Gay TV invariably appears aimed less at an oppressed minority and more at a protected species...

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Noel Coward, that wise old queen, was once asked if he ever watched television. Good heavens, no, Coward snapped. One did not watch television - one appeared on television.

If only all homosexuals could follow the master's lead. Perhaps then we'd have TV that is gay rather than Gay TV, and types more temperamentally suited to performance wouldn't be put in the odious position of being a mere audience, and a supposedly appreciative audience, too.

Gay TV. Please. What's to appreciate? It usually transmits so late at night you wake the next morning with circles, jeepers, under your peepers. It invariably appears aimed less at an oppressed minority and more at a protected species - namely us poor deviants who apparently either need to be reminded constantly how horrible heteros are - see the lesbian drama, The Investigator - or told that, whoa, we're here, we're queer and have nothing better to do than hang about till 11.15pm for Gaytime TV to insult our intelligence, even though Richard and Judy do it so much better at 10.30am and are camper to boot. Cheap I can live with - Gay TV seldom stretches to big budgets and, indeed, seldom stretches, period - but cheap and pathologically cheerful is a paradoxical downer.

Now, this isn't to suggest that all Gay TV is bad. Just, oh, 99.9 per cent, and I mutter this out of the corner of my mouth because I was a consultant on the second series of Gaytime TV and laboured on C4's Out on Tuesday and BBC2's Saturday Night Out. (What can I say? I was young. I was broke. I was naive. They told me the programmes were for private use ...) There have been recent exceptions to the rule, such as BBC2's It's Not Unusual - 60 years of grassroots gay life - and Channel 4's A Bill Named William - on the 1967 Sexual Offences Act - but both were basically historical and the past is generally a safer place, not to mention a clearer proposition.

Both cover eras that mostly pre-date any idea, or ideal, of "community"; the monolithic pretend entity that contemporary Gay TV is forced to address and supposedly represent - "positively" represent, naturally, only to be incessantly rejected on all sides. "It doesn't speak for me, me, me!" is the perennial critical carp. To which the one possible reply is: It's impossible to have a hit and a myth. You pays your licence fee and you takes your choice. For Gay TV - and ethnic and disabled TV, et al - to evolve, the notion that we are bound by anything other than a shared social agenda requires jettisoning. What we have in common doesn't make us a community or, arguably, even a culture. While we roll on the deodorant of "community" we get ghetto programming that has a lazy habit of blaming commissioning editors for its own self-censorship (political quarrels in front of the straights? Never) and timid recycling of stale, "uplifting" material (coming-out story, anyone?).

The exhausted purpose of ghetto programming is to pet, not paw, to confirm, not challenge, and that position is increasingly untenable, what with infinitely more complex lesbian and gay characterisations already thriving in the mainstream: witness Emmerdale, EastEnders, This Life, Brookside, Casualty, Drop the Dead Donkey, Spin City etc. Why, Ellen has come out and remained on air, with a hefty ratings boost. And as these wholly unrepresentative figures bitch, embrace, love and hate and behave less like victims and saints, exclusively Gay TV, I'm afraid, is perforce obliged to stop doing the Time Warp again, and ask why predominantly heterosexual audiences should be thought prepared for a complexity purely homosexual audiences apparently aren't. But then, another of the tedious, polarised tropes of Gay TV is either to dismiss (they'll never understand) or tremble before straights (they're coming to take us away, aha). Rather good reasons for breeders to believe there's little to be learnt from tuning in, even though the assimilation that EastEnders and Ellen foreshadow will affect them every bit as much it affects homosexuals.

So Channel Four should prepare itself for outrage when the "Queer Street" season debuts tomorrow. Or maybe not. Perhaps Queer Street's rich vein of self-criticism - gay porn, Gay Pride and gay villages each get the evil eye - and refusal of the old orthodoxies reflects the times every bit as much as 1980s Gay Life's ponderous expository manner was emblematic of its age. (The first-ever gay TV series in the world had to speak very s-l-o-w-l-y.) Certainly for a Gay TV season to include Paul Burston's Queerspotting, a wicked attack on, guess what, Gay TV, bespeaks a certain confidence as well as a break with the past. Introduced in interchangeable silhouette with the (pointed) caption "A Homosexual", Burston is soon chirping, "If you've ever wondered why so much Gay TV is embarrassing, banal or just plain boring, you're not alone," before gleefully cataloguing every cliche of, and objection to, a genre that is, in its worse moments, the reductive advertisement that bigots shriek it is: propagandistic, promoting and pleading. Which isn't to say Burston doesn't grasp why these were phases that had to be gone through. He does. He also understands that going through phases is meant to leave you at a destination: fully developed and with a confidence that inevitably, unavoidably, gives offence. You can't please everybody, so why try? Queerspotting, like Queer Street, doesn't bother to pretend it has something for all, but it offers plenty to those who want it. And by "those" I mean, of course, not members of a sexual orientation, but the mature. And speaking of mature, I do believe that's a repeat of Ab Fab on the box ...

`Queerspotting', part of Channel 4's Queer Street season, will be shown on Saturday 12 July