, indicating that Rosario will have to do menial jobs to survive. Rosario frequently points out that in her home country she was a school teacher and that her life was good. Here, Karen is indicating that Rosario was forced to come to America because of the push-pull theory and her having no job prospects in her home country. Rosario disputes that the push-pull theory was relevant because she had solid economic and social standing in her native country.
Social constructionist theory is one in which one’s views on the cultural structures around them are affected by the life one has led and the environment in which one shapes one’s opinions. One’s views on the world are formed within a social construct that is given to a person by their parents, school, advertising and other influential sources around them. Karen’s social life frequently flaunts rejection of this social constructionist theory as she frequently claims association or admiration for groups that she would not be expected to link herself with. Karen is a rich woman whose husband is independently wealthy and she works for Grace just so she has something to do. She employs Will as her lawyer and in that relationship she often requires him to get her out of legal situations that are a result of her behaviour. She claims to have trashed a hotel room with the Rolling Stones in one episode, and in another she claims to be in a gang and have disposed of an illegal handgun for one of her fellow gang members. This is done for comedic effect, of course, but social constructionist theory would have Karen stay far away from dangerous, edgy groups like this because she is a wealthy white woman.
Queer theory is abundant in the show because many of its main characters are gay and the show deals with key issues in the gay community. Queer theory presents the idea that one’s identity and sexuality do not define who one is, and rejects the labels of “gay” and “lesbian” in favour of a blanket term under which the concepts of sexuality can be explored without restricting individuals into categories because of their sexuality. Will and Jack exemplify the relevance of queer theory. Both gay men and best friends, the two are completely different from one another. Will is an educated, serious lawyer that dresses tastefully, dates rarely because he wants a meaningful relationship and takes his career very seriously. Jack dresses flamboyantly, changes jobs every week, and dates several men at the same time. Their drastically different lifestyles illustrate how queer theory applies to both of them because the single fact that they could both be categorized as gay doesn’t mean that they are anything alike.
“Will and Grace” broke boundaries in television because of its funny but honest portrayal of life as a gay person and with gay friends and family as well as its approaches to issues prevalent within the gay community. The show broke many barriers and tackled many stereotypes about gays, but did so with comedy and style. It is because of its range of characters and the comedic elements that it was also able to present sociological theory in a relatable, understandable way. It illustrated how theories like the ones presented here shape everyday life and change friendships.