Leave out the camp and bring home the changes

8 Feb

What is it about Television and their obsession with a certain type of gay people/person?

In the early years of television, being gay or just to portray a gay character was taboo. In 1961, Dirk Bogarde starred in a film called ‘Victim’, which was the first English language film that used the word ‘homosexual’. At the time, it caused a great deal of controversy.

Then, in the 1970’s, British audiences tittered and laughed at the antics of John Inman as flambouyant and camp character Mr Humphries in comedy series ‘Are you being served?’ with his innuendos and catchphrase “I’m free!”

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At the same time, Larry Grayson was entertaining his audiences with his tongue in cheek humour and his catchphrase “Shut that door!”

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Openly gay men were few and far between on television. And if there were gay men present, we hardly knew…

Fast forward about 20 years and we have Graham Norton. Alan Carr, Gok Wan, Brian Dowling, Julian Clary, Simon Amstell, Antony Cotton and other not so famous tv personalities. What do they have in common? They all claim to play down their sexual orientation on television, but their on screen personas are very similar to what we saw many moons ago albeit in a slightly different manner.

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Simon Cowell, he of the sharp tongue, pop svengali and mega rich tv personality, was criticised by a very popular gay magazine. In an article , it was suggested that although his tv shows  such as Pop Idol, X Factor and the Idol series had many gay followers since their inception and increasing over the years, there appeared to be a distinct lack of openly gay singers auditioning or successfully moving into the final stages. The same magazine said it appeared to be a form of discrimination and mentioned Elton John, Freddie Mercury and George Michael as prime examples of openly gay, succesful artists. It went onto suggest Simon open his doors and embrace the very people that seemed to make the show so popular.

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I don’t know if Simon and his team read that article, but since then, there appears to be a number of young gay men, drag acts and artists auditioning on his show. Most notably and recently, Rylan Clarke, who really annoys and irritates me for his outrageous, flambouyant behaviour and diva like antics even before he has established himself as a bona fide tv personality or ‘star’. Some heterosexual women say they like him as he is “so funny, unique and individual”. But I say, go down to Hurst Street, Birmingham or Canal Street Manchester and you’ll see thousands all behaving and looking the same.

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Back in the 70’s and 80’s, some men who identified as gay would attempt to grow or support various forms of handlebar moustaches, beards or goatees, checked shirts and tight jeans as a cultural outfit or an homage to the very”straight”, butch and masculine cowboys. These were identified in the gay community as “Clones”. With cultural changes, social pressure and legislation, that particular image has changed and we have replaced the qualities associated with a “somewhat closeted or straight acting gay man”, who appeared quite discreet and transformed it into a well plucked, groomed, fey, effeminate, camp or “theatrical” , larger-than-life personalities, most notable for their slight or slim builds, feminine hairstyles and crossing their arms across the chest and mincing down the High Street.

This is good for someone who wants to embrace and understand gay culture, make it more open and acceptable to be part of the lgbt community. But on national television, being “camp and gay” seems to perpetuate a myth in the real world. When people find out or I tell them that I am gay, they either accept me or say “You’re not like so and so off the telly, are you?” as if it’s a revelation. Or they might say “We know about gay men because we see Julian/ Rylan/ or insert name of whichever gay person you see on the box or popular gay celebrity at the time” .

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We’re not all the same. Some of us have pretty “normal” lives. We put the bins out, feed the cats, pay the bills or mortgage, have highs and lows, arguments and good times, and can be quite quiet and private individuals. We can be sensitive, compassionate and hold decent, articulate  and intelligent conversations without innuendo and deal with life events or experiences without breaking out into a song and dance/over reacting.

What was a slight on gay men, “You’re one of those!?” with certain individuals facing  conflict, backlash, bullying, dilemmas and the feeling of being ostracised and disowned to a more acceptable ” You’re gay!? Wow! You can be my best friend and treat me  because I feel safe in your company”. I know it’s a generalisation but that is what I have personally heard, glean from others when they are expressing views about their own social circles and how they accept or treat gay men.

It all sounds as if being gay today has become fashionable and another commodity for the “heterosexual’ community to hold onto. Like celebrities having babies, poodles or dogs, having a new Gay Best Friend and being gay is very much “on trend” in some circles. That’s fine by me. I accept it. But don’t make the gay people/characters on tv yet another stereotype. “Gayness” and being gay  comes in all different shapes, sizes and all manner of personalities. It would be more beneficial to the nation if television people could choose, select or present other types of people from the lgbt community and other aspects of gay culture.  Just don’t feed the nation too much of the “camp”. Thank you!

The Learned Kat

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