So last night, after having an unfortunately adversarial encounter with dinner, I lay on the couch near death, watching whatever I could find on television that might possibly distract me from the specter of a disembodied form in a hooded black cloak. There is nothing to watch on a Saturday night; fortunately I usually have something better to do, and do not have to flip through all of the 300-odd channels in desperate search of something that does not involve prison, mummies or saccharine Hallmark stories.
As I lay dying, I discovered that Isaac Mizrahi was making his debut appearance on QVC. In case you are not as enmeshed in ridiculous pop culture as I am (in which case you are probably a far better person) I will tell you that Mizrahi is a very famous fashion designer who has, among other things, had his own talk show and designed a low-budget line for Target. He is also very, flamboyantly, fabulously gay.
Watching Isaac plugging the mohair throws, plaid cheesecakes and silk scarves with hostess Lisa Robertson, I couldn’t help wondering how he was being received by QVC’s more, shall we say, “provincial” audience. Based on some of their on-air calls, I have formed an opinion about many QVC viewers which does not indicate a natural affinity for a man who wears hot pink loafers and refers to purchases made jointly with his partner, Arnold. Mizrahi tried on, and modelled a cocktail ring the size of a quail egg, and when Robertson opined that women should jump at the chance to buy the ring because “if you’re a girl, you should enjoy being a girl,” he replied that, “if you’re a boy you should enjoy being a girl, too.” After a barely discernible look from Robertson, he added that, in the alternative, a boy could just “envy them.” (Girls, that is).
Being the effete and unrepentant snob that I am, I have reached the conclusion that a large part of the QVC demographic is relatively unsophisticated in the ways of the world. Although I can see that the network is trying to upgrade its image by selling some very hot lines of merchandise calculated to appeal to the urban and the young, there are still signs that the folks tuning in to watch much of their programming are not jaded city-dwellers who have “seen it all.” (Because honestly, if you lived in a real city, would you be buying stuff on QVC? No, you would not. You would be at Barney’s fondling the jewelry, or stalking the aisles at Fred Segal for a bargain on Chip & Pepper jeans).
Evidence in support of my theory includes the continued presence of Jeanne Bice and her Quacker Factory line of ready-made Fashion Don’ts, which sell out every time. No person who can call into a television program, speak enthusiastically to a woman wearing a kitty-bedazzled sweater and a headband, and sign off by saying “quack, quack!” is also totally blase about a man wearing pink loafers. I also offer the prevalence of shapeless, elastic-waist “E-Z” pants, and the predilection for extraordinarily gaudy religious jewelry. A tasteful Elsa Peretti cross or an heirloom from grandma is one thing; giant crosses that look as if they were stolen from the Vatican and dipped in Faux Gold are quite another. I imagine legions of older women driving across the plains with reindeer sweaters and ruby-studded crosses under their down parkas, a crockpot of hot dish on the passenger side floor, on their way to the church supper. Salt of the earth? Absolutely. Ready for an openly gay man wearing a cocktail ring and talking about how he loves being a girl? Maybe not.
So here’s the philosophical question: is the majority of America, including all of QVC’s viewers and shoppers, really so advanced that they can watch Isaac Mizrahi without being shocked or, at the very least, perplexed? Did the network make a decision that their audience was “there” already, or did they decide that their audience should be able to accept an openly gay presence in an act of corporate bravery? Perhaps they banked on the fact that openly gay men are seen so often on fashion-related programming from “Project Runway” to “The Rachel Zoe Project” that it has become normal to see them in the context of design and style. Will they receive letters and phone calls from viewers who were horrified by his reference to his partner and his girliness, or am I just projecting my own kind of snobby bigotry onto kind-hearted people who simply accept Mizrahi for what he is? (The moral equivalent of Arthur & Guenevere pondering “What Do the Simple Folk Do?”).
I would love to think that no one batted an eye. I would also like to think that QVC is, perhaps, making a bold statement and letting it’s viewers in on the non-secret that gay men design an awful lot of what we wear, including an awful lot of what they sell. It certainly wasn’t the first time QVC featured a gay designer (or, uhm, host) but it is the first time I have seen one so open about who and what he was. It’s usually clear to anyone with functioning Gaydar that certain presenters are gay, but in all other cases there is careful maintenance of the neutral position; no clothes, gestures or references that could not be worn or made by a raging heterosexual with a deep interest in pleating and princess seams. Maybe, like some of the other gay presences on the network, Mizrahi is perceived by some, not as a threateningly sexual kind of gay person, but as a soft, gender-neutral type who would just be fun to hang out with. A “girlfriend.”
For now, I prefer to think that QVC made a statement, intentionally or otherwise, and that it is a step in the direction of showing Americans that a gay guy like Mizrahi lives much like we do, only with a lot more money and much better taste. He loves his partner, he loves his dog Harry, he loves his mother, and he really wants everybody to be happy and feel good about themselves. Seeing this identity of humanity and interests is probably much more persuasive than any rhetoric directed either at making folks accept “we’re here, we’re queer” or reject “the homosexual lifestyle.” It is, of course, a mistake to de-sexualize him into a neutered teddy bear, but I think it’s okay if he is a charming, funny and talented stepping stone towards accepting fellow humans regardless of who they happen to fall in love with. Why should I have all the fun?