The Interplay is a special biweekly series exploring the intersections of sex, pop culture, and current events.
Over the past few weeks Buzzfeed’s squad of “Try Guys” have made a dent in the internet with a series of videos designed to go viral. The formula for the series is fairly straight forward: each video features the guys trying something you’ve probably never seen the average man doing in the middle of a work day.
As a series Try Guys reads a lot like your average TLA coming of age dramedy: lacking in plot, but rich in fleshy, softcore nonsense. It started with the guys trying to out drink one another, and then waxing philosophic about the hottest male celebrities. Soon they were trying drag, seeing each other naked for the first time, and experimenting with same-sex kissing.
The guys in these videos are coded as straight, and that same straightness is meant to make the clips as “funny” as they are titillating. Whether or not Try Guys accomplishes either of its goals is open for debate, but what seems rather obvious is Buzzfeed’s newfound fondness for queer clickbate (it’s like queerbait and clickbait but...racier.)
Try Guys both is and isn’t standard fare for publications like Buzzfeed. We’re no strangers to sharing clips of hot guys doing silly things here at Towleroad. Content like this drives traffic, and hey--who doesn’t like little bit of eye candy? There comes a point, though, where one questions the intentions of content like Try Guys that isn’t clearly operating from expressly queer-positive perspective. As J. Bryan Lowder writes in Slate, BuzzFeed’s clickbate reads simultaneously as provocative and laughable:
"The men are clearly feeling bashful about activities that, from a gay point-of-view, are laughably low-stakes, so it’s hard not to feel a certain amount of puppy-dog pity for them. That BuzzFeed’s producers have been able to cast and shoot these micro-docs in a way that encourages responses both erotic and tender is a credit to their powers of manipulation."
Though Lowder sees the Guys’ “first time” experimentations as endearing, there’s something inherently off about treating gay intimacy like a low-budget episode of Fear Factor. We’re living in a gilded, glittering age where depictions of gay men kissing, touching, and being close with one another have almost become the rule, rather than the exception. Not only that, but today’s objectification of the male body is infinitely more open.
That shirtless guy baking cupcakes? Cosmopolitan knows (and is banking on) the clicks of gay men and straight women alike. The actors and models vying for our collective attention may not be gay themselves, but their intentions are clear. Our gaze as gay men is invited, and in that invitation there’s an implicit affirmation of gay desire.
Though it isn’t setting out to be malicious, Try Guys is trafficking in an all too common narrative. The intended hotness of the videos is undercut by the fact that the guys in it, and the overall theme, is supposed to be a spectacle. “Look at this straight guys doing gay things, how novel!”
That isn’t to say that gay sex and the media built around it can’t be funny--quite the opposite. Rather, when we’re mining the internet for scantily clad guys who can give us a good chuckle, we’ve got to make sure that we’re thinking with two heads as opposed to just one.