Before same-sex marriage was federally legalized in 2015, queer people rarely got a shred of representation in modern media, and what we did get reduced us to harmful and hurtful stereotypes. That monumental decision led to what felt like a cultural shift in American media. We gained some ground with positive representation that shares beautiful stories, but then we also have what MTV put on our screens on Jan. 20.
The viewership numbers for the first episode of “The Real Friends of WeHo” officially came out late last week. Only 186,000 viewers tuned in, or rather, didn’t change the channel after “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which garnered more than three times that with 578,000 viewers in the time slot prior. Suffice to say, we spoke with our remotes.
I want to make it abundantly clear that this isn’t a review or a complaint directed towards any of the six members of the cast, although some rightfully deserve criticism. This is an open letter to the creative artform.
This show would have flopped regardless of which six conventionally attractive, famous gay men you put in it because of the show’s concept. This is made evident by the less than lukewarm reception “Men of West Hollywood” earned just one year earlier.
First and foremost, this concept is tired. We’ve had a fair few reality shows whose casts are entirely made up of attractive, rich, status holding gay men. This show absolutely still could have existed with the same title, we just needed diversity. Surely more queer people exist in and around West Hollywood than just affluent gay men.
Why couldn’t we have had a mixture of people from the whole LGBTQ community to demonstrate that there’s more queer people out there than just men loving men? We can reprise a famous franchise without ostracizing and minimizing a majority of the LGBTQ community.
Then we have the look of the cast — fit and conventionally attractive. After such a long time of this being the only type of queer representation out there, we can do better. This perpetuates an already over inflated beauty and body standard cast upon the LGBTQ community. Where are the real people?
It’s made even worse by the cast perpetuating this by calling old photos of themselves “fat” when they very clearly are not. While I’m not trying to discount someone’s struggle with body dysmorphia, when you have a platform as large as these people do, you must consider the impressionable eyes that are watching you. Social media already pushes these stereotypes hard enough, why must we carry it over into traditional media?
Finally, we must talk about the status of the cast. This show fails to capture the essence of what makes the format they’re trying to copy work. The Real Housewives franchise works because those women are trying to build an identity outside of their marriages to famous people. “The Real Friends of Weho” cast members already have unique identities and success, which makes this neither entertaining nor relatable.
It feels clear to me that this show was not designed to promote the stories of queer people, but to be another 40 minutes of dry, representation lacking, product placing, brand promoting, stereotype pedaling television to drop 20 minutes of advertisements into for MTV. I find it patronizing, and I can only wish they do better in the future.