Saturday, September 20, 2008

Grateful for a sunset ending

Thank you, Hollyoaks, for a beautiful "sunset ending."

If you are one of the people who do not follow British TV, you won't know that the Brit young-people's soap Hollyoaks has been featuring an honest-to-God gay storyline for two years involving gay teen John Paul McQueen and Craig Dean (played by James Sutton and Guy Burnet) . Not a wimpy, simpering storyline like the Luke-&-Noah story on As The World Turns, but a story involving love, affection, kissing, and even (gasp!) sex (unlike the US version, which keep tiptoeing around even having two gay boys kiss on TV...).

[You can read the storyline on Wikipedia and actually see the John Paul/Craig Dean episodes (s0me 300-plus of them, including all the side stories) on YouTube - this channel has one of the best and most complete archives of the John Paul/Craig stories (also shorthanded "McDean" for McQueen/Dean).]

I've never been a guy for soaps, but as I was coming out, I was searching for any portrayals of gay characters in modern culture. I've enjoyed the John Paul/Craig storyline for a number of reasons:

  • The gay characters in the storyline (John Paul, Craig, Spike, Robin, and Kieron) are normal everyday guys - they play football, listen to dance music, have lively family dramas, and are not stereotypical in any way. They are, as Kieron would say, "just regular blokes."
  • The storyline shows how terribly conflicted teens can be when they find themselves attracted to the same sex. Craig desperately wants to be with John Paul, but goes so far as getting engaged to a girl to prevent having to "be gay." John Paul suffers repeatedly at the hands of other Hollyoaks denizens for being out and open.
  • The characters are openly affectionate on prime-time TV. It's just not a big deal in jolly old England when two blokes kiss on TV - Hollyoaks, Eastenders and Coronation Street, not to mention the sci-fi series Torchwood, all have major gay characters and storylines. And it's not all just tweaked-out club boys getting stoned and getting off - there is real romance present here.
  • The storyline didn't end up with someone getting bashed, dying of AIDS, or running away in denial - although there is plenty of violence and denial in the story. The McDean thread actually ends happily, despite all kinds of tragedies over the two year story arc.
So when John Paul and Craig rode off into the sunset together - literally, into the sunset - on September 18th, it ended a challenging and beautiful storyline. Not being a big teen-soap fan, I'm not sure I would have watched the show if it wasn't for the McDean gay thread. But I have to admit that I'm glad that one popular gay story ends with at least the hope of happily-ever-after.

To James Sutton and Guy Burnet - thank you for having the courage to play your characters with such depth and such conviction. To the producers of Hollyoaks and Britain's Channel 4 TV, thanks for the courage to put this relationship in prime-time, and to make the investment to make it much more real than any gay relationship I've seen in the media to date.

Thanks for the memories, boys.