The beauty of Ugly

America Ferrera as “Ugly Betty”I have a new favorite TV show. Ugly Betty.

I’ve been entranced by this campy TV jewel ever since it started. Sure, the one-liners are saucy and the sets are completely over-the-top and the costumes are downright stunning. Anyone can see that right from the start.

But there’s something about this show that tugs at the very strings of my cold cold heart every time I watch it. And the effect it’s having on everyone else around me is nothing short of inspiring.

This past weekend I drove up to Kenosha to visit my mom and to go to my sister’s house for dinner and to celebrate her and her husband’s birthdays, which were just last week.

One of the great things about spending time with my mom is that we never have a shortage of things to talk about. If it isn’t the sad state of affairs in Washington, it’s about “The Shows.” So on the way to Round Lake from Kenosha, we got around to talking about our favorite TV shows: Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty.

When Mom and I talk about “The Shows,” I am often reminded of going to my Grandma’s place in Antioch when I was a kid.  While my sister and I would play in the living room or in the spare bedroom, Mom and Grandma would sit in the kitchen over cups of coffee and discuss the latest goings-on in Salem on “Days of Our Lives” and Bay City on “Another World.”  I used to wonder why they were so fascinated with these TV shows all the time.

As I grew older and started to watch the “Soaps,” I understood.  Suddenly I was talking to Mom and Dad about “The Shows” during dinner, at bedtime, or whenever we had a free moment.  As time went on, and some of our favorite shows were cancelled, we stopped watching the “Soaps,” and turned our attention to some of the better shows on nighttime TV.

When Ugly Betty started, I distinctly remember my mom saying she couldn’t get into the show. “It’s too weird,” she said. “Too flashy… too different.  I just don’t get it.” I remember her saying such things about Moulin Rouge when she saw it on DVD, so I figured the fast pace, the odd camera angles and the zippy timing of the show was too much for her.  Plus, I figured the show was a bit “too gay” for her.  It is, after all, about the gayest show on TV– EVER.

A couple of months ago, we were discussing “The Shows” as we often do, and she suddenly blurted out, “And that Ugly Betty! I LOVE that show!” I was awestruck. I had no idea she watched it, let alone liked it. “Really!?” I said. “I love it too! It’s so much fun and it has such a great heart to it.” “That’s exactly why I like it,” my mom said. I was beaming from across the telephone line.

So on our way to my sister’s this weekend, we found ourselves discussing last Thursday’s episode, in which Marc, the conniving assistant to the fabulously bitchy Wilhemena Slater (played with absolute brilliance by the gorgeous Vanessa Williams) convinced Betty to play his girlfriend so he could continue to dupe his mother into believing he’s not gay. Which, when you consider the scenario from any angle, seems absolutely preposterous: Marc is the gayest character on TV… EVER. Anyone who can’t tell that is as blind as a bat and then some.

And to top it all off, his mom is played by Patti LuPone. HELLO!?

But this is fiction, and campy fiction at that.

In the episode, (and if you haven’t seen it yet, you might just want to skip this part) Marc ends up at Betty’s house for dinner with his Mom, Betty’s dad, Ignacio, and her sister, Hilda.  The night is not going very well at all, and Betty pulls Marc aside and tries to convince him that he must tell his mom that he is gay, once and for all.  Marc explains to Betty that his mom is nothing like her family.  She would never understand, and would be completely crushed.  Betty tells Marc that he has to try– if anything for his sake alone.  Marc refuses.

Later in the evening, Betty’s nephew Justin comes home and  joins the “festivities.”  And if you know about Justin, you know how he is.  One of the greatest things about this show is how it portrays this very important character.  Justin exhibits every possible stereotypical trait of a gay boy, but the family never, EVER makes light of it.  They accept and love Justin for who he is and how he is, unconditionally, and if anyone tries to change him, they fight for him, saying that to change him would be to take away the things he loves in life.  What a wonderful, and inspiring way to portray such a vital character in the eyes of the general American public.

At the end of the evening, Marc tries to come out to his mother but instead says he is breaking up with Betty.  His mom replies “Thank GOD!” to which Marc asks why she says that, when Betty’s family has been nothing but nice to them.  After she disparages each member of Betty’s family, she starts in on Justin, calling him “swishy.”  Marc has had enough– he tells her to shut up, and tells her “You want to talk about swishy?  Open your eyes, mom, and look at your own swishy son.”

She insists he is confused, and Marc says if she wants to get to know him, she has to know the real Marc.  To which she responds “If this is the life you’ve chosen, I have no interest in knowing the real you,” and leaves.

As we discussed this episode in the car, the first words out of my Mom’s mouth were, “I felt so bad for Marc. How could his mother treat him that way? What an awful way to treat your own son.”

If I wasn’t driving, I would have given her a huge hug and a big wet kiss.

And in the next breath, she said “I hope a lot of people saw that episode and realized that is NOT the way a parent should deal with their kids when they come out to them. I mean, she’s going off on Justin being ‘swishy’ and she can’t even see that her own son is as swishy as Justin? She’s blind as a bat.”

My mom gets it. I guess I never really noticed this about her before… but she truly does get it. She understands what it means to a child to hear the words “I love you” from a parent and know that he or she means it, completely.  She knows that a parent’s love is unconditional, and that means any and all conditions DO NOT EXIST.  A parent’s love knows no bounds.  And I know that my mom’s love is equal to that love.

Ugly Betty, as campy and as crazy as it can be, is showing the world that each of us has beauty in our own special ways. Whether you’re straight, gay, transsexual, gorgeous, homely, thin, fat, nerdy, slutty, black, white, latino, pretty or ugly, we each have a beauty that transcends what others may see.  And each of us comes from somewhere– no matter how good or how bad that place is.   The important thing is that we understand that about each other, and accept the fact that everyone is different.

Ugly is the new beautiful.  Pass it on.

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