Throughout a vast majority of my life as a young adult, I had the same relationship with Queer as Folk as I did with my parents having sex—I acknowledged its existence but I had no intention of ever watching it in my lifetime. Throughout high school, it was thanks to my deep involvement in the Catholic church and my family’s chronic allergy to premium cable channels. Yet even after I came out in college, I still had no intention of ever going near the series for some reason. I guess I didn’t want to allow myself into tastes of a stereotypical gay man. Nevertheless, when Will bought me the entire series box set on DVD, my reaction was… lukewarm.
Thankfully, Will was onto something that I wasn’t. It wasn’t like he was an avid viewer back in the day, but he had seen enough to know what we were missing. Thus, as we watched the first few episodes, he was absolutely desperate to know my thoughts and reactions. He kept on asking me, “Do you like it? Do you like it?” Then again, that’s probably because he didn’t want to feel like he had given me a bad anniversary gift.
I was very slow in my decision making. For one thing, I can’t stand one of the main characters—Brian Kinne. He looks like a combination of Chris Evans and Ashton Kutcher, but only if you use the unattractive parts. He talks with odd pauses, the way William Shatner would if he thought he was the hottest man alive. He’s also an embodiment of everything that mainstream America hates about gay people: he’s shallow, allergic to commitment, and highly successful thanks to his penchant for cutthroat douchebaggery. But Brian aside, the show is also campy as hell. It never wastes an opportunity to throw in a gratuitous sex scene or some frontal male nudity, and there are frequent moments where the show goes so over the top that it sashays right across the border into a melodrama. Over time, though, that tone of campy rumpus becomes a welcome throughline, one that almost comforts you as you watch characters grapple with heavy problems of discrimination, violence, drug abuse, and of course the infamous human immunodeficiency virus.
All in all, it’s really that substance that keeps the show together for me. Yes, it is a bit of a guilty pleasure, but there’s nothing wrong with gratuitous camp if there’s an actual skeleton of substance keeping everything upright. If anything, you begin to view those portions of the show the same way the characters do—as a welcome escape from the sobering reality that was being gay at the turn of the 21st century. That, to me, is another thing that makes the show interesting to watch ten or so years later. Queer as Folk takes place in a setting that is very much within all of our lifetimes. Yet it somehow feels worlds away. Not (just) because Brian has a penchant for wearing three-button suits, or because Babylon plays songs like Darude’s “Sandstorm”, but because of how much the fabric of mainstream society has changed since the early 2000’s. This is a show that gleefully dances around the outskirts of the mainstream and thumbs its nose at those who are too timid to come and join. It had to, since the only acceptable gays on network TV were the blatantly stereotypical, shuck-and-jive ones on Will and Grace. I see a show like Queer as Folk and can’t help but marvel at the blatant homophobia that Michael, Justin, Emmitt, Ted, and company face in episode after episode. At times, I feel like I’m watching a scene from Nazi Germany dressed in 2002 American drag.
That’s why I feel like this show will forever stand the test of time as a cultural document. We’re only ten years in the future ahead of these characters, and already many of the realities that these characters operate in seem obsolete. Yes, a vast majority of their issues still hit very close to home, but there’s no denying that we live in a much more gay-friendly society than these characters did. Thus, I feel like Queer as Folk, or at lease something similar, should be required watching for any young and out gay person, simply to make sure that we never lose touch with the struggles of those who came before us. Well that, and there’s something truly timeless about the naked male form.
And since I’ve not seen the British version, I can’t definitively say which version is “better”. In my experience, though, those who have seen one version first tend to prefer that one over the other. Perhaps I’ll post a review of the British version in a later post… 🙂