3 min

Around the Ben

My bad behaviour on TalkTV

THAT HAIR, THAT SKIN. It doesn't matter if host Ben Mulroney is gay or not. Credit: Xtra files

Have you been on CTV’s new TalkTV network yet?

You will, just wait your turn. Eventually everyone in Toronto who speaks passable English and can make an X on a release form will end up as a guest on TalkTV. Wear solid colours and don’t do your own makeup. The rest is easy.

For those of you who still use TV rabbit ears, TalkTV is a 24-hour cable “chat” network operated by CTV. It has a lovely suite of offices and studios conveniently located in the former Masonic Temple (that big grey building across from the Yonge St Canadian Tire that you wish to God somebody would sandblast), the unofficial summit of the gay village.

The format of the programming is simple: A rotating series of hosts facilitate lively discussions between a rotating series of regular chat stars, plus guests. Topical topics – such as, “Is CD burning stealing?” and “How about that global warming?” – are picked apart, counter-pointed, massaged, and one-linered with all the depth, thoughtfulness and aplomb of an arm-wrestling match at the Brunswick House tavern. Watching TalkTV is like having a roomful of pushy new friends who, miraculously, don’t expect you to make snacks, clean your bathroom or listen to their problems.

I’ve been on TalkTV twice now, to talk about art and about being gay. Those are my cross-reference tabs in the producers’ Rolodex: culture and homosexuality.

I would like to add tabs for thrift shopping, 1940s cinema, koi breeding, Atlantic Canadian alienation and celebrity divorces – but you get the cards (or Palm Pilot entries) you’re dealt.

The topic for my last guest appearance was the rather meaty question of whether or not gay celebrities should come out. Now, years in therapy have taught me that “should” is the second worst trigger word in the language, after “relax.” But I soldiered on, largely because the show was hosted by Ben Mulroney, the latest, and prettiest, entry into the great Canadian nepotism sweepstakes – where everyone from Joe Clark to Leonard Cohen has kids in the family business.

This, of course, is how heterosexuals stay in power, by playing Family Feudalism. A depressing thought, until you remember the career trajectory of Julian Lennon.

Little Benny was an interesting choice for host, since almost all of the press he’s gotten over the last year has been breathless speculation about his own sexuality. Personally, I couldn’t care less; the last thing anyone, besides Caban, needs is one more wealthy gay conservative.

And Son Of The Chin hardly needs to be actually gay; he’s virtually gay. In fact, he’s about nine times more gay than I’ll ever be. From the tube tan down to his father’s taste in buckled loafers, severe black slacks to cement pomade, Junior is more than a gay role model, he’s a gay-like action figure.

My response to the topic was typically contrary and difficult. While everyone else piously agreed that gay celebrities owe it to queer youth, the unemployed, Afghan refugees and the snowy owls to come out, I suggested that the only thing celebrities, gay or not, owed me was entertainment.

Furthermore, I wondered if there is such a thing as a celebrity role model. Celebrities are products: Ours to use, abuse and forget. That’s the deal. They get rich, we get amused. Wake me when it’s time to talk about gay teachers, lesbian firefighters, or transgendered physicists – people who actually stand a good chance of being role models for the young and the vulnerable. And who the hell wants to be a role model anyway? The Pope’s a role model. You want to live his life?

My break with the party line went over like Enza “Supermodel” Anderson in Edmonton – I was politely ignored.

Desperate for a hit, I wondered aloud if the closet wasn’t a fundamental part of queer culture; if, in fact, an element of secrecy or duplicity is what makes us freaks such keen social observers? I might as well have been explaining DNA testing to the OJ jury.

Finally I went for broke. My hand on Mulroney’s tawny forearm, I giddily blathered that since he was so in favour of open gayness, and since he’s already on Frank magazine’s lavender list, why not just come out, right here and now?

Biology truly is destiny. Mulroney slalomed and oozed around my question faster than a Tory delegate in a Montreal show bar. Did this prove my point?

Celebrities are meant to be attractive, cheerful, talented if possible and remote. They are fictions. What we know or don’t know about their private lives is merely part of the press package.

And Mulroney would be just as good at his job if he suddenly and publicly committed to a neo-Marxist radical fairy bear named Tammy-Bob (imagine the Sun pull out!). Because the performer you see on TV, like any celebrity, is never wholly there in the first place.

Once we’ve created safe working spaces for less glamorous jobs, we can begin to worry about putting rainbow stickers on show pony’s trailers.