Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Tag: Bob and Rose

Goin’ Out

The ending of ‘Bob and Rose’ is just as lovely as everything which came before. As the simple and romantic xylophone theme song reaches a glorious climax, the various single characters, straight women and gay men, are shown getting ready to go out on the town. “You gotta get out there!” Holly tries to convince her reluctant friend on the phone. “Anything can happen! One of these nights, we’re going to get lucky!” A chorus of cell phone conversations about where to meet up, what shoes to wear and past and future hook-ups (“Did he call you back?” “Bollocks he did!”) rises above the Manchester skyline.  Coupled with shots of a strob-lighted dance floor, Holly delivers a stream of consciousness ode to clubbing, a rosary chant for the single girl:

“It’s Saturday night. It’s Happy Hour. It’s Ladies’ Night. It’s Singles’ Night. It’s ‘girls get in for free’. It’s cueing up in the rain, and dancing in the heat. It’s every pub and every bar and every club and every single one of us.” The scene of dancing straights is interspersed with scenes of Bob’s friends at gay bars, cruising and strutting around not unlike the triad of ‘Queer as Folk’. The climax argues that gay, straight, female, male, we’re all the same and that being single and going out clubbing is just as valid a happy ending as being in a monogamous couple. Compare this with the standard romantic comedy end in which every character pairs off or disappears.

If it’s a truth universally acknowledged in British TV that any problem can be helped by a cup of tea, ‘going out’ as a solution comes a close second. Every age group in the United Kingdon and Ireland seems to get out and have fun more than their equivalents in stick-in-the-mud North America: old men nurse pints in pubs, young people do tequila shots, middle-aged ladies don feather boas and pink cowboy hats for hen parties.

Knowing not a soul in Dublin when I moved there, I had to go out in order to make friends and not spend my evenings watching ‘Golden Girls’ on my laptop. Sometimes, nothing happened. But sometimes I met new people, danced until my legs ached, kissed a random guy (there was a tendency to treat making out like the equivalent of a ‘thank you for the dance’ handshake). The night when I forced myself to talk to a group of Americans, made friends with a wonderful girl from California (“Max, you’re such a beautiful person!”), made out with an adorable Irish guy (after, startled by his advance, I knocked his cigarette out of his hand, alsmot burning myself), and walked home in a daze, with five new numbers in my mobile, was probably the most fun night of my life.

And even the nights went something went wrong were good for a funny story, like the time the twink I had been dancing with all night started makin out with another guy right in front of me (“What cheek!” my new fag hag friend declared) or on Halloween when I got kicked out of the bar for allegedly being too drunk. I loved walking back home to my little apartment in Ranelagh, just outside city centre. One night in the rain, a drunk young woman joined me as to not have to walk by herself. Another time, I made friends with a group who were walking behind me after I laughed at their funny stories of waking up in the garden: “Oh! I’ve gone to far! I’ve slept in soil!” I joined them for “chippies”. It was remarkable how much life you could see walking hom at three am: people texting or yelling into phones, couples making out or fighting, guys peeing or vomiting.

Truth is, friends you make superficially often end up being only superficial friends: I never saw the “chippies” gang again, not the cute Irish boy I made out with. I moved home largely because I felt like I had roots here that needed to be tended rather than continuing planting seeds in inhospitable foreign soil.

But I’ve stopped going out in Toronto. I had a number of reasons: people here are less friendly; Church Street is dead; it’s too expensive; too tiring; too cold. They are all pathetic excuses. I worried that the chattiness of Irish clubbers had spoiled me for going out in Canada, but it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy if I never make the effort to go out and give new people a chance.

I miss dancing. I miss finally getting inside a warm bar. I miss the irreplaceable feeling of getting slightly shit-faced in public. Most of all, I miss the expectation of the beginning of the night, when anything’s possible.

Despite my achey legs, I’m not old yet. There’s still time to be Nathan from ‘Queer as Folk’ or Holly from ‘Bob and Rose’. Despite my two new jobs, my responsibilities at WORN and my need to save up for India, I’m getting out there once again.

It’s all happenin’.

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Labels or Love

After rocking British TV with 1999’s ‘Queer as Folk’, about the lives of a trio of club-hopping gay men in Manchester, spawning imitators both American and Sapphic, creator Russell T. Davies wrote a mini-series which was, in its own way, just as revolutionary. ‘Bob and Rose’, a simple title for a complicated love story, is about a gay man and a straight woman who fall in love. Neither Bob (Alan Davies), a mild-mannered teacher, nor Rose (Lesley Sharp), a straight-talking office manager, were expecting to fall for the other, but the shock of their first unplanned sexual encounter is overshadowed by the shock that they both want to do it again.

Obviously, Bob has trouble wrapping his head around having a girlfriend. He insists that he is not going through a phase, not going back into the closet and definitely not bisexual or straight. Rose is the only woman he is attracted to and he can’t get her out of his mind. Rose has her own adjusting to do, but once the pair stops trying to explain and label everything, their love becomes simple. How everyone else deals with it is anything but.

Neither Rose’s girlfriends (who ask her why the thought of homo sex doesn’t turn her stomach) nor Bob’s bitchy gay pals can understand, while his father is beaming with pride (“Don’t be too happy, Dad!” Bob snaps), and his mother, who leads the group Parents Against Homophobia, takes it as a personal rebuff. And Bob’s best friend Holly (‘Spaced’s Jessica Stevenson), an extreme and a bit cruel stereotype of the fag hag, jealously wonders why it wasn’t her he fell for.

Not surprisingly, the series, while critically acclaimed, did not become an international phenom like ‘Queer as Folk’. But the show had an unlikely influence on ‘Sex and the City’: the writers, all fans of ‘Bob and Rose’, created a fictional British drama about an interracial couple called ‘Jules and Mimi’ for Miranda to draw inspiration from when she starts dating an African-American. It’s funny that ‘Sex and the City’ was winking at the concept of using a fictional show for inspiration as that series inspired over-analyzing woman and gay men the world over (comedian Bruce Daniels: “It’s all about listening in on gay guys’ arguments at the diner at four am after a night of clubbing. ‘I’m Samantha!’ ‘No, I’m Samantha!’ ‘Bitch, you’re Miranda!’”).

Actually, the influence might not be so unlikely: a year after ‘Bob and Rose’ premiered, ‘Sex and the City’ featured a guest appearance by Nathan Lane, playing a flamboyant and presumably-gay piano-player who inexplicably marries a woman.

But back to ‘Bob and Rose’.

“I don’t know,” my friend Dervla said sceptically when we watched it together. “Isn’t it a bad message for the gay community?”

Some queer activists agreed with her when the series first aired, accusing the show of portraying homosexuality as a phase (although there was a counter reaction among bisexuals who related to the discrimination the couple faced from Bob’s gay friends).

Although I am not one for all that Foucaultian social-constructiveness ‘we’re all bisexual’ bizz-natch, I never once questioned the show’s premise. Firstly, the casting helped: neither Bob nor Rose look like traditionally sexy leads (with Sharp’s unglamorous portrayal being particularly brave), but their sex life is discussed so much that by the end you can’t help but view them as sensual beings. Despite being only six episodes, the beginning of the affair is given a properly patient pacing, with realistic set-backs and awkwardness,  making the unlikely romance all the more believable when it blooms. We’re in British ‘kitchen sink’ drama world, so people go out to the pub or “for a curry”, ‘Coronation Street’ characters are discussed like they’re real and it’s thought that any problem can be solved with a cup of tea.

But what led me to believe the premise most of all is that Russell T. Davies based the story on the surprising love story of a friend of his:

“It came partly from real life, from a friend of mine who was the gayest man on earth… Then he suddenly falls in love with this woman and that’s it—marriage, kids, the lot. It was extraordinary, inexplicable—a chance in a million. And the most incredible thing was our reaction to it. We all took the piss, didn’t believe it for a minute. I thought he was leading this woman astray and it would all go horribly wrong. I found out though after talking to him that it was that rare thing, a real life love story.” He concludes, “To see your own prejudices at work is amazing.”

My own official line at press time is that sexuality is complex, mysterious and changeable. We have barely begun understanding its motivations. (The same thing could be said about love.) It’s best to keep an open mind about these things, as anything can happen.

That’s not to say I’m going to end up with a woman.

Sorry ladies.