Thursday, May 8, 2008

Queer as Folk and the cult of the modern woman

I’ve finally gotten around to watching the last season of Queer as Folk. I only have one disc left, and then I’ll be finished with one of my favorite TV shows of all time.

When the series first came out, I actually didn’t want to watch it. I’d heard too much about it in the media, and I thought it was another Will & Grace. (At the time, I thought Will & Grace was a televised abomination, only to become addicted to it a few years later in reruns. I was against the character of Jack, who I thought was a parody of real gay men and was invented for cheap laughs.)

Then, I was working at a Hollywood Video in North Carolina, and I could rent DVDs for free. My coworkers, women ranging from their late teens to middle age, were raving about the show. Some of them couldn’t stop talking about it; I even heard about QAF parties going on around the country.

So, I took the plunge and rented the first season. My ex husband and I were instantly addicted, sucked into the lives of Michael, Brian, and their gay universe. Back then, I didn’t really identify as bisexual, but I was still sucked into their world.

The argument can be made that QAF is so compelling, so mesmerizing, because of the acting. Hal Sparks, Gale Harold, Sharon Gless, and the rest of the cast drew viewers in with believable and touching performances. The argument can be made that the controversy of the subject matter, from gay sex to relationships with minors, drew viewers in with promises of voyeurism. The argument can also be made that the series came out at a time when the gay community was finally gaining ground in being recognized as just another group of regular people by other Americans. But, none of this explains why the show appealed to so many straight women, whether they be married, single, old, young, mother, or barren.

I don’t really have the answers, but I do know why I started watching QAF five years ago and why I’ve continued to watch it to the point of obsession to this day.

The characters in QAF aren’t compromised.

The writers of QAF don’t judge the characters they write. Brian and Justin love each other throughout the series despite their respective ages. Emmet is flamboyant and fabulous. Michael owns his own comic book store and can be tender and loving. These characters grow throughout the show’s run, but it never feels like the writers are forcing them into their roles.

QAF shows men being tender with each other.

I suspect this is a large reason why so many married women watch the show. They can watch men show tenderness. Even more amazing, they can watch men show tenderness with each other. There are no stereotypical men characters, although the characters do fall under common archetypes in the gay mythos.

There are strong female characters.

From Justin’s mom to Debbie to Mel and Linds, the women speak their minds and make their own decisions. Even if it goes against what society or their families want, they do what they feel is best for them.

The show covers a lot of very old material.

Call it a soap opera. Call it a modern take on a Greek tragedy. Call it whatever you want, but QAF includes a lot of themes found in stories written since the beginning of literature and drama. Characters deal with repercussions from their own hubris. They tempt the gods and fate and live to tell the tale. There is doomed love on an epic scale that screams for us to care about these people and their lost chances. And, the characters all go about their daily business oblivious to the fact they’re living the classics.

I know that I’m a little late to jump on the finale bandwagon, but all of this has been knocking around in my mind the last few days. Especially about the universal appeal of this series when it comes to women.

So, dear readers, why do you think a series that revolves largely around gay men is loved so much by a broad audience of women?

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