Pleasures in Everyday Life, Part 1: Restaurant Impossible and Mainstreaming LGBT Couples:
(The Rude Pundit would beat someone to death with a turkey leg if he had to write one more Obamacare defense or talk about what bastards Republicans are being about the Iran nuke agreement. So, in the lead up to Black Friday, he's gonna stick to some good news, or at least things that might make you feel good to be alive, just for a little while. Think of it as an extended reacharound.)
Everybody's got their guilty pleasures, those things that they are just a little ashamed to say they enjoy. For the Rude Pundit, who lets his freak flag fly proudly and unzipped, the pleasures are many and the guilty ones are few. The drugs? The whiskey? This libertine life? No guilt there. But the fact that he enjoys the show Restaurant Impossible on the Food Network? Oh, that makes him squeamish to admit.
The show is one of those where an abrasive jerk-off tells people who have no business running a bar or hotel or, in this case, a restaurant what they're doing wrong and how to fix it before he rips their arms off and beats them to death with them. Or before they go out of business from mismanagement. Robert Irvine, a cross between Gordon Ramsay and Richard Kiel, is the host who, for completely arbitrary reasons, has 2 days and $10,000 to fix the restaurants. He does this by going into an obvious 'roid rage (his arms simply can't touch his sides and his buzz cut head too small for his upper body), butting heads with the owners and tearing up the joint to redesign it, fixing the menus, the employees, and the spaces, all in 2 days. A good many of the restaurants he rescues end up failing anyways because, as a wise man once said, you can't cure stupid.
Obviously, subtlety is not the strong suit of this show. It's manipulative to a fault, with the relationship between the families and couples put under Irvine's gaze and subject to his unbelievably deep concern for the well-being of the people he met a few hours ago whose restaurants he's fixing. What the Rude Pundit has gotten out of it is that most restaurants are filthy messes run by nincompoops.
Now, there's no real reason to share this guilty pleasure with you, dear, dear readers. Except for what happened last week on Restaurant Impossible and the extraordinary thing it says about where we are in this nation at this extraordinary moment.
Irvine and crew went to the Georgia Boy Cafe in Hagerstown, Maryland, which is close to the Pennsylvania border, in that Alabama-like section of central Pennsylvania. It's over an hour from DC and a little more than two from West Virginia. Let's put aside that the restaurant was disgustingly dirty. Let's put aside the quality of the food. Let's put aside the actual intervention into the business, and instead talk about the fact that the Georgia Boy Cafe is owned by Chuck Holman and Montez Dorsey, a black, gay couple who, at the time of filming, had been together for eight years.
Without every mentioning the fact that they are gay (or African American, for that matter), the episode centered around the pair, whose work at the restaurant had, by their own admission, caused a great deal of stress on their home life together. The Rude Pundit sat watching, a bit dumbfounded, at how Irvine did his usual dime store couples therapy on Holman and Dorsey. Throughout the hour, the two men talked about how much they love each other, how much they mean to each other, how much they love who each one is. We saw them hug, hold hands, kiss (on the cheek, but still, it was more than in over four seasons of Cam and Mitchell on Modern Family). We saw their down-to-earth mothers, who work at the Georgia Boy Cafe, talk about how much they wanted their sons to stay a couple because they love each other so much.
What struck the Rude Pundit was how a relationship that, not very long ago, would have been ignored, condemned, treated as a freakish aberration in our heteronormatizing culture was presented as simply a relationship, one subject to the same stresses as any couple. Yet - and here's where it was more complex than usual - Irvine and the show never shied away from the fact that this was two black gay males. It was always present. Restaurant Impossible wasn't saying, "Look, they are just like you." It was saying, "They are you. They are us." A damn food show was more honest and less sensationalistic and patronizing about how a nonwhite LGBT couple exists than pretty much anything the Rude Pundit's seen on American television.
Despite homophobic assholes like Guy Fieri and Paula Deen (who is friends with Irvine), the Food Network has, as much as any network not Logo, mainstreamed the LGBT community. Chopped regularly features chefs who talk about their same sex partners or spouses. Nobody cares. That's the most progressive thing you can say, no? "Be with who you love. Who cares?" For so many in this nation, for so many so-called leaders, that's still a big damn deal. Yet here is the Food Network treating the queer community as not something separate, but as a fact of existence. Since gay-bashers are so fond of analogies, how about this: It's like talking about people's eye color.
While there's no telling how much Restaurant Impossible achieved its perspective through editing, this episode was worth noting not for how it presented a different kind of couple, but for how it didn't present them as such. At the end, when the remodeled Georgia Boy Cafe was reopened, the guests were black, white, young, old, straight, gay. And no one commented on how cool that was. Which made it even cooler.