Sunday, September 16, 2007

Once You Go Jack, You'll Never Go Back

I just watched the first two episodes of the British series Torchwood. It's a spinoff of Doctor Who focusing on Captain Jack Harkness, the hunky immortal "time agent" who now works secretly to prepare Earth for the 21st Century, when a battle with aliens will change everything.

The show is entertaining on a sci-fi level with cool gadgets and way better production values than Doctor Who. It's creepy and funny and dark. It's also fabulous on other levels too. First of all, let’s just say it up front: John Barrowman, the actor who plays Captain Jack, is gorgeous. He looks like Tom Cruise wishes he really looked. Women (who, me?) want to bed him and men want to be him. In fact, one of the things that makes Captain Jack such a great character—and Torchwood such an interesting and unique show--is that men want to bed him too, and he’s completely cool with that. In a total departure for science fiction, his character is bisexual. And the best part about this show is that his bisexuality is presented (if it’s even “presented” at all) as no big deal. It’s a character element but it’s not at all a focus of the show. He’s written as a person who happens to be bisexual (whaaaat?!!), not as a bisexual or gay character who must “act gay.” You know what I’m saying if you’ve watched American television. The gay character who has to be “clearly gay” so that no one is threatened by him. After I watched both episodes and read about his character (oh like you’ve never looked up a hot guy’s show online?!!), I was immediately struck by the difference between “Just Jack” of Will and Grace (who, truth be told, I found funny for lots of reasons) and “Captain Jack” of Torchwood. It hadn’t occurred to me how remarkable it was that the writers were being actual grown-ups about presenting a non-hetero character and trusting that the audience would be able to grasp the nuances, just as they are trusted to do with hetero characters.

It also reminded me of the insane puritanical streak that runs through American society. John Barrowman, who plays Captain Jack, is gay. He has never hidden that fact, has a partner, and still manages to have a career where men who watch science fiction still want to be him regardless. What is it about American society and television that so many actors feel they have to stay closeted to stay marketable? I’ve heard the myth that gay men will not be “believable” in roles opposite female love interests. Hello! Would I be any less interested in Wentworth Miller’s assets if I knew he shared them with a man at home? Not likely! In fact, I might just find that intriguing… ;) Seriously. Was I going to marry Wentworth and have babies anyway? Those odds were pretty steep to begin with, so what if they are now exponentially worse? It doesn’t change the fact that hot is hot, gay or straight.

But maybe the issue is that it still matters to the men who run Hollywood? Maybe if you see a person who happens to be gay and all you are able to discern is his G-A-Y-N-E-S-S, you aren’t able to envision him kissing a woman onscreen. But isn’t that your lack rather than his? And after all, isn’t it called ACTING for a reason? I mean, the people who gave us Chandler and Monica, the least believable and lowest-chemistry couple in TV-dom; and Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino, the least believable couple in moviedom, can’t possibly find a romantic hetero role for a gay actor? That’s bullsh*t and we all know it, thank you Rock Hudson.

Anyway, that’s my mini-rant. I get like that sometimes; please ignore me. But do get BBC America and watch Torchwood. You can thank me later after you’ve wallpapered your computer with Captain Jack.

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