The Endearing Longevity of The Golden Girls

2022 marks the 30th anniversary of the airing of The Golden Girls’ last episode. With the recent passing of Betty White, the last surviving member of the show’s core cast, many could be confused as to why a show about four semi-retired elderly women living in Miami still carries a huge cult following all these years later. However, the shows’ ability to handle real issues in a sensitive and caring, but always humorous way is exactly the reason behind its longevity. 

The show’s biggest cult following comes from within the LGBTQIA+ community, for whom the show has been an ongoing favourite since the ’90s. Such was The Golden Girls’ popularity that many writers recount the gay bars of West Hollywood shutting down to watch the show. At a time when the community was becoming increasingly stigmatised due to the emerging AIDS epidemic, the show tackled all issues head-on with the same tact and decorum as their other storylines. One of the most powerful television moments is shown in the episode ’72 Hours’ in which Rose undergoes HIV testing due to a blood transfusion she received during an operation. When she claims it isn’t fair that she, a so-called “Goody Two-Shoes”, may be infected while Blanche isn’t despite her promiscuity the latter retorts “AIDS isn’t a bad person’s disease, Rose. It’s not God punishing people for their sins!”. At a time when many TV shows ignored the crisis, despite its devastating effect on the community, Golden Girls reminded America that queer people were human, terrified, and deserved to have their voices heard.  

Another aspect of The Golden Girls’ progressive nature is its treatment of queer characters, most notable Blanche’s brother Clayton who’s coming out and marriage is a focal feature of several episodes. Rather than presenting him as a throwaway character, who could be used for comic relief and discarded, his story serves as an educational moment for the show’s characters and in turn the watching audience. In normalising queer characters rather than relegating them to minor plot points, The Golden Girls presented them as ordinary people worthy of respect and admiration. The show gave them a seat at the table at a time when few would, allowing their issues to be explored sympathetically in situations with realistic consequences, and the same dignity as those around them. For me what makes The Golden Girls as relevant today as in 1992 is its ability to tackle any issues with respect, humour and camaraderie, demonstrating to the viewer that everyone is worthy of respect, and dignity. In showing issues such as homelessness, disownment, and bereavement the show stays rooted in the real world and provides situations with which the viewer can empathise with and learn from. At a time when social and political divisions seem larger than ever, The Golden Girls feels like a safe sanctuary where everything can be resolved over a portion of cheesecake with your best friends. In the words of the show’s famous theme song “thank you for being a friend”, and keep on staying golden, girls.

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Danny Hayes

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August 2022
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