Viacom recently announced that its plan to create a gay and lesbian culture channel, co-managed by the gay-friendly MTV and Showtime networks, has been shelved. Here's one good reason: NBC's Bravo network is rapidly becoming the go-to gay channel.
A quick check of the Bravo Web site on July 17 finds promotion for the upcoming dating show "Boy Meets Boy," a gay-male reality dating show a la "The Bachelor," with the twist that some of the "gay" bachelors are really playacting heterosexuals. The site also promotes their airing of the 1999 movie "Flawless" with this sentence: "Can a homophobic stroke victim and a flamboyant drag queen help each other find self-esteem?" Traditional values are so misguided they've become an illness. Don't you love those films where the ultraconservative character recovers from the illness of his ways?
But the first blooming flower of this cultural revolution was "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," which premiered on Tuesday, July 15, to record numbers for Bravo. Their ratings at that hour rose from No. 38 to No. 2. Bravo quickly planned a rerun for Thursday to build viewership.
The premise of the show is for a "Fab Five" of gay men to "transform a style-deficient and culture-deprived straight man from drab to fab" in each of their respective categories: fashion, food and wine, interior design, grooming and culture. Bravo's publicity copy also explained: "Straight guys turn in their pleats for flat fronts, learn about wines that don't come in a jug and come to understand why hand soap is not a good shampoo (and vice versa). When the journey is done, a freshly scrubbed, newly enlightened, ultra-hip man emerges."
And I want to vomit.
Tom Shales of The Washington Post objected to the "stereotypes on parade" in this series, and I agree. It's stereotypical to think of only gay men as top-notch connoisseurs of food, wine, culture, design and grooming. How heterophobic. It's the Gay Supremacy Hour. I'm sure I'm not the only one who reads Bravo's ad copy and wonders if we're talking hate crimes here. Ever seen a show more dedicated to a "straight-bashing" proposition?
Try this idea for a show, and tell me how many seconds it would last in a Hollywood pitch session: "A team of five fabulous straight guys teach a masculinity-deprived gay man how to throw a football, hunt for game, drink something manlier than fruity wine coolers and appreciate the fiction of Tom Clancy. When the journey is done, a newly enlightened, ultra-manly man emerges."
Why not? Let's try it with a racial twist, where blacks are cured of their stereotyped fancy for fried chicken, watermelon and malt liquor. Any takers in enlightened Tinseltown? It almost makes you want to start a Straight Male Anti-Defamation Alliance. But guess what? That's not very manly.
Lesbians can forget copycatting this show. You can't imagine a team of five lesbians teaching a straight girl how to be more appealing to men. Here's why: "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" is not pitched at the straight guy. It's pitched at the straight girl. It's "Will and Grace" for the reality-show set. Straight guys aren't the most attracted demographic to "makeover" shows. If you doubt me, witness the array of commercials on the premiere: chick flicks, makeup, leg razors, designer eyeglasses, designer SUVs. (The show is almost a parody of product placement, a veritable plug-a-minute infomercial. Redken hair products received four separate plugs.)
When you watch the show, the "Fab Five" are constantly insulting the "fashion victim," acting especially horrified at the show's beginning. He's asked if he gets all his clothing at Home Depot and if his drawers are "organized by ugly, uglier and ugliest." The interior designer suggests the guy's apartment looks like the home of a psychopath: "without you here to represent yourself, I would have looked at this and called the police." Another calls it "a crack den." But it evolves -- yippee! -- into a we-kid-because-we-love ethos, and the show ends with everybody being thrilled about how the fairy godfathers have created the straight man's new looks and new confidence.
It's also -- surprise, surprise -- drenched in references to raw, perverted homosexual sex. In the premiere, the lads wonder whether stains are from "soy sauce or boy sauce," wear aprons from the "Horny as Hell Kitchen," and goad the straight man with constant pleas to undress, try out the new bed with a friend and kiss the designers.
This crud may be acceptable for that element in our culture that's already earning an advanced degree in Sin Acceptance. But it's also acceptable to the gang at NBC and the suits upstairs at General Electric? Remember this when you buy your next light bulb: Is GE always bringing good things to life?