Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A perfect tv show for the 99%

"Look our Paul, money doesn't make you happy!" said my mother, almost every Saturday night in the 1980s, as my whole family (big butch Dad included) settled down to watch Dallas or Dynasty.

In hindsight, I can tell you that she was wrong. Money actually does make you happy, and unlike Blake Carrington off Dynasty, most rich people do not have their wives replaced with a body double, have their whole family gunned down during a wedding in an invented East European nation state, lose their memory and regress back to being in love with their evil first wife, be falsely accused of murder and accidentally kill their son's gay lover. Instead rich people just have a lot of very long nice holidays in expensive hotels, travel business class everywhere, and whenever they have a problem, they close their eyes and throw money towards it, until it goes away. At worst, they may spend too much time commuting or working late, neglecting their children and partners, or they may get a bit tubby, as they eat at restaurants too much. But those things don't make for good soap operas.

So now you know the truth, you may as well just try to become an investment banker.

But if you like watching unhappy rich people, then you will love Revenge, a campy drama set in "the Hamptons", a series of well-heeled villages in Long Island, New York. The series is a very loose reworking of The Count of Monte Cristo, and involves the patient machinations of a mysterious young woman who goes by the name of Emily Thorne. She's out to get revenge on the ENTIRE Hamptons, because many years ago, they were all involved in a plot which caused the death of her father. Every episode she targets a new person and manages to destroy their life in some sort of clever way. For example, in episode 1 it involves soup, while in episode 2 she puts on some white gloves and types a password into someone's computer. After that she puts a big red cross through their face in a handy photograph she has of all the people who have done her wrong. She's saving up her bestest revenge though for the main villains - the Graysons who live in the beach house next door. When I say " beach house" I actually mean Disgustingly Enormous Palace of Decadence.

Oh this little thing?

Mrs Grayson (played chillingly by Madeline Stowe) seems to spend most of her time glaring at Emily from her turret room. The Queen of the Hamptons, Mrs Grayson has an over-botoxed forehead and too much loose neck tissue. She emits a series of wintery smiles and ambiguous platitutes which are actually all threats. To cross her is instant social death.

Emily's scheme for the Graysons involves their hottie son who must be seduced.

Well, no-one said Revenge would be easy.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Murder For Introverts

On Christmas Eve, when I was 9, ITV showed Murder is Easy - an adaption of an Agatha Christie film set in a quaint English village starring Bill Bixby (from the Hulk) as the hero, and Olivia De Havilland as Mrs Waynefleet - the old lady murderer who always wore black gloves. From my council estate it all seemed impossibly glamorous, and I thus began an intense love affair with Mrs Christie which went on for the next six years. Every Saturday I would traipse to the only book shop in Peterlee town centre (it was actually a newsagent that had a tiny section which sold books), and I'd buy 2 Agatha Christie paperbacks with my pocket money (they were £1.50 each). I never solved the murder before Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple did, and I never noticed how hackneyed her stories were, how stereotyped her characters were or how her writing style was unremarkably plain, to the point of feeling like you were reading instructions to work a washing machine at times.

But it was a world of upper and middle class people (mainly southerners or Londonders), mixing with exotic foreigners in exciting places like Egypt. I thought the strange revenge mystery "And Then There Were None" (which had a racist original title), was the cleverest and most chilling piece of writing ever, while I became so addicted to Death on the Nile that I forced my eight year old sister to read it, and when she became confused by the fact that there were too many characters in it, I made her keep a record sheet with names of all the suspects. I'm sure she was grateful. I would scour the TV Times and Radio Times each Thursday to see if there'd be any Agatha Christie films that week - Christmas editions were also especially productive, as sometimes there'd be a whole season of them. When the BBC showed a series of Miss Marple, with Joan Hickson as the lead, my Friday nights were almost orgasmic.

I never told any of my friends about my Agatha Christie addiction - even the nerdy ones who liked Dungeons and Dragons or programming computers, or even doing jigsaws, because I knew that there was no way that it could be explained without me losing what little teenage "cool" status that I had. And these days, I only read them very rarely, and in a much more critical, ironic way. If anyone tells me that they like Agatha Christie, I'm afraid I look down on them a little bit (although I do have a special fondness for the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple films and the potty harpiscord music).

Agatha Christie novels are to introverts what extreme sports are to extroverts. Introverts like to stay indoors, don't like socialising too much and hate taking risks. The novels are a form of "safe danger" which is just about manageble for introverts and their over-sensitive imaginations. Unlike modern murder dramas like CSI, all of the murders in Agatha Christie novels are anti-septic with no nasty realism to make you want to look away. Mrs Christie never lingers over the gruesome forensic details of the crime, there are no rooms spattered in blood and guts, instead it's all glossed over in favour of the Sudoko-like puzzle of who had the motive, means and opportunity. And quite often, the people who get murdered are implied to be slightly rotten types who probably deserved it anyway. By the end, we rarely end up feeling particularly sorry for them, and Christie usually gets us to focus our emotional attentions on a budding romance between a mousey secretary type and a dashing young man with shiny black hair called Harry.

But Agatha Christie taught me how to be British, and also, how to be approximate a kind of fictional "middle-class" identity, which eventually came in handy when I left my council estate and was suddenly expected to interact successfully with the sorts of people who went to restaurants and went on holidays abroad. More importantly, those books were one of the few resources I had which helped me cope with my particularly difficult teenage years. And for that, whenever I'm channel-surfing and see one of her films, I silently thank her.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

It's 1938!

Gay rights campaigners have been given the label Gaystapo and compared to Nazis by Alan Craig, a former east London councillor writing in the Church of England newspaper. Craig writes:

Having forcibly – and understandably – rectified the Versailles-type injustices and humiliations foisted on the homosexual community, the UK's victorious Gaystapo are now on a roll. Their gay-rights stormtroopers take no prisoners as they annex our wider culture, and hotel owners, registrars, magistrates, doctors, counsellors, and foster parents … find themselves crushed under the pink jackboot.

"Thanks especially to the green light from a permissive New Labour government, the gay Wehrmacht is on its long march through the institutions and has already occupied the Sudetenland social uplands of the Home Office, the educational establishment, the politically-correct police. Following a plethora of equalities legislation, homosexuals are now protected and privileged by sexual orientation regulations and have achieved legal equality by way of civil partnerships. But it's only 1938 and Nazi expansionist ambitions are far from sated."

Poor Alan must have slept through Remedial History, because wasn't it the Nazis who put gay people in concentration camps? How confusing!

As a fully paid up member of the Gaystapo, all I can say is "Oh no! She's got us rumbled!" I guess we'd better bring forward the attack - Offizieranwärter PinkPants - deploy the queer gas cannisters all over the UK! Stabshauptmann Candyass - unleash Lady Gaga on the strategically placed tannoys! Hauptmann Bitchqueen - airdrop our queer propaganda (vintage muscle mags) across football stadiums and building sites!

Anyone who disagrees with our message of acceptance will be herded off to Bigotry Camps by our Special Lesbian Unit and forced to watch episodes of Glee until they break down.

Here are the rest of our Gaystapo Demands.

1) From now on, the pronouns "he" and "she" are to be switched around. Also, everyone must start every sentence with "OOooh Girl!" and end it with "You bitch!"

2) Everyone will wear face glitter.

3) Madonna will be crowned Queen of England, and we shall all Praise Her.

4) Organised sports will be banned, unless the (male) players do it naked.

5) Heterosexual marriage will also be banned because it's just sick and disgusting what those hetties do with their bits. We don't want to know! Uggggh

Long Live the Glorious Queer Revolution

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.