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“Real Girls” Are More Diverse, Less Frivolous February 22, 2010

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Last week, I wrote about how influential Sex and the City had been to various web series creators. Along those lines, I asked the creative team behind a new (gay) series about women, The Real Girl’s Guide to Everything Else, to talk about how they developed their show and what the philosophy behind it was. Carmen Elena Mitchell, the executive producer and writer, wrote me back and filled me in on the behind-the-scenes planning. The show premiered last week.

The main goal behind The Real Girl’s Guide was to offer an alternative on Sex and the City (particularly the film).

“We got into this conversation about the world of Sex and the City…the world of rich, white, straight fashionistas. And it started me thinking – what’s the inverse of that world?,” I was told. “Perhaps a more ethnically diverse world where materialism is not valued, where being straight is not ‘assumed,’ where a woman’s goals do not end at getting married or finding the perfect pair of ridiculously expensive shoes.”

Interestingly, however, it’s about more than just the story. Real Girl’s also provides opportunities for actors of color who are often typecast by traditional media. This is something I’ve heard from other web series producers.

Below, the creators talk to me about finding financing, producing extra content to engage fans, what’s good about The L Word, troubling about Sex and the City, and what a “web series” is!

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Graduating from YouTube Hard Without Big Media Support February 3, 2010

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Increasingly as the supply of content online rises, getting your work and/or yourself noticed is a major challenge.

Graduating from a site like YouTube, even after gaining a high profile, is even more difficult. Suddenly producers find they can’t push their products/themselves alone. They need the big media.

The big media wasn’t there for out YouTube star William Sledd.

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List of Gay and Lesbian Web Series Up! February 1, 2010

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I’ve been meaning to do it for months, and I finally took the time to compile a list of gay and lesbian web series (mostly independent) and it’s up!

Here’s the list.

Some interesting things to consider/remember.

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Why Has Showtime Abandoned Gays? (Death of the “Gay Show,” Part II) January 19, 2010

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Showtime went from the Queer as Folk channel to the home of such butch programming as The Tudors (however awesome it is). This essay was originally published at SpliceToday: comment there!

I’m continuing my discussion of the state of gay representations on television with a look at Showtime’s evolution in original programming. (UPDATE 3/23: On last night’s premieres of Nurse Jackie and United States of Tara, Showtime showed a bit more gay: Marshall, Tara’s gay son, started dealing with politics at school; on Jackie, the narrative suggests Thor, the other, uglier gay, might take Momo’s place as “gay best friend.” Signs of change or too little too late?)

We only need to look at Haaz Sleiman, television’s hottest gay character, who is on the job hunt, cast off Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, to see what has happened to the network.

Showtime once was the gay network. Remember five years ago, during that brief period when it housed the two most sexually explicit gay dramas ever—to this day—on television, Queer as Folk and The L Word? Bravo was also a gay network, with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and Logo was starting up, but Showtime was where the action was.

Not anymore. (more…)

Where Did The “Gay Show” Go? (Part I) January 16, 2010

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I’m assisting my advisor, Katherine Sender, on an undergraduate gay media course here at Penn, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of gay representations, particularly on television, for decades the chief battleground for gay media advocates.

Right now, gay characters are in abundance, but series focusing on sexual minorities are a dying brand, relegated to gay networks of lesser quality, Logo and here!.

We live in an odd time. (more…)

“Anyone But Me” Creators On Web Series, Coming Out and Being The “Un-Gossip Girl” December 20, 2009

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Original at Ronebreak!

When Sylar orders you to do something, you better do it.

Starting its second season this week, Anyone But Me, probably America’s first full lesbian teen series, has gained its share of fans, including Zachary Quinto (Heroes, Star Trek), through is intimate, nuanced storytelling.

“Life at sixteen is fraught and fertile for drama,” said writer Susan Miller, a veteran of The L Word and thirtysomething, who wrote the show with director Tina Cesa Ward. “Anyone But Me shines a light on identity – coming to terms with who we are as gays, African Americans, women, and citizens of the world.”

The show has carved a niche for itself in a relatively crowded field. The web has been home to dozens of series about gays and lesbians. People of color have shows like Drama Queenz and the Lovers and Friends Show. Shows aimed at gay men like In the Moment are equally diverse, and lesbian series have devised interesting and addictive gimmicks, like the HBO-funded web series Time Travelling Lesbian and B.J. Fletcher: Private Eye.

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“Drama Queenz” Returns With A Fierceness (And A Few Guest Stars!) November 29, 2009

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The vast majority of original, independent web series never make it to season two. Producing season one takes so much time and money, when the millions of viewers never materialize, creators can’t bring themselves to invest more precious time and money. (At this point, I’d almost prefer most market themselves as “miniseries until proven otherwise”!)

Drama Queenz, a show about three black gay men trying to make it in New York’s theatre world, and its creator Dane Joseph then deserve a huge pat on the back. It’s a Herculean effort.

Remarkably, Joseph edited and marketed the first season while in graduate school at Columbia University, then shot season two, which comes out today. Now that, as they say in theatre, is gumption!

What’s more, the second season promises lots of hijinks, along with guest appearances  from some of my favorite YouTube personalities!

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Ellen, the Academy, and Improving Media Criticism November 15, 2009

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ellen_and_portia

In the academy and in the humanities, we’re trained to be skeptics. It’s almost part of the job. When it comes to representation, the idea that what we see in the media is a reflection on the real world, the academy is still way behind the times, something I’ve written about before. Skepticism has turned into blind cynicism, and it makes us look silly.

One point some academics — who shall remain nameless — are very reluctant to concede is whether mainstream America can accept openly gay celebrities. The pessimism continues to this day. While there’s plenty of evidence this may be warranted, especially concerning gay (and black gay) men and Hollywood cinema, Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi’s relationship is the glaring exception.

But I still hear scholars and people on the left say all the time that Ellen “isn’t really out,” that she whitewashes her image, etc.

This simply isn’t true. (more…)

The Tender Same-Sex Moment in Levi’s “O Pioneers!” October 29, 2009

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Levi's - OPioneers! (Go Forth) Commercial

Embedded within the rapid stream of images in Levi's brilliant O Pioneers is a tender same-sex moment

Levi’s Jeans “Go Forth” ad campaign (dir. Sin Nombre‘s Cary Fukunaga for the firm Wieden+Kennedy) has been gaining some fans, most notably Slate’s Seth Stevenson. I’m not sure how popular the vid is on YouTube; between all the reposting it might have views in the low hundred thousands. I certainly stopped and paid attention when I saw the first 30-second spot, America, on television. The one-minute version is even better, since it contains the scene of young people protesting, presumably, some kind of Wall Street executive. The use of Walt Whitman’s poetry is great, and the use of his (purportedly) real voice is even better. Having not read Whitman in years, I’d forgotten how idealistic his poems sound. It’s very refreshing. Makes me actually want to read poetry.

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“White Collar” White Hot, USA Wins My Love October 27, 2009

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UDPATE (11/4): Mike White confirms to Queerty he and Bomer were lovers. UPDATE (10/31): There’s been some speculation — okay, really, revelation — that White Collar star Matt (Matthew) Bomer is openly gay. Queerty seems certain he is and has been out within the industry (like Anderson Cooper) for years, but now that White Collar is such a hit, his reps (PMK) aren’t confirming. He appears to be dating PMK head Simon Falls: nice snag, Bomer! Queerty has published photos basically confirming their conclusion, because they’re more activist than AfterElton, who won’t publish them. I say: I don’t particularly care about your privacy if you’ve decided to headline a popular show for which you’ll be paid handsomely, but I won’t publish the photos, because I don’t want to be sued. Color me hypocritical. You know my position on this issue — celebrity privacy about sexuality — already.

White-Collar-USA

Matt Bomer plays gaddabout Neal Caffrey

ORIGINAL: Okay, well maybe not white hot. But the 5.4 million viewer premiere of White Collar was more than commendable, besting several network programs in total viewers, including Ugly Betty and Dollhouse. Robert Seidman doesn’t see any point in comparing the premiere to last year’s ratings, and I agree, but it did improve upon The Starter Wife by 50%. The program was sixth overall in last week’s cable ratings, bested by Monk.

I was pretty confident White Collar would do well, despite USA’s reputation as a primarily summer series network and WC‘s scary Friday night debut. For me, it hit all the right notes: escapist, luxe New York locations; good dialogue; attractive people; engaging narratives (however formulaic); and enough pretension — just a hint — to make me feel I wasn’t gorging on rubbish. USA has mastered the art of breezy, mediocre (and cheap!) television. It seems they’re almost playing in the big leagues, the big four, and certainly with the CW. (Though I should acknowledge the different audiences each network is targeting).

It is important to remember USA invested a lot in promoting the series. Promos started airing months before the show aired last week. I remember anticipating it for quite some time.

Whether White Collar has staying power is anybody’s guess, but I know I’ll be watching. As my life becomes more stressful — this semester is particularly rough — I find myself desperately in need of frothy entertainment, particularly on nights when work isn’t pressing.

Chris Crocker, Somewhere Between Boy and Girl, Proves Me Right October 22, 2009

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Click for Chris Crocker's Boy-Girl Video

Click for Chris Crocker's Latest Video

Nobody is particularly interested in Chris Crocker anymore; maybe he’s been replaced by B. Scott. But I still think he’s fascinating, and kind of a smart performance artist. (I’m using “he” right now because it’s my understanding that’s the pronoun Chris still uses).

In this video, Crocker, whose hair has been growing longer and whose application of makeup becoming more intricate, answers the question on everybody’s mind: are you a boy or a girl? Well, it wasn’t on my mind; I’d always assumed that Crocker was basically somewhere in between. Behold, he proved me right!

“I don’t feel like just boy or just girl…I do not believe that my genitalia defines my gender…My souls defines my gender, and actually I don’t even know that souls have genders. I just know how I feel inside.”

But that’s not what the headline to this post is about. Crocker’s reluctance to deinfe himself as one gender puts him in league with a number of other camp performers I interviewed a year ago for a paper titled, “Camp 2.0: A Queer Performance of the Personal,” now in review at Communication, Culture and Critique (abstract here). My basic thesis was that, because of generational and sociological trends, and the space of YouTube itself, camp performers (“queer” or gay performers working in the decades-old aesethetic tradition of irony and theatricality) were infusing more potent ideas of individuality and “personality” into what was is traditionally a community practice and style. Part of this individuality, this “personal” discourse, is reflected in the rejection of labels like “gay” and even gender terms like male and female.

Britney Houston, a popular music video remixer, told me she identifies as gender queer and appreciates the “is she or isn’t she?” debates that occur in the comment section of her videos. Michael Lucid, an independent filmmaker, rejects the label of drag queen and says he actually sees himself, when he’s on camera, as a husky voiced woman.

What replaces the labels? Performers told me some version of expressing their “soul,” or personality, mediated by presumably real emotions and investments in their own videos and representations. Chris Crocker is perhaps the best example. In his infamous “Leave Britney Alone!” video, Crocker sobs histrionically in front of the camera, in a way so extreme, it seems certainly put on. But Crocker has insisted to this day that his emotions were real. Why? Because Crocker wants us to think of himself as an individual whose soul overrides the categories in which we inscribe him (also because, hey, he really is a rabid Britney fan).

Now, Crocker says that his heart and mind are female, and that’s he’s only grown accustomed to being male. He also says that, while he’s not ready to transition now, he may in the future, and has noticed himself growing — phenotypically — increasingly female. It’s actually an interesting video to watch in its totality, an intimate look at a young person working through his identity in very nuanced ways.

Thanks for the video, Chris! Good luck on your journey, wherever it may lead.

Mika, Michael and The Celebrities That Would Be Gay July 29, 2009

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UPDATE (3/8/10): It’s raining closet-fleeing celebrities! Sean Hayes has come out, awkwardly. He claims the gay community, through the gay media, put too much pressure on him. I disagree, of course. Regardless his reticence probably cost him a few jobs, though who knows; he’s a character actor. Is Matt Bomer next?

UPDATE (1/13/10): Michael Urie is now all the way out! Well, sort of. “…I’m not saying I’m gay now” and “I basically didn’t want to be labeled.” Might sound like another cop-out, but Advocate makes it clear: “When asked what letter in LGBTQ he identifies himself, Urie says Q, for queer.” Another one! Seems like my thesis on this is true. “Gay” is indeed dying.

UPDATE: Surprise! Mika has come out … as bisexual! This changes my thesis a bit — that his reluctance to be called “gay” was based solely on an ideological aversion to labels. Still, Mika’s “coming out” sounds a little defeatist: “call me bisexual.” He still doesn’t like labels. Oh well, bi he is!

Separated at birth? The difference between Mika (left) and Michael Urie's responses to questions about their sexuality

Separated at birth? The difference between Mika (left) and Michael Urie's responses to questions about their sexuality. Original at Splice.

ORIGINAL: Before writing this article I surprised myself with having to Google something: the last name of Oprah Winfrey’s partner, Stedman. You see, I only know of him as “Stedman.” I had no idea if that was his last name or his first. He is so shrouded in mystery I’d never cared to get the facts. (His name is Stedman Graham).

Oprah’s story is instructive because in all of show business, it’s one of the most persistent mysteries. Oprah talks about Stedman, though very rarely. For such a public person, Oprah has a tight hold on this part of her life, and she has every right to her privacy. Yet however private Oprah wants to be, we at least know that Stedman exists, and both Oprah and he have talked publicly about why they are not married.

My point: it’s possible for a celebrity to be honest and talk about their lives while still remaining ambiguous and private enough to do their jobs and be famous.

This conundrum of how to negotiate being a public persona and private person is at the heart of the debate over whether actors should or should not come out. Over 10 years since Ellen shocked the world, out actors have a mixed record. Rupert Everett is sad and hardly working, only getting headlines for saying crazy things about Michael Jackson and gaybies. Wanda Sykes is at the top of her game, as is Neil Patrick Harris, but TR Knight has been fired and Clay Aiken, well, let’s forget about that. Lance Bass post-N’Sync had no career to speak of, so all in all he’s fine; Wilson Cruz and other character actors get work as well.

Given this mixed history, it’s not surprising rising gay actors are hedging. The most shocking was Michael Urie‘s recent interview with New York magazine, in which he would not say he was gay. It reminded me of the ongoing debate around the singer Mika and his refusal to do the same, and the career of Sean Hayes. The waters for actors and entertainers today are troubling and hard to navigate, and I have sympathy for them. But still their answers are not satisfying, often unnerving, and I think it’s important to break down what’s really going on and talk about this issue in more nuanced ways than “they must come out for visibility!” or “they have a right to their privacy” and “gay actors don’t get jobs.” All these are pretty insufficient responses to a very important issue in media representation.

First: Are Mika and Michael lying? Well, no, not really. For his part, Urie looks like he’s trying to carve a middle road on the issue. He describes himself as a “member of the LGBT community.” He twitters things like “In the pride parade!!!! So much fun”—coincidentally on the same day the New York piece came out. Mika, on the other hand, isn’t saying much except he doesn’t like labels, which is basically a non-admission admission.

The details are important here. Gone are the days, we hope, when obviously gay actors simply say they are straight—it’s part of the reason I’m starting to believe Seacrest. Instead, the typical response today involves obfuscation or word play. Either celebrities refused to be asked or simply will not say. There are different ways of “not saying,” though. Sean Hayes appears to not want anyone to know, and his reluctance to just admit it comes to close to shame, or at least that’s how it sounds. Fans can smell someone uncomfortable in their own skin. Take this thought by AfterElton: “But at some point, I hear their nonsensical responses to the question, ‘Are you gay?’ and I start to roll my eyes. Sean Hayes may or may not be gay, but after a decade of his refusing to give a, uh, straight answer to a simple question, I’m not sure how much a fan I am of that particular actor anymore.” Staying in the closet now may actually be bad for your career, especially in an age where “personality” is such an important part of fame. Whether they like it or not, “stigma” is still an issue. Regular people deal with it every day. They will expect you to respond to it and declare who you are; otherwise they will do it for you.

Mika is not Sean Hayes. He comes off as someone who likely has relationships with men and has thought seriously about whether he wants to call that “gay”: “I will not talk about labels, and I will not talk about over-categorizing things, because labels are the one thing that I’ve never agreed with—simply because I just don’t fit into them in my own personal life.” In case you’re unaware, there’s a lot of confusion from older gays about the refusal of young people today to use the word “gay,” preferring “queer,” “SGL” (“same gender loving,” most common among blacks) or no label at all. I understand it. Today, “me” is the only label that matters, and it isn’t always narcissism. Often it’s about allowing for greater diversity and new kinds of relationships to form outside the labels of the Boomer generation. I sense that this is where Mika’s coming from. The sophistication he brings to the question tells me he’s not just in the closet — plus the fact he is generally strange and his music and aesthetic are beyond nonconformist.

Michael is different. Urie was pretty brazen in saying he doesn’t want to call himself gay because, basically, he wants to get roles. Sure, he said it’s because he’s an “artist.” I suppose. So was Jackson Pollock, but everyone knew at least he was married to Lee Krasner, an accomplished artist herself. I imagine Urie‘s phrasing will not pass muster with a lot of gays. Still, he too is not Sean Hayes. After all, in the streets of New York he’s much more out than someone like—allegedly!—Anderson Cooper. Of course, Urie, as an actor, is at a disadvantage. Mika has an entire history of singers before him who played with sexuality without being explicit—Elvis, Little Richard, David Bowie, Kiss, Pete Wentz, and on and on. Actors, because they have to inhabit many different personalities, do not get the same allowances.

Perhaps part of my frustration with Urie and Hayes comes from being black and seeing so many black people, men in particular, not identify with a label out of cowardice. I can tell the difference. When interviewing black YouTubers for a project, I was shocked by how none would identify with a sexuality other than straight. Half my sample refused to answer the question. Some, I know, had ideological reasons (similar to Mika‘s), but some were just hiding, hoping one day they would be Will Smith and not wanting to be haunted by a pre-fame interview.

Fear of losing jobs is not an excuse. Being an actor, gay or straight, is hard. Sure Rupert Everett has a right to be pissed. If he’d been straight, he might have been Hugh Grant (whereas Sean Hayes would never have been Brad Pitt). But history shows most celebrities, regardless of orientation, have short careers. The list of performers with viable careers longer than a decade is pretty short. Being cagey about sexuality won’t help; only talent and personality will. That’s why Ellen is still around. It’s why Madonna is Madonna.

Meanwhile, whether they like or not, becoming famous does require that entertainers abdicate some privacy and answer simple questions. Every celebrity has to deal with it, from Sean Penn to Meryl Streep. No one says you have to be Britney or Lindsay, the smallest detail of one’s life revealed on a weekly basis. But there is a base level of honesty. After all, people don’t listen to music only based on the music. If that were the case we wouldn’t have the music video. Will Smith’s fame is based on more than his movies. We consume media because we are consuming people. All public personae deal with this. Yes, Barack Obama had the right policy proposals and better speaking skills, but look at his favorable/unfavorable ratings versus McCain from last year and you realize a lot of people voted for him because they liked him as person; how many people really knew the details of his healthcare proposal on November 4?

Can the public handle a gay entertainer? Yes! Before Rosie mysteriously left The View, ratings were way up. Ellen is a hit show. How I Met Your Mother is one of the few successful comedies on network television. Is the list of gay successes short? Absolutely. But without more brave entertainers, it will continue to be.

I am not, however, an either/or kind of guy. I don’t believe in someone being only “gay” or “straight.” If, like Mika, you prefer the in-between spaces, that’s fine.

But I do have a standard, and it is a pretty low one. I would like to hear some ambiguous celebs say they would be called gay—indeed, wouldn’t mind—but don’t like the label. Already, a number of actors, most notably Jared Leto, have said as much (i.e., I don’t mind if you call me gay, it’s just not true). See the subtle difference? This response acknowledges and honors that many people do have trouble coming out, that stigma still exists, that being gay is still an issue and also acknowledges a celebrity’s right to try to shape their personal life and its perception. It acknowledges that with great power and at least a footnote in history comes great responsibility. After all, if it were easy to be famous, we would all be.

FILM: Homophobia = Boring July 16, 2009

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Little Ashes (Grade: B-), Brüno (Grade: B-)

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If I’ve learned anything in the last week, it’s that homophobia in film can be so terribly boring. Okay, I knew that already. Honestly, what is state of gay cinema if homophobia is not the cornerstone of every plot line? I don’t know; I think it looks a little like Shortbus. One thing I do know is Little Ashes and Brüno are not the future of queer cinema.

Little Ashes, which has been out a few weeks, is more commonly known as the “gay Robert Pattinson movie.” The Twilight star, who has the rare quality of being gorgeous and talented, plays a young Salvador Dalí, in school in Madrid in the 1920s with an illustrious cohort, including director Luis Buñuel and writer Federico García Lorca. It is such a stellar group of individuals that today all three are known solely by their last names.

Starting with such interesting figures in history, the film, inspired by supposedly real events, should have been interesting. Dalí, on his own, is enough of an eccentric to entertain for ninety minutes. But rather than go the Almodovar route in queer cinema, Little Ashes instead recalls Maurice, a fine but forgettable Merchant Ivory period piece from the 1980s.

That’s exactly where Little Ashes is stuck: the 1980s. It’s all parting glances (not to be confused with the awesome Parting Glances) and no release. The film dwells so long on unrequited love it fails to inspire anything but ennui. Worst is its depiction of homophobia. Little Ashes turns Buñuel into a raging homphobe and gives him a slew of uninteresting lines about the moral depravity of homosexuality. Yes, Spain at the time was supposed to be oppressive and Franco’s power was only growing, but many gay films and books have shown that, even in oppressive conditions, same-sex desire was still exciting — even more so, perhaps, that it was so forbidden. Little Ashes‘ focus on tragedy drains its subjects of all life, and in doing so drains us.

Brüno‘s problem is similar in some ways. Of course, the Sacha Baron Cohen knows how to have fun. At the very least, Cohen gives his audience that.

But for most of the movie all the jokes predicated on America’s homophobia are the weakest. There are a lot of reasons for this. For one, a lot of the presumed homophobia of Cohen’s targets is either incredibly dull — a group of redneck hunters are at worst “dismissive” of Brüno — or kind of sad. In truth, in a few instances, homophobia is explained away by professional codes: a martial arts instructor agrees to show Brüno how to beat up gays in part because, well, it’s his job to do what the customer asks, and the military men are harsh on Brüno mostly because, well, he’s not following the rules, not because he’s gay.

I’m not the only one who found Cohen’s depiction of American homophobia stale. The most homophobic thing about the movie may be Cohen himself, although I’ve known a few gays who, while not as exagerrated as Brüno (who is?) are similarly shallow, dumb and celebrity obsessed. Regardless, the GLAAD has put out a perfunctory hit on the movie. Some are wishing Brüno is the last salvo on decades of ludicrous depictions of gays in movies. Well, not so fast, but maybe we’re close.

The biggest proof homophobia is tired? Bruno’s box office numbers, already falling well short of expectations. It’s hard for lightening to strike twice. Borat may have been a one-hit wonder. Sure, some of the underperformance can be explained in other ways. While millions (of men) are willing to see a racist and sexist Kazakh reporter lampoon America on the left and right, who wants to watch an overly effeminate man prance around for ninety minutes doing the same and not as well? At least three men walked out of the screening I attended.Brüno does land one solid blow though, and it’s no wonder it’s saved for the last scene. I cannot say much except that “Straight Dave” and his transgression redeemed the movie considerably, showing how ridiculous it is to fear male-on-male sexuality. That’s right, I’m talking to you, the three guys who walked out of my screening.

Absent Straight Dave, however, people are looking for something new, another kind of homosexual who is neither Ennis del Mar, Jack McFarland or a figment of our historical imagination. Who is this magical homosexual? I can tell you he’s not in theaters right now.

TV: The Best Gays of Our Lives December 1, 2008

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TV offers perhaps the best chance for gays to make public relations inroads and gain cultural acceptance.

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ABC’s Brothers & Sisters.

(NOTE: Since writing this, Desperate Housewives has finally given Andrew a sex life! With a leading plastic surgeon! And they’re moving in together! And he might be a porn star! I swear. I am taking DH off the hit list.)

Proposition 8 got me thinking about the gays, queers and closeted types I see on television, and the PR campaign gays need to wage. Gays, lesbians and others took to the streets to protest the passage of an anti-gay marriage amendment in California (even as gays got married in Connecticut). But let’s be honest, gays: protesting won’t do shit. This is a crisis of public relations, and yelling and shouting never convinced anybody—that’s right, cable news and talk radio are not convincing!

Indeed, some of the best gay PR is happening on serial TV, and it will be a vital part of the effort to change the minds of the marginal number of Californians who voted for the amendment—and no, not just black people (the amendment would have passed had not one black person voted). Let’s take stock of the best gays and gay relationships on TV, and a couple of the ones that need to go.

Ugly Betty (ABC) – Mark and Cliff. One of the most underrated gay couples on television, Mark and Cliff—whose relationship is in grave danger—is the kind of gay couple we haven’t really seen on TV. Cliff is overweight, not very fashionable, a lover of French movies who loves the skinny, fashion-obsessed, superficial Mark. ABC, don’t let this relationship die!

Brothers & Sisters (ABC) – Kevin and Scotty. Kevin and Scotty married in California long before Prop 8 passed. The best part about this match is Kevin, who is, in my opinion, one of the most fully-rounded gay characters on television: he’s arrogant, controlling, spoiled, selfish, at times insecure and yet loving, generous, reliable. ABC bravely approved a gay character who has a sex life and is political, who is by turns despicable and adorable. Scotty, his partner, is a Southern gentleman who rose from cater-waiter to head chef. Both are believable and complex.

The L Word
(Showtime) – Tasha and Alice. I apologize for such a male-centric list. No wonder Showtime’s L Word, entering its final season in January, is so important. (Thank you Showtime for announcing a spin-off based Leisha Hailey’s Alice, by the way!) Tasha and Alice are a great couple, though perpetually on the rocks. Tasha, a black army veteran ousted for coming out, is calm, rational and introverted, while Alice, a media personality, is vivacious, loud and extroverted. Look out for this show in January.

Greek (ABC Family) – Calvin Owens and whomever. Calvin is a brilliantly conceived character, almost too brilliant. He seems tailor-made to buck stereotypes: a black legacy at the show’s college, he is completely comfortable with his sexuality but did not come out at first so that his fraternity brothers would get to know him before thinking of him as the “gay kid.” Calvin recently broke up with Michael, a doctoral student in French, a more stereotypical gay guy, because they weren’t a match: Calvin was into sports and beer, Michael into film and wine. Calvin seems headed for a new relationship with a fellow frat bro.

The Sarah Silverman Program (Comedy Central) – Brian and Steve. Okay, I actually don’t watch this show. But I know enough about the video game playing, TAB-drinking duo to know that it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen, on television or in my life. They have to be the most unattractive couple on television, gay or straight. I love it!

Mad Men (AMC) – Salvatore, Kurt. While there are no gay couples on Mad Men yet—it’s 1963—the show has given audiences a glimpse into life before Stonewall. Salvatore is deep in the closet but painfully crushes on his straight, homophobic coworker. I normally don’t like closeted characters, but Mad Men is a period piece and Salvatore is well drawn. Kurt, a younger, European employee, on the other hand, flatly proclaims in an episode, “I’m homosexual.” His business partner glibly tries to cut through the shock: “It’s all the rage in Europe.”

No list would be complete without an homage to the deceased, the gay characters we no longer have but whom I miss dearly.

The Wire (HBO) – Omar. Omar was the most exciting character on this perennially under-watched series. While he went through a few lovers, most ended up dead, and none he loved more than the first, who died to keep him safe. Omar was a renegade, living outside the system, with no allegiance to any gang or the police. He was dangerous because lived only for himself. In that way he was kind of an American hero, a “maverick” in the old Western sense, updated for the streets of Baltimore. Rent this series on DVD now!

In Treatment
(HBO) – Alex. Watch this show, people! Alex, an Air Force pilot, never came out, but it was pretty clear he had a curiosity about men. He spent most of the series trying to tear down his emotional armor, his need to be perfect, a feat he almost completed. Blair Underwood deserved an Emmy for this role.

Will & Grace
(NBC) – Will and Vince. You thought I forgot! No, a lot of gays have a problem with Will (more have a problem with Jack), but I liked Will. Like Kevin on Brothers and Sisters, who was modeled after Will, Will is pretty complex: he’s witty, fun and caring, but also a bit of curmudgeon and bit too quick to judge others. Vince is a dream man: a hunky police officer who has a fondness for fancy lotions and hair products. Even though I would have preferred Will get Kevin’s sex life, I’m glad he ended up with Vince, buying a townhouse in Harlem and “driving up the price of real estate in affordable areas.”

And, yes, the naughty list.

The Starter Wife
(USA) – Felix and Rodney. There’s still hope for Felix, the black action star on the “down low” and Rodney, a gay interior designer (cliché alert!). But as much as I love Rodney’s cute vests, I hate his stupid relationship. Why is Rodney on the “down low”? Because he’s black? And why has his voice suddenly gone up an octave now that he’s on the verge of coming out?

Desperate Housewives (ABC) – Bob and Lee. I HATE Bob and Lee. The married gays down the street, they have no personality. They are all one-liners and pastel button-downs, boring as hell. They don’t even have the privilege of creepy secret like everyone else on Wisteria Lane. And what happened to the super-interesting Andrew from season one? Why is he boring and corporate now? Can Marc Cherry save Housewives from these embarrassments?