Monday, July 23, 2007

Enormous Turnip Awards - Clapham Junction

Clapham Junction, written by Kevin Elyot and broadcast last night on Channel 4 as part of it's Gay Season, should perhaps have been subtitled 'One Ring to Bind Them All' since its narrative centred around the meanderings of a civil partnership wedding band through the lives of a group of gay men in London.

The opening scene indicated that we were to be presented with something very different to what gay drama had offered up in the past. Delivered entirely without irony, it saw a TV commissioner rejecting a gay-themed script because he felt the whole "gay thing" had passed its sell-by date. If only Mr Elyot had listened to his scripted avowal. Rather than illuminating the prevalence of homophobic violence in today's society, Clapham Junction laid bare the writer's internal homophobia. What followed had little to say about the lives of gay men in 2007.

The gay lives portrayed here were, for the most part, brutish and without redemption. Sexual couplings were drug-fuelled, violent and often took place in public toilets, where heads were banged off walls and cocks thrust through cubical partitions. We had the usual array of queer stereotypes, including the married man who gets a bit in the toilets on the way home from work, the self-loathing psycho who loves his Nan but commits acts of random violence against other gay men, the frustrated schoolboy and the alcohol-swigging predator, who can't keep it in his pants, even on his wedding - sorry, civil partnership - day. And most startling of all, there was a man who was "inside for interfering with youngsters." Quite what a paedophile was doing in a drama which announced itself to be the story of 36 hours in the lives of a group of gay men is anyone's guess. Lesbian characters were wholly absent.

"I like the Third Reich," said the 14 year-old history student, as he made sexual approaches to the sex offender, conjuring up hackneyed images of merry queers in Nazi uniforms, mincing about to Liza Minnelli records. "Perhaps we enjoy sniffing around in dark places," said another character at an oh-so-polite, middle class dinner party which vainly attempted to contextualise the queer zeitgeist in a stream of clumsy dialogue.

Later, one of the awfully polite women at said dinner party goes all funny because the sex offender lives close to her. She's so affronted that she has to run home lest the vile paedo interferes with her son. Rushing to her son's room, she discovers he's gone. But what's this she sees across the street? It's her boy, framed in the sulphurous light emanating from the window of the paedo's lair. She rushes over and an unlikely confrontation ensues. Meanwhile, our cute-faced psycho gets a taste of his own violence and ends up trying to touch up the gay doctor, even though he's stretched out, bashed and bloody, on a hospital stretcher. Wouldn't you? You see, the doctor notices that the psycho has The Ring, which actually belongs to the doctor's partner, who gave the ring to the waiter after he had sex with him. The waiter then got murdered on the common and was discovered by the psycho, who had actually met him earlier in a club. They all lined up and with a big heave-ho, the enormous turnip was pulled up out of the ground.

Clapham Junction was TV drama trapped in a self-loathing, 1980s timewarp. It was like witnessing a piece of right-wing propaganda emerge from a parallel universe where Russell T. Davies' Queer as Folk, with all of its pathos and exuberance, never happened.

Clapham Junction, step up to the podium and accept your turnip.


Robert Stanfield said...

Great article. Thanks. My feelings about it were pretty much identical. If it had been written by a straight writer it would rightly have been derided as crass and clunky, and slated as homophobic drivel. It says more about the strange world Kevin Elyot and folk in the London media inhabit that few seem to have realised it or been prepared to say it. I watched it with a mixture of disbelieving laughter and anger, and not remotely in the way the programme makers may have intended. It said little or nothing to me as a gay man - no idea what it will have conveyed to a straight audience, but not a particularly representative picture, I would venture.

Thanks again for your spot-on analysis.

The Great Wee Azoo said...

Hi, Robert. Thanks for the comment. It was an appalling representation of gay men. The Channel 4 forum and Guardian blog on Clapham Junction seem to indicate that complaining to Channel 4 might be the way to go.

Anonymous said...

I've read quite a few comments from viewers on the net and most of them seem to be saying that the film shows the gay community in a very negative light.

First of all, I don't think that's what this film is trying to do - represent the whole gay community in London. It seems to me that its only presenting a slice of gay life, albeit a bit grim and depressing. It also addresses issues in society, although not new, that perhaps the filmmaker feel the need to draw people' attention to. If this film was just like another Queer As Folk episode, what's the point?

I also believe that despite the more open attitude towards gays in society now, there is still a large population of gay/bi men who still (choose to) live in the closet, who are not unlike the characters in the film. It's easy to say that these guys are just pathetic cowards. But the film reflects that there's still a lot of homophobic pressure in society, just like any other forms of discrimination against minorities.

Some viewers commented that the film just reinforces old cliched stereotypes. But aren't shows like QAF and Queer Eye just doing the same? Perhaps some people feel more comfortable being associated with/stereotyped as style-conscious happy gay clubbers.

Anonymous said...

Focus on the informants!!