Queer Eye For The SciFi

If you’re white, straight and male you’ve probably never stopped to think about diversity in genre entertainment; but if you don’t fit into that very specific box it can be a very important subject indeed. Peter MacKenzie examines representation and depiction of alternative cultures in geek entertainment, highlighting when it goes right and explaining why it’s a problem when it goes wrong…

Memory. It’s a funny thing. I can relate, in the finest detail, the circumstances, physical surroundings and company I was with when I heard that, say, the Queen Mother had died. Yet, I would have difficulty telling you what I had for dinner on Sunday.

Some things just stick in the memory, I guess. Of course you’re going to remember something out of the ordinary, such as a major news event. Whereas, what I had for dinner last Sunday is never going to be as important to the continued existence of the cosmos. Unless I’d had a salad, in which case I’d be calling Sophie Raworth myself.

But sometimes, particularly with childhood memories, maybe because we haven’t developed the “filter” of the adult mind, the mundane memories do lodge themselves in our consciousness. These are the sort of memories associated with a smell, a phrase, a noise.

Take Vicks’ VapoRub. (Other sticky things to rub on your chest are available).

Christmas, circa 1981.

A visit to the grandparents on the mainland. Flannelette sheets. The Wizard of Oz unsurprisingly on the telly. Vicks on my chest. Luke Skywalker in Hoth Battle Gear and Zuckuss (back when he was a robot) under the tree. And the “main” present for that year? Our very own personal stereos.

I can’t specifically remember getting any cassettes to play on said personal stereos, although I’m sure we did. There was a particularly awful compilation of kids’ songs that I remember getting played to death in the car on every journey undertaken for years afterwards – mostly covers of the Wombles (yes, you read that right) and a very poor session recording of the Doctor Who theme. My parents musty have dreaded a trip in the car.

But there was one tape I purloined off my Dad and which I don’t think he ever got back to this day. One which he’d just bought (or received) himself, and which I drifted off to sleep with throughout that entire Christmas holiday and for years afterwards.

Queen’s Greatest Hits.

By no means my first introduction to popular music, nor even my introduction to Queen, but the memories of lying in the dark, cassette player motor drowning out the incessant tsss-tssss-tsss of pre-earbud headphones are as vivid today as ever. The track listing was burned into my brain so that even now, 30 years later and in the realm of playlists and shuffling, I still expect Seven Seas of Rhye to follow the outro to Flash and somehow I still wait for the click of auto-reverse after Save Me.

Fast forward ten years. Almost to the day.

It’s probably a bit strange to younger folks these days. Our musical idols seem to drop dead with alarming regularity these days but, while the mourning remains, I don’t think the recent deaths of Michael Jackson or even Amy Winehouse have had the shock value that Freddie Mercury’s death did 20 years ago.

I had just started at university the month before, and the news spread through my halls of residence like wildfire. I suppose, in retrospect, it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise – the tabloids had been speculating for months – but somehow it was.

The entire student body, it seemed, was crammed into the TV room that night for a post-News at Ten tribute and, much later the live tribute concert. People from all across the board, from the LGBT Society to the Christian Union (mind you, back then, both of those summed up my confused little self), united in a way that I’m not sure we’ve seen since – not even for Diana, and certainly not for Jackson or any other musician I can think of.

I don’t know why his passing was such a big thing. Maybe it wasn’t, and it’s just been amplified in my mind through my particular age or level of development at the time – but it’s a death that still affects me now. Listening to the bitter irony of Too Much Love Will Kill You on my iPhone the other day almost had me in tears on the bus – and I deliberately avoid having These Are The Days Of Our Lives on any playlist.

You see, and forgive me a little hyperbole, but I actually quite relate to Freddie Mercury. Publicly overt, but quite shy in private. Brought up in a religion and trying to reconcile that with who he was. Perhaps even unsure of who he was.

He hid his HIV status from the world. Hell, despite the public figure, he pretty much hid his bisexuality from the world. Certainly, he rarely acknowledged it in public. I’m sure he was a well-kent figure on the London and international gay scene but no-one would ever have thought of papping him – just as there are many celebrities, even today, who can enjoy a night out in a gay club secure in the knowledge they won’t be outed. It’s just something we do.

Despite the private person, in his relatively short life (he was barely older than me when he died), he did so much. With Queen, he wrote and collaborated on so many classics, from the breakthrough rock promo video of Bohemian Rhapsody, through the best selling UK album of all time, and the ultimate highs of their stadium tours, to A Kind of Magic, arguably the greatest film soundtrack that wasn’t a film soundtrack ever.

And I’m not one for regrets, but never seeing Queen live is certainly up there.

It truly is a shame that Freddie Mercury didn’t live longer. Had he lived just another three years, he would have seen the introduction of AZT, the first antiretroviral medication. Five years and he would have seen the introduction of the combination therapies. So much has happened in the two decades since he died that he could have been far more open about his sexuality and his HIV status.

Perhaps, he could have been the person he should have been.

To my mind, there’s no-one alive who even comes close.