I’ve written a lot about gay media in the last few weeks because it’s a subject that’s near and dear to my heart. From Logo’s transformation into a TV Land offshoot to the fantastic creation that is London Spy, I’m fully invested in continuing this conversation. Whether it’s about what needs to change or what’s great, I’m all over it. One fantastic instance of great gay TV is Viceland’s Ellen Page vehicle, Gaycation.
For those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of viewing the show, Page and her best friend, Ian Daniel, travel the globe to shine an unnerving light on the oppression of LGBT people. Each episode chronicles a different corner of the world through documentary-style reporting. The results are often enlightening and painful to watch. But it’s most definitely a must-see.
While the overall response to the show has been overwhelmingly positive (from critics and members of the LGBT community alike), there has been some minimal backlash. Though the negative reviews were few and far in between, the ones that rose to the surface were definitely out to minimize the show’s impact. Of course, there were the lighthearted jabs from those who prefer to skip the program because of their disdain for Ellen Page.
Katie in response to seeing the Gaycation trailer: "I liked her better when she was pregnant with Michael Cera."— Landyn Pan (@LandynPan) April 7, 2016
But then there were more fully formed thoughts. In particular, one that was circulating on social media was especially critical. The article, “Ellen Page’s Gay Imperialism Is Not Activism”, is a scathing review of the show’s premiere episode, in which Page and Daniel head to Japan. The author of this piece details how Page and Daniel have approached this show with a “white savior” mentality. And that their journey through Japan’s LGBT community is exploitative and devoid of any real motivation for progress.
On one hand, if I really try to dig deep into the show for details that aren’t there, I can see that point. But I’m too busy celebrating such a visible show to rip it to shreds.
Page is not swooping in to save the less than fortunate LGBT youth from the troubles they’re facing due to being non-white or anonymous in the public eye. This is simply not the case. At no point do we see Page pull a dollar from her movie star pocket to offer help to these ‘victims’. She is playing journalist here. She’s shining a much needed light on what it’s like to be gay all over the world. She isn’t part of Gaycation to save anyone. She’s helping to spread the word and educate those who need to be taught. And believe me, a lot of people need to be taught.
Part of me is convinced that no matter what we’re served for gay media, we will never be satisfied. This show is intriguing, raw, honest, and eye-opening. I mean, before I watched, I had no idea that Tokyo’s LGBT people could hire an expert to help them come out to their parents. Or that the gay people of Jamaica were actually fighting back against prejudice and launching pride movements in their deeply homophobic region.
The show operates authentically in the documentary space created by Vice. It fits right in with the other guerilla-style showcases like Noisey’s Bompton or States of Undress.
It may not be perfect. It seems no crew can visit Tokyo without painting it as a fantasy play land for Westerners. But it is great TV. And it’s exactly the type of visibility we need. It shows the struggle at its most significant. And it does so outside of gay-centric media. Which means more people will watch. More people will understand. More people will be reached beyond what we’d simply be able to do from within the community.
I realize that entertainment is a wildly subjective category. No show or song or movie is going to be unanimously loved by everyone. Trust me, I get that. But as a community that is fighting furiously for diversified media offerings both within gay media and in mainstream media, we need to celebrate the victories where we can get them. Even if you’re not in love with Ellen Page or you feel there are aspects of the show that could be improved, it doesn’t mean that your support isn’t needed. Acknowledging a win of this magnitude means another show could be created that tells another aspect of this story. It means that you could possibly have the opportunity to tell your story the way you want to tell it. But socially downvoting a show like this can only have negative effects on the overall movement.
If you’re one of those people who’ve decided not to support this show, think again about your decision. Its implications could be much bigger than you ever imagined.
Take a look at Gaycation's first episode below: