PM Pick

Into the Mainstream

Stephen Tropiano

I am optimistic about what lies ahead as the prime time closet door continues to open.

It's finally happened. We have arrived. It's official. We are now part of mainstream American culture. At least according to Vanity Fair. The cover of the December 2003 issue reads "TV's Gay Heat Wave!" against a photo of the Will & Grace cast, Queer as Folk's Gale Harold, and Queer Eye's Carson Kressley, who are tastefully swathed (or in Harold's case, unswathed) in various shades of white against a stylish eggshell-colored background.

Inside, contributing editor Ned Zeman declares 2003 the year of gay TV, yet at the same time he also admits finding the number of gay and "semi-gay shows" (those that have a few gay characters) a "bit overwhelming". His article, "Gay-Per-View-TV" is accompanied by two sexy double-page photo spreads featuring the folks from the cover and their fellow cast members along with the ladies of Showtime's new lesbian series The L Word and James Getzlaff, the leading man of BRAVO's gay dating show, Boy Meets Boy.

The recent success of Boy and Queer Eye, which NBC, Bravo's parent network, will air in prime time during November sweeps (on November 25th and 26th), is no doubt the reason behind the media's unprecedented interest in gay TV. But gay men on reality shows is hardly news. Rremember An American Family's Lance Loud? The Real World's Pedro Zamora? The first Survivor winner, Richard Hatch?. But what separates the Fab Five from this summer's Amazing Race winners, "Married Couple" Reichen and Chip, is that the Queer Eye quintet are not contestants — they're the stars, and this entitles them to at the very least an extra 15 minutes in the limelight. Judging from their numerous appearances on everything from The Tonight Show to the MTV Music Awards, they're not wasting any time.

I admit I am enjoying all the attention the media is suddenly paying to gay television. I applaud the efforts of TV producers who actually manage to get programs with gay content on the air (and the network executives who green light these projects for making it possible). I also salute premium channels like HBO and SHOWTIME for proving there is an audience for original programming and films like Normal, A Soldier's Story, and the upcoming Angels in America that don't necessarily appeal to a mass audience. We no longer have to settle for the occasional breadcrumbs the networks started throwing us in the early 1970s: like the "very special" gay-themed episodes which focused on a gay or lesbian character coming out to educate the presumably hetero audience (only to have the character disappear next week); or the gay-straight characters like Dynasty's Steven Carrington and Soap's Billy Crystal, who, by limiting their romantic partners to mostly women, were only gay in theory.

There's also no longer a reason to judge a series or film for "not being representative" of the entire community (no one single program could meet that criteria). Thanks to the combination of network and pay cable, television has given us choices — and for those unable to see or afford the latter, the programs are available on DVD. You can watch the funny, frequently over-the-top sitcom about the straight woman and her gay best friend, or the prime time pay cable soap about a group of oversexed gay men, or the homo-hetero makeover show, or the daytime talk show hosted by a lesbian. Or you can just skip them all and watch JAG.

Like the critical response by both the gay and the mainstream press, gay men are polarized when it comes to Queer Eye. I recently moderated a panel in Los Angeles on Boy, Queer Eye, and gay reality genre. The audience was split in half on Queer Eye. Some maintained it perpetuated negative stereotypes of both gay and straight men. Others see the show as a celebration of "queerness" and the camaraderie between gay and straight men. Based on the intensity of the discussion, the panel was pleased the show had opened up a dialogue on how we are represented and the implications of being part of mainstream culture; particularly how it can be used to fuel our enemies and send a positive message to the younger generation that it's cool to be queer.

There is certainly room for improvement, particularly in regards to diversity. The majority of gay men on television are white, bourgeois males. There is a definite shortage of lesbian characters on prime time commercial television (the only lead lesbian character in a drama is ER's Dr. Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes). Still, I am optimistic about what lies ahead as the prime time closet door continues to open.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image