Gay Times Reviews XXV

Dear Nick Meridian

The Chrystal Rose Show Carlton

Oprah Winfrey BBC2

The Ricki Lake Show Ch4

The Basement Carlton

Gaytime TV BBC2

EastEnders BBC1

I've been wanting to vent my spleen for two months, but have been frustrated by the wacky deadline system Gay Times operates. The focus of my rancour is a clinical psychologist called Oliver James who appeared on Dear Nick (Meridian). Now I know these people love to expound the antediluvian theories of Freud, but this is 1996, isn't it? I'm utterly outraged that this programme was given air time, and I was spitting feathers by the time the credits rolled.

Let me explain. A young woman was wheeled on to tell the woeful tale of how her boyfriend had left her for another man. "I couldn't compete," she wailed. "It was extremely upsetting. I couldn't give him what he wanted." After a couple of crack-brained questions from agony uncle Nick Fisher ("Did you make him gay?"), Oliver appeared and set his agenda by asking "Did he want to be anally penetrated?" The woman didn't help matters by claiming that her ex-boyfriend "was a sheep and followed his friends" onto the gay scene.

This gave Oliver his chance. "Some gay men use their sexuality as a way of trying to create an identity," he claimed, using the term "rugger buggers" to describe straight men who had homosexual sex. To an audience member who had suffered a similar galère, Oliver asked, "Was he quite a feminine man?" and was curious to know, "Before you split up with him, you were having sex? Proper sex? I mean, sexual intercourse?" I'll leave you to work out exactly what this psycho-schmuck meant by that.

He also offered a theory on why people are gay, so listen up. "There are certainly a proportion of men with quite a weak sense of identity who can't cope with too much intimacy or with too much dependency. Certainly the idea of children and marriage is a very difficult idea for them. Those people want to join a culture where casual sex is much more common, where there's much less obligation." Aren't you tickled pink to discover it's not genetic after all?

Nick was about as useful as a drag queen in a lesbian-only bar. Cornering the only gay man in the audience he asked, "What was the attraction of going over to be gay?" and probed the forlorn woman on stage, "What do you think it really was? Was it the music, was it the scene?" Oliver was having none of this, ready to divulge another postulation. "What was his Mother like?" he quizzed. "Because that's the other possibility, that he has quite a hostile attitude to women and that part of him wanted to actually be quite destructive to you."

For fuck's sake! Still reeling, I realised that not a single person had challenged Oliver over his homophobia. If you believed what this imbecilic vassal said, gay life is simply about anal sex, hatred of women, decent music and little else. Dankeschön, Oliver, for putting the kybosh on decades of progress. I can only pray that Meridian bloody well wake up and send him back to the bunker from whence he came.

Come to think of it, TV coverage of gay issues is pretty puerile all round, but I'll get to Gaytime TV later. Take The Chrystal Rose Show (Carlton). A bastion of baser topics, the show occasionally tackles gay issues, recently taking on the conflicts between gay children and their parents.

Chrystal was on the ball immediately. "When did you decide that you were homosexual?" she asked Peter Tatchell before trawling the audience for yarns about coming out. Peter's mother, Mardi Nitscke, was flown in and admitted that she wished her son would be less vocal (I'm with her there, particularly when he's harping on about an age of consent of 14) and Lynn Sutcliffe told a few of the "brave and bizarre" sagas contained in the book she was plugging. Chrystal provided timely comments such as "Really?" and "Goodness me!", jaculating a few audible gasps for good measure.

As with most talk shows, these coming out stories are treated as party pieces, spanning religious zeal, ignorance and prejudice. I simply can't grasp why there a such a fixation on anecdotes about a parent's reaction to their child being gay. Why can't TV producers get beyond this level? Why does every show on lesbian and gay issues contain the question "Is there a right way to come out?" And why, given that we're a scant fours years away from a new century, are we still seeing people in silhouette?

Oprah Winfrey (BBC2) seems to be a tad more precocious in her attitude, but sporadically relies on those time-worn questions. Dealing with the concept of legalising gay marriages, she questioned a number of couples, "Why do you want to be married?" Duh... She was like a dog with a bone: "So you wish to have the option if you so desire, but what would be the point?" Double duh...

A chap called Robert Knight from the Family Research Council claimed that gay marriages are counterfeit and a waste of taxpayer's money, accusing gays of "creating tyranny." A fan of his, having stated her position with the Heavenly Father, spun out the "Homosexuality is an abomination" line. "I've stayed quiet while you've all applauded this lesbian crap and I've had enough," she cried. Oprah cut her down with a deeply slicing comment that sent the audience into a frenzy. It's just a shame that many other comments made by right-wingers were not disputed.

It's a problem that behoves others. Ricki Lake constantly loses control of her panelists and audience on The Ricki Lake Show (C4). Once again, the subject concerned friction between gay relatives. Three women in almost Pilgrim-style clothing with pale faces, narrowed eyes and twisted lips spouted the usual claptrap while Ricki, with a furrowed brow and pleading eyes, implored "What's wrong with being gay?"

A variety of answers were presented including that age-old myth that "gays might start touching my children `cos if they've got the attitude that they can be gay, who's to say how far they'll go?" These people were loutish cretins. "My nine year-old son now has nightmares," claimed one. "I am naa-wt homophobic," another decreed in a Southern drawl. "It's a sick choice," said a young man who looked as if he was a card-carrying Nazi. (Personally, I think it's a far more sickening choice to be a bigot.) "My Bible tells me that homosexuals are going to hell." And which chapter is that? Certianly not Leviticus 20:13.

The defending gays pointed, screamed and nodded emphatically while the crowd whooped like crazed monkeys. Brief moments of sanity quickly descended into slanging match and once again, the gays walked away licking their wounds. Of course, it's a requisite of these programmes that the audience turn into psuedo-therapists but you can't change the world in 50 minutes, more's the pity.

It's even more unlikely to overturn a homophobe's jaundiced views in 30 minutes, but bless her, Sonya Saul tried, insisting on The Basement (Carlton) that "Being out is in." On which planet, I wonder. Her Saturday morning show is specifically aimed at teenagers, and recently addressed coming out, but showed bias towards the negative aspects of visibility. The questions were of the common or garden variety, including that old chestnut, "Is there a right way to come out?" Déjà-vu.

Sonya did offer some "facts about being gay" to wit, "Do what is right for you, be prepared, take your time, be yourself, live and let live." A lesson for us all, eh?

I apologise for labouring the point, but half an hour later, Sonya returned to a woman who said she wasn't comfortable with the whole idea of being gay. Had the conversation changed her mind? "As soon as you open your mouth as a heterosexual," she replied, "you get jumped upon." A young gay man came to her rescue. "If it sounds like we're shouting you down, we don't mean it," he said. Aren't we? Have I actually missed the point?

Maybe I haven't, but I can point out something that has. Gaytime TV (BBC2). As 11.15pm approached, I swapped flip comments with my girlfriend about death as a viable alternative to watching Rhona and Bert. Then those tosspot American-style titles appeared and we were drawn into the maelstrom. I cast my rheumy eye across the audience, noting that the "thorough cross-section" was almost exclusively young, slim and fashionable. The set is the most gorgeous thing about it all.

The first half hour included a shoddily-filmed piece on the Mr Gay UK final, in-jokes about lesbian relationships enabled by news of Emmerdale, and Simon Callow. Here, Bert proved he is on his own in the world of television presentation. Did someone forget to change his batteries? Did someone give him Chrystal Rose's script? Did my ears deceive me or did he actually ask Callow "When did you first realise you were gay?" Failed the preliminary course of interviewing techniques, did he?

It seems a crying shame that Rhona seemingly enrolled in a similar establishment. Her intimate chat with kd lang saw Rhona frantically building her questions to a crescendo of sycophancy, and plying kd with her business card. Are we really expected to believe that tacky gimmicks like this are more important than issues of violence, discrimination and prejudice? I had a giggle during Bert's guide to cruising, but I pray nobody forwards a few tapes of GTTV find their way into the Tory Central Office. It would be enough to get us all locked up permanently for crimes against humanity.

EastEnders (BBC1) has been far more provocative and exhilarating than Gaytime TV could ever hope to be. Actually, car insurance ads are more exciting than GTTV, but once again I digress. By the time you read this, a potentially astounding two (wow) gay characters will be trolling around the Square: Tiffany's brother, Simon (who has a violent father and a boyfriend who batters him), and maybe Tony Hills.

By the time you read this, you may have seen the two gay boys squatting next to Ian (what an image) before being thrown out by the lil' Hitler and getting a flat with Tiff and Simon. You might even have noticed that when Tony had been soundly beaten for his drug-dealing activities, it was Simon who provided comfort...

Although the PR spokeswoman at EastEnders "couldn't possibly confirm" that Tony will resolve his confusion over his sexuality and come out, she assured me that sthe story "will run and run." It's nice to know that someone is willing to take the flag and sprint with it. I suppose others aren't mature enough to helve the responsibility.

© Megan Radclyffe 1993-2001

Ricki Lake: Back Off Boys, I'm A Lesbian Ch4

Wicked Women: King Girl BBC2

This Is Your Life BBC1

Yes, there's a huge gap in my viewing schedule. I had planned on a diverse plethora from the winter televisual feast but after a protracted and heinous chest infection, I developed glaucoma and found watching TV (let alone writing about it) excruciatingly painful. I missed a six–part exploration of new age religion with God In The House on C4. I failed to catch an update on those five cheeky chappies from Manchester (Take That: Where Are They Now? on MTV). I neglected a saunter through Derek Jarman's garden on Gardener's World Take 2 (BBC2). I omitted to watch Soul Searching (C4) which tackled the Islamic, Hindu and Jewish perspective on, among other thorny issues, gay parenting. And to top it all, I was huddled under the duvet with an eye patch and a box of pain killers when Human Rights, Human Wrongs (BBC2) finally tackled the atrocities inflicted on lesbians and gays around the world.

I did manage to catch Ricki Lake: Back Off Boys, I'm A Lesbian (C4) though. I'm sorry if it's not much to get your teeth into but I thought it was an interesting twist, because Ricki usually only dips her toe into the tumultuous seas of "My friends think I'm gay and I'm not!" Here, a bunch of predominantly black youngsters with strange names such as Vontese, Dewayne, Evon and Kamrn argued the toss. One ego–ridden male after another paraded their manhood, convinced they could win the affections of these dyed–in–the–wool dykes. One particularly obnoxious man's plans for his "fine African queen" seemed horribly rooted in obsessive stalking. The phrase "It's just a phase" and the question "Have you had a bad experience with a man?" (then all women would be lesbians, wouldn't they?) popped up.

Ricki erred on the side of the lesbians, having picked her way through a minefield of male testosterone and pig–headed attitudes and the "etiquette expert" – Ms. Behaviour – banged her head against a very hard wall of intolerance, while the audience did their best to confuse the issue by switching sides with alarming speed and regularity. All in all, a standard talk show: it probably sounded much more provocative on paper and – at the risk of appearing cynical or cruel – I wonder if Ricki just didn't want one of her guests murdered after their revelations in an effort to boost ratings...

Wicked Women: King Girl (BBC2) was certainly nothing more than that – a blatant attempt to get into the Top 10 disguised as an in–depth exploration of bullying. Louise Atkins was admittedly quite impressive as Glenn, playing the surly attitude to the hilt. Her mother was a drunken, drug–addled prostitute, her father an abusive bastard, her home a slovenly council flat, her sustenance a diet of chips. She never said much, but her vocabulary enveloped little more than "lesbian bitch" or "smelly pants" and "spastic features".

Seemingly aggravated at her life, she picks on Gail, all pom–poms and ponytails, whose father has recently died. Why she decides to persecute this girl was an enigmatic choice, especially when she was shown sobbing as she watched Gail at her father's grave side. The rest of the time (during an exceedingly protracted 80 minutes) she stomped around, pouting and looking at the world through hooded eyes, gobbing off rooftops and fucking a 12 year–old boy on derelict land. Her father wants her on the game and her mother tried to top herself with a mixture of pills and Pils.

My overwhelming impression was that it wouldn't have looked out of place in the late 1980's, when anti–Thatcherite plays were at a premium. Was it her environment that made her so cynical and malevolent? Are we simply to accept the fact that council housing, bellicose parents and a comprehensive education, where the teachers are incapable of discipline, produces such reprobates? And just when I began to think there was absolutely no hope for the script, King Girl pours out her heart to her victim. She was jealous of the relationship Gail had with her father. Oh. So that's alright then. She has justification! I know that bullying is a huge problem in schools, but I really can't fathom how King Girl was addressing or tackling the issues, or how it could have been of any help to parents or friends or those in suffering.

Speaking of which, I crawl towards This Is Your Life (BBC1) which turned the hot spotlight on none other than the "King and Queen of Daytime TV" – Richard and Judy. I saw the original zap, live on air, after Aspel sneaked up the Thames in a boat then crept out from behind some magnificent flowers to be greeted with Judy's "By God, I'm gobsmacked!" and Richard's "I'll gusset my buckets!" so, in my sad little way, I convinced myself I'd watch.

The depths of anyone's past life on This Is Your Life are hardly ever plumbed. Here, we were treated to a few pics of Judy with a home perm and wonky teeth, tales of Richard eating his sister's pet snails, a dire recreation of a guitar duo Madeley was involved in, and a couple of clips of early TV reports (Judy on mini–skirts and Richard on the roses at Hooker Hall), and a huge plug for their fave restaurant. No wedding photos, complete silence from Judy's grown–up twins and certainly no mention of a certain shoplifting case...

The couple seemed genuinely pleased to meet up with school friends they hadn't seen for 30 years, receiving "message from Weatherfield" or having Barbara Windsor and Steve Wright sucking up to them. They were pleased as punch when Lily Savage turned up, saying that she "should have paid the fine" because "this community service is rubbish." The most bizarre part came when the infamous Jack and Chloe presented their own version of This Morning, not because they are the spitting image of their parents or because they were quite professional, but because I should see the year 2020 in my head, with the Daytime TV King and Queen succeeded by their offspring. Hopefully, I'll be retired or senile by then.

And so, the results of the great Gay Times Readers' Awards are in. What's the prize, I wonder? The editorship asked for my reactions and the first one that whacked me on the noggin was, how on earth do you vote for Paul Nichols (who, oddly enough, came first in the Sexiest TV Actor race) above David French? If the rumours of French's alternative sexuality are true, then surely he acted his little socks off in the role of a promiscuous and conniving heterosexual, and beat Paul's frankly shallow portrayal of a paranoid schizophrenic into a cocked hat. I can only assume that the importance (absolutely vital to the advancement of universal cognition of the gay male community, no doubt) of whether the lad shaved his chest or not may have clouded the judgment of the 9.5% who voted for him.

But wait. Here's another theory. The overwhelming impression I gathered from reading the results was that a lot of names that cropped up appeared on television towards the latter end of 1996. The "winners" of the Best Comedy, Best Factual Programme and Best Drama were all screened after October, and many of the also–rans were on air at the time votes were cast. Thankfully, a few oldies (BBC1's The Sculptress and regional offerings Taggart and Band Of Gold managed to sneak onto the top choice list. It proved to me that there are some distinguished viewers out there, except possibly for the person who actually thought Elton John's Tantrums and Tiaras worth a vote in the Best Factual bracket and the wit who voted for the Conservative Party Conference in the comedy category. Best Travesty, more like.

More curious is that, after relatively veracious entries in the same area such as Soho Stories (BBC2), Cutting Edge, Equinox and Dispatches (all C4), Blue Peter (BBC1) came in fifth. Initially, the image of grown gay men watching a now puerile children's programme was a curiosity until I considered that a) Tim Vincent is still on it (and was voted TV's Sexiest Presenter) and b) it managed to rank 10 places above Gaytime TV (BBC2).

The number of abstentions were lowest in the Best Comedy section, the highest rate showing in Best Factual (25%). Does this say something about "gay TV"? Does the omission of Dyke TV (C4) say more? Is the fact that EastEnders polled 64.5% in the Best Soap category say less about blinding plots and intriguing characters than simply because the Beeb ran a gay story line? Does Ab Fab topping the ranking imply we are willing to forgive the odd comedic aberrance in favour of a few shots of Old Compton Street? Should it be worrying that more people listened to BRMB than watched Roseanne, with its high gay quotient or that many more people listen to Chris Evans (R1) than G.A.Y (Spectrum), Freedom FM and Out This Week (R5) lumped together?

For years, we've all screamed about being just as normal as yer average heterosexual. It would appear that – at least, when slumped in front of the telly – that is stunningly true. Given the idea that there is far much more gay content being routinely included in the schedules, in every type of programme from soaps and daytime TV to serious debate and particularly in comedy (the BBC's The Thin Blue Line and C4's Friends scored pretty highly but once again, is the camp PC and the possibility of Chandler's gaiety that forced the vote?), it concerns me that some TV executive may just float the idea that they don't actually need to make space for gay–orientated television or radio because, as these results show, we don't watch or listen to it.

© Megan Radclyffe 1993-2001

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