You know what I’m not a fan of: really shitty queer reality shows that propel an image of queerness that is mired in drama and good looks over actual life. They’re making us all look bad.
Why? It’s exploitative and propels stereotypes to the wrong people. It’s uncomfortable and maddening for everyday queers who are held up to the standard that these reality shows project but also to people like myself who strive to share and critique queer culture and media in the hopes of our being taken more seriously. We have yet to learn our lesson, allowing ourselves to be shaped and reshaped by exploitative heterosexual cisgender television confines (or, at least, television executives) as the weird sex having jesters of society.
The latest case of this is the dreadful looking What Happens At The Abbey, a show based around the “world’s best gay bar” in West Hollywood. I’ve been to The Abbey. I’ve written about The Abbey! It is ridiculous and where gay culture is born again as a phallic rainbow phoenix that vomits out fairy dust like a Snapchat filter. It’s equally terrible and wonderful. Unfortunately, it also feels like the distillation of everything bad about gay culture: too much drinking, too much groping, too much white men, too much bachelorette parties, etc. It is the Disneyland of gay bars, the world’s embassy for the LGBTQ. It is not perfect because it is not entirely real.
So what is the show? An apparent catty mess of bitchy service member who may or may not be gay fighting for attention and adoration of their hot bods. It’s a sad mess of narcissistic mania that comes on the heels of the equally as terrible Fire Island and Finding Prince Charming, two shows about hyper-sexualized gay men who epitomize supposed masc white culture focused on hairless gym bods and popping your dick into someone or something. Yes, I am a gay man and I love having sex but distilling me down to that in media is a disservice to the myriad thoughts and problems we have. It becomes parody masquerading as reality.
This isn’t the first or last time this has happened. Even Queer Eye was this, breaking down the gay body into “types” for people to consume easier. The A-List and Playing It Straight toyed around with this as well, the latter of which was a frightening toying of potential gay panic. They feel both unlovable and unjustified in representations and propel our problems.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Shows like Born This Way and The Great British Bake Off offer glimpses at contemporary follow reality and reality competition that have hearts, substance, education, diversity, and fun without any feeling of gross objectification or exploitation. The former is a shining example as it deals with a delicate group that could be “made fun of” so easily. That never happens, thank god.
The closest we’ve seen of this is The Prancing Elites—a show following a queer dance team in the South—and Big Freedia: Queen Of Bounce—a show about the queer rap artist diva—and The Fabulous Beekman Boys, a show about a gay couple who try out farming in upstate New York. The Real L Word could qualify as well. These shows are full of character and life while not pandering to the audience or talent while weaving in facts of queer life effortlessly. RuPaul’s Drag Race was once this until it became a silly after school special for the VH1 audience.
Yes, television should be mindless fun—but it’s also 2017. Life is more complicated than abs. Things are more serious. In “this economy” of culture, we can’t spend the time or breath that we do have to trivialize our problems or propel stereotypes. Sure, shows like The Abbey might do more work (I haven’t seen it yet nor have I seen many of these shows beyond clips.) but a sensationalist hook to get eyes is only going to maintain as such and be seen as such. No one will take us seriously until we take ourselves seriously.
That’s the problems with the queer reality that is put on television: it’s not real. Therefore, we aren’t real. If we look fake, we are fake.