Payton Hobart is an entitled, power-hungry kid. The Netflix show gives him room to be human

In todays daring TV landscape, a white, cisgender, egregiously wealthy gay man hardly counts as an advancement for queer representation. I know this. You know this. Networks and streaming services know this.

Thats because recent LGBTQ representation on TV has been wide-ranging. Theres the myriad of black identities on Pose, the confident trans character of Jules on Euphoria, and the sexually fluid cast of MTVs dating reality show Are You The One?According to Gladds annual survey of LGBT representation on TV, last year was the first time ever LGBTQ characters of color outnumbered LGBTQ white characters.

Basically, if you are a white gay man on TV, you better be bringing something fresh to the table.

Enter Payton Hobart. The Politician the first show to come out of Ryan Murphys $300m deal with Netflix deftly employs the power-hungry characters privilege and whiteness. Rich, overconfident, entitled. Payton is something queer people on TV are so rarely allowed to be: awful.

The aversion to thorny gay characters can be seen as an overcorrection for so long they were the villains and predators, never the heroes. However, it is important we dont turn them into cookie-cutter archetypes either.

Payton (Ben Platt) spends the course of the show unapologetically focused on getting what he wants from the world, at any cost. As he campaigns to become his high schools president (Murphy somehow makes the stakes feel higher than the Florida recount), Payton makes selfish decision after selfish decision. He only picks a student with cancer as his running mate to gain sympathy votes. He cleverly ousts his brothers from the family will. And when Paytons lover/opponent a dreamy, statuesque boy with the totally crush-worthy name River dies by suicide, Payton sheds no tears. Instead, he holds a meeting with his campaign team about gaining a clear path to victory.

Critics have slammed The Politician for being empty and a mess. However, it feels like Ryan Murphy has delivered a show deliberately as imperfect as its character. Payton is the queer anti-hero weve needed.

Gwyneth
Gwyneth Paltrow and Platt, whose character spends the show focused on getting what he wants at any cost. Photograph: Beth Dubber/Netflix

Paytons privilege, acceptance from his family and friends, and sexually open school frees him from having to worry about homophobia, or disenfranchisement, or unrequited love. In many ways, the character feels like Murphy who has spoken at length about growing up in a homophobic household and cutting ties with his parents as an adult imagining what his adolescence could have been like free of such hurdles. (Payton being adopted, in my opinion, only adds weight to this Freudian theory.)

The suit-loving character is different from Murphys other queer male figures. He doesnt spend all of his time crying and singing Katy Perrys Firework as Kurt Hummel did on Glee. Paytons life is enviably easy and because of that, the only thing he cares about is himself. The concept is an escapist fantasy for anyone of a marginalized background. And therefore riveting to watch.

Queerness has entered the mainstream at a cost. Todays most popular LGBTQ figures sternly play by the rules of respectability politics. Theres the cast of Queer Eye who have pushed boundaries and sparked important conversations around topics such as HIV/Aids awareness and double minorities. But they also push a heavily privileged and neoliberal message of consumerism as psychological catharsis. Its hard to imagine someone like Mayor Pete Buttigieg making it this far if he spoke with a gay lisp. And Taylor Swifts You Need to Calm Down music video was populated with queer figures happy to play the role of gay best friend and prop up a straight white woman. To be queer in Hollywood today means always being nice.

Which is why its so satisfying to see Payton be bad.

The antihero role has traditionally been reserved for the straight white male: Tony Soprano, Don Draper, Walter White. And they keep coming. The director Todd Phillips and actor Joaquin Phoenix have sparked controversy for drawing from the narratives of recent white terrorists for The Joker.

The antihero mold has opened up in recent years. Annalise Keating (How to Get Away With Murder) and Olivia Pope (Scandal) covering up murder while power-strutting in kitten heels are standout examples. Issa Rae makes as many self-destructive choices on Insecure as Lena Dunham does on Girls. To see a marginalized person as an antihero is different. It means having room to be human.

Each season of The Politician will track Payton as he embarks on a new political race.Presumably, his hubris will only grow bigger and more dark. Which will be exciting to watch. Because allowing characters of marginalized backgrounds to have jagged edges can be a powerful and accurate litmus test of mainstream acceptance. The goal is not to be seen as perfect. The goal is to be seen.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

 

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