Two new gay reality shows...

In order to provide the best continuing service, I am including another DVD director's cut. below is another un-edited review that will soon appear on, of the two new gay reality shows...including TK's and everything...

How did you organize your closet? Ugly uglier ugliest? Carson Kressley wails to his straight makeover victim, and then proceeds to poke, prod and pinch him. As one of the five gay lifestyle experts on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" -- Bravo's new extremely watchable, but extremely freaky makeover reality show-- Kressley's goal is to transform straight guy slobs into stylish lookers while relentlessly pushing products.

It has taken a few years for television to perfect how to best portray gay life in our bizarre, shamelessly promotional Reality Show Era. But with two new "gay reality" shows, Queer Eye, and Boy meets Boy, the Bravo network has sculpted just the right stereotypes to make gay guys commercially viable for more mainstream audiences. Get psyched!

Like Bobby Trendy, Steven Cocaraju and TK (whats the name of that flailing faggy home improvement guy with the beard?), the most lucrative version of a gay these days is one as inhumanly efficient as Martha Stewart, as domestically magic as Mary Poppins, and as optimistically energetic as Richard Simmons -- while still being funny, unintimidating and kind of sexless.

In one episode, Kressley and his cohorts Ted Allen (Food and Wine), Kyan Douglas (Grooming Guru) Thom Filicia (Design Doctor), and Jai Rodriguez (Culture Vulture) burst into the cluttered apartment of Butch, an adorable red-haired artist who beams with good nature as they insult him. They point disapprovingly at stains on his futon and underwear (they even smell them and go "ew!"). Then they throw out his "Gap 1998" clothes, clean his bathroom and kitchen, paint his walls, cut and highlight his hair, dye his eyebrows, send him to be sprayed with artificial tanner, and organize a gallery showing of his artwork -- all while constantly plugging products from DKNY, Lucky 7 Jeans, Redken and other sponsors like Macy's counter clerks working on commission.

After reworking their subject, the Fab 5 collect in a fabulous penthouse apartment (you know, where all urban gays live), drink cosmos and spy on their madeover metrosexual, giving comments on his final preparations for his night out. They watch while "oonce-oonce" dance music plays (that ever-present beat you hear everywhere now) and the nervously re-wired straight guy shaves with botanical products and squeezes out 50 dollar foie gras onto crackers as instructed before rushing out the door.

Of course, the Fab 5 do an amazing job. By the end of Butch's makeover, he looks very cute, and seems brighter and more optimistic. In fact he is almost tearfully thankful. Standing in front of his awed and applauding friends, he delivers a throaty speech that sounds a lot like a coming out testimonial. It's almost as if the show is marketing a kind of coming out process to the heterosexual mainstream excluding the pain, doubt and heartbreak when you find out that life still sucks, even when you're gay.

Which worries me. Do Butch and the other sloppy straight guys know what they are getting themselves into? In his Lucky jeans, distressed jacket and emulcified hair, Butch (now renamed Brian) was turning himself into a kind of person that our commercialized culture loves: the product-addicted, shop-manic Put-Together Gay.

I have to admit when I met my first Put-Together Gays, way back when I started on my weird homo journey into adulthood, I found them alluring too. In fact until watching this show I have realized that I have spent fourteen or so years of my dumb gay dating life somehow enamored by these neat, perfectly styled guys -- the ones with nice jaws and biceps, their hair layered in messy but presentable fop-mops. Those guys with perfect charming apartments; fashion magazines in flush stacks, well selected mid-century furniture, frames around old vacation postcards, an old suitcase thrown nonchalantly on the floor.

Butch wouldn't know, but after you have sex with a Put-Together Gay on his spring-fresh tight cotton trundle bed sheets, you leave his place smelling of high end candles and LÕOccitane hand cream and wonder where he really lives, and who he really is, and whether he has any dust in his life at all.

What happens when all these made over straight guys sit down in their minimal, tidy, well painted, minty apartments and realize that they still feel a howling gape in their souls? I wanted to scream to the TV screen: "Turn back Butch!!! Run!! Don't get imprisoned in the Gay Bell Jar of style!!"

While straight men are shown the pathway to Product Dependency on Queer Eye, gay men are driven partially insane on, "Boy Meets Boy." Bravo's weird attempt at a trashily addictive yet supposedly life-affirming reality show that is, to its credit, absolutely successful in the trashily addictive category.

An elimination date show in the Bachelor model, one single guy (the sweet, buttery-faced, somewhat emotionally delicate James) must find someone compatible in a moderno Hollywood Hills-style house of 15 men. Along for the ride is his best girlfriend, Andra, to help him decide. But neither of them know the cruel twist of the show -- that some of James's suitors are straight. You wouldn't know either, because all the guys on this show look like minor models for Old Navy surfwear.

In this version of "gay reality," men can't appear too gay. Carson from Queer Eye wouldn't last past the first introduction. "Find out when two worlds collide as we bridge the gap between gay and straight" says the host Dani Behr, a thick accented blond brit with complicated bangs. This "bridge" between the apparently deep and uncrossable gay/straight gap can be summed up in one familiar phrase: "straight acting."

Now, after years of hearing that word in personal ads and internet profiles and not really understanding what it means, viewers will be given a glimpse of just how warped a gay can be when he mistakes natural masculinity for the fake manliness of a Catalina Video porn star. The show is a little hard to follow at first for both James and the viewer, because these straightacting guys all have one-syllable soccer names like Chris, Matt and Jim.

A visibly shaken James sits in his Hawaiian shirt and lei trying to tell them apart while they jockily approach him for their first meeting. It's incredibly nervewracking to watch each suitor's awkward introduction to James as they shake his hand like firemen, and say lines like "I am looking forward to getting to know you better," in faux Ryan Idol inflections. It's even more uncomfortable to watch the inherently flightier ones like little button-eyed Wes or attitudinally clubby Rob try their best to butch it up.

After James meets all of them, they stand in even rows by the pool in their finished sleeve cut-off tees, gelled Justin Timberlake hair and tiny eyebrows plucked within a quarter inch of their lives. Whether gay or straight, they are a well-groomed, blurry homogeneity. Here, in front of James, is the leveled look of the mainstreamed gay: a bunch of Queer as Folky party boys with shaved, gym toned bodies and complicated flip-flops. "Wow what an interesting cross section," James says, shellshocked. Get this guy out of LA!

Maybe, though, James will find true love on Boy Meets Boy and be as tearfully thankful as the madeover men on Queer Eye, because he seems to go for guys about as bland as a Starbucks smock (He tries to get help from Andra, but she looks like she had one-too-many mai tais at the luau to really be of much help). In the first round of eliminations, he shows his preference for a kind of modified Miami version of 80's popstar Rick Astley by eliminating anyone with any sense of complication or intrigue. The producers must have collectively sighed in relief, crouched in the master bedroom, when they saw James's blindly boring taste in men matched their own.

James is allowed to fall mistakenly in love with a straight guy, but in this gay reality, races don't mix in the land of true love. Like all of the heterosexual reality shows, they plop down only one obligatory black guy. Asian men? Sure, they are represented. They perform for the guys at the luau in little Polynesian outfits.

No one on this production seems to have trouble with the clearly cruel twist of sprinkling straight guys among the men -- as if it isn't hard enough for poor James (or any of us) to find love. These "straight" men walk among the suitors, concealed in their beachy muscle shirts like secret agents of disappointment. (Why didn't the Bachelor sprinkle lesbians among its marriage-hungry women?) But as we know, reality shows are based, at their core, on the teetering danger of humiliation, so it was a wise, dramatic choice for the Boy Meets Boy team. In one season, they have made the threat of falling for a straight guy as sensitive and humiliating a predicament for gay men as the threat of spinsterhood has become for women on television.

In this new age of TV, after all our so-called progress, gay guys still must have a shaky relationship with what and who they are attracted to, but no one ever questions straight men's sexuality. It is somehow more solid, more "real." We can probably safely assume that none of the "straight" guys on Boy Meets Boy will get drunk and make out with a guy. Now that the divisions between gay and straight have been so clearly (and commercially) drawn, we need to be constantly reminded that straight men are always straight, no matter what show they are on. Imagine how many fragile demographic strategies would fall apart if a straight man finally admitted on TV that he may actually want to suck a cock?

It's almost comforting to see these bland imprisoning versions of the gay man. It makes me feel that much closer to my female friends, who have had to endure insipid translations of their desires on TV for decades now.

In the careful, considerate, well-rounded 90s, gay people had it good on TV. We were portrayed, for the most part, as smart, strong, complex citizens. Dr. Cary Weaver on ER, Martin Mull's lumpy and smart diner boss on Roseanne, even the boring, concerned TK on Melrose Place. But that was a different time. In our Reality Show Era, you canÕt be complex and still be a human receptacle for advertising. How scary yet appropriate it is that in "reality" portrayals of gay life are more flat and bland than in fiction. A plucked product pusher or straight acting mouthbreather -- take your pick.

-July 2003

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