This who’s-really-copying-whom? question underscores how tired the whole gay-style-rules message has become—especially when you consider that the gay representatives that pop culture sets up to mandate fabulousness are just as clichéd as their supposedly aesthetically impaired counterparts. Sassy gays snapping and barking “Work it!” at grateful straights might make for amusing TV, but the subtext, frankly, is kind of creepy. “The old media image,” notes Los Angeles author and sociologist Peter Nardi, “was of the suicidal, depressed gay person. Now it’s the witty gay man. But Oscar Wilde was a witty gay man in the 19th century. It’s nothing new! Except today it’s almost a minstrel version of the witty gay man.” And a witty gay man, at that, whose entire purpose is to advance a sort of pointedly posh, fleeting consumerism. Meanwhile, Nardi adds, “the car-mechanic version of the gay man is still too risky.”
A blue-collar gay guy would be too nuanced, too unexpected. With the exception of the occasional Oscar-bait sheep herder, there’s no casting call for that dude. Instead, the culture insists that straight and gay men alike submit to hackneyed, old-school Odd Couple role-playing. The straight “Oscar” is made to feel like he’s dopey, tasteless, missing out; the gay “Felix” is made to feel that he must be unrelentingly fashion-forward in all areas of life (even if he’d rather be parked on the couch in sweats himself). Both are stuck playing cartoon characters. And in the end, their homophobia and heterophobia make them perversely complementary shadowboxing partners—each lashing out at an enemy who’s not really there.