Why “Playing it Straight” is bent

David and I have been, with much derision and more than a little dismay, watching Fox’s Playing It Straight (or, at least, digesting Tivo-condensed snippets of it). For those of you who have resisted, the show plops a dumb small-town “beauty” on a dude ranch with 14 guys–some of whom are secretly flamers. Every episode she has to eject two more guys. If she ends up with a hetero, they split a million dollars– but if she is deceived by an evil homosexual in wolf’s clothing, the crafty fag gets a cool million all by himself (presumably to spend on a year-long binge of ecstasy, dance music, and rent boys to make up for all that flannel). Posessors of outdated stereotypes (i.e., those with no real live gay friends) probably think it sounds easy as pie to call out the cake-boys. The problem for Jackie is that the guys have clearly been chosen for displaying much more admiration for their own reflections than any other love object–they really put the “me” in “metrosexual.” As if that weren’t enough, Jackie apparently was raised in a small town where gaydar is both genetically absent and culturally unobtainable. Complications ensue: one of the guys (a straight one, to boot) gets kicked off the first week for wielding the now-infamous scarlet hairdryer. If the quality of her, um, discriminating palate doesn’t improve, it is going to be fun to watch this hootchie miss payday.

My little sister Lyndi was aghast that we would watch it, but if you’re gay I think it’s a little bit like driving past a car wreck… it’s hard not to look on with a mixture of curiosity and loathing. OK, and a little be of glee. And some of the guys are hot. And, finally, there is a fair amount of salutary trashing of stereotypes… poor stooge Jackie deserves to lose her half-million

This Slate article is a little overwrought, but it’s hard not to agree with the gist:

Watching Playing It Straight is a gender theorist’s day in the sun; perhaps not since the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings have a culture’s unspoken anxieties been so starkly projected on the small screen. Let’s look at the show’s two prospective outcomes. If Jackie guesses “right” and narrows the field down to a straight man, then the two of them will split the $1 million prize and ride off into the sunset in a chauffeured car, glasses of champagne awkwardly balanced on their laps. But if one of the secretly gay men tricks her into choosing him, he will walk off with a cool million all his own. In other words, “Sizzling Saddles Ranch” (an Elko, Nev., resort that was thus mortifyingly renamed by the show’s producers) is a microcosm of American society, where gays can best get ahead by remaining alone in the closet while straights openly pair-bond and consolidate their resources.

The author makes the oft-observed point that gay men on television can do hair, decor, and fashion–but never, ever each other. On the one hand, I can pruriently look forward to seeing the gay “Paradise Hotel,” but on the other, I’m pretty sure America’s not ready to lose its gay-sex cherry. Because let’s face it, reality TV isn’t going to give us sweet portrayals of high-functioning couples– it will go immediately to “did you blow the waiter while I went to the restroom?” At least let us get married before you turn gay romance into the the ultimate TV freak show.

One thought on “Why “Playing it Straight” is bent”

  1. Actually, I almost expect one of the gay guys to win. I haven’t seen the show, but others often seem to know one better than oneself, no? I mean, those many little things about behavior of which one might be more aware if one is some sort of "other". Please don’t ask me for specifics—I’m dealing completely in the abstract right now.

    I’m interested in seeing a little bit of this show now. I’m curiuos whether the woman seems worth $500K. I mean, just because the final contestant might be straight doesn’t mean that he wants to give up half the dough, does it? Who would he need to fool about his sexual preference? Even a little flexibility and ambiguity can lead to a misunderstanding that leaves one with a phone number and an invitation to call when in the other’s city, so intent and a half million reward seem like they could inspire some acting in the other direction at the appropriate time.

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