Vulture described the new HBO show, Looking, “not [as] a series about what it means to be gay, but a series about a group of men who happen to be gay” (Zoller-Seitz, 1). Although to the passive reader this may seem completely banal, the show’s ability to not only address queer narratives, but also, to situate them among countless others narratives, such as those related to heterosexuality and race is extremely forward thinking for a television show about gay men. This is a departure from previous representations of the queer community, like Queer As Folk, which centered on stereotypically queer narratives isolated from not only the mainstream community, but also other minority groups. Looking presents a modern depiction of queer life by allowing queer time and space to exist in the mural of a greater narrative about life of all people, regardless of their sexuality.
Judith Halberstam’s “In a Queer Time and Place,” asserts that understanding queer time and space requires and “understanding the nonnormative behaviors that have clear but not essential relations to gay and lesbian subjects” (Halberstam, 6). In other words, it is important to understand the activities that many queer people engage or do not engage in, such as reproduction or starting a family. However, queer time and space is not entirely prescriptive and may apply to some members of the queer community, but not others.
This concept becomes particularly evident in Looking’s seventh episode, where Patrick, the protagonist, attends his sister’s heterosexual wedding, however, the ceremony itself is mainly a backdrop for the episodes main action. The episode opens with Patrick getting dressed for the wedding and Skyping his mother, who shares that she is excited to meet his boyfriend Richard. Patrick corrects that his boyfriend name is actually Richie. His mother seems confused that Richie is not short for Richard. This is the first clue of culture difference, which translates into shame on Patrick’s behalf.
Patrick is clearly nervous about introducing his non-white boyfriend, employed as a barber, to his own WASP-y mother. Richie, not Patrick, plays the quintessential role of the “other” in this episode. In one scene Richie is unable to obtain Patrick’s mother’s phone from the front desk of their hotel, because he doesn’t look white enough to be part of Patrick’s family. Richie doesn’t make it to the wedding, because he and Patrick get in a fight while driving.
The remainder of the episode is filled with long shots of Patrick, alone, juxtaposed against the crowd of wedding guests. This image is complex, because he is not alone due to his homosexuality, but instead because of inability to establish lasting and stable romantic relationships with other men. This point is driven home in the episode’s pinnacle scene, a conversation cum argument between Patrick and his mother. Patrick tells his mother she should be relived she didn’t meet Richie because “he’s a Mexican” and he “cuts hair in a shitty barber shop and has little ambition to do anything other than that”. That choice of specific description touches on the self-deprecating nature of Patrick’s character, because he subconsciously wants his mother to find a flaw in his boyfriend. The conversation then turns to his mother’s general desire for what is “best for him,” and by best it can be inferred that she wants what is familiar to her. There is a casual mention of his mother’s initial trouble accepting Patrick when he came out which suggests that Patrick is very troubled by living up to his mothers, possibly unattainable, expectations. Patrick’s life in San Francisco is decidedly separate from heterosexual conceptions of time, so it seems fitting that his feelings of inadequacy would surface at his sisters, heterosexual, wedding outside of the city. However, his inadequacies, although indicative of the struggles of some, can’t be attributed to the queer community as a whole. Both family and race issues lead to the flaws in Patrick’s character.
At the close of the conversation Patrick admits that he didn’t know his mother was on anti-depressants and she remarks that he would know how she was doing if he asked once and awhile. This illuminates the narcissistic nature of Patrick’s character. This likely is related, but not directly caused by, Patrick’s focus on his own self-discovery as a gay man. The life he inhabits in San Francisco is both freeing and limiting in the sense that those who likely define themselves as “others” in some way has chosen the world Patrick inhabits as their home. He is boxed in to a niche community.
Looking is important as a piece of media depicting queer life, because it pinpoints a current crossroads for the queer community. Finding acceptance as a queer man of economic privilege is not particularly difficult, because economic fluidity allows for an easy move to a queer friendly geographic location. However, as this episode points out, moving to a more accepting place doesn’t mend wounded relationships with family members and it doesn’t erase racial stereotypes that may be held by a small group, or throughout the nation. Additionally, although Patrick is able to escape heterosexual conceptions of time and space in his everyday life they are obviously still on his mind, because he wishes to please his parents. Looking marks a new frontier of queer media depictions which both reference queer issues in context to society as a whole while also acknowledging the changes society still has to make in order to become a truly queer “friendly” place.
By: Alan Quinn
Halberstam, Judith. In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York: NYU Press, 2005. Project MUSE. Web. 24 Mar. 2014. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.
“Looking for a Plus One.” Looking: Season 6. Writ. John Hoffman. Dir. Jamie Babbit. HBO. 2014. Online.
Seitz, Matt Z. “The No-Fuss Radicalism of HBO’s Looking.” Vulture. Vulture, 16 Jan. 2014. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.