Posing to catch the best light, our hero smirks: `Grab her and go. And don't be gentle on my account'
Friday 11 July 1997
It's a brand new media moo-vement. But don't take my word for it. Begin by tuning into Sky One's, and now Channel 5's, soap opera Melrose Place and checking out Richard, Peter, Bobby and Billy ... but mostly Michael. Michael's the Boy Bitch par excellence. What's a Boy Bitch? I thought you'd never ask. A Boy Bitch looks like a Real Man - actually, that's a lie (Boy Bitches live to lie). Genuine Boy Bitches, American branch, look like the sort of pretty but petulant pin-ups who take it up the butt in gay porn - what can I tell you, except that some weird stuff passes as straight these days - and they behave as if possessed by the unquiet spirit of Bette Davis in one of her bed moods, and bad movies.
I mean, Michael flounces, yes, flounces, sneers, preens, spreads gossip like low-fat margarine, is a right old slapper and conducts elaborate, sneaky vendettas against those who have injured his ego. Please - he once hired an actor to drive the woman who dumped him back into madness (hell hath no fury like a Boy Bitch scorned). Neither strong nor silent, Michael goes in for the sort of one-liners teenage girls usually practise in front of the mirror, which is obviously Michael's favourite place to be. Get this, honey - directing security guards to remove former pillow partner Kimberley from his presence, our hero poses in the nearest doorway, catching the best light (the man pedicures, OK?) and smirks, "That's the woman. Grab her and go. And don't be gentle on my account." It's hardly John Wayne. More Joan Collins.
Well, hush my mouth - you can hardly blame him. If he and the rest of the male cast are Boy Bitches, it's partially defensive, because the women are not just allowed to be Mega Bitches, they're positively encouraged.
This is also true of ITV's hit sudser Savannah and Sky's late, lamented Central Park West. Here the women have smaller breasts than the gym-built blokes, but they make do by flaunting bigger balls. Whether editing a monthly glossy and treating men as amusing trinkets, or casually blackmailing the boss into handing over half his riverboat casino, the ladies usurp male prerogative, no questions asked. Their roles thus reversed, the likes of Travis, "the handsomest straight guy in the state" (not to mention the most precious) are obliged to follow the route trail-blazed by gorgeous pieces of female ass and marry into major money. Travis is bitter and twisted, and so is Tom, another Boy Bitch with the annoying habit of ringing up rivals for a midnight gloat: "Poor, dear Veronica. I see that Edward still hasn't ushered you down the aisle. Better luck next man." Tell me, am I the only one who half-expects him to remove the ear-rings that are so metaphorically there every time he lifts the receiver?
Still, let him savour his tiny moment of triumph. On Melrose, it's big business as usual - the girls are on top.
Amanda, for instance, heads her own advertising agency, Brook is independently wealthy and Jane is a successful fashion designer. As professionals in their twenties, Michael and his fellow Boy Bitches are competing in an increasingly female-dominated work-force, and in a culture where traditional gender characteristics are in meltdown. On The X-Files, for instance, Dana Scully is cool, collected, rational, while Fox Mulder has the instinct, faith and occasional fits of hysteria. The truth is out there: Scully will doubtless end up as Mulder's boss, because all the research says the future is female; in the fluid market-place, in education, in politics and everywhere else.
It's protective camouflage. If Butch now has one boot in the grave, Boy Bitchery is the strategic half-way house between, say, Brett and Jarvis and Richey's refusenik androgyny and, oh, Liam's laddishness, which is itself a loud parody of masculine privilege (laddishness imagines itself powerful while daily announcing its own impotence). Boy Bitchery is a shrewd way of literally clawing some territory back. If women are applauded for adopting what used to be thought of as exclusively testosterone traits, then who can object if men return the backhanded compliment?
Still, what a not-so-pretty pass. Once upon a time Boy Bitchery used to be solely associated with psychopathology (Hannibal Lecter, to mother of about-to-be-murdered child: "Love the suit") and covert homosexuality - think George Sanders as Addison deWitt in camp classic All About Eve, and real-life queens Clifton Webb and Monty Woolley as Oscar Wilde knock- offs Waldo Lydecker and Sheridan Whiteside in Laura and The Man Who Came To Dinner respectively. This may explain why Matt, the token gay on Melrose, is saintly and nice, rather than nasty and narcissistic like the rest of the boys. That would really give the game away, so viewers are reduced to the ridiculous spectacle of an LA queen spouting unreconstructed straight male sentiments such as, "Showing my real feelings isn't my style." Yeah, right.
I know what you're thinking: these shows are American and a bit of a laugh. Sure, Melrose, Savannah and Central Park are combinations of soap opera and exaggerated comedy of manners, implying that Boy Bitches could only occur as a joke, a parody made permissible by the genre's embrace of chaos; a cliff-hanger every five minutes and everyone making it up as they go along. But that's a more accurate recreation of modern life than we'd perhaps prefer to admit, and we should never lose sight of one great truth: where Yank soap goes, Britain follows. Expect William Hague and Tony Blair's first big cat fight any day now. Well, dear, everyone knows they're as Commons as muck ... n
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