Friday, 29 July 2011

A Snip of Captain Jack

I'm rather late to the joining the Captain Jack outrage party but here goes (or rather, here doesn't go)...

As some of you may know, last night saw the screening of Torchwood: Miracle Day in the UK. This is the fourth series and marks a move to the US as the previously BBC production, becomes a collaborative product of the BBC and US network Starz (better known for sexy romp Spartacus: Blood and Sand).

Maria Boyd of Georgia State University, has previously considered the scholarly issues of sexuality in Torchwood (I can't find a published paper) at a conference back in 2009. She considered reviews of the earlier series' and found them limiting, stating that: 'The hegemonic, heterosexist language used by TV critics covering Torchwood has framed the program in such a way that it limits audience’s ability to make meaning of the text themselves.'

The latest controversy surrounds the editing out of one scene from last nights episode - but only in the UK and on the BBC. The scene was *drum roll* a sex scene between central character Captain Jack and random barman 'Brad'. The cut scene was quickly available on the net and can be viewed here (it's pretty tame stuff but I don't want to take chances with the Google police by embedding it).

John Barrowman - the gay actor who plays Captain Jack - defended the decision of the BBC to edit the scene out of the shown episode.
“I do agree with the decision that was made. Some younger kids are going to watch Torchwood. If they’re sitting watching it with their parents, it might make it a little uncomfortable [and] the parents might click off. In order to stop that from happening, we’ve just taken a snippet off the end of it. You still get a good chunk of it.”
That statement echoed the official BBC line that: "Even though the show airs after the watershed, it has a lot of young fans who would have been shocked at the graphic nature of the sex."

Despite the online brouhaha surrounding the decision, it seems to me - after watching it -a fair enough decision. It cut down the straight sex as well as the gay sex - and whilst I think the world wouldn't cave in if a teen did watch a show, designed for adults, and shown after 9pm, the BBC decision is at least coherent.

More important, it seems to me, is how the rest of the show dealt with sexuality. Other than the camp air steward denying he was gay in the previous episode (which was a little grating), this was the first episode to take a more direct approach to Jack's sexuality in this series.

Preceding the sex scene Jack heads to a gay bar called 'Golden Gopher' (write your own jokes). This is a real bar in LA which you can check out here and is presumably now inundated with gay geek fans. Anyway, outside the bar, a small huddle is gathered in jeans and tops and to the side of the door, one guy on his own in an elaborate leather jacket. All appear young. As Jack enters he exchanges a brief but suggestive glance with leather jacket boy which is returned. It is incredibly brief but is actually one of the most convincing 'cruising' scenes I've seen on television. prior to crossing over to the bar, Jack had explained to fellow character, Gwen, that he is entering the Golden Gopher to satisfy his 'mortal needs'. We are left with the distinct impression that Jack is entering the bar with a keen appetite for sex and alcohol (or however you define 'mortal needs').

Once inside (as it were), Jack pats a hand naked male dancer on the chest and heads to the bar which is in an a dancey mixed sex, but male dominated venue. The barman we quickly learn is called 'Brad', surely a play on the archetypal American guy - as seen in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. It's a name that brings to mind Lichtenstein prints of a square jawed all American hero appearing suitably masterful.

We later move to a clothed Jack standing in bathroom (presumably Brad's) kissing the now totally naked Brad as Brad rips Jack's clothes off. Brad is displaying a bum that in those immortal words of Absolutely Fabulous' Patsy, looked so tight you could bounce him off the walls. At this point, a rather interesting verbal exchange occurs (now now, not like that).

"You have protection?" Jack asks.
"What for? Can't die now, don't need nothin in between" Brad replies.

Jack pulls back his head whilst still gripping Brad's arm and appearing joined at the groin. He conveys doubt and desire through his own physical positioning.

"That's not how it works anymore. Lifetime of regret just got even longer" Jack states.

"Fine. You're calling the shots" Brad responds and with that that Jack says "Yes, yes I am" and as he grips Brad now by the shoulders, Brad disappears down Jack and out of camera shot, presumably to inspect the quality of floor tile grout work or alternatively to give Jack a blow job. This being Britain and the BBC, we are left to our imaginations (which in my case is a dangerous thing and presumably for those delicate children presumed to be watching doesn't include fellatio).

Later we see Brad snoozing on the bed (very nice sheets) and Jack, with his groin strategically covered by a sheet is on the phone to his female best friend (or Fag Hag as Gwen should now be known).

The cut scene appears to have been taken between these two moments and we are left to wonder how Jack and Brad made it to the bed from the bathroom and how they managed to while away the time until Jack could get a sneaky phone-call in. I once had an ex who insisted on post coital phone calls to a fag hag whilst he had, well, a fag. It drove me nuts but he was half Italian and had abs that you could play like a washboard. It was a long time ago. Anyhow, I digress...

The scene is far more interesting than depicting 'gay sex' - although that is important - for it also displays attitudes to condoms. Non-viewers should know that Jack is mortal - now the only person in the world in that state. So, the scene tells us that if given a choice, freed of consequence, gay men choose to fuck without condoms - a key argument of barebackers. It tells us that condomless fucking - bareback sex - is the more 'natural', 'true' expression of desire. Yet, Jack, the sensible character talks of a "lifetime of regret", presumably not aimed at himself but the other character? What is this pain, these problems he is suggesting?

In so many ways the scene encapsulates the current debate around HIV/AIDS and condom usage. On the one hand we have 'true' desire, and on the other, the voice of 'reason'. Yet, if there are no consequences, if you don't die, would we not all engage in bareback sex? If Miracle Day was a reality, would Mates and Durex become companies servicing an entirely straight 'breeding' market? It seems so.

Moreover, the current HIV treatments do remove the spectre of death and in doing so, provide for their own 'Miracle Day', in contrast to the earlier era of death. Yet with the removal of that threat, what does that do to our behaviour? In Torchwood, we have a new cult, the Soulless. In the treatment age we have the self-styled cult Treasure Island Media. The parallels are striking and thought provoking.

Striking too is the presence of law, with the US Supreme Court positioned in the background desperately seeking to respond to a changed society. In Torchwood, it is grappling with a criminal justice system with the death penalty but no death. In our world, post 'Miracle Day', it is attempting to respond to bareback through regulation and HIV transmission increasingly with criminalistion; both represent unsure grasping of straws in an air of desperation and consternation.

In addition to these earlier scenes, we have a follow when Jack meets up (with a hangover) with the rest of his Torchwood 'crew'. Rex, who in the opening episode was seriously injured with a stake through his chest is taking some painkillers, and Jack asks for some. Rex responds with: "You weren't impaled". Jack replies "You should have seen the other guy. Ooo that face. Rex doesn't like his jokes too gay."

Here we have another layer - addressing homophobia, and presenting Jack as a confident, witty and proudly gay character. This - and innuendo as humour - ads a British and pro-gay feel to the episode which is far more important than a brief bed romp. Moreover, the episode offered far more than a censored sex scene. It addressed issues of homonormativity, law, assimilation, and authentic desire.

Who needs the snipped scene?

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Graeme said...

re the condom thing - although everyone, at this point in the series, cannot die (except Jack) it just means all the symptoms and pain and disfigurement and contagiousness go on indefinitely, so Jack is not just making a selfish decision.

Further take on the much more likely reason the scene was cut for UK


Chris Ashford said...

Thanks Graeme - interesting post. My focus was not on what was cut but what was shown - and the significance of those scenes.

Fair comment on the selfishness - and it raises questions about drugs not working over time etc (which I failed to mention/consider) :-)

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