It might seem vainglorious to write a book about ourselves, but then if we didn't do it, who would? To be in television, especially reality television, means that you are not going to be the darling of The New York Times or honored at the Oscars. But we had a story to tell. In the past 21 years we have been fortunate enough to have a front-row seat -- and a small walk-on part -- in the queering of American culture. This is no subcultural sideshow. It is as significant in changing the American landscape as glasnost was in restructuring the USSR.
So what happened? The culture went pop. It may be the cliché of all clichés, but as Warhol said, in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. Fame is now such a vast church, accommodating people as disparate as Jodie Foster and Honey Boo Boo, that ordinary people rub elbows with Hollywood A-listers, love it or loathe it. Personally, we love it. And our particular take on it is that pop is gay, completely gay.
We set up our production company, World of Wonder, in our sixth-floor walkup in the not-yet-gentrified East Village. And our very first piece of office equipment was a Mac computer. Even people who weren't born at the time know that amazing 1984 Super Bowl commercial with its appeal to all rebels to -- as a later Apple marketing campaign would put it -- "think different." It was our clarion call, and its renegade philosophy was at the core of our first pilot, Manhattan Cable, a show that bundled clips from the wild and wacky shows on Manhattan's public access channels. Today you would call them viral videos and find them on YouTube, I suppose, but 20 years ago, as inconceivable as it may seem, there was no Internet.
Anyway, television has always been the whipping boy of people complaining that there are 57 channels and nothing on and that the revolution would not be televised. But here in Manhattan there were two channels showing the most extraordinary, compelling and rule-breaking television we had ever seen. And much of it was exhuberantly and unapologetically gay: strippers, rent boys and drag queens.
Did someone mention drag queens? Around the corner from our hoffice was the Pyramid Club, where we saw the most amazing drag performers: Hapi Phace, Taboo, Ethyl Eichelberger, Lypsinka, Lady Bunny and RuPaul. To us this kind of performance art had nothing to do with gender. Its agenda was to mash up pop culture, from eccentric celebrities to crass commercials, mimicking, mocking and celebrating it all at the same time. And it was incredible to us that this art form was so completely underrated as to be tucked away in this hole-in-the-wall club on Avenue A.
So whether it was public access television or drag shows, to us this was the revolution, people taking the medium into their own hands and fucking with it. It was queerpunk.
Not long after Channel 4 UK picked up our pilot, RuPaul walked into our office. Together we resolved to make him "supermodel of the world" with a record deal, a book contract, a television show and a cosmetics deal. (Ru was the first-ever MAC girl.) And it worked, because pop culture, like any gay man, is always on the lookout for the new new thing, and if it happens to come with a nod of knowingness and a wink of subversion, so much the better. That's pop.
Some people have a hard time adjusting to this brave new world. In her speech accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award at this year's Golden Globes, Jodie Foster complained about the reality shows and fragrance deals and felt it necessary to clarify that she was not a Honey Boo Boo Child. Anyone who has seen Sunset Boulevard (as every gay should) knows that fabulous scene at the end where Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond descends the staircase and declares, "I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille." The grand old movie star is not back on Mr. DeMille's movie set as she fantasizes. No, she is doing the Lindsay Lohan perp walk for the paparazzi. So goodbye, Norma Jean and MGM, and hello, Honey Boo Boo and TMZ.
In complete contrast to Orwell's 1984, where everyone shrank from Big Brother's controlling lens, we are living in a world where everyone has a camera and wants to be on camera. Big Brother, the TV show, is the complete opposite of Orwell's dystopian vision. Whether it's on a TV show or Skype, we're all cam whores now.
And in contrast to those who think the Kardashians are the end of Western civilization, we have always felt that this is a good thing, because in an on-camera society we get to experience the stories of those previously considered too marginal, too off-the-wall or too crazy to be seen, or those hitherto considered undesirable, like gay people. And as we come bursting out of the closet and onto the screen, society finally comes to the unavoidable and long-overdue realization that gay culture is the engine of pop culture.
People who live life out loud and proud instead of subduing themselves to fit in or to be normal -- these are the characters who have always inspired us. Take Tammy Faye Bakker, for example. Ridiculed for her lashes and mascara, Tammy used the cameras of her television ministry to fly her freak flag and inspire others to do the same.
So we wrote the book because we wanted to celebrate her and the many other pioneering spirits who have changed our lives. We knew it wouldn't be enough to write it; we would have to publish it, too, because any publisher would say, "Take out the unfamous people and just keep in the celebs." But that's just it: For us there is a profound connection between the drag shows we saw at the Pyramid all those years ago and RuPaul's Drag Race (Season 5 is now airing on Logo and VH1). And it's the same connection that exists between the queen who threw the first brick at Stonewall and President Obama's historic words at his recent inauguration. It's cause and effect, from the hand of a drag queen to the mouth of the president. And -- we're paraphrasing Steve Jobs, who gave us the Mac -- it's the people whom everyone else thinks are crazy who change the world, because they are the people who refuse to conform, fit in or keep quiet.
The World According to Wonder is a tribute to the people who stand up and stand out. And in writing it we came to the happy conclusion that gay is a metaphor for the human condition, because there is no such thing as normal. We are all different, just as every snowflake is unique. Tammy Faye put it this way: "We're all made out of the same dirt, and God doesn't make any junk."
Check out some of the one-of-a-kind characters featured in our book:
The World According to Wonder is available Feb. 5, 2013, at Amazon.com.