"Queer as Folk" Blows Ass

Let's be frank, shall we? "Queer as Folk" blows ass. It isn't "ground-breaking" or "progressive." Oh, no. On the contrary, it's a crock of gay shit. This TV show is setting me -- us -- everyone back about, oh, 15 years, because it celebrates a group of blandly stereotypical characters who have all the cultural resonance of the Village People. (The show's ensemble fills Hollywood's quota for the Broad Spectrum of Gay Society: The Rake, the Flamer, the Goober, the Normal Nice Guy Who Never Gets Any. And of course, they're all Best Friends.)

I simply don't understand what's so goddamn amazing about a softcore TV series that portrays people, let alone gay men, as shallow nymphomaniacs; after all, if I want to watch poorly written, incompetently performed eye candy about idealized young men engaging in photogenic sex, then I'll order from the Falcon catalog. But if I want to celebrate a true "gay cultural event," a sort of "homosexual zeitgeist," than I'll invite some friends over to watch "Will and Grace" -- because that show is genuinely ground-breaking (an "All in the Family" for our generation), because it normalizes and humanizes all that was once controversial and taboo.

"Queer as Folk," on the other hand, is the gay version of Butterfly McQueen -- a new cultural icon that revels in, and profits from, the crude simplicity of prejudice and the politics of oppression.

None of this would be an issue, of course, if "Queer as Folk" were advertised as the campy, trashy, throwaway tripe that it is. But for some reason, the gay community (thanks to the long-range marketing campaign employed by Showtime -- you know, the cable network that has "No Limits" -- in fact, they won't even stop at exploiting nasty stereotypes if they can make a handy profit -- but I digress) -- the gay community has decided that this is an event of great cultural significance, because it's just so human, and we can be happy now that we, too, have created a high-profile turkey about pretty people in dumb situations, just like Aaron Spelling or Zalman King.

"Queer as Folk" has an interesting title -- it's a reference to a British proverb that goes something like "There's nothing so queer as folk" -- which means, loosely translated, "People are weird." But the title doesn't transfer well to America. I would suggest renaming it simply "Queers Fuck," because that would be a far more accurate description of the show's adolescent preoccupations, or maybe "We Have Lots of Gay Guys and Two Token Lesbians," or even "The Dialogue Is Only Filler between the Overhyped Sex Scenes." Of course, you could leap the cultural barrier entirely, ditch the stupid proverb, and just use the translation with some added emphasis: "People Are Weird -- Especially When They're Gay." There. That has a nice ring, doesn't it?

Besides the title, "Queer as Folk" also has an interesting tagline: "It's here. It's queer. Coming out December 2000." But I have a better one: "You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll jack off." That's what the folks behind "Queer as Folk" want us to do; they want us to be gullible enough (and easy enough) to embrace each and every character, both sexually and emotionally, and they want us to celebrate our arousal as the actors engage in various forms of well-lit carnal embrace every 10 minutes or so.

In fact, this show is so self-consciously naughty that I can only imagine the conversations that took place on the set ("Oh, my God! That would be so neat if, like, we showed his butt!"). It's this giggling, blushing, pre-teen approach to sexuality that turns me off the most; for all the taboos it gleefully smashes, "Queer as Folk" still portrays sex as just that -- a taboo. So I guess, if we're looking for equality here, Showtime proves once and for all that a queer skinflick can be just as stupid and masturbatory as a straight one. Now, that's progress!

A popular criticism of "Will and Grace" is that it portrays gay men as asexual beings. I'll agree with that, to a certain point; I would like to see Will have a healthier sex life (although we shouldn't forget that Jack, who is far funnier and more flamboyant than anyone on Showtime, seems to have a perfectly functional libido). And I'll agree that "Queer as Folk" is sort of realistic in some respects, because it openly portrays the crappy things that gay men often do to each other.

But here's what I'm wondering: if you're going to make a mainstream TV series about sexually active gay men, why would you choose to focus primarily on a guy who is (even by the most generous standards) a piece of gay shit? Why would you begin the series with a fantasy version of a gay dance club, complete with a dance floor full of gorgeous shirtless guys -- the kind of idealized sex den that you wouldn't even find in New York? Why would you present the series' first major sex scene as a drug-induced episode of chickenhawking?

Sure, there's something to be said for being unapologetic, but there's also something to be said for being real. Especially when you're making a show that purports to portray gay men as "real people," as that implies that the events onscreen are a reflection of my gay community, your gay community, everyone's. Like everything else on TV, it's simply a lie -- so why are we believing it, supporting it, subsidizing it?

"Queer as Folk" takes place in Pittsburgh. I spent four years living outside that city, so I think it's especially interesting that Showtime's version of P-Town looks suspiciously like Toronto. And that basically sums up my opinion of the entire show: just as "Queer as Folk" presents Pittsburgh in such a way that I no longer recognize it, so does it present gay culture as something that's just a glossy, studio-friendly version of the real thing.

One of my co-workers, who is a single mother, commented that it's like making a TV show about single mothers -- a TV show in which the characters are portrayed as child-neglecting, drug-addicted burnouts -- you know, because those are some of the common, ignorant misconceptions about single moms. You could possibly defend a show like that by saying, "Well, some single mothers ARE child-neglecting, drug-addicted burnouts." Which is, technically, true. But why would you put that on TV, unless you wanted to keep beating them down, beating them down, shutting them out from the acceptance of society, making ALL single moms believe that they're somehow inferior by association? It's a vicious, oppressive cycle -- and yes, it blows ass.


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