Saturday, 30 May 2009

Goldilocks (aka Amanda Holden) and the Three Bears.

Last night (Friday 29th) I was privy with millions of other television viewer’s to a camp spectacle on ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent. This spectacle was called The Dreambears. Three twenty-something chubby gay men camping about on stage doing all manner of pirouettes, arrières, and changement de pieds; all this is choreographed to the Weather Girls Its Raining Men. Why is it worth blogging about? My answer is not The Dreambears attempt at ballet (or burlesque or Bob Fosse) which of course is fine rather, I’m bothered by the way in which prime-time television negotiates and mutes the subcultural aspects of their bear-ness in order to make gayness hyper-legible to the audiences through terms they are more familiar with. The Dreambears are not off the hook either since they are in part complicit in their own camp debasement as the first prime-time bears. This legibility in their performance is achieved through the erasure of the bear’s subcultural aspects that then work to contain the potential of bear masculinity to be viewed as completely ordinary, unfussy, and ultimately boring for TV. The way Britain’s Got Talent erases the bear, except in name, was manifold in three strategies that disrupt the bears’ literal masculine definition of themselves as the man’s man version of gayness. Here are a few observations.

Strategy 1. Make them look as camp as possible. Dress all the bears up as Daffyd from Little Britain in ultra tight PVC shorts and sparkly union jack vests. The Dreambears mention the costume department’s role in bringing us this tired vision. As an extra note one should observe that known gay presenters on television (the BBC holy trinity of Graham Norton, Dale Winton and John Barrowman) are compelled to wear sparkly, glittery, reflective, and garishly patterned suits as a semiotic articulation of their prime-time gayness which otherwise remains unspeakable.

Strategy 2. Deal with their fatness. Since the bear’s chubbiness is considered to be erotically appealing within the subculture it’s important to disavow this central aspect of bear identity by making them look silly as fat bodies out of place. Put them in camp outfits five sizes too small and make them do ballet that ought to do the trick. Did I mention that the connection to the Weather Girls It’s Raining Men is not just about music also but also corpulent excess?

Strategy 3. It’s really got nothing to do with sex. Bear subculture is also predicated on a sexual hierarchy based on age, size and ways of communicating within those hierarchized relations through terms such as ‘daddy’ and verbs like ‘to paw’ and ‘to maul’. In the first instance, The Dreambears look like cubs to me and have not yet graduated to being fully-fledged big daddy bears. If you didn’t know already bears tend to be stout gay men, preferable hirsute but not essential, accommodating of a wide but hierarchical age range (which is then divided into cubs, otters, wolves, polar bears etc). An oversimplification of their self-promotion would suggest that bears often shun the apparent narcissistic, sissified, slender, fashionable, and consumption-led gays that have often come to represent the stereotypical gay as if bears themselves were not just as regulated as the next queer.

What ITV’s strategies do here (but not forgetting the complicity of The Dreambears) is to work against the potential for these prime-time bears to destabilize normative assumptions between certain alignments of homosexuality and masculinity. In turn, Britain’s Got Talent confirms what people already think they know about homosexuality on television, light entertainment in particular, that is, its only meaningful and acceptable as risible de-sexed camp spectacle (with soaps being the alternative). Something Richard Dyer once wrote is applicable here – “In taking the signs of masculinity and eroticizing them in a blatantly homosexual context, much mischief is done to the security with which ‘men’ are defined in society, and by which their power is secured” (167). It’s precisely this potential for mischief that Britain’s Got Talent attempts to contain in its camping up and desexualisation of a modern gay subculture.

Though Amanda Holden does make a good Goldilocks!

Reference: Richard Dyer (1992) ‘Getting over the rainbow’ in Only Entertainment. London: Routledge.

(Photo credits: frame grab; pinups mag; permissions)

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