My friends joke that I talk about Scrubs as if I have a writer’s credit. Really, though, I’m much more like Abed in Community, television is my reference point and Scrubs happens to be the imagery that most frequents my Rolodex. I could write the book on Scrubs; actually, I have every intention of doing so.
Scrubs is a fine television show. I’ve watched it for the last six or so years of my life, with different crowds and in different geographical locations. No matter the social situation, I can always say, “You know what this reminds me of? Scrubs…”
So what sort of joy do you think I got when I realized that Turk happens to pull a line from Foucault’s essay “Friendship as a Way of Life?” Oh, the joy!!
I’m thinking specifically of the Season 3 episode “My Journey.” It’s Season 3, so at this point, we get it: JD and Turk are heterosexual life partners who very much love each other and aside from totally diggin’ womanly parts, are hot for each other. The writers even note that they wanted to show two men in an intimate relationship, but who are not sexually attracted to one another (though JD has his moments of, uhm, appreciating Turk’s body, but this is to add to the joke of homoeroticiziation of the two men’s relationship). One of the long standing jokes is that Turk and Carla – whose relationship began in the first episode, hell it is what the episode was all about! – are the second best couple on the show. The first, of course, is Turk and JD.
This particular episode involves JD playing very much the traditional girl sensitive type role and, interestingly, Turk really rejects it. JD is moving out, or some other really important life moment, and wants to celebrate with Turk with a man-date. You know, share the moment. Relish the memories. Toast to the growth! The future! But Turk keeps dodging him and, finally, brings a friend along. JD, of course, is frank about how this hurt him, “I don’t understand. Ever since I met you it’s been like this one-way street. I mean, I-I-I-I tell you everything, and you tell me nothing. I don’t get it – what are you afraid of?”
Well, little John Dorian. Foucault happens to know.
Cut to the scene when Turk is talking to his (male) patient, Mr. Quinn. All the while, Turk has been bonding, man-joking with this patient, the sort of bedside manner that makes Turk the best surgeon (that and his sweet ass dance moves). Mr. Quinn’s fiancÃ© Tracy has, at this point, been spoken about. But aha! Tracy is a man! They got you! You thought he was a she! Because we all have gender stereotypes about what gay should look like! And what a girl’s name is! (I’m not doing justice to this, mind you, it’s really a moot point, and not a gotcha! moment, which makes it all the sweeter…) Tracy (a black man intentionally resembling a younger, skinnier Turk) kisses Mr. Quinn (who I forgot to mention is white and has beautiful dark brown hair, just like JD).
Turk gets IMMEDIATELY uncomfortable and Mr. Quinn calls him on it: “Not so comfortable with the man on man action eh?”
Here, I get flashbacks of my incredibly-right-but-wants-to-be-left-hometown that prides itself on mere tolerance. “I’m like, totally for individuals being able to love whoever they want and all, but, like, just don’t, like, kiss in front of me. You know? I mean, I don’t want to see anyone making out on a park bench. Not a guy and a girl and not two guys.” Samesies, ergo not homophobic? Nice try, Midwestern hometown. Your cover is blown.
Foucault is making a nod to precisely this sort of imagery. Homosexuality has come to mean, “A kind of immediate pleasure, of two young men meeting in the street, seducing each other with a look, grabbing each other’s asses and getting each other off in a quarter of an hour.” He calls this the “neat image of homosexuality” which allows for the general dis-ease toward homosexual relationships to be dispelled.
So contrary to all those of my not-so-friendly past (a sentiment, though, we’re all far too familiar with I’m sure), it’s not the man-kissing. It’s not the ass-grabbing, the fleetingness of a partnership, the promiscuity we have tied to the “neat image of homosexuality.” What is more immediately threatening is the “affection, tenderness, friendship, fidelity, camaraderie, and companionship, things that our rather sanitized society can’t allow a place for…”
Foucault writes, “I think that’s what makes homosexuality ‘disturbing’ [to our rather sanitized society]: the homosexual mode of life, much more than the sexual act itself. To imagine a sexual act that doesn’t conform to law or nature is not what disturbs people. But that individuals are beginning to love one another – there’s the problem.”
Back to Scrubs: Turk takes a line right out of Foucault’s playbook – and I mean, aren’t we all really just eating out of the palm of Foucault’s hand? – “Don’t get me wrong – I don’t love the idea of kissing anyone with a mustache. That’s why I always pretend to have a cold when Carla’s aunt comes to town… What really freaks me out, though, is the thought of being that open with another guy – any guy. I don’t know what it is, I mean that’s just the way I been my whole life. Maybe… maybe it’s because I’m scared, you know?”
To which Mr. Quinn, frankly and in full awareness of his irony, says, “Dude, that’s a little gay.”