I've been trying to avoid this, but it just has to be said: I have become enthralled with The A-List:New York, Logo's new reality series which does a "real Housewives" like gloss on gay men in New York City.
Partly, this is pure shallowness: there's so much toplessness and buffery on display that it's just ridiculous (I think "notices buff men in filmed entertainment" is the new shorthand form of gaydar; if you can name the cute ones, you are one of us)... and confirms my own taste-o-meter for reality TV: from Paradise Hotel to Temptation Island to that brief Bravo series on picking America's next male model... if they wear a bathing suit, count me in.
But The A-List is, if possible, shallower than that: it's every "oh my God, did you see his boyfriend" story ever told, every overly dramatic queen's dream of everyday life. It's all hair and clothes and bitchy comments and buff bodies and the 6 to 10 other things that make for the most shallow conversations imaginable.
And it's utterly fascinating, and utterly true.
The A-list's conceit is that the young men on camera represent some sort of urban gay elite; like the other shows, it's more "legend in my mind" than The Real Thing, but it makes perfect sense: if you can dine out on being Britney's hairdresser, if doing Beyonce's makeup makes you a somebody, if anyone cares that you do the flowers in Ivanka Trump's office.... it's gay men in Manhattan who can somehow make that seem important.
The most "famous" face on the A-List is probably Reichen Lemkuhl, a former Air Force officer who gained some notoriety dating Lance Bass, one of the men in N'Sync, and the only American boybander (so far) to come out. Next most famous is probably Austin, who was part of a messy series of relationships Marc Jacobs pursued since kicking drugs and buffing up into a new Gay Icon. There's also Derek, a modeling agent who apparently knows Lindsay Lohan, and Ryan, a hairdresser who married well (a much older, black banker who is rarely seen), and Ryan's friend TJ, who is also his Personal Assistant.
All of these boys, and Reichen's new boyfriend Rodiney (the requisite Brazilian model), do a credible job of representing what passes for gay social life: heavy on the arts, fashion and the visual, cute and young. It's a literal "Logan's Run" where it's rare to hang around much past 30, or maybe 35 if you push it (Mike Ruiz, also known to Drag Race fans, adds some grace to the image of the aging boytoy). Everyone's a little too young, a little too immature. Put it on camera... and it shows.
The A-List, like other reality shows, doesn't necessarily tell anyone anything they didn't already know: gay men can be shallow, and too caught up in what's pretty and of the moment. Since Stonewall, there's been a long line of books (Dancer from the Dance and Faggots, most famously) and plays (The Boys in the Band) and movies (Lots, but start, say, with Jeffrey) to make much the same point. Still, the A-List does climb up and under an image of gay life that I've rarely seen represented so fully, so unashamedly, and yes... probably so badly for the cause: this is a reminder that while we talk about "gay rights" and make gay men seem like saints... we often forget about the boys who, well, go to The Saint (a legendary nightclub, dear... look it up).
As well, the A-List climbs under and around the gender issues that the Housewives programs can't seem to address (or at least... that's my line and I'm sticking to it, to try and seem deep): bitchy and queeny they may be... but these are definitely men, and that complicates dismissing their emotional issues and social problems in quite the same way as the women of the Housewives' shows. This is a world that, up til now, was not necessarily visible to those outside of it. Trying to explain the "gay world" of clubs and parties and Fire Island to outsiders often seemed, like, well, trying to get people to believe in a mythical place (it's why, for instance, all this stuff about "the gays" and the SATC world of straight women's NYC can seem like the real thing... when those in the know can tell you, firmly, it isn't the same at all). The A-List is warts - well, not warts - and all: the "telephone, telegram... tell a fag" world of gossip and cuteness and relationships built on little more than looks and air.
And sure, it's about the small, petty details: watching Reichen lie to others, and himself, about his attractions and his wants; about shallow friendships like Derek's and TJ's and deciding whether or not to like Austin, and watching a pretty boy like Rodiney try to "make it" as a model in New York. But more than the housewives shows, I suspect that what gives the A-List some emotional punch is the breadth of relationships on display: friends, enemies, lovers, business partners. It's intimate, and a little incestuous, and oh so pretty to look at. And, as Malone said, beautiful is all it is. It takes a while to realize there might be more to life than that. Here's hoping these boys find that out.