I'm going to open this with a confession: I actually enjoyed watching HBO's Looking. THERE, I said it: shame me. I thought the subtlety, the aimlessness (it is called "Looking," people) the sheer "why-the-fuck-is-this-character-doing-that" moments and the moody, dusky cinematography were fantastic, though many others, it seems, disagree.
Moreover, I thought it was excellent representationally: show me another television program running on a well known network that:
A). Is about gay men. Notice the italics there. Say what you will about its artistic merits, but Looking was about gay men. Modern Family is not about gay men. Will & Grace was not about gay men. In these (and many more) examples, the gay character, and more importantly, the gay character's queerness, is either the side-plot or the afterthought. You can say what you want about the content of Looking, but you cannot deny that it put gay men in the driver's seat, and made gay men its subject, the same way Queer As Folk once did. In my book, that's a great thing for this community.
B). Is not a comedy, or a reality show. I love RuPaul's Drag Race and Modern Family as much as the next gay viewer. But let's be real here: these shows exist to make us smile and laugh. They do not ask us to critically examine our bodies, existence and behaviors. There are few subtleties and sparse moments of soft, artistic beauty. Also, things such as: mobile app fucking, one-night stands, HIV scares, isolation, uncertainty, discrimination, bashing and more, are conveniently absent from these shows. No shade to the fantastic queens on Drag Race or Cam & Mitchell, but they are not even remotely representative of the entire gay community. Not that any one thing really can be, but Looking definitely helped fill in a few (but not all) of the gaps.
When you take those two factors into account, there's really not much left over -- there's an alarming paucity of television shows that attempt to examine gay men in a non-comedic, non-performative lens.
That is a problem.
That is a problem for both show creators, and for networks. These stories are either not being told, or are not deemed valid enough to deserve mass production. Either way, it is shameful and needs to be rectified -- we need to write more, and we need to be supported in that effort.
Should HBO have kept the show on the air solely for the purpose of representation? No. Again, let's not kid ourselves: television is a business, and businesses make decisions based on numbers. Looking didn't get enough viewers, so it's being sent to the big TV in the sky. Fair. It's nice of them to even offer us at least some resolution in the form of the TV Movie.
But the more troubling question that I think others are beginning to ask is: where were those expected viewers? Why did this show not connect with its intended audience, and is the lion's share of the blame on the content or on the audience? Did it miss its artistic mark, or were we just not willing to listen to what it had to say about us?
I am not sure. I think ultimately, this is one symptom of a much larger disease in the American media and artistic marketplace: the stories and experiences that are valued tend to be one-sided, exclusive and if you're taking the 50,000 foot view, all look the same after a while.
What I do know, is that although Looking may be sunsetting into an early retirement, the space it is vacating cannot be ignored. We need another show that can examine the not-so-pretty-and-pink aspects of gay male life. And whenever that next thing comes around, either it needs to do its job as a storyteller better, or we need to do our jobs as listeners better.
What do you think?
How will Donald Trump’s first 100 days impact YOU? Subscribe, choose the community that you most identify with or want to learn more about and we’ll send you the news that matters most once a week throughout Trump’s first 100 days in office. Learn more