Rants · Real Life · Television

I’ll Be Watching

So, this is an open missive to the creators of HBO’s Looking, about their upcoming second season of the show.

Now, I know that on the eve of the premiere tonight is too late to reach them before these episodes were filmed. Consider this gesture symbolic, perhaps. Certainly, I feel like it’s a necessary step for my own peace of mind. And in light of my current trend toward trying to feel more body positive about myself and to speak up about these issues more, it’s a necessary step forward for me.

Basically: I saw you include a bigger guy in your trailer for the second season, show. And I’ll be watching you.

If you haven’t seen the trailer for Looking‘s second season, allow me to throw it here for you:

Apparently he’s a love interest for a main character who’s gone through a recent breakup? He makes a reappearance dancing in a club at the 1:13 mark as well. These are really small glimpses, but they’re also meaningful ones. Remember that a preview is intended to whet our appetite for things to come. Content does not appear in it by accident.

Now, in case you’re curious, I was put off the first season of Looking pretty quickly because of the very first episode, where the script managed to offend me inside the first few minutes of the first episode. Sadly, the sample episode HBO put up on YouTube has been taken down, but allow me to walk you through what happens with a series of photos.

Patrick talking to Augustin and Dom about his ex-boyfriend's fiancee
Patrick talking to Augustin and Dom about his ex-boyfriend’s fiancee

Shortly after the first episode opens, main characters Patrick, Augustin, and Dom are chatting about Patrick’s ex-boyfriend and his new fiancee, who are soon to be married. Patrick and co. have been invited to the bachelor party, and the conversation turns towards the new boyfriend, Gabe. As the conversation proceeds, it turns to the question in the subtitles in the image above: Patrick’s friends ask if Gabe is “hot.”

Patrick says that Gabe is "a little portly"
Patrick says that Gabe is “a little portly”

Laughing, Patrick answers that he’s “a little portly,” to the amusement of his friends.

Dom laughs, as Patrick laughingly swears "It's not an insult! It's not!"
Dom laughs, as Patrick laughingly swears “It’s not an insult! It’s not!”

As both friends continue to laugh, Patrick also laughs, asserting “It’s not an insult! It’s not an insult,” while his friend Dom smiles and says, “Oh my God, you’re such a bitch.”

Patrick asserts Gabe is "a sweet guy," just "very slightly round"
Patrick asserts Gabe is “a sweet guy,” just “very slightly round”

The laughter continues. Patrick continues, saying “No, he’s a very sweet guy, he’s just… slightly round” while his friends laugh their asses off in the background, including the camera’s focus on Dom’s intense amusement.

Now, this content alone was enough to put me off the show for an entire season. A few people have argued that this scene is supposed to show how shallow and typical these characters are, which I guess is true because mission accomplished, but I’m not a fan of people like myself being made the punchline for a fictional character’s establishment as an asshole (and similar problems arise with race, gender, ableism, etc. too; this is not just in my head). Fat gay men already have a very hard time in mainstream “gay culture” in the US and considering how rare big ticket media that focus on queer populations are in the first place, seeing fat gay men be the punchline in the first 4 minutes of the show did not suggest, to me, that I was going to be in for a good time.

(For the record, Gabe is played by actor Brian Dawson who is barely even “TV fat,” which just annoyed me all the further)

But I’m going to watch season 2 of Looking, since I have access to HBO for the time being. I want to believe that the showrunners may have noticed that this was a bad thing they did, that they want to correct and handle better. Part of the responsibility of being a media critic, in my view, is not just calling out problems when we see them, but actually watching what happens afterwards, evaluating it, seeing if people are capable of making positive change.

And the truth is, just this morning I read a Slate article on Jason Whitesel’s new ethnography of fat gay men so I’m already primed to be thinking about this issue. For the record, I’m hoping to get a chance to read Whitesel’s book… but Stern’s article about it did not thrill me. Rather than suggesting the ethnography is a thing of interest, it’s full of increasingly florid synonyms for the word “fat,” continual references to what losers fat gay men are, and some very unusual choices about elements of the book to bring up. For example, he mentions an annual “Girth and Mirth” meetup as having a “scat room” which… you can probably imagine what that is (don’t google it at work), but like, why bring up THAT example, as if it has anything to do with the focus of the group or its convention itself? Basically: this article about a potentially interesting book is just tremendously offensive to me.

Perhaps the biggest impetus for me to be thinking about this, though, is a series of tweets from the amazing Deirdra “Squinky” Kiai on having good body esteem when you don’t match the media’s image of what “beautiful” is. Their thoughts are spot on and I was so grateful to them for putting that idea out there. And I agree with every inch of it, too, as I’ve already said to some extent in discussing my month of selfies last December. There’s only so far that good self-esteem can get you. No matter how good you feel about yourself, you have to live in a social world where other people’s views about your body, what it’s for and how it should be, are a thing you’re subjected to on a daily basis.

Liking ourselves, feeling like we’re desirable, is a radical act in that situation, because it means fighting against the weight of cultural power… power that Looking represents, for good or for ill.

So I’ll be watching you carefully, Looking. Don’t let me down.

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