Is the Jamaican music biz just so much bloodsucking globalization? And does Salon need to "lighten up" and learn to love "lowbrow" fare like "Straight Plan for the Gay Man"? Readers have their say.

By Salon Staff
Published March 16, 2004 9:00PM (EST)

[Read "Jamaica's New Music Revolution," by Baz Dreisinger.]

Toward the end of this article, Dreisinger writes, "The riddim method itself ... in the right hands, can produce so much from so little." Best double-entendre of the year!

-- Rob Kent

The historical and current economic and political situation in the Jamaican music business perfectly reflects the destructive colonialism and racism inherent in modern so-called globalization, as practiced by the giant corporations. The colonized are milked of their raw materials, energy and ideas, and then handed relatively meager material rewards, often finding themselves in debt to the colonialists (as any experienced music biz person will testify) -- all for the benefit of large global white corporations. It's no different from Jamaican sugar, or bauxite, or Haitian slave labor. And until the slaves rise up, and refuse to contribute to this blood sucking, until they can see past their humongous gold pendants and Cadillac Escalades, they will all deserve their chains.

-- David Rubinson

[Read "Playing It Straight," by Heather Havrilesky.]

I was a little confused by the cranky tone of Heather Havrilesky's piece on "Straight Plan for the Gay Man." Her primary gripe seemed to be that the show was trying to ride a wave that had already crashed, i.e., that it wasn't sufficiently "trendy." Or that it was too trendy. I wasn't sure which.

Seems to me that if you're going to start criticizing reality shows for trying to copy or feed off one another, you'd effectively eliminate 90 percent of the prime-time lineup these days. What's "The Apprentice" or "America's Next Top Model" but "Survivor" in suits or mini-sheaths, respectively? There have been about a thousand knockoffs of "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire," from "The Bachelor/ette" to "Joe Millionaire" to, finally, "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé." Surely, Ms. Havrilesky can't be saying that it's against the rules to zero in on a popular show, repackage it or add a twist, and put it out as something shiny and new?

On top of that, her beef seems even more narrowly focused on the idea that the inspiration for "Straight Plan," "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," is already "over." This is a show that's in its second season, that plays primarily on non-basic cable and that was, as far as I know, one of the first shows of its kind. It could be that "Queer Eye" is indeed "over" as far as being the Next Big Thing. But it's still a Big Thing, no?

A key to Ms. Havrilesky's underlying concern is revealed in Paragraph 2, where she states that "macho, straight-guy humor typically has all of the sophistication and appeal of liver pudding." What really seems to bother her is that someone took a clever, entertaining concept that centered around gay men, who Ms. Havrilesky appears to view as an "edgy," "now" kind of group, and refocused it on straight (mostly) white men. It's the complaint that people always have made about Elvis, or the Rolling Stones, or any other mainstream performers that co-opted something popular with the fringes -- "they took 'our' music".

Ms. H clearly doesn't find the show funny (mostly, it appears, because she doesn't find anything amusing about straight men). She goes even further, however, arguing that "Straight Plan's" jokes are somehow "offensive," focusing in particular on a comment one of the "Plan" members made about a woman who can't see through the Big Lie that straight men tell to get into bed as being potentially "borderline retarded."

Look, it was a joke. The concept is that straight men are such transparently bad liars that any woman who doesn't see right through them must be somehow off-kilter, and in that case, the straight guy still doesn't get to sleep with her. It was self-deprecating. And, yes, it was scripted, as is about 90 percent of the show. I don't know of any truly happy, well-adjusted gay men who have any interest in seeing if they can "pass" as straight, which is what most of the "contestants" on the show are aiming for. The show is more than broad, I think it's "fake," in the sense that it's far more a comedy show (whatever you think of the comedy) than a "reality" show. The idea here is to send-up straight males, not the gay men they're trying to "help."

What I find interesting about "Straight Plan" is what it says about shows like "Queer Eye." The concept behind "Queer Eye" is that a gay man has something to teach a straight man, some new way of looking at life that will be deeper and more enriching. Behind that premise is the concept that without getting in touch with their fabulous gay selves, straight men are somehow deficient, that they need "help" to be better people. That was clearly demonstrated on a recent episode of "Queer Eye," in which a gorgeous, fit, dedicated Olympic figure skater was turned in by his new wife, who wanted him to update his look and be more romantic. If this guy has "problems," many straight men might think, what freaking chance do I have?

What I find curious is that no one, even the guys on or behind "Straight Plan," really believe that the converse is true, i.e., that straight men could have anything of substance to teach a gay man. "Straight Plan" is a parody, it attempts to demonstrate just how clueless straight men are by putting them in charge of a gay man's "fashion" makeover -- giving the worst contestants on "Queer Eye" the chance to make over Carson Kressley. It's taken as a given that straight men are every bit as pathetic and in need of help as their gay counterparts (and their women) think. That's sort of sad, I think.

-- Chuck Bogle

One thing that I feel Ms. Havrilesky fails to see is that, in fact, "Straight Plan" is nothing but a low-budget farce, like many of Comedy Central's shows, and is completely aware of it. While it doesn't have the writing cred of "The Daily Show" or even "Reno 911," it still manages to parody exactly what "Queer Eye" is: an hour-long commercial in "self-help" show's clothing. Yes, it is decidedly low-brow (having fashion designers and high-end shops obviously bankroll your show instead of beer companies must change brow level) and revels in that fact, but it provides the perfect antithesis to "Queer Eye's" "what straight slobs do is bad, what we say is good" mantra.

She also failed to mention the fact that there is a lot of self-deprecating humor among the straight guys on the show, also sending up the whole macho-ness behind it. For instance, in that same episode about Roger, when his final "test" revealed that everyone thought the straight guys were gay, Roger noted, "They thought you were gay, and you were just being you."

What's more, this completely (admittedly, not well) scripted farce is such a tiny blip on the pop-culture radar -- and nowhere near as offensive and commodity-oriented as "Queer Eye" can be -- that it doesn't deserve to be railed like it was. Lighten up, Salon. Not everything has to be highbrow to be relevant.

-- John Dowling

Salon Staff

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