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Friday, August 22, 2008

Camp queens on Japanese TV


O-né Mans is a program that airs every Tuesday on Nippon Television Network at 7pm. “A convergence of charismatic characters from every walk of life, all of whom employ camp language with consummate skill” is how the program is introduced on the station’s website.

O-né in Japanese means “big sister”. In Japanese gay parlance, “o-né” means “camp queen”. And O-né Mans is a program featuring 9 camp queens from “all walks of life” camping it up for the TV audience.

“Men, but not men, more feminine than women” is the next line in the website’s introductory blurb. “These are the charismatic genii of the ultra-future,” gushes the next.

But read a little further on, and you will find that “all walks of life” refers to the worlds of fashion, webmastership, hairdesign, showbiz, flower design, gym training, nursing, and cooking. God forbid that anyone deemed to bear authority in Japan, such as lawyers, priests, politicians, doctors, bankers, accountants, etc. should get a look in. And God further forbid that the camp cast be let loose on TV audiences by anyone but a “normal,” i.e. straight, MC.

In a sense, gay men could be said to be empowered by O-né Mans, attested to by their “charisma” alone keeping the program afloat. But in another sense, the program is a statement of how gay men are straitjacketed in what heterosexual Japan believes gay ought to mean. These are not men who love men – they are genderless freaks: “men but not men, more feminine than women”. Being gay is not about sexuality – it is about “employing camp language with consummate skill,” the implication being that if you are not a camp queen with the gift of the gab, you cannot properly call yourself gay. And while gay men are depicted as being in “all walks of life,” as noted above, they are notably absent from the walks of life where decisions are made about people’s fate.

Check out the O-né Mans website (Japanese only.)

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