Monday, January 19, 2009

A little Nuke and the world explodes

Well, I realize this is a post that is happening a week after Luke and Noah had sex on ATWT. In my defense, I have been away at a family funeral. In addition, though, I really wanted to let the event gestate a bit. There has been so much written about it (hence the explosion of the title), and so much of it was contrary to what I thought I saw, I needed to let it all percolate. If you missed it, here is what I'm talking about:

In the end, my thoughts about the event are positive, and in line with Nelson Branco's quote from Sri Rao (writer of Night Shift 2): “Good for them. One small step for Nuke, one giant leap for daytime...”

Rao should know. He accomplished, with Night Shift 2, what daytime had failed to do: tender conversations between two men who really got to know each other, were confident in their sexuality (for the most part), and for whom a kiss was not a huge deal, but just beautifully tender and arousing to almost anyone who saw it. If you missed it, I mean this.

For me, Nuke sex was beautiful because (a) of the passion we got see leading up to it, (b) because NO LONGER can it be denied that Luke (scion of a core family) is a sexual being who -- yup -- has actually seen his love naked and actually related to him in a sexual way. (Make no mistake about it...there was contingent out there that thought Luke's celibacy was an 'appropriate' response to his 'wrong' attractions), and (c) because it is almost like the "last wall" has fallen (More on that below).

Most importantly, we're past it now. If Nuke ever has sex again, it won't be such a big deal (nor should it be). The big obstacle has been jumped. And for those who don't like Nuke, well, now the way has been paved for a couple you might like more. Never again will a gay male couple have to go through all this nonsense to merely kiss on daytime. That is a victory.

To be clear, All My Children accomplished the same thing for lesbian sexuality years ago, with Bianca. To see the remarkable intimacy of Reese and Bianca now, it is easy to forget how difficult it was for Bianca to be given on-screen kisses with Lena or Maggie years ago. But, those "outrages" perpetrated, Reese and Bianca are now free to be more openly loving.

The gay male sexuality was an extra hurdle. Make no mistake about it, when Brian Frons says "our lesbians are cuter", he is reflecting the fact that woman-on-woman sex is simply not as taboo anymore. Of course, this plays into the whole straight-male-porn-fantasy. Straight women never seemed to have a parallel enjoyment of gay porn in the mainstream, even though Carrie Bradshaw and the Sex and the City girls seemed to like it.

Indeed, Michael Moore suggested, tongue-in-cheek, in Mike's Election Guide 2008 that if the gay marriage amendments had been about lesbians, they would have readily passed. Showing a picture of two brides-in-veils with interlinked tongues, Moore wrote (pp. 35-36)

I am told that no one is opposed to watching two women kiss. Men love it, women love it, and the women doing it love it -- something for everybody! I don't think it is female-on-female love that has so many people (men) discombobulated. I think when they say they are against gay marriage, what they really mean is that they are against this:

(picture of two men kissing)

Now that is disgusting! Guys going all borkeback on each other--gimme a break! The state can't sanction that!
So, as a sociopolitical act of activism, I honestly believe Nuke is so, so important! Not because it is the first mainstream depiction of gay male sexuality, but maybe because it is the last important one! Let me expand on this by addressing some of the many critiques I have read about the story these last weeks.

This was not a "first". Indeed the whole story shows how locked in a conservative past soaps are.

The core premise, for me, is what Kay Alden meant when she said "Soaps are not an avante garde medium". (She said this at Sam Ford's MIT symposium, in relation to his Masters defense).

Another way I viewed the Nuke sex, specifically, was as "My heavens! There are boinking on homo-sect-choo-als on Aunt Mildred's STORIES!!! On ATWT!!! On one of the two oldest daytime shows! On a show that debuted in the Eisenhower era! On a show with a median viewer age in excess of 60 years! "

Much of the negative commentary about the "innovativeness" of this relates to the fact that Dynasty and Melrose Place and Brothers and Sisters and Hollyoaks and what have you all did it before.

True, that! And AMC has to continue to get credit for really having a core gay character first. (The history is longer, as you can see here).

So, why am I celebrating so much?

ATWT's gay male sex is not necessary the FIRST shoe to drop. Instead, I think Nuke may be interesting because it is the LAST shoe to drop. If we take the conservative, staid, stuck-in-the-past, pander-to-the-mainstream, do-not-inflame soap genre (I don't actually think it is all like that), and THEY have homo-sect-choo-als kissing and is a true marker of culture change.

But in the end, my connection to this tale is more emotional, and it all goes back, again, to the fact that these are Aunt Mildred's STORIES! And now, with the wavy-whisps of an old-school flashback, I'm drawn back into the past... I am sorry this is a ramble, but it shows you that I'm not responding intellectually to this tale....

... what a difference might it have made to young men 30 years ago, if Nuke had been around then. Back in the day when soaps were more truly intergenerational? To show that gay men were decent, loving, respectworthy members of core families. That their mothers and grandmothers and neighbors still loved them, even though they were attracted to the 'wrong' sex. How many doors of healthy conversation and attitude change might it have opened?

[For those who do not believe that the generational experience of coming out is a whole different thing, compare Saul and Kevin on Brothers and Sisters. That is a totally authentic representation of how things have changed.]

Young gay men probably look at Nuke and say "come on! No big deal! We've been here and queer forever! The timidity and forcedness of the Nuke story is so in contrast with our lives".


But man oh man oh man has the world changed!

Someone from my genereation looks at Luke Snyder in AWE! The world has CHANGED! Imagine if, 37 years ago, Phil Brent had been a young gay man on AMC, and the triangle involving Chuck and Tara had been because Phil wanted Chuck! What a different world that would have been!

Even as the world moved along, soaps just DIDN'T. Not in major or significant ways (although that link above shows that some brave souls TRIED).

Now, finally, the "soap train" has arrived at the station. That is a big deal. (The "station", by the way, is the acceptance of gay male I posted earlier...for women it has been futher along).

When I look back on my nearly 44 years (damn, I feel old on this board), I simply cannot tell you how stunning Nuke is. It is truly akin (I know you'll accuse me of aggrandizing) how I imagine some African Americans felt when Obama became president. The world has changed!

All the feelings of things you could never achieve when you were younger...well that ceiling suddenly opens up...and you almost get a feeling of vertigo....imagine if the world had always been thus! How different might life have been?

Thirty years ago, there was NO ROLE MODEL, certainly not on soaps. Think about what Luke IS! He's the white-bread scion of a countrified-citified Oakdale...middle crazy hair or dress or lifestyle. And average fella, he probably shops at malls instead of Soho thrift shops, not "loud and proud"...just a typical guy. (Yes, I know he is a Grimaldi...but I am ignoring that). To SEE THAT EVERY DAY!! EVERY DAY!!! Wow!

That changes the world! At least mine!

From the perspective of "jaded youth" that is well past all of this, I can see how Nuke is nothing special. From the perspective of someone who NEVER THOUGHT this day would come is very special indeed.

For me, this is as fundamental as Uhura-Kirk. That interracial kiss was subversive, IMO, not because it was 'first', but because it infiltrated the white-male bastion of SciFi. If you were going to show that kind of 'miscegnation' to THAT had pushed the audience very far. ATWT is a very similar bastion....with a mainstream audience of older, homebound women....mothers of sons who live in environments where it still may not be acceptable to be gay. (You know...Prop 8 voters). Now, every day, even here, they cannot deny the existence of this reality. Maybe, if they don't tune out, they'll see that Luke and Noah are decent and regular. Not perverts or pedophiles or sluts. Just striped-shirt wearing doofuses who go to college. Maybe they will recognize their sons...and judge less harshly, having had their attitudes adjusted, if they sons turn out to be gay too. For all of you who are 'way past' a society that does not accept gay male sexuality, I'm here to remind you that the MAJORITY of people in many areas are NOT 'way past' the issue. ATWT and its ilk can be fundamental tools in the cultural evolution. (That is also why it is important to not yet p*ss those people off and show them sweaty thrusting in a bed. Get them ready in baby steps. That day will come...)

The story was lousy. Nuke was a terrible insta-couple.

This critique points to the origins of the story where, it seems, Luke's unreciprocated attraction to Noah was a little rushed. The basis for the mutual attraction was never firmly established, so -- other than the fact that these are two gay men -- we don't really know why they are together at this point.

I think this is a broader critique of ATWT's writing, and so it is not specific to Nuke. Also, at this point, I really don't think it is fair to call them an "insta-couple". After over two years? INSTACOUPLE?? That just is no longer true. The FOUNDATIONS of the union may be shaky...and I'm not saying this is terrific writing. But honestly, they've earned the right with enough shared history to be more than an insta-couple.

The whole thing was rushed, shoehorned into a single episode. It was almost like "let's get this over with".

The point is that a gay man, who is a member of a core family, whom the audience has been allowed -- more or less -- to see grow up has also been allowed to become a fully embodied sexual being on his show. And that is major. Within the context of this single episode, it was also a good soapy setup -- from the fight in Midtown to the feverish kissing and locking of doors, to the post-coital tenderness. Since ATWT is trying to get us to view the show in a more "episodic" way, this was a good episode vis-a-vis Nuke.

Sex on this particular day made little sense

This is Tom Casiello's point. This love scene didn't get the build-up of some "losing virginity" stories on other shows. Given how long this couple has been denying themselves, why on this random January Monday?

I don't know. I can't defend that choice in particular. But in the real world, people have sex. They don't schedule it for particular days or plan it or announce it with weeks of foreshadowing. They just "throw down". Nuke could no longer deny it.

I actually think it was a beautiful breakthrough for the precipitant of Noah's passion to be Luke's admonition that "You're selfish with your feelings". Finally, finally, Noah had an epiphany. And the forceful way that he kissed Luke was both hot and completely appropriate for the heated conversation that preceded it. So, for me, watching this episode (I confess!) in made perfect sense. It seemed like a classic moment of anger-dissolving-into-passion. Indeed, the utter "prototypicality" of that kiss made me happy...Nuke was getting treated like just about every other soap couple. That's all we can ask for.

The scene should have been comparable to what we see with het couples, otherwise gay men are on the "back of the bus"

This "back of the bus" comment showed up on both Usenet, and in a comment to Tom Casiello's piece on this topic.

So, the activist in me says...sure...sweaty naked men kissing all over each other in bed MIGHT WELL have been the more appropriate soap template to use. Except Luke and Noah are young, and soaps typically use a more chaste approach for young sex.

Second, can we remind ourselves of the national realities here? Gay marriage amendments were turned down by the MAJORITY of voters in three states in November 2008. For us to ignore the context in which this story plays out is ... naive. I suspect there is a lot of overlap, for example, between the population that voted against gay marriage and the population that watches P&G soaps.

In addition, P&G/CBS received vociferous protest against Nuke kissing (thank you, Rev. Wildmon)! A scant year ago, there was even a visible kissing ban! P&G/Televest/Telenext/whatever was sufficiently scared that they ran a PHONE POLL to help them decide whether to continue the Nuke tale!

In light of the extreme caution that has been taken so far, why would we now want to engage in a sudden act of sensory 'flooding' and show hot sweaty sex? Baby steps is the key....

I may have a different opinion here. I believe that a softer, more "lamb-like" approach is the right one to take here, given that the majority of Americans is still not comfortable with gay male sexuality.

Let's face it. If I want to watch sex -- gay or straight -- I can find lots of porn on this here old internet.

So, soap sex is ... well ... usually hokey. At its WORST, it is arched backs and sweaty brows and treacly music.

I'm not saying, sometimes, that can't be remarkable to see, but for the most part, I'll pass.

Most of soap sex is off screen. Every married couple on soaps gets to have their sex off screen. And that's fine. I really don't need to to see ATWT's Tom and Margo grunting away fortnightly, or however often they do it .

This was Nuke's FIRST sex. It may get "hotter" as time passes. For me, what is important is that the threshold has been crossed.

Now, EVERY TIME we see those men on screen, America will know that they have seen each other naked, in a lustful way. That new reality suffuses every scene. That is DIFFERENT. That is ground breaking. That is what Monday opened. Two men who are explicitly sexual with each other, on the front burner. Now, when they touch, we will know it is a "knowing" touch...and like Tom and Margo or -- heck -- most days Brad and Katie -- we know they'll follow up on the "touch" later. No longer is this denied.

Once the conservatives catch their breath and stop their puking (men having SEX! how AWFUL!), the next sex scene (whenever it happens) could well be shirtless in bed together kissing. Who knows? Who cares? Again, if we want to see two men in flagrante delicto....well...there are other sites for that.

This is commercial TV! It plays to all kinds of sensibilities. How often are African American characters (the few who exist) given those arched-back scenes? How often are characters over 40 given those scenes? There are all kinds of racist, sexist, ageist and homophobic sensibilities that are being 'considered' as these soaps get put out...that's the reality of an advertiser-supported medium that needs to appeal to the "minivan majority" (ugh).

The fact remains....we KNOW, and we cannot deny, that two men now exist in Oakdale who related to one another fully as loving and sexual beings. That is ENORMOUS. I cannot believe people aren't just jaw-droppingly astounded at how ENORMOUS this is.

There should have been advance publicity

When she was still at SOD/SOW, Carolyn Hinsey expressed this point regarding Nuke's first kiss. Recently, I have seen this opinion expressed -- say -- via the Marlena Delacroix site.

I could not disagree more. I think this publicity is working EXACTLY as it should. Why?

First, again, let us not deny the hordes of protesters. Let us not forget the early 90s, when Thirtysomething lost all advertisers for an episode because two gay men were simply shown in bed together. Why give them an advance warning to get organized?

Second, let us not forget that the method-of-the-day is viral. I defy you, in the modern era, to show me many examples of where advance publicity has had ANY effect on ratings! Genie Francis' returns to General Hospital have been promoted...and there was scarcely a ratings blip. The sole exception to the "benefits of publicity" that I can recall was during the "Sudden Impact" arc on Young and Restless (8/6/2008). There, clever banner ads and some out-of-daypart-and-off-network TV ads did convince lapsed viewers to come back to see the newly re-energized Y&R.

But, for the most part, publicity is irrelevant now.

Instead, Roger Newcomb reports that over 300,000 have watched the Nuke sex on Youtube alone. Who knows how many more people saw it on Fancast or, etc.

Those who proclaim the need for publicity are LOCKED IN AN OLD WORLD, where the only way to watch a soap was on TV. "Set your VCR" is an outdated phraseology, even if you substitute the word "DVR". If you miss a show, you can catch it (legally) online, and the network gets to count both the "hit" and the advertising revenue!

Indeed, the lack of advance publicity is BRILLIANT. It teaches viewers they HAVE TO WATCH, or they'll miss it. That avoids a one-day ratings spike (useless), and might encourage return viewership.

Viral, viral, viral, viral.

Whenever you want to complain about a lack of publicity, just remember these phrases: "TV is dead" and "Viral is in". ATWT is playing well to the modern world!

And for those who feel the lack of publicity was "defensive", as in "The network was chicken, and afraid to stir up protest"...well....when everyone is out to get you it is OKAY to be defensive. When you're going to stir up a hornet's nest, it is okay to wear protective gear! That's not cowardly...that's smart!

Sharing ice cream with grandma, post-coitally, was icky and diminished the moment

Yeah, Lucinda coming in the house was a bit icky...but remember that Nuke had sex in a house that they share with half of Oakdale. In that context, given the fracture that occurred between Luke and Lucinda over Brian's hidden sexuality, it was a moment of rapprochement that actually felt very good in light of the preceding tension between them.

MOREOVER, think how radical the scene was!!! Luke and Noah had just exchanged bodily fluids!! They had actively had sex. Even if Lucinda didn't know it, these now fully-embodied sexual young men were sitting next to her, in a moment of healing, eating ice cream. In other words, Luke and Noah's sexuality didn't distinguish them or ostracize them. They could simply co-exist, do normal things, have nice family scenes. Yes, a little post-coital languishing might have been nice...but the normalization and routineness of the Oakdale scene was nice, too.

It reinforced that gay male sexuality did not lead to the end of the World. Indeed, it kept on turning like always. What a terrific message!


libhom said...

I agree with what you are saying. I also think that the Nuke storyline is one of the things keeping ATWT alive. Soaps will have to find niche audiences to help them make it, and ATWT stumbled onto one.

George said...

Thanks for your comprehensive and thoughtful blog! I found it really engaging and thoroughly enjoyed reading your take on things.

Anthony D. Langford said...

Mark, you make so many good points there that there are too many to go over. I just kept nodding along with most of what you had to say. Very, very well done. Some other soap bloggers need to take a look at your well thought out and reasoned (and might I add realistic) post and take note.

Rich said...

thank you for what you said in thid blog!! now if they did promoto it they it show of be better but they didn't and i like what we gotten. one baby step for Nuke and hopefully more to come!!!

Rob said...

Wonderful blog! I couldn't agree more with your points.

Oakdalian said...

TPTB at ATWT must figure that they'll have a built-in audience for Nuke, no matter what. Therefore they can afford to not promote the couple. Viewers are taking it upon themselves to maintain interest. That's still no excuse, as far as I can see. They use the convoluted Craig/Dusty/Paul/Meg (and sometimes Carly) sagas as a selling point, and completely ignore the characters that get the most press. That's a form of homophobia, isn't it? ATWT didn't have a prayer of landing a feature on Entertainment Tonight before this couple was created, but it happened because of them. Remaining timid has kept the publicity department from matching the exposure. We can celebrate the virtues of going viral all day, but that still means the executives are taking a hands off approach that heterosexual characters would never be treated to.
As for the story itself, we have every reason to believe that Luke was indeed a virgin. Why this couldn't be mentioned is anyone's guess, but we can assume that a gay man's virginity is too strange a concept for the average viewer to explore. And the dialogue about being glad they "waited" for the event was absolutely ridiculous. When was the conversation about getting to know each other first?! I seem to recall a time when they ripped off each others shirts and postponed sex due to a knock the door. There was no conscious decision to "wait" because they were forced to abort their intimacy for inane reasons.
I can't take the "better than nothing" attitude when I've seen superior writing on ATWT. It's sad to see that GLAAD thinks this material is worthy of an award, yet again. Notice what has happened in the days after this landmark episode. Luke and Noah have been apart, with no hope of a compelling story on the way.