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Reflections on Queer As Folk
(Written December 2000)

The debut of Queer As Folk was one of the most highly anticipated pop culture events in recent years.  An American adaptation of the edgy British comedy about the lives of four gay men, many wondered if people here were ready for a program of its type.   Could Middle America accept blatant, explicit sexualized situations between two men?

A month into the series, I'm left with a distinctly underwhelmed feeling.  While the creators of the show deserve credit for providing a slice of gay life left obscured by the likes of Will and Grace, the show comes up short on several points.   And, in a case of art imitating life, these problems mirror those facing mainstream gay politics.

First and most obvious is the glaring domination of the show by whites.  The only person of color so far has been a Japanese hustler who couldn't understand English.   Even though Folk is set in urban Pittsburgh, and the club where a lot of the action takes place is filled with hundreds of people, not one person of color has managed to find screen time.  In general, the scant interest shown towards black men can be summed up by the scene where a large black dildo is discovered in the apartment of one of the characters.

All this does is perpetuate the belief that only whites are gay, something that many people of color have to contend with in their communities.  While organizations like the Human Rights Campaign Fund wonder why people of color remain relatively disinterested in gay issues and express confusion at the racial division within the gay community, they fail to realize that part of the barrier remains exactly the types of portrayals that Folk is built upon.

Secondly, the women are clearly in subservient roles, their presence coinciding with that of the baby one of them had with the main male character, Brian.  Oddly, the mother of the baby sides with Brian over her partner whenever they have a disagreement, something that would likely not happen in reality, particularly when you factor in Brian's lack of maturity and real interest in the child.  Consciously or not, the child issue feeds into the whole "family values" nonsense that mainstream gay groups have been buying into for the last few years, because of its underlying message that babies can make men emotionally stable and that women need kids to feel complete.

Finally, I must comment on the sexuality of the actors.  While two have publicly come out, the others are playing it ambiguous or making strong assurances to everyone that they're straight.  Some people will take offense at my picking on this point, saying that since it's all acting, that shouldn't matter.  But it's not that simple, because representation is crucial to understanding cultural politics.  Why is it that straight men can now do full fledged gay sex scenes but openly gay actors are still viewed as unviable and can't get work?   The answer comes down to the power and options that members of a dominant group possess.  These straight actors are  dabbling in a counterculture simply to achieve a higher profile and, perhaps, a reputation as a cutting-edge performer, much the way that pop stars like Paul Simon and Moby have dipped into African music and blues to relaunch sagging careers.

But maybe I'm reading too much into this.  If anything, this shows what happens when you expect Hollywood to accurately reflect real life.  But still, it's sad when a show claiming to be revolutionary ends up endorsing the status quo.

Copyright 2000 Anthony Lamar Rucker.  All rights reserved. 

 

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