Saturday, November 05, 2011

Meaner Girls

I blogged a few months ago about the awful A List New York series, which followed the lives of a bunch of so-called A-list gay men in Manhattan. The show proved to be naggingly addictive, mainly due to its car-crash nature. I hated myself for laughing at the use of subtitles for EFL Rodiney - a Brazilian bisexual who lovingly mangled the English language.

I wished I didn't care about the on-off "friendship" of drunk southern, "fat" Austen and skinny, judgemental, orange Derek. I pitied poor Reichen - the hapless central wheel of the program who was first in an ill-judged off-off Broadway show, then tried to record an even iller-judged hit song - his reedy voice struggling to approximate the top notes. And I just plain hated Ryan, whose plump, botoxed face emitted waves of serenity while he contrived situations of conflict for his own pleasure - a 21st century Iago, or in plain-speak, a nasty little shit-stirrer. The introduction of Nyassha (I think that's how it's spelt), a female female impersonator whose insane, haughty, spiteful and unreasonable presence made the other characters appear grounded and shy, was a step too far for me. Not that it matters a jot, but none of these people are "A-List" by any stretch of the imagination, except for perhaps photgrapher Mike Ruiz, who got the least airtime and managed to come across (or edited at least) as kindly, sensible and normal. His only vice appeared to be excessive vanity (even his boyfriend looked like a clone of himself).

So I was glad when season 2 came to an end, as the storylines seemed to spiral in on themselves, appearing more and more contrived and silly. In real life, when people hate each other, they simply avoid meeting. But in this show, despite all the hatred, they kept bumping into each other - at parties and social events - even arranging to meet in public places so they could "clear the air" which always ended in someone storming out and mirroring futile "talk to the hand" gestures at each other. The final show, which involved the Meanest Girls conspiring to split up Austen from his Yorkshire boyfriend (who also required subtitles) by refusing to attend his bachelor party, then revealing that they'd heard that the boyfriend had been unfaithful, felt like something out of a 1960s daytime soap. Enough! You people are all dead to me, and if there's a season 3, I won't be watching. And if I bump into any of you while I'm in Greenwich village in January, I will cross the street. Except for Austen maybe.

Perhaps sensing that the A List New York needs a rest, the action has moved to Dallas, where a new coterie of unrepresentative non-role models for gay men have agreed to pretend to know each other and be filmed ad libbing storylines for noteriety and money. I was hoping that with a new town, things would be different. But after watching one episode, it looks like The A List Dallas is just The A List New York with cowboy hats and big belt buckles. Instead of Mean Girl shit-stirrer Ryan, there's Mean Girl shit-stirrer Philip. Instead of drunk Austen, there's drunk James. And instead of "hot" Reichen, there's "hot" Levi (Reichen in a cowboy hat). The similarities go further. In A List NY, Reichen is the subject of a jealous little love triangle as Austen and Rodiney tussle over him, while in A List Dallas, Levi is fought over by James and Taylor (and possibly Chase). While A List NY had delusional fag-hag Nyassha, A List Dallas has delusional fag-hag Ashley, who when asked to wash the asparagus responds with "With soap?".

At the start of season 2 of A List NY, the internet buzzed with the scandal that Reichen had been caught sending naked pictures of himself online. This was even addressed in a gruesome scene where he had to confess it to his mother. But look, history's repeating itself, and now similar naked pictures of Reichen #2, Levi are also circulating. And it all feels a bit too much like a publicity stunt. Viewers should not make the mistake of thinking that any of this is "real". It's not. It's like when members of the judging panel on X Factor started throwing glasses of water over each other. It's all decided upon in advance. Like wrestling.

It's kind of depressing that these programs perform a great disservice to gay men, by simply rearticulating a bunch of negative stereotypes - gay men as catty, slutty, substance abusers, materialistic, vain, shallow, silly and unsupportive of one another. Clearly, such gay men exist, but to base a whole series (twice) around people who embody the stereotype seems wilful. Gay people are still under-represented in the media, and these programs seem like a step backwards rather than forwards. With shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, while I was kind of annoyed that gay men were only viewed as good at stereotypically feminine things like fashion, interior design, hair styling etc, at least they were trying to improve people's lives and tended to come across as reasonably grounded and functioning. Anyone who doesn't know any gay people and switches on The A List, is likely to have all their worst prejudices confirmed. Had my teenage self watched this show, I'd have been horrified, and would have probably decided to stay in the closet. The program takes the "It gets better" message and rips it up in your face. It doesn't get better. It gets worser. Thankyou Logo.

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