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"Coming from you, that phrase strikes me as rather funny. Sorry to bother me."
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February 12 2010

Being Spike - an interview with James Marsters. This SciFi UK interview was conducted with him last weekend.

It was the Torchwood question that got put to him from the "Want to ask James Marsters a question?" feature we did last week.

I don't normally read interviews with James, but just to say it here - this is a really neat one, I thought. He touches on a few things which are worth mentioning - RTD being brilliant (by the way: he is), and Caprica being difficult TV. Too difficult, I strongly suspect.
James is my absolute favorite actor that I've ever had the pleasure to see perform live. I love what he has to say about vampires being, for lack of a better word, mistreated by "Twilight." I think he made some really interesting points.

gossi - why do you tend not to read interviews with him?
I think that was my TW question by the looks of it. *hee*

Nice little interview, but the I always like reading what wee Jimmy has to say. *g*

[ edited by sueworld2003 on 2010-02-12 23:17 ]
I am a huge James Marsters fan, and I enjoyed most of the interview, but I have to say I am getting really tired of actors making comments about the way people in "middle America" would react to something. Do they really believe that everyone on the coasts is completely accepting of everyone else and that all of us in the middle of the country are homophobic or otherwise prejudiced? Sorry for the rant, but it's getting to be a rather tiresome riff, especially coming from an actor I so admire.
I don't think he said that, Katie. But I don't think there's anything wrong with saying America has a problem with homophobia. Pretty much any game of Xbox Live seems to involve American teenagers calling each other fags.
I really, really like his answer to the Twilight question: good for the books for getting kids reading, but they're kinda abandoning the mythos, and Spike would totally win in a fight but that doesn't make him better... well thought-through and articulated. Also he likes his characters to be written by Buffy writers. And who wouldn't be?

KatieB, maybe you can be the audience member he's really pissed off.
"KatieB, maybe you can be the audience member he's really pissed off."

Or maybe an artist could not have the desire to piss anyone off. I'm not suggesting that an artist shouldn't offend, but if your goal is to offend, then maybe you need to evaluate the "worth" of your art....

I have to agree with KatieB, but really I'm pretty used to hearing about the Road Warrior-esque landscape that exists between New York and L.A. It's a wonder us simple cave folk can even comprehend human speech, let alone use a computer!

As to the bulk of the interview, I have to agree that his Twilight answer was awesome....
I wanted to sit in a living room and watch a family from middle America and see the reaction when Spike kissed Captain John. Let's be honest, America is a very homophobic country, we are barbaric that way.


So actually, he did say that. Or at least, I can't think of a GOOD way to spin those two sentences together without adding words. I'm sure it's very easy to miss it because it's a very throw-away phrase unless you're sensitive to middle America barbs.

As someone who lives both in middle America AND the south, it just disappointments me for two reasons. One, it does absolutely nothing for the cause by simply being antagonistic. And second, being a member of the Whedonverse, I would have thought he should have been exposed to enough counter examples to not generalize. Off the top of my head: Glau, Acker, Tudyk, Kane, and Kartheiser are all middle American. Not that I can guarantee he's met all of them and that they are all beyond reproach, I just would like to think he MIGHT have been exposed to people contrary to the stereotype he's portraying. Not to mention the conventions he's attended, I'd like to think he's not just grinning at people, not listening, and making massive assumptions.

Everything else was interesting. I guess it just felt poisoned by Marsters' choice of tangent.

[ edited by azzers on 2010-02-13 06:25 ]
It's a pity really that there's no catch-all, geographically neutral term in the US for small-minded people (nowadays in England they'd be called "little Englanders" - people who're generally conservative, probably a bit xenophobic, homophobic etc.) because to me that's very clearly what he actually means.

Of course, he's also making a broad statement which means it only has to be broadly true. And isn't middle America broadly more Republican than the coastal regions and aren't Republicans broadly less likely to support e.g. gay marriage/civil unions ? Most of the polls i've seen have suggested that (e.g. this one - note, that's plucked off the net, i've not looked closely at how good a survey it was and i've also no idea how strongly correlated the two variables are). Likewise, your religion seems to broadly relate to your stance on homosexuality and again, isn't middle America more religious (higher church attendance etc. - again BTW, plucked off net, as a survey that may be highly demolishable) than the coasts ? Certainly the reverse sweeping judgement (so presumably similarly untrue except perhaps statistically) seems to be that the coasts are populated by godless liberals.

It's a stereotype in other words (and those are often unpleasant) but maybe not without at least a grain of truth on average.

Not a bad interview in general though.
Isn't that interesting? In England it's all about class - upper class, middle class and working class. For the whole of my life I've been reading "middle America" as meaning middle class America and had no idea it was a geography thing. I wonder what our equivalent would be. Kent? Or Gloucester?
I don't take 'middle America" to necessarily refer to geography but there is a strong overlap between socially conservative attitudes and those middle parts of the country. And anyone who has watched state after state affirm their antagonism to same-sex marriage rights and conservatives rail against 'outed' gays in the military can't but help drawing certain inferences about homophobia in America.
I doubt he means it as class at least since presumably James Marsters would consider himself middle class. And strong overlap is right.

I wonder what our equivalent would be. Kent? Or Gloucester?

The suburban south-east and central south in general i'd say. Hampshire, Sussex, Kent etc. Maybe Gloucester too (separate geographically, maybe not so much re: attitudes). Here's an equivalent map for the UK, for those interested - it varies a bit over time obviously but the south/south-east being largely Conservative (blue over here, confusingly enough ;) has been true for pretty much ever.

Lived in Hants for 10 years (and my parents still do) and at least then, it was fairly conservative, even insular in some places (with all the caveats about averages etc.). Put it this way, recent trips back suggest it's getting better in this respect but there was one black kid at my secondary school the whole time I was there.


edited to --'as'

[ edited by Saje on 2010-02-13 12:40 ]
The UK equivalent would be "Middle Class Middle England", a term often used in sociology when looking at trends and attitudes.
I didn't take the "middle America" remark as being specifically geographic, but rather as referring to a certain mind set, the homophobic religious conservatives. One that could be used just as accurately to describe the religious conservative majority in Orange County or parts of Oregon, as to somewhere in Ohio.

With all apologies to anyone in Orange County or Oregon who isn't a homophobic religious conservative, and to any secular liberals in Ohio. ;-)
James says it straight: if a vampire doesn't bite and kill, he's lame!

Anyone else noticed a hidden remark to Angel? :-D
His niece is a Twilight ficcer? Well, it would be weird to fic the Buffyverse. ;)

*shrug* All I read is that Spike could beat Sparkly Eddy and then introduce him to the beauty that his spicy wings dipped in blood.
"Middle America" as used by U.S. Americans is definitely a geographical term rather than a class term, but I think here he's speaking of a mindset rather than a physical location.

Also, Marsters only says he'd like to be in a living room in middle America. He then goes on to say "America" -- no geographical qualifier -- "is a very homophobic country." We (meaning us U.S. Americans) don't, that I know of, have full-on male-on-male smooches a la Captain Jack/Captain John on any of our major network series, definitely not between the series lead and the guest star. The networks that make the shows, with their broadcast standards and lack of gay leading characters, are located on the coasts, run by people who are neither geographically nor financially "middle America." So I think the "America" (with no "middle" qualifier) was intended as a description of the country as a whole.
"The networks that make the shows, with their broadcast standards and lack of gay leading characters, are located on the coasts, run by people who are neither geographically nor financially "middle America."

Exactly. But he didn't say he'd like to sit in a network executive's living room and watch the reaction to the captains having a go, because the stereotype is that people on the coasts, especially the entertainment elite, are more evolved. He went for the easy target and played the negative stereotype of the ignorant, homophobic, redneck family living in fly over country....

Instead of telling me how "barbaric" I and all of my friends are, maybe Hollywood should cowboy up and start producing the kinds of socially relevant stories they claim to support instead of following the almighty dollar!
Do you mbeauparland (and any other US folks that care to comment) actually think it would be accepted by enough people in the US for it to make financial sense ? I don't mean the niche audiences that satisfy cable channels, I mean mass, mainstream acceptance. And it's a genuine question BTW (i'm not an American).

Because if there's an audience there for it and money to be made then "Hollywood" will produce it, they're all about the bottom line.

"Middle America" as used by U.S. Americans is definitely a geographical term rather than a class term, but I think here he's speaking of a mindset rather than a physical location.

Yeah, as a foreigner who watches (way too much ;) US TV, that's always been my understanding - "middle America" is a geographically specific term that serves as shorthand for a mindset (because of the aforementioned correlation between the middle states and Republicanism/small 'c' conservatism).
To be truthful, I don't think Americans will flock to the theatres to see "gay" films anytime soon. There is a bias in our culture that spreads far beyond "Middle America." But I think a lesson can be learned from BtVS. Hollywood can depict homosexuality in films without alienating the larger audience if they make it believable. Instead of putting a gay or lesbian character in a show to "get in the Religious Right's" faces or boost ratings with something akin to a circus sideshow, what would be wrong with simply presenting believable characters that happen to be of a different sexual orientation. Don't draw attention to it, just let it be. I never saw the Willow/Tara relationship as sensational, because I completely accepted and believed in the characters. It felt natural and genuine.
Of course we would watch it. Americans watch Torchwood now. Would it be a hit? Absolutely not. But then I can count on one hand the number of sustainable science fiction hits on network television. Specifically one finger. Sustainable on network? No. But then apparently outside of cop and lawyer shows, nothing seems to be. That's not a homophobia issue, that's an affinity for easy viewing that I wish the country would get past.

Lost is so successful because it is very good at masking just how SF it is and you can choose to ask hard question about it, but you don't have to. It's a very good "kill an hour" show.

That said, the cable audience is certainly there. Then again, almost all of the thoughtful programming in the US is located on cable, not network.
To be fair mbeauparland, it's not just American culture that has a problem with homosexuality. In 2010, there isn't a culture that does not that I'm aware of. Some are certainly more accepting (legally speaking), but the morally right/wrong split is not an American phenomenon.

And when I see the moral right/wrong split numbers, I'm more inclined to believe the US lags behind legally speaking because the way it's politics are played tends to manifest itself in extremely broad coalitions that have a hard time alienating subsets. You can see the same phenomenon in Pro-Israel support, the schism in immigration reform, and a bunch of other political hot potatoes too numerous to mention.

Personally I think the US political design was brilliant in the 1700's because it was designed to move slowly. In 2010, it's design doesn't match the reality of the world anymore.

Regarding media and homosexuality, I think you nailed the prescription though. The mainstream does not flock to gay cinema because it is exactly what it says it is. There actually is a thriving gay movie industry, but it's not readily accessible to everyone else. It's about gay people, for a gay audience. It might be universal in some ways, but it tends to revel in the subculture.

However, Brokeback succeeded. The issue is making movies accessible to everyone with real human needs that everyone can relate to. Those kinds of movies will survive the mainstream. The story about the gay wedding and the gay bachelor party romantic comedy, probably won't.

Torchwood can, but it will be niche because it is science fiction which is its own subculture.

[ edited by azzers on 2010-02-13 20:37 ]
I wonder how off the cuff these answers were when James was interviewed, how much time constraint. I've seen James on video answering questions in very TMI fashion and I cringe but in this case with regard to the middle America reference, and this may be showing my age, but that has always said to me, the Midwest, the Heartland, if you will, but I think his answer is 2 separate entities and it was clumsily stated.

1) I wanted to sit in a living room and watch a family from middle America and see the reaction when Spike kissed Captain John.

He states that when he directed and produced theatre he wasn't satisfied unless one member of the audience got up and left. This statement strongly implies, but doesn't outright say it, that he wants to catch people at being actively bigoted, which is really not cool at all. So then, if you look at,

2) Let's be honest, America is a very homophobic country, we are barbaric that way.

he isn't then saying people in middle America are barbaric, he's saying the whole country is. To some extent we are and to prove it we bred people like Fred Phelps and that is shameful. However, unlike Uganda, there is no bill before Congress to make it legal to kill gay people. And there never will be as long as there is breath in this body.

James says stuff sometimes, with the best intentions, and it doesn't come across with clarity and can disturb. I get that. Still, even this faux pas is nowhere near the magnitude of the Mt. Vesuvius John Mayer has set off and I'm glad I haven't had to lose respect for James.

And yes! Great answer re Twilight.
Sure it's off the cuff and offensive to some but i'm not sure it's right to then assume that he'd take it back if he could, maybe he still means it (possibly adjusted slightly to neutralise the broad geographic brush he sweeps the US with) ? None of us are pro-homophobia right ? And so i'd imagine none of us care if homophobes are offended (I certainly don't).

Don't draw attention to it, just let it be.

Totally, i'm absolutely fine with that mbeauparland (provided not drawing attention and just letting it be doesn't mean "basically celibate so no-one has to see yucky stuff like gays kissing"). Characters should be representative to some extent but their first duty is to the story, not to some message or political hot potato.

No. But then apparently outside of cop and lawyer shows, nothing seems to be. That's not a homophobia issue, that's an affinity for easy viewing that I wish the country would get past.

Just to be clear azzers, it's nothing to do with "complicated TV" or science-fiction as a genre, that's a bit of a red herring IMO ('Torchwood' happens to be SF but Russell T Davies is - or was anyway - as well known over here for programmes like 'Queer as Folk' or 'Bob and Rose', both featuring gay characters prominently, both playing on network TV and neither being remotely science-fiction). I'm asking about a network TV show with a main character who is outwardly gay in the same way that other main characters on network TV shows are outwardly heterosexual i.e. perhaps has a relationship wherein we, for instance, see them kiss their partner. Or wake up in bed with them etc.

In other words, a cop or lawyer show would be totally fine for those purposes since, obviously, there are plenty of gay cops and lawyers in the really real world. In other other words, if the only thing different was that the central character was outwardly, actively gay, would it be accepted by the mainstream US TV viewership ? That, it seems to me, is what James Marsters is talking about (and he seems to think not).
Ahh, I misunderstood the question. I thought you were specifically speaking of Torchwood.

I'd disagree with James on that one. As you said, the story is the thing. I think it is the fear Hollywood has of trying this and seeing it fail than anything else. It would be risky, but ultimately if the show is good I think sexuality would become the red herring. Risky in the sense, that it needs to happen on a great show first because the first show that tries this will get rocked by controversy and it's going to need more going on.

If anything, Hollywood ALWAYS errs on the side of being conservative with risk. One of the more ironic things about the business. Why tempt failure when you can have NCIS: Cape Cod instead?
Saje, there's always a but isn't there? :=) I don't want him to take it back or assume that he would, I just wish he'd said it in a way that served the purpose; of American television having the same freedom as the BBC seems to have. I'm only commenting again because the semantics of language are interesting and also troublesome. On the one hand, you would want a Torchwood produced in the states to succeed and it's inevitable that the 'phobes will be up in arms. So what good is there in stating you want to see the reaction of people who you are basically setting up to fail in your very statement. I don't get that. I don't know how many people outside the U.S. did some studying after Prop. 8 passed here in California, but it turned out to my shock, that this state is one of the worst when it comes to homophobia and edit the largest percentage of "yes" voters were centered in areas that you would suspect; i.e. not the largest gay-friendly cities, but the hinterlands of California, small and smaller-town California (there were of course yes voters all over, and 2 of them were the idiots at the end of the block a street over from me in San Diego who kept their Yes on Prop 8 sign out in their yard days after it passed). So James could well have observed a family in Stockton where he grew up, to get the effect he was looking for, or at least, expected.

[ edited by Tonya J on 2010-02-13 22:42 ]
Yeah, I suspect he means the mindset Tonya J and so the "middle America" framing was ill-advised. Small-mindedness is everywhere and convenient labels that let us distance it from ourselves aren't particularly helpful. But I understand him wanting to see the reaction, it's maybe a bit mean but it's also human - if people are shocked by things you think they shouldn't be that shock can be, well, entertaining I guess. Not pretty, true though.

If anything, Hollywood ALWAYS errs on the side of being conservative with risk. One of the more ironic things about the business. Why tempt failure when you can have NCIS: Cape Cod instead?

Hey, someone has to speak up for those fish ;).

I agree that it's Hollywood's fear of failure, I just suspect they might fear it'll fail because of prevailing attitudes in the US (or rather, that that's one more burden to put on a show when most shows fail as it is - why narrow your audience consciously at all, even if it's "only" e.g. 25% of the country that won't tune in ?).

I mean, if homosexuality is broadly accepted then why would it be risky ? You could make 'NCIS: Cape Cod' but just have the Gibbs (or Di Nozzo) character be gay - if central characters being gay isn't a problem to the mainstream TV audience then you just have another NCIS show.


edited due to cross-postage

[ edited by Saje on 2010-02-13 22:34 ]
I actually don't watch NCIS (not intentionally, I just never got around to it.) So I think I just screwed up with my example. I just meant, a show that doesn't spend a great deal of time dealing with relationships and remains largely procedural.

See! I'm ignorant too! Go team.
Actually, one of the main characters on "Southland" is a gay man - the police officer played by Michael Cudlitz (who was on that police negotiator series with Gina Torres a few seasons back) tasked with training the rookie. For those keeping score, this is the show that premiered on NBC, got picked up for a second season, then canceled by NBC without season two ever airing, then picked up by TNT, which is currently re-running season one in preparation for debuting season two. No idea of the non-stereotypical gay male lead (a police training officer in a procedural drama) played any part in the NBC weirdness, but at least it's on cable :)
It's handled pretty well too IMO. He goes to gay bars, has a sexual partner (though their interactions have been restricted to holding hands IIRC) and so on but it's just part of the character. As befits a police show he's a cop who's gay rather than A GAY COP.

I just meant, a show that doesn't spend a great deal of time dealing with relationships and remains largely procedural.

Nah, that's fair azzers (I watch it but i'd be the first to admit you can pretty much get the gist from a preview or reading a TV guide ;), it's not huge on relationships (except within the team and even those are quite episodic friendly and subtle). Which actually makes it perfect IMO, since the gay relationship would just "be there" rather than being a focus.

(I mentioned Di Nozzo BTW because that would be a good test since it'd be more overt. He's a bit of a skirt chaser y'see)
[..] isn't middle America broadly more Republican than the coastal regions and aren't Republicans broadly less likely to support e.g. gay marriage/civil unions ? Most of the polls i've seen have suggested that [..]. Likewise, your religion seems to broadly relate to your stance on homosexuality and again, isn't middle America more religious (higher church attendance etc. - again BTW, plucked off net, as a survey that may be highly demolishable) than the coasts ?


That's a much more politic way of saying it than I could think of, so I thought I'd just quote it.

Don't feel bad, though. Over 50% of Californians that voted in the last election are bigots (the election where they voted down gay marriage). So even places that are supposedly more forward thinking really aren't, sometimes.

(and if anyone takes issue with my use of the word bigot, I used the definition from the Merriam-Webster dictionary: "one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance".)
IMO, when one considers the proposition that America is homophobic, one should look to voting patterns on relevant policy issues rather than to Hollywood; that lens does not put the country in a particularly progressive light. Glad that my career doesn't rest on 'don't ask, don't tell, don't love who we decry '!
"Totally, i'm absolutely fine with that mbeauparland (provided not drawing attention and just letting it be doesn't mean "basically celibate so no-one has to see yucky stuff like gays kissing"). "

By not drawing attention to it, I simply meant for the character's actions to seem organic. It irritates me when a character is presented as gay, then played as nothing more than comic relief or constantly saying "I'm gay! I'm gay! C'mon everybody come watch me act all gay...." That makes for shallow, and often insulting characters. As long as it fits the story and the character feels true, let the "yucky stuff" commence....

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