Have you ever watched 1 Girl 5 Gays? Obviously the demographic for this show, a Canadian MTV import that airs in the States on Logo, is pretty narrow, but it seems to have popped up in conversation in our own lives enough that maybe it's worth talking about here. And speaking of popping up! Last night was "the naked episode," in which the panel — made up of a rotating cast of young Torontonian gay men moderated by a female host — didn't wear any clothes while they fielded the show's usual "20 questions about love and sex." Watching it last night, it struck us that this might be one of the weirder shows on television.
When the show began it was meant to be a kind of survey of the lives of a particular generation of urban gay men, an unflinching look at uncomfortable bedroom details usually kept off of television. The language was graphic, hardly any topic was taboo, and it felt like there was some genuine sociological value to it beyond base titillation. It almost seemed like one of those earnest-but-hip MTV specials from the 1990s, back when the network was trying to be frank about serious topics with some kind of society-bettering, or at least enlightening, goal in mind. But over time, as we've all grown more and more familiar with the cast, 1G5G has become something stranger and more meta. It's a reality show that's all reunion. The guys are essentially, through tidbits that we can loosely string together, recapping their own lives. So it's less of a general look at the sex lives of the North American gay man (and perhaps, by extension, the sex lives of lots of young urbanites) and more about these particular oversharers. And now they're naked!
It was hard to really discern what the point of the episode was beyond shock value. Which is fine and all, but at least one cast member spent a little time last night pontificating about the Meaning behind the whole thing (something having to do with body image), which made it suddenly clear that the show, or at least some of its cast, has both become a bit deluded about itself and embarked into strange new territory. It was revealed, casually, that that same panel member had hooked up with another panelist at some point in the past so that kept getting brought up throughout the half hour, turning the episode into an overheard gossip session rather than the kind of sex-positive info-series that the show originally endeavored to be. They think we care about the particular details of their lives! And the trouble is, we do care. The cameras don't follow these dudes out in the real world or anything, but it feels like they do. Basically, imagine if some regular panelists from Real Time with Bill Maher or Chelsea Lately started dropping details about their personal lives over and over again, eventually weaving a soapy little tapestry that became more interesting than any of the actual topics at hand. 1 Girl 5 Gays has become an accidental narrative, as if Andy Cohen and the Real Housewives began with the reunion special and then it was up to us to piece together what came before.
The naked episode was a stunt, to be sure, but the stunt said less about body image or whatever than it did about why these particular guys decided to do the show naked. That was actually one of the 20 questions, why they decided to do the episode and who among the bigger cast they wish was on the panel with them. So we are increasingly not getting some widely surveying look at a demographic — everything has gotten specific and insular and self-referencing. This is kind of fascinating, as we wonder if that was always the intention or if it was a surprising accident, if the producers really had wanted to Say Something about sex in a socio-academic way but then eventually threw up their hands and said "Eh, oh well, just make them characters, let's just tell their story." Most of the guys seem more than happy to play along with this format, we'd imagine some of them get deep gratification from it, but we wonder if they realize that the fundamental thesis of the show — an always weak one, to be sure, but it was there in the beginning — has mostly been discarded. The transformation is familiar: The Real World went from curious social experiment to drunken voyeur show in about ten seasons; 16 and Pregnant transformed from sympathetic cautionary tale to tabloid sensation in a year or two. So, maybe it was inevitable that 1 Girl 5 Gays would head in this direction. Maybe any well-meaning issues-based show will eventually devolve to naked episodes. Maybe we're powerless against our most prurient interests.
And maybe none of this makes sense to you. But of all the clunky stuff on TV last night — an uneven but still satisfying episode of Smash, the still blandly entertaining Alcatraz — this curious Canadian half-hour sticks out (heh) the most this morning. What a strange little product it is. It may not ultimately tell us anything scientific about this generation of liberated, empowered gay men, who are more so than any before them, but it certainly tells us something about what, at the literal end of the day, we ultimately want to watch. Ah well.
NSFW episode below.