Platform: Love you, hate you: the Standard's confusing cruising of gay men

Click to follow
The Independent Online
It's cold comfort, but a shirtlifter knows where he stands with The Sun, the Star, The Mail, The Express et al. Nowhere. Whether tabloid, middle-market or quality, their Bash Street Kids seldom deviate from the line of most resistance: bloody poufs, uppity queers, the homosexual lobby etc. There is a constitutional inability to distinguish between a human state and a prefabricated "moral issue". The hatred of the tabloid press is clear, curiously pure and (almost) respectful. No quarter is given and none is asked. The Sun, for instance, wouldn't be caught attacking, say, lesbian mothers or adoptive gay fathers and then boldly soliciting the same parties for ad revenue.

The London Evening Standard, however, does. It happily prints such shock- horror headlines as "Storm over explicit gay novels at public library"/"U- turn over pounds 500 council grant for gay men to hold hands"/"London lures pink pound with Gay Olympics" and then produces a gay section in its Hot Tickets magazine each Thursday, replete with racy ads for homo chat lines. You're hysterical, corrupting scum, but, hell, hand over the cash anyhow.

I bet the Standard expects faggots to be grateful for the space, time and attention, too, and probably has ready a neat line about catering to the community not implying editorial endorsement: we'll highlight your lifestyles but revile your lives. And one suspects that's exactly how the dismissal would be worded. The Standard enjoys this blueish-blooded upper-class editorial core, and really can't help lording it over all its readers in some fashion. It's (unconsciously) patrician and lofty on a spectrum of subjects - a recent, revealing series of front pages screamed that muggers were now deliberately targeting, ohmygod, the rich and the titled - so why should gays be exempt?

We couldn't be, anyhow. Demographics don't allow it. Being a local, albeit grandiose, newspaper, the Standard can't ignore London's vast gay population, nor its disposable income. Not in these modern days of market niches, bald hypocrisy and commercial expediency.

Not that the Standard could leave us alone even if it wanted to. The Standard is obsessed with lesbians and gay men. The Mail may be simply repulsed, but the Standard is repulsed and attracted. We are, lest we forget, talking about a rag that wrung the Barrymore scandal dry while simultaneously devoting an entire page to why homosexuals are - yawn - boring. Not the heterosexual/media obsession with homosexuality, naturally, but homosexuals. Yet the Standard won't accept its own advice. It continues to cruise gay men compulsively, courting and scorning in the same breath. Here's the fixated symbol of it: a photo of muscular ex-rent-boy Rupert Everett, pouting under the ultimate Standard headline: "Too well-bred to have to hustle." We are a hard habit to break.

Still, the Standard should try. For every public library/holding hands/Gay Olympics "story", there's a "balancing" item: a briefing on the legal battle for gay rights, or a Londoner's Diary snippet: Christopher Biggins not judging Mr Gay UK; Bromley council preparing for gay marriages. But this isn't really "balance". That requires thought. Thought that would ensure that when the comment pages carry the headline "A rally on the side of freedom" and an introduction that describes this "mass protest" as "a stand for personal liberty in a free society", what is being discussed is, perhaps, Gay Pride and not the huntin' shootin' fishin' lobby's march for its "right" to butcher. But, hey, the Standard thinks fags are fine as court jesters and walkers. Just know your place. But if you refuse to conform to (cafe) society's stereotype, you'd better watch out.

And what of the movie critic Mr Alexander Walker and the art critic Mr Brian Sewell?. If further proof were needed that the Standard is in bizarre conflict, here are two gentlemen who can swerve from apparently informed understanding to snarling viciousness in one article: love to hate you. Walker can, for example, rightly kiss off Alive and Kicking as "a sentimentalised, underwritten `support film' for the Aids community", but has to snipe, "there's a forced liveliness about the playing that denies the most baleful nature of this avoidable scourge". Johns, too, is castigated for being "one of a lengthening line of films ... starring actors who gain Brownie points one week by appearing at Aids benefits, and then earn their bread by playing the folk who spread the disease." Thank you, Alexander, for bravely pointing out this scandalous, if sure-fire, method of career advancement. And thank you for this insight: that it was probably the cultural addiction to violence of the Japanese that led them to part-finance Crash, even though in truth the Japanese owners of American studios don't participate in okaying projects. Surprise, surprise, Walker hated Crash - it's about "a group of world-weary urban sophisticates" and features "a lengthy and prurient question session in which a woman quizzes her male bedmate about ... homosexual anal entry". But the forthcoming Wilde is lavishly praised. Why? Because Oscar, after all, was court jester, walker and victim. Punishment absolves him and the picture, which, Walker intones, "makes explicable the public tolerance Wilde enjoyed for a while, despite the flagrant attitudes he struck in public".

Irresistibly drawn to pontificating on all gay matters, Brian Sewell can castigate hoi polloi for "laughing indulgently at clowns who exploit homosexuality" and then reduce lesbian mothers and gay fathers to self- indulgent idiots "gratifying a whim ... for a doll". He will ridicule those who oppose gays in the armed forces, recall advice from his own army days - "If you must f***, take your best mate round the back of the barracks" - and still bow to the majority's prejudices. The contradictions startle: ticking off John Major for his harsh words against Lottery money going to gay groups, Sewell will descend to the weepiest of pleading - doesn't Major know what a terrible burden gay men already carry? It's as if the Wolfenden Report had been published yesterday.

Like the Standard, Sewell is not only confused, but confusing. Like his bosses, he can't hide a basic contempt. As Sewell himself said, denouncing a recent sculpture of Wilde: "Even a homosexual deserves better than this tasteless insult."

He might have been talking about his own newspaper n