Strakon Lights Up, No. 91

Queer Shoe Diaries

   or, You don't have to be gay, unfortunately


This column is rated PG-13.


One blemish that has erupted on the face of our culture while the droners in Florida have been mesmerizing us is Showtime's new homosexual series, "Queer as Folk." Now, I do hope that the lengths I go to in serving my readers are appreciated. I mean, it's not all gravy being a world-famous, ultra-successful e-journalist with 18 Mercedes, 14 servants, and 11 gold-plated Jacuzzis. No, indeed: in return for all that I felt I had an unavoidable responsibility to watch the premiere of "QaF" and report.

My heart sank when I saw that the thing was being touted as a two-hour episode. It rose, though, when that turned out to be nothing but the standard cable hype and imprecision: the ordeal lasted just an hour and 26 minutes, and was followed by only a few minutes' worth of promotional B.S. I made it through.

"Queer as Folk" is the saga of five male homosexuals who are living wild lives in the city and of two lesbians who have been domesticated. Although those of the men who are employed (one is still in high school) work in the straight world, they are thoroughly ghettoized socially. Only a couple of them, I guess, are fully "out."

Preliminary observations:

  • One scene in particular illuminates the world-view of the series' writers. One of the "closeted" men nervously joins a group of straight people for dinner, among whom is a young female co-worker who is sweet on him. The two straight males, burly truck-driver types, interrogate our boy about the NFL, and, following the de rigueur suspense-building hesitation, the lad volleys with a jargon-heavy technical analysis worthy of a network commentator. That gets the two beetle-browed proles off his back — and wins him a quick smackeroo from the girl. She's so  proud of him!

    On the basis of all that, I guess I'd better rethink my habitual, emphatic, public denials of any interest whatsoever in pro sports. Why, I could lose my prize kiss from a comely lass and even get stomped by Teamsters in the parking lot. Seriously, it is very peculiar indeed to see such a cartoonish representation of normal life. It reminds me of the unrecognizably dark and mephitic accounts of American life retailed by Pravda in the bad old days. But how many of my fellow American telescreen victims understood that they were being trashed and caricaturized? More on that question later.

  • The character who undergoes the painful third degree about football is the nicest and most likable homosexual of them all. Within the overall context of abnormality, he seems to be the most normal. (Heckfire, he knows all about the NFL, doesn't he?) He's not sexually promiscuous; indeed, he appears to be virtually celibate (though hardly chaste in spirit). For what it's worth, he's the only Jew among the five men. I'm not sure how nearly accurate that is demographically; most of the real-life homosexuals promoted by the telescreen seem to be Jewish. On the other hand, Jews of all erotic persuasions have a wildly disproportionate presence in the entertainment industry, just as homosexuals have, so it's hard to figure.

  • Musing about the nice nebbish, above, leads me to this revelation which must amaze all us blinkered straights: "Gays" aren't all alike! They have different personalities! Two of them even have moms! (One mom Knows and loves it; the other doesn't Know and — oh, man! — is going to hate it when she finally does Know.)

  • The high-school kid, a junior Matt Damon type, has the mom who doesn't Know. (Dad, if he exists, isn't in the picture yet.) To account for his all-night haunting of the downtown gay scene, Matt Junior tells Mom that he's been sleeping over with a schoolmate — who turns out to be a colored girl. I dunno; maybe that is normal life among today's high-schoolers. I admit that to some extent I'm losing my bearings in this culture.

  • Speaking of race, I should make it clear that all five men and both of the lesbians are safely white, as are almost all the background characters. Prominently absent are any of those braying Negro transvestites who seem to be stock characters in movies that feature sodomites but that aren't 100 percent devoted to celebrating the sodomite life.

  • One message, at least, comes through loud and clear. It's the usual one: We're everywhere!


    Showtime ran "QaF" past the movie-raters for audience-tailoring purposes and claims it had to cut a few seconds to avoid an "NC-17." Nevertheless, the first episode is pretty tame in the opinion of reviewer Tom Shales. He says it doesn't show anything we haven't seen before, even on TV, and barely qualifies for an "R" rating. As a result, Shales ridicules Showtime's "No Limits" slogan as empty and dishonest.

    While it is clear, in the premiere, what sexual acts are being performed — and they include the one that is usually considered the filthiest and most repulsive of all — the scenes do resemble the ill-lighted, elliptical, and relatively lukewarm sex scenes of another Showtime series, "Red Shoe Diaries." But what does Shales want? Clinically graphic displays of the sort that Larry Flynt might have come up with? It's hard to believe that Shales — a Zeitgeist-tolerant Establishment leftist — is writing in good faith. He must know that Flynt-level sex scenes would disgust most of the series' potential straight viewers no matter how bent they were on pursuing their deracination and degradation. And then the game would be up.

    The best way to infect and, eventually, destroy a culture is to slip the anti-culture virus into its bloodstream by tricking its antibodies. And you have to do that a little at a time. Otherwise the organism's defenses go on red alert and spring into action.

    What you do, typically, on the telescreen and in the movies, is show fairly normal characters having fairly normal adventures — which establishes an overall non-threatening context — and then throw in a few pervs doing a little pervo stuff, which you show the most sympathetic of the normals endorsing. You also portray the abnormals as sympathetically as you can, given their abnormality. A cinematic example that strains the limits of that technique to the breaking point, and perhaps beyond for moviegoers still fully rooted in the normal world, is "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," with its disgusting Negro transvestite who crops up in scene after scene.

    Movies that are all about homosexuals and their doings, such as the Tom Hanks vehicle "Philadelphia," the Kevin Kline vehicle "In and Out," and the various versions and sequels of "La Cage aux Folles," inject the virus all at once and in big doses — as they must — but in diluted form. That is, they tend to lack sex scenes worthy of a homosexual Larry Flynt.

    "Queer as Folk" raises the ante a little by moving into the soft-soft-porn genre — "Queer Shoe Diaries" territory, if you will. But its creators are still being careful. They'd shoot themselves in the foot if they produced something with the look and feel of a raw documentary. At the same time, they don't want to be accused of writing science fiction. Accordingly, in the premiere they fall back on the literary device of the absolutely minimal nod to reality, including a little drug use, one bit of shucking and jiving about suicide, and a single mention of AIDS (by a lesbian). However, we still veer pretty close to the sci fi frontier: There's no violence among our boys. Maybe there'll be a few rough-and-tumble spats in upcoming episodes (but I won't be watching).

    Then there are the two lesbians — a dead giveaway to how carefully and expertly "QaF" has been manufactured. It will come as no surprise to readers who know where I'm going with this that neither lesbian is a bull dyke. Outright dykedom is restricted to their entourage. Indeed, both of the principal bachelorettes are quite fetching. In the premiere, one of the women gives birth to the artificially inseminated son of one of the male homosexuals, and her partner becomes aroused watching her suckle the infant. And the partner decides to do some suckling of her own. Now, it is a fact that the mainstreaming of lesbianism in this culture has been hyperdrive-accelerated by the fantasizing of many straight men about lesbian sex. There may be just enough of that sort of thing in "QaF" to keep some straight men tuning in who otherwise wouldn't dream of doing so.

    But the series' creators are courting another, more important form of audience participation as well. It's what probably saved the scene with the sports-obsessed Teamsters, described above, from impressing most viewers as an attack or as a Pravda-like cartoon. The point is, the "QaF" team isn't attacking you.  I mean, you don't have to be gay to sneer at low-class, ignorant, old-culture heterosexuals, do you? It's fun  to feel superior and cuddle up to the au courant, and no one's more au courant than smart-mouth urban homosexuals. No one's more antinomian, and antinomianism is in. Hey, if it worked 30 years ago with "The Boys in the Band," it ought to work now.


    No one can say whether "Queer as Folk" will pull it off. Some viruses emerge from the culture-war lab and die immediately; others thrive; still others make it only by mutating. But if the series does survive, and as a money-maker instead of as some sacrificially noble "showcase drama," we'll have to chalk it up as another battle won by the culture-destroyers — or another surrender by millions of culture-bearers.

    December 9, 2000

    © 2000 by WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

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    Since I wrote the column, it has been brought to my attention that at least two of the characters are Jewish.

    — NS, October 2001 [Back]