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Effeminacy and Expertise, Excess and Equality

Effeminacy and Expertise, Excess and Equality

© Copyrighted Material Chapter 7

m Effeminacy and Expertise, Excesso .c te a g and Equality: Gay Best Friends has s .a w w Consumers and Commodities w in

m o .c Contemporary Televisionte a g h s .a Susie Khamis and Anthony Lambert w w w

m o .c te a g h s .a Introduction: Selling and Buying the Gay Bestw Friend w w

m In December 2003 Vanity Fair magazine dedicatedo its front cover to ‘TV’s Gay .c Heat Wave’. Featuring the stars of Americante series Will & Grace (1998–2006), a g Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (2003–2007) hand Queer as Folk (2000–2005), the s .a cover celebrated what seemed a milestonew in mainstream media: at least nine w gay-centric television shows in primew time, in a period of unprecedented

m visibility for gay and lesbian characterso and personalities. This was, to a certain .c extent, an unexpected side effect tofe the cultural focus on gay men after the a g spread of AIDS in the West in theh 1980s: s .a w w While the AIDS crisis claimedw many lives, it served as a catalyst to open

m conversations about sexualityo and gender that had heretofore been difficult .c if not impossible and, consequently,te the turn of the millennium ushered in a a g newfound examinationh of what had been defined as ‘‘gay,’’ and perhaps not so s .a positively, this queeredw space began to make ‘‘gay’’ a commodity. Interestingly, w it would only be w10 years after the height of the AIDS crisis in America that

m the number oneo television sit-com would highlight the lives of two ‘‘gay’’ men .c and two ‘‘straight’’te women (all white and ‘‘upper-middle-class’’) in a manner a g that capturedh many of the historically associated with gays and the s .a women whow adore them (Poole, 2014: 280). w w

m Certainly,o from the late 1990s and into the early 2000s, in key television .c marketste around the world, there was growing salience and popularity of gay- a g h focuseds television shows, with particular emphasis on identities and relationships .a structuredw clearly along the lines of sexuality and class. This emphasis has w informedw subsequent programmes© Copyrighted such as Material The New Normal (2012–2013) and

© 2015 From Alison Hulme (ed.), Consumerism on TV: Popular Media from the 1950s to the Present, published by Ashgate Publishing. See: http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9781472447562 CONSUMERISM ON TV © Copyrighted Material the widely popular Modern Family (2009–present), now ostensibly negotiating the tensions and overlaps between the commodification of ‘gayness’ and the normalisation of gay male roles, functions and identities. m This discussion focuses squarely on the figure at the centre of thiso ‘wave’, .c te the gay male best friend. Hoffman (2011, online) argues that ‘contemporarya g h has become saturated with the gay best friend’, citing the s 2010 issue .a w of Teen Vogue that lists ‘a gay best friend’ as one of ‘the must havew items’ for w fashion conscious (presumably straight) teenage girls. The prominencem of o the gay male best friend is considered throughout this chapter,.c in terms of te a a relationship to discourses of consumerism. As a ‘possessable,g commodified h s identity’ (Hoffman 2011, online), the gay best friend in contemporary.a popular w w television has emerged specifically in consumer culture w where the meaning and

m experiences of gayness are ‘created, maintained, ando negotiated by markets’. .c Gay best friends are thus represented as companions,te confidants or even side- a g h kicks, as go-to men for matters of fashion, grooming,s décor, and in more recent .a incarnations as the funny, ‘modern’ and ‘normal’w members (and makers) of w w families. By speaking to specific cultural and political phenomena that ‘produce’ m o him/them within popular understandings, this.c examination tracks the gay best te a friend across a range of texts as an effeminateg consumer, the expert consumer, h s excessive consumer, and in more recent.a incarnations, the ‘equal’ consumer, w w reflective of changing social contexts. w

This first part of the chapter surveysm of gay male friends and o .c consumerism, both fictional and ‘real’,te across four key programmes: Will & a g Grace, Sex and the City (1998–2004),h Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and How to Look s .a Good (2006–2010). In allw four shows, gay characters and figures appear w w as both icons and agents of consumption, committed to the celebration of self m through image and style. Theo second half of the chapter critiques the wider .c te significance of this pattern,a extending these tropes into explicitly politicised g h contexts; figures from Queers as Folk, Modern Family and The New Normal are .a w taken alternately as thew embodiment of non-normative excess, as signifiers of w a heteronormative capitalisticm order, and as reflections of contradictory and o notions of.c acceptance. te a g The cover ofh Vanity Fair in 2003 implied a victory of sorts, insofar as s .a mainstream televisionw had at last showcased gay and lesbian characters in new w and exciting waysw – or at least not as victims, or deviants, as had been

m the case historically.o However it is argued here that, in their framing of the .c te gayness (asa friendly/helpful, useful, objectified and/or normal) the polysemy g h of the stelevision texts discussed in this chapter appropriates what appears .a w progressive,w emancipatory into largely conservative narratives that ultimatelyw support and sustain heteropatriarchal norms, values and institutions. This does not disavow the significance of such programmes in an evolving mediasphere, but tempers general© Copyrighted assumptions Material that, in the representations of


Copyright material: You are not permitted to transmit this file in any format or media; it may not be resold or reused without prior agreement with Ashgate Publishing and may not be placed on any publicly accessible or commercial servers. EFFEMINACY AND EXPERTISE, EXCESS AND EQUALITY © Copyrighted Material gay men on television informed discursively by consumerism, popular presence alone automatically constitutes transformative socio-political change.

m o .c te a g Fag and Shopping Bags: Will & Grace and Sex and the Cityh s .a w w Will & Grace premiered on NBC in 1998 and soon became an internationalw

m ratings and critical success (Schiappa et al., 2006: 16–17). The comedyo centres .c on , a successful, handsome, homosexual attorneyt eand his female a g best friend and roommate, , a flighty, neurotic,h straight interior s .a decorator. After a failed relationship in College before Will’sw coming out, the w two maintain a close personal bond, and a chic Manhattanw lifestyle without

m the messy complications of romance and sex. As such,o Will & Grace debuted .c a fresh take on how domestic bliss could be realised.t eThe show also featured a g what some critics considered their scene-stealing satellites:h Grace’s secretary s .a Karen Walker and Will’s flamboyantly camp friendw McFarland. The first w American prime time show to feature a gay characterw in a lead role, Will & Grace

m actively contested some of the most stable tenetso of broadcast television. At .c the same time it rests on at least one culturallyte dominant : the over- a g identification of gay men with style, goodh taste and grooming. s .a Of the two gay characters, Will is warguably the ‘straighter’; a respected w lawyer, and owner of the apartment wherew he lives, projecting a conventionally

m appealing masculinity. Conversely Jack,o a frustrated (and usually unemployed) .c actor reliant on Karen’s patronage,te exudes a more theatrical and obvious a g gayness, which occasionally embarrassesh the more reserved Will. Pertinent s .a here is the homology that persistsw despite the occupational differences between w Will – a highly regarded andw accomplished professional – and the perennially

m out-of-work Jack: both conformo to the airbrushed of the hyper- .c preened gay man, both tefrequent the same upmarket restaurants, bars and a g h gymnasium, and both articulates an acute sartorial sensibility. Where Will’s style .a is GQ-corporate, Jack’sw is super-starched and preppy, yet both proffer a steady w stream of unsolicitedw (and often unkind) fashion advice and commentary to the

m more rakishly attiredo Grace. For her part, Grace rarely challenges their advice, .c and often deferste to Will when deciding what to wear. In the show’s premier a g h episode, Wills and Grace’s late-night phone banter, staged to cue connotations .a of ‘pillow talk’,w quickly becomes a chat about shopping, symbolically marking w w their relationship as based on shared consumer interests, and importantly as m one unlikeo most television male-female pairings (Silverman, 2013: 264–265). As .c Quimbyte (2005: 716) notes, ‘Will and Grace’s friendship is the kind that shares a g h the sexcitement of counting the days until the Barney’s sale’. .a w The playfully grotesque friendship between Karen and Jack possesses an w evenw more pronounced emphasis© Copyrighted on image Material and superficiality. A wealthy and


© 2015 From Alison Hulme (ed.), Consumerism on TV: Popular Media from the 1950s to the Present, published by Ashgate Publishing. See: http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9781472447562 CONSUMERISM ON TV © Copyrighted Material arrogant socialite who revels in excess – of alcohol, designer clothes, pills and put-downs – Karen’s ‘job’ as Grace’s secretary is little more than welcome relief from her loveless marriage; that she married for money (and therefore does not m have to work for it) is a given. This privilege furnishes not just her lifestyleo but .c te Jack’s as well, who is clearly in awe of her style. On their first meeting,a the g h two concur that in her exuberant , specifically her prominents bosom .a w and Chanel shoes, Karen is indeed ‘fabulous’ (Wolf, 2013: 290). Bothw Will and w

Jack suggest ‘socio-economic status’ as ‘a major quality of the mgay best friend o ’ and, in Jack’s case in particular, the ‘often unclear or.c illogical’ source te a of the gay friend’s wealth (Hoffman, 2011, online). g h s Premiering in 1998 on HBO, Sex and the City was also.a hailed a revolution w w in television culture, but for different reasons (Meyer,w 2014: 425). The

m series chronicles the relationships of and between fouro women: .c newspaper columnist Carrie Bradshaw, publicist te Samantha Jones, lawyer a g h Miranda Hobbes, and art gallery curator Charlottes York, the first group of .a female characters to talk openly, honestly and oftenw shockingly about sex on w w the small screen (Gerhard, 2005: 37). Carrie and friends are all attractive, m o accomplished women who are able to consume.c men just as they consume te a everything Manhattan has to offer (Oria, 2014:g 387): fabulous parties, trendy h s restaurants, and – for Carrie especially – .fashion.a The series inverted the usual w w in television whereby men commodifyw and objectify women as sexual playthings (Brunner, 2010: 88–89). Inm Sex and the City, the men are reduced to o .c nicknames (‘Mr. Big’, ‘Catholic Guy’,te ‘the Russian’), likened to designer labels a g (the ‘always in style’ George Clooney,h for instance, is compared to a classic s .a Chanel suit), and often discardedw or considered disposable goods (Cramer, w w 2007: 420–421). m In its glamorised depictiono of contemporary New York, .c Sex and the City te constructs a post-feminista playground for the women, replete with freedoms g h and indulgences of all s kinds, channelling the gains of their second-wave .a w forbears towards theirw atomised, individualised, consumerist selves (Adriaens w and Van Bauwel, 2014:m 178–179). Though less central than in Will & Grace, o the gay best friends.c in Sex and the City are also, like Will and Jack, filtered and te a g fashioned throughh a consumerist ethos. Carrie’s friendship with the openly gay s .a Stanford Blatch,w a seemingly wealthy (though not particularly successful) talent w agent, is her wonly ongoing male friendship. Most male acquaintances are past,

m present or opotential sexual partners (Lorié, 2011: 44). Similarly, for Charlotte, .c te gay frienda Anthony Marantino is not just her stylist and wedding planner (they g h met in as Vera Wang boutique), but also a friend and confidante who shares her .a w own emotionalw and histrionic disposition. As with Will and Jack, Stanford and Anthonyw are connoisseurs of fashion; indeed, Stanford was one of the few characters that could top Carrie’s eccentric outfits, with his perfectly matched and often brightly hued suits© and Copyrighted cravats. Material


Copyright material: You are not permitted to transmit this file in any format or media; it may not be resold or reused without prior agreement with Ashgate Publishing and may not be placed on any publicly accessible or commercial servers. EFFEMINACY AND EXPERTISE, EXCESS AND EQUALITY © Copyrighted Material In both Will & Grace and Sex and the City, the friendships forged between sassy and attractive straight female characters and openly gay male characters

m adhere to popularly recognisable conventions. In this New York, gay best friendso .c are perfect partners for gossip and shopping (Doudaki, 2012: 10), in a specificte a g type of symbolic containment, whereby fashion and friendships form parth of a s .a glamorous, consumerist lifestyle (Fackler and Salvato, 2012: 79). Consumptionw w is naturalised as the necessary route to personal fulfilment, and neitherw the gay

m characters nor their straight friends venture into the trickier terraino of politics .c or equity. The gay characters rarely remind of the constrictivete realities a g of a heteronormative world, where inclusion does not automaticallyh confer s .a equality. Stylish, fashionable and vain, they serve the conservativew commercial w imperatives of the cultural, political and economic status quo,w where perpetual

m shopping is tied to the postmodern imagining of identityo – fluid, playful, and .c self-centred. te a g As such, the straight female characters discussed hereh – Grace, Karen, Carrie s .a and Charlotte – show how gay best friends can wbe conveniently lassoed into w their own ‘straight’ worlds, as companions in consumption.w In this way, these

m shows encouraged audiences to consider the termo ‘fag ’ anew (Thompson, .c 2004: 41). A vestige of a misogynist gay sub-culturete of the pre-Stonewell 1970s, a g the term no longer carries the stigma and contempth once bestowed on straight s .a women that habitually befriended gay menw – that is, considered too hopeless or w unattractive to enjoy ‘real’ relationshipsw with straight men. In these programmes

m the ‘fag hag’ is an altogether differento proposition: a stylish and sophisticated .c woman that sees in gay men an te affinity born of common and pleasurable a g pursuits, not the least of which ish fashion (King, 2013: 4). s .a Within the focus on fashionw and style, these gay characters appear blithely w unencumbered by political concerns.w When questioned by journalists about the

m show’s apolitical stance, actorso and of Will & Grace made it clear that .c this was a deliberate move,te lest the show suffer the same fate as Ellen, the ABC a g h (1994–1998) ins which the lead character (played by Ellen DeGeneres) .a comes out only to seew the series axed soon after. In , Will & Grace is, w as Mitchell observes,w ‘consciously and conscientiously framed as an apolitical

m about friendso rather than a site of a counterhegemonic politics of .c sexuality’ (2005:te 1053). a g h s .a w w The Help:w Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and How to Look Good Naked

m o .c The consistentlyte reinforced link between gay men and an aptitude for consumer a g h fashionss is central to the two make-over reality shows considered here: Queer Eye .a forw the Straight Guy and How to Look Good Naked. In these, gay men tutor straight w menw and women in correct forms© Copyrighted of consumerism Material in order to become better


© 2015 From Alison Hulme (ed.), Consumerism on TV: Popular Media from the 1950s to the Present, published by Ashgate Publishing. See: http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9781472447562 CONSUMERISM ON TV © Copyrighted Material looking, more confident, and to navigate the everyday with a more nuanced appreciation for detail and design. Gay men are positioned as ambassadors for, and arbiters of, quality consumption. During its run Queer Eye for the Straight m Guy was one of the most successful and popular programmes on the oUnited .c te States’ Bravo network. It featured the ‘Fab 5’: an elite team of lifestylea experts g h on fashion (Carson Kressley), décor (Thom Filicia), grooming (Kyans Douglas), .a w cuisine (Ted Allen) and culture (Jai Rodriguez). The team schooledw straight men w in these areas in order to improve their attractiveness to their partners,m families, o and workmates. The appeal here is twofold: the ’s .coften humorous te a but ultimately rewarding journey from a hapless (though sometimesg reluctant) h s subject to a more polished ‘metrosexual’; and the easy rapport.a between the Fab w w 5 themselves, whose in- and innuendo were oftenw subversive and ironic

m but never cruel or alienating. o .c By predicating a relationship between straight mente and gay men on the a g h latter’s perceived consumer expertise, Queer Eye for sthe Straight Guy works within .a (not against) a culturally entrenched stereotype:w straight men lack the innate w w ‘eye’ for style that gay men have, and this difference implicitly places gay men m o in a discursive space that is otherwise associated.c with straight women, such te a as shopping malls, hair salons, and even theg kitchen – areas where apparently h s many straight men fear to go, or at least.a do not know what to do when they w w get there. The Fab 5 expertly navigatew these spaces, and share their skills for the sake of the straight man’s improvement.m Crucially, this improvement comes o .c not through quiet introspection or ante emotional stock-take, but through better a g practices of consumption. To thish end, the show was a triumph of product s .a placement, as furniture, clothingw and hair-care ranges featured and endorsed w w seemed extra special for having met the Fab 5’s exacting ‘queer eye’ standards. m First airing on Britain’s Channelo 4 in 2006, is another .c How to Look Good Naked te makeover reality show thata features a gay man’s consumer nous. Presented by g h Gok Wan, the show teachess women (and occasionally men) how to better .a w present themselves withoutw surgery, shame or apology, through a process that w culminates in an artfullym composed nude photo shoot. Gok’s philosophy is o simple: it is not bodies.c that need changing, but body image – achieved through a te a g discourse of self-love,h personal pride and, more often than not, the right ‘shape s .a wear’ (or body-contouringw undergarments). As with Queer Eye, Gok’s mission is w to link image wand self-regard to more mindful consumption, insofar as the right

m dress can, aso Mae West once quipped, cover a multitude of sins. Gok draws .c te on his owna metamorphosis from a doubly marginalised teenager (overweight g h and gay)s to a confident and attractive professional stylist. He embodies and .a w enactsw the show’s feel-good message: better shopping is cathartic, uplifting and transformative.w Despite his insistence that a nude photo shoot will capture and celebrate his subjects’ ‘inner beauty’, it is hard not to see the commercial imperative that informs Gok’s© Copyrightedadvice. That Material his fashion advice requires women


Copyright material: You are not permitted to transmit this file in any format or media; it may not be resold or reused without prior agreement with Ashgate Publishing and may not be placed on any publicly accessible or commercial servers. EFFEMINACY AND EXPERTISE, EXCESS AND EQUALITY © Copyrighted Material to contrive an hourglass body shape through a carefully curated (and new) wardrobe suggests that, for all the ‘self-love’ talk, a better body image can be

m conveyed with better shopping choices. o .c Amidst the plethora of makeover reality shows that populatete the a g contemporary television landscape, How to Look Good Naked stands out hfor two s .a reasons in particular. First, Gok establishes an intimacy with his subjectsw that w appears genuine and warm, calling them ‘girlfriend’ and ‘sister’ andw touching

m their bodies (even their private parts) with affection. Second, and moreo obvious, .c are his body-image mantras, where women are coaxed into notte just accepting a g their bodies (cellulite, ‘saddlebags’, wobbly bits and all), but lovingh them (Kadir s .a and Tidy, 2013: 179). The doublespeak at work here is never wconfronted directly, w in that it is these same bodies that are only rendered morew appealing through

m strategically chosen clothing, underwear and (especiallyo for the nude photo .c shoot) lighting and camera angles. te a g It would be disingenuous to expect a messageh too contrary to the one s .a Gok articulates: commercial television is driven wby and for advertising, so it w makes sense to promote consumption as integralw to personal contentment in

m an explicitly capitalist context. All the shows odiscussed thus far fit seamlessly .c within the political economy of commercial television.te Of critical concern here a g is how and why, in the promotion of a consumeristh mindset and consumerist s .a practices, gay men in particular have beenw so routinely associated with certain w roles, skills and attributes. On the onew hand, the aesthetic of this

m association is apposite: the depictiono of gay men as urban, upscale and stylish .c is visually attractive and thus helps teto sell a lifestyle within which consumption a g is both enjoyable and necessary.h Whilst refusing the diversity of gay male s .a experience, this recurring motifw reinforces hackneyed ideas of ‘real’ (read: w straight) men. As Avila-Saavedraw (2009: 17) notes, straight men in Queer Eye are

m almost caricatures of masculinity,o ‘always the most inept at cooking, grooming, .c decorating, entertaining, teetc.’ This no doubt reinforces popular tendencies to a g h align gay men’s strengthss and skills with traditionally feminine fields – fashion, .a shopping and so on (Gorman-Murray,w 2006: 230). w Through commerciallyw driven promotion, the ‘queer eye’ provides a

m privileged kind ofo labour. Moreover, this assumes growing significance and .c urgency within tae post-industrial context, where identity is understood as made a g h rather than ascribed,s and personal improvement is the responsibility of the .a informed, enterprising,w malleable self (Sender, 2006: 140–141). In this way, and w w as Tania Lewis (2007: 286) argues, the gay man’s pedagogical role is driven by m neoliberalo conceptions of a ‘new’ citizen, whereby lifestyle becomes the site of .c perpetualte reinvention. In the makeover shows especially, the gay men’s job is a g h to inducts aberrant consumers ‘into the joys of stylish living’. For this reason, .a suchw shows are not wholly devoid of politics, since capitalism entails a suite w ofw political priorities and agendas.© Copyrighted Rather, Materialthis suggests that only in matters of


© 2015 From Alison Hulme (ed.), Consumerism on TV: Popular Media from the 1950s to the Present, published by Ashgate Publishing. See: http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9781472447562 CONSUMERISM ON TV © Copyrighted Material consumption inclusiveness and encouragement is paramount; everybody has the ‘right’ to shop, even overweight women (hence Gok’s ‘body love’ message) and recalcitrant men (hence Carson’s unsubtle didacticism). m In constructing and foregrounding gay men’s superiority in matterso of .c te taste and style, these shows obscure (if not deny) the latent prejudicesa of a g h heteronormative society, as they actively desexualise the gay men.s That is, .a w they are rarely seen as erotic, desiring subjects. Instead, and as Shugartw (2003) w points out, they mostly appear as catalysts for the growth andm entertainment o of heterosexual characters and subjects, which in turn supports.c the socio- te a cultural hegemony. Their presence and purpose can be easilyg grafted onto the h s heteropatriarchal status quo with minimal disruption. This.a visibility of gay w w men on mainstream television thus comes at a price, sincew they must be made

m palatable to mainstream audiences with heterosexist sensibilities,o which involves .c divesting gay men of potent sexual agency (Shugart, 2003:te 69–70). This protects a g h the commercial value of gay men, as cultural attachéss of consumer capitalism, .a without upsetting dominant institutions, values andw mores. w w In Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, for instance, once the Fab 5 has worked its m o magic on the heterosexual subject, they literally.c retreat to the margins, as the te a ‘big ’ is for family and friends, with theg Fab 5 watching it all from afar on h s CCTV, toasting their work amongst themselves..a Their presence in the straight w w guy’s life is ephemeral, and the transformationw merely aesthetic (Papacharissi and Fernback, 2008: 362–363). By eachm episode’s end, the Fab 5 is once again at o .c the periphery, but the straight guy enjoyste a fuller, more fashionable life. Whilst a g the commercial gay/queer figure h‘sells an equally parodic image of the straight s .a guy back to himself ’ (Lambert, 2006:w 75), the straight man nonetheless reaps the w w rewards of a ‘queer eye’ without suffering the stigma of being gay in a heterosexist m society (Ramsey and Santiago,o 2004: 354). plays less to the threatening .c Queer Eye te and subversive aspects of a queerness, and more to commercial possibilities of g h an effeminate, -homosexuals type. ldato (in Lambert, 2006: 74) .a w finds some ‘parallels w with the way America’s black community has struggled w to get more black facesm on TV’, but remarks that the programme is neither o ‘groundbreaking’ nor.c even ‘gay’ but ‘camp’. Less friends than subordinates ‘to te a g heterosexual narrativesh of advancement … the ultimately sexless figures of s .a Queer Eye can bew relieved of the need to perform hypermasculinity by similarly w reinforcing itsw idealization and its attachments to social structures that ultimately

m exclude them’o (Lambert, 2006: 74–75). .c te We seea a similar pattern in Sex and the City, as Carrie complains at length to g h Stanfords about the heterosexual dating minefield that is contemporary New .a w York,w but rarely considers his love life with too much interest. For Carrie then this wis a ‘safe’ relationship, untroubled by his sexual or dating conundrums, except on the rare occasion he is allowed to discuss them. In Will & Grace, the reimagining of the domestic© Copyrighted was reassuring Material for a heterosexist , as


Copyright material: You are not permitted to transmit this file in any format or media; it may not be resold or reused without prior agreement with Ashgate Publishing and may not be placed on any publicly accessible or commercial servers. EFFEMINACY AND EXPERTISE, EXCESS AND EQUALITY © Copyrighted Material the lead characters’ playful intimacy only ever communicates ‘safe eroticism’, a common trope in the ‘gay best friend’ : ‘We are given intimations of

m romance, all along recognising that it is unlikely to be realised or consummated’o .c (Dreisinger, 2000: 6). In How to Look Good Naked, Gok’s ‘sisterly’ personate is a g similarly construed: he can caress and extol his heterosexual subjectsh with s .a abandon since his sexual desires pose no threat or competition. He wsustains a w space of ‘suspended sexuality’ that ‘serves as an absent presence, simultaneouslyw

m indicated and neutralized’ (Frith et al., 2010: 479–480). Such programmeso exploit .c the perceived benefits and utility of gay men for the servicet e of commercial a g culture, but do not invoke their sexuality per se. h s .a w w w

m From Expert Consumerism to Extreme Consumptiono .c te a g In Will & Grace and Sex and the City, the gay male besth friend is the consumer s .a par excellence, and simultaneously the signifier ofw ‘gayness’ itself as a desired w commodity, divested of explicitly sexual acts andw sustainable, ‘quality’ romantic

m attachments. The gay best friend as a subject positiono is mediated by relationships .c to larger stories of white femininity and ‘conspicuous’te capitalistic immersion a g that is rarely based in economic ‘realities’.h With How to Look Good Naked and s .a Queer Eye for the Straight Guy the need tow explore or consider non-normative w romance or sexuality is now fully extractedw from the consumer context, as the

m friend becomes the expert whose identityo is wholly appropriated within, and .c focused on, normative capitalist conventionste and outcomes. a g Through Queer Eye for the Straighth Guy and the comedy/drama Queer as s .a Folk it is then possible to chartw the expansion and splitting of the televisual w consumerist gay best friendw advanced in Will & Grace and Sex in the City

m (and resurrected in programmeso such as (2006–2010) and musical .c ‘dramedy’ (2009–2015))te along two specific lines: the expert consumer, a g h as in How to Look Goods Naked, who directs purchase, taste and capital (as .a instrumental to heteronormativew narratives of advancement, as we’ve seen) w and the excessive consumerw who imbibes and amasses both objects and people

m (reattaching the gayo best friend to explicit sex, male friendships, and economic/ .c material contextste in the process). As the final section of this chapter suggests, a g h this split in thes function of the gay figure in turn leads to the recouping of .a the threateningw aspects of gayness and consumption within the contradictory w w discourses of normalisation in programmes such as Modern Family and The m New Normalo . The splitting, and amplification of gayness within the rise of .c queer tepolitics changes considerably within the more recent contexts of sexual a g h citizenships and marriage equality. .a w For programmes like Queer as Folk – that developed between the ‘fag hag/ w shoppingw bag’ tales of Will ©and Copyrighted Grace and Material Sex and the City and the ‘normal/


© 2015 From Alison Hulme (ed.), Consumerism on TV: Popular Media from the 1950s to the Present, published by Ashgate Publishing. See: http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9781472447562 CONSUMERISM ON TV © Copyrighted Material modern’ revisions and assimilations of Modern Family and similarly themed texts – the excessive gay male troubles the easy reconciliation of ‘queer’ with modes of capitalism and consumerism, even as aspects of queerness work within, m rather than against, the ‘gay/masculine’ dichotomy. As a ‘dramatic smorgasbordo .c te of situations that tell the story of “queer” life in the city’ (Poole, 2014:a 282), g h Queer as Folk layers the construction of gay male best friends with thes capacity .a w to not only choose and direct taste and style, but to explicitly andw passionately w consume and use objects and bodies in equal measure. Consumingm is connected o to power, though not necessarily stability or happiness. .c te a The US series starts with teenage Justin who is exploringg the throbbing gay h s district of Pittsburgh for . He is picked up by.a Brian, an attractive, w w predatory, self-employed advertising executive – a masterw of consumption and

m commodities, of selling objects and , who takeso without fear: .c te a g h Brian represents the emotionally troubled dominants male who has his way .a physically and emotionally with anyone he wants;w his sexual desires being w w portrayed as same-sex, yet we see that women and men alike are attracted m o to his rather dark independence and, acting .cin a very traditionally masculine te a manner, he dominates his partners with no concerng other than fulfilling his own h s sexual needs … his partners are willing to. abecome subordinate in order to be in w relationship with him. His embodiment wof white masculinity, queered as it may w

be given his same-sex practices, remainsm rooted in hierarchical power structures o .c that privilege the dominance ascribedte to males despite the costs to those with a g presumably less power (Poole, 2014:h 282). s .a w w w Combining commercial savvy, with attractiveness and masculinity, Brian’s power m and his success are reflectedo in a succession of perfectly formed lovers, his .c te shining four wheel drive, expensivea suits, and loft-style apartment on the right g h side of town. By extension,s Justin’s initiation into the gay scene is a freefall into .a w excessive consumerismw and consumption, from clothes to sex, from drugs and w music to pornography,m promiscuity and even politics. Like those around him, o the teenager idolises.c Brian, and quickly learns how to objectify and commodify te a g the bodies of otherh men (warding off emotional advances from a one-night s .a stand, he repeatsw Brian’s signature line: “I’ve already had you”). w The male wQueer as Folk characters consume in all areas of their lives. As they

m move betweeno gymnasium and backroom, bedroom, boardroom, schoolroom, .c te showroom,a nightclubs, and the diner, their friendships withstand numerous g h trials, whilsts a sense of emptiness prevails with respect to relationships, which .a w generallyw don’t last. Excessive consumption shapes non-normative queer consumerism,w but there are limits to potential satisfaction that can come from buying and using without the usual (re)productive outcomes of heteronormative capitalism. Earlier in the series,© theCopyrighted less confident Material character, Ted, falls into a coma


Copyright material: You are not permitted to transmit this file in any format or media; it may not be resold or reused without prior agreement with Ashgate Publishing and may not be placed on any publicly accessible or commercial servers. EFFEMINACY AND EXPERTISE, EXCESS AND EQUALITY © Copyrighted Material after overloading on a bad batch of party drugs, and later in the series Justin is visibly shattered when Brian presents him with a muscular male prostitute lying

m on a bed with a bright ribbon tied around him for his birthday. o .c The sexualised macho is emblematic of the consumerism that uniteste a g them and others under this version of ‘queer’, and their relationship ish a joint s .a subscription to the commodification of the male body. The other centralw character w of the series, Michael, has passionate, athletic sex with a youthful, muscularw man

m he has met on the Internet, moments after his own relationship ends.o Michael .c marvels at the perfection of the man’s looks and body. At the endte of the session a g the man tells Michael that he too could become perfect if he wouldh have some s .a work done, just like he did: pectoral implants, cheek implants,w dental work, and, w of course, a penis extension. Michael later says the guy spoiledw the encounter by

m opening his mouth. The commodification of the sexualised,o masculine gay body .c when foregrounded as such, serves to offer a hollow texperiencee of the of a g consuming, the loss of passion and integrity comes has the result of taking too s .a much, whenever one wants; as the result of excess.w w The graphic gay sex is transgressive and provocative,w whilst again reproducing

m ‘male gayness as a form of self-modification,o renovation, and maintenance’ .c (Lambert 2006: 73). Ideal forms of gay tmasculinity,e bodies and style are a g simultaneously explored/reinforced and undermined.h As these TV gay/queer s .a figures challenge ‘normal’ performancesw of buying, using, consuming and w acting, the negative associations also encouragew the commodification of gayness

m disinvested from attachments to gayo male sex, preferable to the seemingly .c hollow outcomes of a ‘queer’ consumerism,te one that unwitting reinstalls gay a g figures as the ‘repositories of shame’h (Cavalcante, 2014: 2) seen in historical s .a representations. w w w

m o .c Becoming Modern andte Normal: From Consumption to (Re)Production a g h s .a Gay best friends on televisionw after Will & Grace and Sex and the City developed w largely within eitherw of two extremes: the expert ‘’ who makes

m the ‘straight’ worldo look and feel better, or the excessive figure who consumes .c through the aggressivete assertion of individualism/self-interest. Yet within the a g h more recent contextss of global marriage equality, representations of same-sex .a male couplesw encroach on the figurative terrain of the traditional family through w w domestic settings, arrangements and parenting practices. Images of gay men m on popularo television are becoming more reflective of a relationship between .c sexualt e citizenship and discourses of consumption, and the management of a g h associateds cultural anxieties through changing representations. .a w In so far as consumerism is always and already shaped by available definitions w ofw sexual citizenship, it can be© stated Copyrighted that social Material rights and entitlements are made


© 2015 From Alison Hulme (ed.), Consumerism on TV: Popular Media from the 1950s to the Present, published by Ashgate Publishing. See: http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9781472447562 CONSUMERISM ON TV © Copyrighted Material and managed in ways that live out Foucauldian (1991; 1998) understandings of ‘biopower’ and ‘social death’; the disciplining of bodies, identities and pleasures is so deeply entrenched in government and law that any non-normative m claims to rights require negotiation within the dominant contexts of popularo .c te televisual representations. As Bell and Binnie (2000: 2–3) argue, ‘manya of the g h current nodes of the political of sexual citizenship are s marked by .a w compromise; this is inherent in the very notion itself’. w w

As Will & Grace and Sex in the City both demonstrate, the politicsm of the queer o offsider’s status as consumer is tempered by (de)politicised negotiations.c of the te a larger framework of the diegetic worlds – both in a gand physical sense. h s If what Berlant (1997: 2) has termed the ‘intimacy of citizenship’.a is reserved for w w the ostensible subscription to heteronormative family structures,w approaches to

m gay best friends and male same-sex couples in recent USo television can be filtered .c through critical thinking about the mutually productivete relationship between a g h capitalism and the traditional family. Whilst consumers culture constitutes shared .a social spaces and practices between and within dominantw and marginal groups, w w the terms of participation have been different and reliant on a relationship to m o larger social structures through the subscription.c to the norms (or normativity). te a In Will & Grace and Queer as Folk for example,g consumption within and outside h s of the ‘gay ghetto’ is reflective of hierarchies,.a cultural capital, inclusions and w w exclusions. Outside of the ghetto, and beyondw fashion and celebrity, ‘consumer identity construction, usually a tacitm concern with consumers most of the o .c time, becomes a salient and politicalte affair, particularly for a politicized and a g stigmatized community of gay men’h (Kates, 2002: 398). s .a Gay male friends and partnershipsw are constructed and commodifed w w as ‘already normal’ as ‘a particular image of homosexuality and same-sex m relationships is becoming increasinglyo common in popular media’ (Richard- .c te Self, 2012, online). The marginala status of the gay best friend and his romantic/ g h sexual partners (reinforceds by the distribution of, as well as access to, socio- .a w legal entitlements), hasw been countered through the normalisation of gay w couples, relationshipsm and same-sex parents/families, in a range of programmes o including Desperate .Housewivesc (2004–2012), and Sisters (2006–2011), Six te a g Feet Under (2001–2005),h and even in long running NBC soap opera Days of our s .a Lives (1965–present),w which has since 2012 included a gay male couple living w together, sharingw responsibility for a child (fathered by one of the men with a

m straight femaleo character), getting married in 2014, and since facing a custody .c te battle anda homophobic attacks from the resident evil . g h Suchs couples are ‘unique’ within the soap/drama genre, for being masculine .a w and devoidw of self-loathing (Helligar, 2014: online), but also because, as Hoffman (2011:w online) suggests ‘the gay best friend is ideally suited for situation comedy’ as in the commercial phenomenon Modern Family and the short-lived series The New Normal: © Copyrighted Material


Copyright material: You are not permitted to transmit this file in any format or media; it may not be resold or reused without prior agreement with Ashgate Publishing and may not be placed on any publicly accessible or commercial servers. EFFEMINACY AND EXPERTISE, EXCESS AND EQUALITY © Copyrighted Material American sitcom Modern Family features a gay couple who share a house, have an adopted daughter, and maintain a fairly traditional lifestyle where one works

m full time as a lawyer, while the other remains at and is the primary care-o .c giver for their daughter. Their relationship is also monogamous and long-term.te a g The couple is white, and they appear to have a middle-class status. Anotherh s .a American sitcom, The New Normal, features a white gay couple (one is Jewish)w w who also share a home, are in a long-term monogamous relationship, wand who

m both have careers. This sitcom centres on this couple’s decision to haveo a child .c and the life of the woman who decides to act as their surrogate. Thiste couple are a g also financially well off (Richardson-Self, 2012: online). h s .a w w As friends and relatives, the couples’ relationships in thesew support

m the larger story of the traditional family which is seen too have evolved in order .c to accommodate multiple romantic and parental/familialte arrangements that a g nonetheless remain ‘traditionally marriage-like in structure’h (Richardson-Self, s .a 2012: online). w w To this end the sitcom genre requires recognisablew types as it reflects popular

m tastes with respect to ‘consumable’ characterso and scenarios. In Modern Family, .c gay son Mitchell and his partner Cam, havingte adopted their daughter Lily from a g Vietnam, eventually marry in a ‘wedding ofh the year’ double episode, once the s .a dust has settled on the United States Supremew Court’s reversal of ‘Proposition w 8’ (the nullification of same-sex marriagew in California) and repealing of the

m Defense of Marriage Act (which dido not recognise same-sex unions federally). .c Mitchell and Cameron are older andte less stereotypically attractive than previous a g gay best friends, but recognisablyh flighty, camp and neurotic – conforming not s .a only to qualitative expectationsw of gayness, but to the dynamics of traditional w structures that see Mitchell workw as a lawyer and Cameron parenting at home

m for most of the show’s earliero seasons. For The New Normal, dichotomies and .c stereotypes are even morete clearly drawn as the coupling of Bryan and David a g h comprises an ‘effeminates man-boy’ and ‘a football-watching handsome dude’ .a in a world where thew gay friends ‘are wealthy, materialistic effetes with crazy w disposable income. Gayw men randomly wake up and decide that they want a child

m as the latest must-haveo accessory. Intended parents look through a catalogue of .c egg donors liket ethey are recruiting for the HJ’ (Bua, 2012: online). In creating a g h the ‘modern’ s and the ‘normal’, popular rhetoric merges with representational .a and commercialw imperatives. Cavalcante (2014: 4–5) notes ‘three generative w w engines’ that drive these reconstructions in popular sitcoms: the ‘political force’ m (of popularo gay rights discourse); the ‘textual force’ (of the ‘transformational’ .c qualitieste of popular media); and, the ‘industrial force’ (of television producers a g h ands ‘showrunners’). Although the reinstalment of traditional domestic models .a andw politically problematic types suggests the limited capacity of the more recent w gayw best friend to change larger© Copyrighted social contexts, Material they have at least unsettled


© 2015 From Alison Hulme (ed.), Consumerism on TV: Popular Media from the 1950s to the Present, published by Ashgate Publishing. See: http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9781472447562 CONSUMERISM ON TV © Copyrighted Material ‘the narrative rationality of the argument that gay people harm children and produced a more positive narrative in its place’ (Niedwiecki, 2013: 172). The ‘normalisation’ of these gay figures, serving as it does to ‘attenuate m “risk”’ and assert ‘sameness to an idealised, white, middle-class, heterosexualo .c te norm’ (Cavalcante, 2014: 2), is again connected to consumer behavioursa and g h consumer culture. Buying and consumption are, in both Modern Familys and The .a w New Normal, aligned with the more effeminate and domestic partnerw in each w scenario. In early episodes of Modern Family, Mitchell happily confessesm he has o no idea where Cameron buys nappies for Lily, whilst Cameron.c is content to te a dress the child up as various divas and pop icons for a photog shoot, speaking h s to the earlier suggestion of the ‘child as accessory’ in .agay representations. w w Similarly, The New Normal sees Bryan consistently speak ofw ‘dressing up’ the baby

m (preferably in Marc Jacobs) before details of the pregnancyo are even confirmed. .c He immediately breaks the shared rule of not buyingte baby clothes for the first a g h 12 weeks, and returns them. Indeed Bryan seemss more excited about images .a and objects than fatherhood, and both he and Davidw have to overcome the idea w w that a child might damage their expensive furniture in the episode. The m o focus on material objects extends unsurprisingly.c to the gay wedding in Modern te a Family, as the couple to procure an expensiveg turquoise bowl as h s gift, and Cameron forces the now school.a age Lily through the express chute w w of a closed dry cleaners to procure hisw wedding suit. The normalisation of gay ‘reproduction’ and associated consumerm practices also invariably reproduces o .c aspects of commodified gayness te that continue to reaffirm gayness itself as a g humorous, familiar and non-threatening.h s .a At the same time, taking the wfocus away from gay sex and sexuality in effect w w foregrounds the non-normal aspects of other, usually ‘normal’ characters in m contemporary sitcoms. Theo and disavowal of the subversive .c te aspects of gay/queer consumptiona and (re)production in Modern Family and g h The New Normal constitutess that which Cavalcante (2014: 2) terms ‘anxious .a w displacement’: w w

m o … the overloading.c of negatively codified social differences and symbolic te a g excess onto figuresh and relationships that surround LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual s .a and transgender)w characters. This symbolic intervention manages the cultural w anxiety generatedw by LGBT issues and themes by normalising gay characters

m and channellingo cultural anxiety away from them. .c te a g h Whilst gays friends and family members are reassuringly funny in these contexts, .a w the tensionsw and social ills normally associated with them (and still associated with wsingly gay men in many programmes), are frequently placed on characters whose sexuality is not the key fascination. In Modern Family blended families, noticeable differences in age© Copyrightedand ethnicity, Material foolish misunderstandings and


Copyright material: You are not permitted to transmit this file in any format or media; it may not be resold or reused without prior agreement with Ashgate Publishing and may not be placed on any publicly accessible or commercial servers. EFFEMINACY AND EXPERTISE, EXCESS AND EQUALITY © Copyrighted Material lapses in ethics are routinely associated with relationships between heterosexual characters. In The New Normal divorce, casual sex, and physical outbursts (in

m addition to the qualities of , homophobia and intolerance) foregroundo .c the abnormal in the non-gay figures, and vice versa. As equality is frequentlyte a g seen as ‘representing a replication of so-called straightness’ (Poole, 2014:h 283), s .a the ‘ideologically cautious space’ of popular network television ‘typicallyw raises w contemporary debates like gay parenting only to reconcile them withw prevailing

m liberal frameworks’ (Calvacante, 2014: 4). o .c In such programmes, gay male figures are the humorouste agents of a g consumerism and of normative (re)production, in a state of hconfusion borne s .a of the recent televisual ‘politics of equality’ and acceptance. Popularw television is w reliant on persistence as much as it is on change, and the formerw even more so –

m producers must decide how best to buffer and bolster theo same coalitions (ones .c that continue to privilege consumer driven narratives, whiteness,te class sensibility, a g as well as heteronormative familial and symbolic practices),h whilst also deciding s .a how to practice (re)presentation, popular politics,w and social responsibility in w a different way. How might television speak of wand to difference and identity

m politics whist still promoting equal access to socialo systems and meanings which .c are, as stated earlier, created and negotiatedte by markets? As Bell and Binnie a g (2000: 141) have rightly observed ‘that’s whath the hard choices facing the sexual s .a citizen are: the push towards rights claimsw that make dissident sexualities fit w into heterosexual culture, by demandingw equality and recognition, versus the

m demand to reject settling for heteronormativity’.o .c te a g h s .a Conclusion w w w

m As friends, assistants, partnerso and family members, gay men are pervasive .c figures in contemporary televisionte and popular culture. Contemporary discourses a g h of acceptance and anti-discriminations towards gay men in television texts are .a invariably arranged aroundw the gay best friend’s capacity to consume and to w be consumed, withinw images and narratives of excessive femininity, sexuality,

m physicality, materialo and experiential consumption (as both consumer and/or .c expert), and morete recently in the reproduction of the ‘traditional’ heteropatriarchal a g h family that capitalisms desires and supports. Whilst such discourses can produce .a positive representational,w diegetic and social outcomes, at the same time they w w necessarily reanimate power dynamics and keep the consuming/consumed gay m male friendso of contemporary commercial US and global TV within the histories .c and practiceste of oppression the texts themselves appear to challenge. a g h Thes purposeful inspection of contemporary representations brings us closer .a tow understanding how normalising practices produce the gay male best friend in w popularw American and global© television; Copyrighted homosexual Material males whose consumerism


© 2015 From Alison Hulme (ed.), Consumerism on TV: Popular Media from the 1950s to the Present, published by Ashgate Publishing. See: http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9781472447562 CONSUMERISM ON TV © Copyrighted Material and agency are made possible through the enactment of a vocabulary that frequently reduces, exaggerates or recoups both the visibility and value of their difference (usually from white, heterosexual characters). From the effeminate m sidekick to the arbiter of fashion and lifestyle, and from queer excesseso to the .c te construction/reproduction of ‘normal’ families, we see how the performancea g h of gay male best friends in contemporary televisual representationss has an .a w explicit relationship to consumerism and capitalism. Tracing relationsw between w various constructions of the gay male friend foregrounds the textualm value and o commercial viability of gayness and queerness as filtered through.c larger social te a and cultural discourses that are both complex and contradictory.g h s .a w w w

m References o .c te a g h Adriaens, F. and Van Bauwel, S. (2014) ‘Sex and thes City: A Postfeminist Point .a of View? Or How Popular Culture Functionsw as a Channel for Feminist w w Discourse’, The Journal of Popular Culture, 47(1): 174–195. m o Avila-Saavedra, G. (2009) ‘Nothing queer .cabout queer television: televised te a construction of gay masculinities’, Mediag Culture Society, 31(1): 5–21. h s Bell, D. and Binnie, J. (2000) The Sexual.a Citizen: Queer Politics and Beyond. w w Cambridge: Polity Press. w

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m o .c te a g h s .a w w w

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