Guess which one keeps house.
Welcome, readers and friends, to the rollout of Out There.
I’ve never been able to figure out if “looking forward” to something — like the chicken soup with skinny noodles I had every Friday night as a kid — is crucial to the arts. The satisfaction you get from the next installment of what you already enjoy sounds like innovation’s enemy. What contemporary lover of Impressionism could “look forward” to Picasso?
But narrative junkies know that anticipation is impossible to banish, which is why mass-media captains will do almost anything to keep an audience hooked. Yet even they understand that you can’t keep looking forward to the same old thing.
Which is why ABC-TV’s once bubbly Desperate Housewives is promoting its fourth season by touting a brand new couple: the boys next door. These male domestic partners, to be played by not exactly household names Tuc Watkins and Kevin Rahm, must be taking the house vacated by that black family, the one with the son chained in the basement, on Wisteria Lane. Now we can call their street Nathan Lane.
Yes, I am aware that this must read like Sanskrit to those who would never watch a comic suburban soap about a tight bunch of middle-class women, their husbands, their boyfriends, with a corpse or two in the backyard. On the other hand, when it was announced that there’d be a queer addition to Sunday night’s Desperate family, a lively “who should play them?” game started around the net watercooler. There was even a vote for best-actor pairs on the gay site planetout.com. For my money, Rufus Wainwright and David Beckham were inspired choices.
I’d like to take a vote to predict the number of gay stereotypes used in each episode. It’s an inventive show, so the writers may even come up with a new stereotype or two.
Although I’m old enough to know better, I still fasten on every manifestation of gay anything out there because the adolescent hunger to see myself in the funhouse mirror of mass culture has never been sated. It may seem that there’s been quite enough Will Queer Grace Eye to take the edge off and give queer 21st-century youngsters some sense of self — at least in the screwy way hyperkinetic TV does.
But we’re still in a “token” period in which the usual marketing cautions will limit portrayals to digestible bites. Oddly, the first gay TV character I can recall was not at all predictable, on a wry show that three decades ago went beyond the tepid though engaging titillations of Housewives. Billy Crystal played Jodie Dallas on Soap as an independent out guy without any of the queenly curlicues or butch restraint we now expect when a gay man is folded into the sitcom batter. Educated guess: on the upcoming Housewives, we’ll get one exemplar of each.
And don’t for a second think that out is easy in the real world of entertainment. In case anyone doubts the dread of outness in the Industry, note how Reuters withdrew a story about the late billionaire Merv Griffin that established him as gay. (Editor & Publisher reported it.) Quick, name one presently famous gay actor…. No, not a dead one like Rock or Tony, or a newly brave oldster like Richard Chamberlain or Tab Hunter. What’s that Ian fellow’s last name? All we really have populating the land of crossover queer are Ellen and Elton (hence the gay-entertainment websites called afterelton.com and afterellen.com), with Rosie O’Donnell bringing up the rear.
And yes, this is the place for a lesbian aside. Most queer programming is found on cable networks such as Showtime and HBO — and the all-LGBT Logo, which recently received a giant bump by showing Democratic presidential candidates waffling over gay marriage. By far the best of their gay shows is Showtime’s The L-Word, which, in spite of its designer gloss, lip- and otherwise, actually digs deep into unusual, valuable dirt. Outside of Logo and the rare sexual aquarium that was Tales of the City (which began as a Dickensian newspaper serial, all you print Chicken Littles), gay TV gals are invisible.
So I smile an unresolved smile at the idea of queer progress through mass culture. Can anyone recall a gay or lesbian couple on a major TV series? Only the black cop and white mortician on the now deceased Six Feet Under come to mind. When I try to think of past media couples, blush-making images of Rex Harrison and Richard Burton in Stanley’s Donen’s execrable film Staircase neuter my memory.
It’s been a while since the whorish and laggard popular arts dragged public opinion onto fresh ground; most often they merely reflect it. Yet I have some small hope. Last week, I heard a very young woman at a fundraiser for gay teens introduce Carson Kressley, the limpest wrist on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, as someone who shines bright for those isolated and vulnerable kids — and adults — who look to the arts, in any form, for strength.
Cue applause. But no one doubts that there are plenty of Brokeback Mountains left to cross.
(Desperate Housewives starts again on Sunday, Sept. 30. The new couple is slated to appear in the fourth or fifth episode.)
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