Class as Magical Realism in Beautiful People

Curator's Note

Class as a theme plays out quite differently within its respective national contexts. In American comedies, class is often underplayed, while many British comedies not only habitually situate their characters in a very clearly class-stratified environment but often uses class discrepancy as comedic material. An awareness of quite subtle class nuances suffuses such programs with a realism of place, speech, and experiences. Such subtleties are often difficult to contextualize for those of us not immersed in British contemporary life and culture.


Based on Simon Doonan's autobiography, Beautiful People is a 2008 comedy series that recollects his memories of growing up gay in a postcolonial British working class neighborhood. Every episode is framed by a present day adult Simon, which allows for the fanciful exaggerations of his memories. This juxtaposition of Simon’s colorful dreams and desires and his dreary childhood environment accentuates the contrast between the beautiful people he and his friend hope to become and the quotidian lives they are forced to live at the moment. The concurrence of fantastic dreamscapes and dance routines with downbeat realism replicates the central theme of Simon's life. Thus, the frame narrative set in present day New York signals Simon’s ultimate escape from the stark realities of his working class background with the fears of unemployment, poverty, and addiction the show evokes.


At the same time, Simon’s nostalgic memory also recalls that his loving family and environment embraced him in his difference. Thus, just as the show combines fantasy and realism, Simon manages to merge his life and his dreams by recognizing the potentials of his own multicultural, vibrant family. As such, the queer present of his fabulous New York life stands less in contrast to a horribly mundane—or even dangerous—childhood and more as a frame through which he can now recognize what his younger self failed to acknowledge: without dismissing potential homophobic moments, looking back makes him realize how welcoming and ultimately queer-friendly his home environment was.


Even as the nostalgic moments reshape homophobic fear into surreality, memory also allows Simon to acknowledge that his need for escape may equally be dominated by class concerns. In so doing, the show embraces a move away from the metronormativity that has long dominated academic approaches to gay identity and experience. Beautiful People’s combination of fantasy, realism, and nostalgic memory resonates with a more recent focus in queer studies that looks for the multiplicity of queernesses in myriad places and contexts.

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.