Yesterday, Esquire's culture blog posted a review of the new HBO show that is just like your life or your friend's life or the life of that guy in your office whose shoes are always just a little nicer than they have to be, Looking. In "A Straight Man's Guide to HBO's Looking," writer Mick Stingley determines that the show about a handful of weed-paced gay friends in San Francisco "commits the heinous sin of being gay and boring." Stingley's bio that follows his piece states that he "loves Tom Wolfe and rock and roll and lives with his fiancée in Queens." He seems to have a lot in common with those gay guys on the show with the exception of the gay thing. Boring is the universal human experience.
I don't think he's wrong about the show. I, too, find it boring. The difference between Stingley and I is that while I find it boring compared to other shows regardless of color, creed, or orientation, Stingley indicts the characters on the show for not living up to his image of gay men as culture's jesters (the proverbial "sissy" trope that for decades existed in pop culture as the only suggestion that queer men actually exist). Says Stingley:
...After four episodes there is not one reference to The Wizard of Oz, All About Eve, or Barbara Streisand. (Erasure is played prominently in the second episode, though.) No one talks about fashion but in one of the early episodes, they watch a knock-off of RuPaul's Drag Race. RuPaul may have a lot of bad puns, but Ru is always fun. Looking just portrays gay men, at least in San Francisco, as being no fun. Hard to believe.
Elsewhere in the piece, he describes the show as "groundbreaking" (he put it in quotes himself, so I guess he doesn't actually believe that or something). Immediately after, he indicates that he gets it, though:
It's a big deal because it features gay men being gay and doing whatever without resorting to stereotypes. But instead of, say, funny, mincing guys with witty one-liners and put-downs, Looking introduces three ho-hum characters you wouldn't hang around with if they were on SportsCenter.
So maybe his own stereotype-invoking is tongue in cheek. A disclaimer has been added atop the piece since it started getting passed around and irking people:
UPDATE: We apologize to anyone offended by our attempt at humor in this piece. It reflects one man's viewing experience. He does not think all gay people are boring. Just this show, a little.
This is in reference to the kicker, which states, "You know how I know you're gay? You're boring." So really, what this piece charts is the shaken worldview of a straight guy who apparently has little experience with gay people: Through the show, he apparently learned that not all of them are the high-heel-wearing, showtune-singing clowns that he thought they were (not that there's anything wrong with that). It's hard to parse out the sincerity from the irreverence of the piece, but if in fact Looking did make Stingley reevaluate his prejudices, this show has provided a service more valuable than most shows ever could. Looking: changing minds, one ignorant straight person at a time.
And anyway, if this show is to succeed (which I hope it does — I'm rooting for it to do well and to get to a place that I find engaging), we better get used to hearing about what it's like from straight people who will inevitably be wrong about stuff. (You can't know everything about a group that you aren't part of.) Perhaps that's the downside of mainstream success, but it's an essential part of it. This show won't get by on gay viewers alone.