Channel 4 comes to Sky Ireland: but too late?

I was delighted to discover last week that - finally - Sky digital now carries Channel 4 to those unlucky people in the Republic forced to subscribe to them out of a total lack of choice. (One of these days I will write an article on how ridiculous it is that there are huge campaigns out there complaining about lack of access to broadband internet when so many people in Ireland cannot get a proper signal from a terrestrial aerial these days.) The curious thing is that the event passed with so little significance because so many of the once considered rauchy channel's offerings are now pretty much outmoded and outraunched by many of the niche satellite channels broadcasts.

My particular example is Living TV. Aside from a diet of sheer vomit - including various forms of XXX's Next Top Model, dieting, and the particularly nauseating ads for cosmetic surgery masquerading as reality TV. At least they do have Jade Goody - who I will at least credit with having far more intelligence than most of the cabbages on reality TV - who is actually a hell of a lot sharper, and has a damn good business mind in a lot of ways, if zero common sense.

But best of all about Living is that they have imported two of the real gems from the other side of the Atlantic from Showtime: Queer as Folk and The L-Word. Now QAF is no mere reproduction of Russell T Davies cute if now almost quaint 1999 series of the same name about a bunch of gay guys in Manchester. Ground breaking as it was in its portrayal of men having sex with men, introducing the wonders of rimming and anal sex to an unsuspecting public, it positively shades into the background against the US follow-ups raw and complex storylines. And it does give gay women (indeed women in general) a much better deal against Davies women, who to me had too much of a resemblance to the horrid stereotypes found in British soap operas to be more than 2-dimensional. The character of Stuart in particular, was majestic, if its actor maybe was totally thown offside by the US-offsprings even more heaving and God-like males. Not so much straight out of neighbours as straight off the pages of an Alan Hollinghurst book, or a picture by Tom of Finland.

Trouble is, even the BBC is a lot more raunchy than C4 these days, what with Tipping the Velvet, the wonderful adaptation of Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty, and the omnisexual Torchwood (probably the first and only TV series I've ever seen where almost all the main characters seem to be basically bisexual). Gone are my late teenage and early 20-something years of poring over C4's very occasional gay weekends for tidbits - I recall seeing pretty terrible films like All Over Me and the much better Tipping the Velvet. Though fair dues to TCM for giving me Victor, Victoria, The Hunger and Personal Best.

Of course it seems nowadays that gay characters (and especially straight women characters dabbling in a bit of girl action) are compulsory in almost every series. Its made the older series seem rather quaint in some ways (for example all the fuss there was over Ellen), or its accentuated the homoerotic subtexts of those series less brave about making the fuss, but still trying to squeeze something out of it: Xena, Warrior Princess, being the classic one there (reviewing it now it seems almost impossible by the expectations of today that the main friendship is anything but a red raw passion, whatever about all this talk of "soulmates" which unfortunately now just seem like euphemisms: having said that, Xena did have real passion, and was very good at detextualising its subtextual possibilities for a general audience. In a lot of ways, Xena (and subsequently) taught the TV world how to portray possibly sexually ambiguous characters without making people too uncomfortable. Its rather like hardened out gay folks like me learning in my mid 30s on how to deal with the discomfort that many straight people do feel about talking about or knowing about other peoples sexualities and handling it in ways that don't upset the more sensitive souls around us.

The great thing about the two Showtime series - especially L-Word, is how it totally normalises the concept of one woman's raw passion for another woman. I think the legacy of 70s style sexless lesbian feminism made it almost taboo for many years to have a sexual appetite, but the briliant portrayal of the two illicit affairs by Jennifer Beals and Karina Lombard, was for me almost an answer to a feeling I'd been having for since my teenage years, one denied not only by society, but pushed back by a lot of fellow gay women: that its normal and predctable for women to have strong sexual urges. That doesn't of course justify the desctructive effect that the two affairs unleash onto the partners of the women involved, but its quite ok for women to want sex with a hunger. As I've often stated, my favourite book is Alan Hollinghurst's The Swimming Pool Library. Its a terribly typical book as written by a great many gay writers from William Burroughs onwards. Yet few writers of books for women have engaged in giving women appetites - aside of course, of writers of slash fiction. Perhaps this is the next step: moving sexual desire for women outside the realm of male-voyeuristic porn, and back into the hands of real women? It might be a difficult step, but worth it.

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