Toronto
3 min

You deserve the star treatment

For once in her legendary career, Donnarama did not get quite the recognition she deserved. Playing door-person at a friend’s 50th birthday party, the drag comedienne added a note of Streisandesque swagger to an otherwise quiet Riverdale soiree.

But when it came time to vogue her way into the back garden — big production here, lots of Madonna — she didn’t get quite the recognition she might have been expecting. The crowd dutifully parted for the diva’s entrance but nobody knew how to respond: clap, laugh, whistle? The problem? Simple. It’s the lighting, stupid. She didn’t have a spotlight and a star is simply not a star without a spotlight.

That’s the problem with Toronto today (okay, one of many problems) — bad lighting. We live in an age of light. Not just the pixels that pummel our consciousness from monitors and TVs and cell phones, but the light that shapes our public sense of self. Look at the fashion ads in the major American glossies. Once you’ve got past the weirdness of the models’ nonexpressions, you’ll notice that what differentiates the brands is the light. They’re trying to say something with the light that they can’t say with the clothes.

Prada, for instance, has caught the moment with a series of ads where the models are backlit by a fiery urban landscape but bathed from the front with the silvery pallor of angels’ wings. It’s weird and vaguely disquieting, like they’re lost in vampire land, but it catches the current air of panic and paranoia.

The difference between a hokey Canadian TV show and a big-league US-made thriller is the light. On The National, you notice Peter Mansbridge’s follicles. On CSI Miami you see great washes of light sliding off windows and shading the characters like statues in a Renaissance gallery.

Cell phones, I’m convinced, wouldn’t be nearly as popular without their little blue screens. Fags use them like cosmetic compacts, consulting the oracle even in crowded bars, doubtless hoping the otherworldly glow will shade their chiselled features just so. Light shapes everything we do and yet we’ve almost abandoned the world to the greasy grey glow of fluorescents or worse.

In its continuing dedication to bad design, the City Of Toronto has installed streetlights that emit either a sickly green or a corrupted pink glow. On a good night, the entire city looks like it has hepatitis. Places like Ikea and Toronto Hydro promote compact fluorescent bulbs as a cheaper, environmentally responsible alternative to incandescents without ever counting the true cost to either the individual or their environment. I installed one of the things once for a about a week. Until I figured out I wasn’t ill. The bulb was turning me green.

Fags, who should know better, aren’t much better at this kind of stuff. In private, fags pull out the candles for seduction. They’ll even decorate their rooms at the baths, draping the lights in amber-toned towels for that warm, dewy effect. But in public, we seem to falter. Few local businesses are quite as clueless as the local bathhouse (which shall remain nameless) that once used green lights in its halls. I guess they were trying to put patrons in the froggie-goes-a-courting mood.

Whatever the case, it didn’t last long. Mercifully.

Sometimes the lighting is so bad it’s good, like some of the west-end dives where the bathrooms are lit by a single bare bulb and the light is so grotty everyone looks like a hustler. But most of the time the lighting needs to be a great deal subtler and the answer is not always dimmer. Anyone who’s been to the baths recently will know what I mean. If it’s too dark you can’t see what’s oozing beneath your feet. (It’s nice to know people are using condoms, but perhaps we could remove the leftovers a little more quickly?)

Sometimes I think there should be warning signs outside every bar: Warning, you will be lit by a combination of neon, cheesy beer logos, blue-tinged TVs and overhead spots so badly positioned they will either blind your eyes or turn your face into something resembling a slowly melting potato. If you’ve ever stood next to a porn monitor and found yourself turned into a fuzzy blue amoeba, you’ll sense the magnitude of the problem.

Still, the worst offence is the fluorescent-lit washroom. For twinks, there is no such thing as a bad reflection. For gentlemen of a certain age, however, there is nothing scarier than a mirror down-lit by fluorescents. So many bags, so little concealer.

Every day in some small way, some poor fag is brutalized by bad lighting. So here’s a modest proposal: a spotlight on every entrance, a warm glow in every washroom and a dimmer switch above every head. If the techno-geek industry can come up with a personalized soundtrack for every life (that would be the iPod), surely they can come up with a lighting system to follow our unique exits and entrances. We all deserve the star treatment.