Homos on the telly. I ask you, whatever next. A black man in the white house perhaps. But wait…..
In reading one of the many blogs on LGBTQ news out there I came across the details of a new television series that is premièring on HBO, a US premium television channel, in January 2014. In checking out the trailers that have been released, the series seems to be a contemporary look at gay male life in San Francisco. It’s called “Looking” and is focused around dating. Now I should caution you all here; I’ve only watched the trailer and seen a couple of comments on a blog. But two things; it looks interesting and controversial as well. To bring you all up to speed you can check out the trailer here.
I don’t have HBO so I’m not sure if I will get to see the whole show or not. But the premise seems straight forward from what I can tell. Ordinary gay people, in San Francisco, on TV. The trailer features people looking for love, going to dinner, hanging out with friends, kissing, working, doing all the usual stuff that folks do. But on telly. Now I am sure that there is going to be more than the normal amount of drama on the show as well, simply because it is television. After all, who wants watch boring TV? A lot of people are trying to escape their lives through TV, not to find out that people on the box just plod on relentlessly too. Dull TV is not the advertisers friends. But I digress….
What’s worthy of note here are two points. First, this is not a comedy or a seemingly a sex show (so far). From the trailer it seems pretty ordinary. Let’s think about some of the other shows that are out there at the moment that represent LGBTQ people. Modern Family is the one that immediately springs to mind. It’s fun, yes, but represents perhaps a niche and stylized aspect of LGBTQ life with the gay couple it represents. Yes, it deals with some topical issues for sure, but it uses some largely stereotypical devices to do so. Because it does so it is also pretty inoffensive. When you use safe things like Mitch and Cam, the two characters in Modern Family (who I love, by the way) to demonstrate a point, it’s very comfortable for the audience. It hardly pushes any boundaries of acceptability to show everyone’s favorite “gay uncle” kind of image does it, even if they are dealing with some topical issues. It’s still slapstick. Same goes for Will and Grace if you want to go back in time. Now before I get any hate mail from folks, I’m totally supportive of these shows. Their role in visual culture from an LGBTQ perspective is very important. They have created dialogues that couldn’t have existed if they hadn’t. But that doesn’t mean that they are without issue or problems.
Queer as Folk is another show that needs discussing while we are at it too. But I need to check myself. This isn’t a blog about LGBTQ rights. So it’s important to remember that my comments are about the representation of LGBTQ folks in visual culture and politics, and in this case, TV shows. Queer as Folk is an interesting example as there was a UK version and a US version. The UK version ran for two seasons and the US for many more. There were also about a million more episodes in the US version too. The UK version was very gritty, suburban, and seemed to attempt a much more realistic portrayal of life. The US version was quite a bit more airbrushed, glamorous, and had a lot more hair gel and make up. There was not a lot in common between them and they also dealt with very different issues as a consequence, although both reflected aspects of the culture that they were based in. One was in a working class town, while the other was in a gay neighborhood that was, by comparison, fairly well-to-do. Visual Culture in action…. airbrushes, hairbrushes, and all in the US version.
Now, I haven’t seen anything other than the trailer for Looking yet. There is also the caveat that this is, according to what I have read, a show about guys who are trying to date in San Francisco, so it could very well turn into a sex show. The trailer does show someone wandering around in a bath towel after all so we will have to see how that goes. But dating is a fact of life for folks and it’s a large part of gay culture. Importantly, it’s also something that doesn’t really get talked about much in a serious way in many of the shows that feature gay characters. Will and Grace covered it from a comedy/sanitized perspective, Modern Family doesn’t cover it at all, the US version of QAF did cover it, and that’s really it to my knowledge. When LGBTQ people get dealt with on TV they are usually either safely coupled up already or the dating is done nicely, humorously, or it just sort of happens. There hasn’t been a show that revolves AROUND it (at least not for the guys). That’s quite a big thing and is another milestone in reflecting an aspect of LGBTQ culture in the visual realm that I don’t think I have seen before. Dating involves kissing, body parts, relationships, and all the things that seem to scare the general public the most about gay people at the moment. So to see such a big part of LGBTQ culture arriving on TV is a big thing.
So what of the second aspect that I mentioned? It all seems very white according to the trailer. I don’t think I really saw anyone who is non-white in a lead role. That’s also something that a lot of people seem to be discussing online too. If this show is about representing culture visually, then it should surely be representing all aspects of a culture. Judging by the trailer they have so far failed and there are a lot of pissed off Asians, Blacks, and Latinos out there already. That’s not a good start. That’s the thing with a visual medium like the telly; when you miss things out, it’s really noticeable in a lot of ways.
So, will you watch it? I’d love to but I don’t have HBO and chances are won’t subscribe to it just for this. Maybe one of you can tell me what it is all about. Otherwise I’ll have to wait for it to arrive on Netflix in about 10 years…..