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Straightforward As Folk

By Eric Hunter · December 7th, 2000 · Gay & Lesbian Issues
By now you have probably heard about Queer as Folk, the new Showtime series based on the wildly popular and controversial 1999 British miniseries of the same title. Simultaneously criticized and hailed for its balls-to-the-wall, unapologetic depiction of the lives of a group of gay friends living in a working-class English city, the series has been an underground hit in the gay community on both sides of the Atlantic since its premiere.

Taking its "No Limits" tagline literally, Showtime hit the cable airwaves with its first episode of this groundbreaking show last Sunday. As you may have seen, Showtime lived up to its half of the bargain by matching the British version explicit sex scene for explicit sex scene. Have you ever seen or heard about rimming on American television before? And connecting the explicit sex scenes, which are bound to be educational for a chunk of Showtime's audience, there is an entertaining, endearing story played out by an engaging group of up-and-coming actors. But so far the press seems more interested in debating the relative readiness of the American public to stomach Queer as Folk. And that is the fact that disappoints me most.

Television is one of the gay and lesbian frontiers of the moment. In a growing number of programs, gay characters are stepping out from the supporting roles to carry shows on their own. Look at the much touted, Emmy-winning success of Will and Grace. And now there is Normal, Ohio, the new show starring John Goodman as a 40-something gay man who moves back to his hometown in Middle America.

But Queer as Folk goes one step further as Caryn James asserts in her story, "In a Gay World, Without the Usual Guides," in the Dec. 3 issue of The New York Times.

"Contrary to the hype, it's not the sex but the gay point of view that makes Queer as Folk so radical. The series is like nothing else on television, because never before has a mainstream American series assumed the perspective of gay characters, making no concession to straight viewers," James writes.

As James points out, previous shows about gay characters have provided a reassuring guide for the straight audience. Think of Mary Ann in the 1994 miniseries Tales of the City or of Grace in Will and Grace. Even Normal, Ohio is about the gay main character's dealings with his traditional family.

James sums it up well when she writes, "Such shows nudge the network television toward a broader acceptance; Queer as Folk is the cable equivalent of a karate kick to the head."

Then let's all get out our black belts and start chopping. I am betting that the 22 hours of the first season of the American Queer as Folk will be a karate kick to more than just the straight audience. Based on the reader mail generated by Advocate's recent cover story, the merits of the show will be hotly debated even within the gay community.

Some want to criticize the show's focus on young, buff characters. Others say they don't see their lives represented in the clubbing, bed-hopping and drug-taking the show depicts. Yet others would prefer these stereotypical aspects of the gay community not be beamed into the living rooms of millions of impressionable straight people. They stress that because we still have to educate and enlighten society about ourselves, the lifestyle depicted by Queer as Folk is not the best foot for the gay community to put forward.

While I respect their opinions and thank them for taking the time to speak up, I have news for those armchair critics. It is time we stop worrying about only presenting the most politically correct, non-stereotypical image of the gay community. It isn't always realistic. And in a case like this, it wouldn't be interesting. What if the gay community judged our straight brothers and sisters on the vision of life depicted in such shows as Dynasty, Dallas, Ally McBeal or even Dawson's Creek?

Time for a reality check. Whether you like what you see on the screen or not, it can't be all bad if it gets people talking. As one Advocate reader wrote at the close of his letter, "Those that you fear the most have the most to teach you."

CONTACT ERIC HUNTER: letters@citybeat.com



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