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Gay characters on the rise in comic books | So So Gay magazine

I’ve been a fan of American superhero comics since I was a child, but while comics are great at many things, diversity isn’t one of them. Think of a mainstream superhero and you’ll likely picture someone straight, white and, more often than not, male. For a long time, female characters tended to exist fairly strictly in the ‘girlfriends’ or ‘damsels in distress’ categories, while characters of colour – if they appeared at all – were either criminals or, in those comics with a more progressive outlook, noble best friends or colleagues. As for LGBT characters – well, they simply didn’t exist. Luckily, though, this is changing – and both of the major American comic publishers have used recent reboots as a chance to improve their representation of diversity in their mainstream output.

In some ways, the traditional dominance of the straight white male in the comic world is less to do with apathy on the part of modern writers, more the fact they are wrestling with a legacy of characters created in a very different era. The most popular superheroes in the canon of DC and Marvel – the two titans that bestride superhero publishing – remain those that were established decades ago. DC’s Batman and Superman are children of the 1930s, while the ‘golden age’ of Marvel, which saw Stan Lee and his collaborators create the raft of titles that still dominate the publisher’s output (including Spider-Man, the X-MenThe Incredible Hulk, and The Fantastic Four), was in the 1960s. So it has always been a problem to keep giving the paying fans the characters they love, while changing the books to reflect the world the readers live in. This is not, of course, impossible: the cast of characters that makes up the X-Men of today’s blockbuster movies is not the original line up, but a bastardisation of its 1970s reboot, when Marvel introduced a more multinational and gender-balanced line up.

As comics evolved diversity improved, but only slowly. When black characters (especially superheroes) were introduced, they were either foreign (and so acceptably ‘exotic’) or they were politicised and urbanised in a way that white characters weren’t; while you could argue that this approach made sense coming on the back of America’s civil rights movement (some of the most famous black characters were introduced in the early 1970) it also meant it was rare to see anyone but the white guys get to be just straightforward heroes.

For LGBT characters, the situation was worse: the superhero universe was almost exclusively straight. As comics entered a post-Stonewall era writers started to touch on the occasional gay theme, but these were always secondary or marginal figures (definitely non-‘super’), all too often included to illustrate the tolerance of the main (straight) hero. Nor was this an accidental policy: Marvel, for instance, was openly against having an LGBT characters until the end of the 1980s; even during the 1990s, it considered that any book focused on a solo gay character should be labelled ‘adults only’. While some writers were tackling gay themes and featuring gay characters, these tended to be niche or ‘underground’ characters published by smaller imprints, or addressed in oblique ways. For example Mike Barr’s Camelot 300, published in the early 1980s, featured Tristan and Isolde reincarnated as lesbian couple, but somehow the fact that one of them was ‘really’ a man made it seem more acceptable.

But in the late 1980s the world of comics and its coverage of diversity changed forever; perhaps ironically due to the influence of two white, straight guys. American Frank Miller’s take on Batman, The Dark Knight Returns, might not seem overly shocking to those familiar with the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan films – partly because his work inspired them – but at the time it was seismic to those for whom Batman had become a figure of 1960s camp. Around the same time, English eccentric and creative genius Alan Moore published Watchmen, a bleak reimagining of the superhero genre, and suddenly comics weren’t just for kids: actual grownups could go into a bookshop (not a comic shop!) and buy a newfangled ‘graphic novel’ and have it considered perfectly acceptable adult reading. Despite the fact that some commentators – including this one – would argue that Moore (like Miller) has a questionable attitude towards female characters, he unarguably takes a grown up view of sexuality: Watchmen featured several gay secondary characters, and Moore was also responsible for co-creating the lead character in the Hellblazer comics, John Constantine, who is generally accepted to be bisexual.

But despite this more mature approach to comics – and an increasing recognition that they could be a form of literature in their own right – the writers were still hamstrung by history. While some superheroes had always lent themselves to reinvention, with the costume being more important than the person who filled it (there were several incarnations of Robin, for instance, not all of them male), fans would always have certain expectations – Superman would always be Superman, which meant he’d always be the straight white guy from Krypton. It wasn’t until 1992 that Marvel gave us the first openly gay mainstream superhero: the Quebecois Northstar, revealed as gay nearly 15 years after he was first introduced as a member of the team Alpha Flight (though co-creator John Byrne has stated it was always his intention for the character to be gay).

Although Alpha Flight couldn’t be considered one of Marvel’s top rung titles – it was repeatedly cancelled – it was unarguably part of the mainstream Marvel universe, and as such the revelation of Northstar’s sexuality was genuine progress. DC, meanwhile, despite tending to be better at featuring gay characters in its universe, was slow to pick up the baton in its main titles, but at least introduced two of the most interesting gay superheroes – indeed, two of its most interesting superheroes, full stop – to the canon, albeit it arguably not the mainstream one.

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Interview: Niranjan Kamatkar (GFest: The Gaywise Festival) | So So Gay

ts in The Telegraph that gay culture is, ‘shallow, camp, and kitsch’? 

I was a bit shocked by that. He needs to see the whole range of activities that happen in gay culture, right from the popular side of the spectrum to the high-end of it. You can’t sum it up in so few words and put a stereotypical label on it.

Are there any particular artists, performances, or films you’re personally looking forward to this year? 

[laughs] Is this a trick question? Everybody’s work is unique. As organisers, what we want to see is something for everyone to connect with and enjoy. And that’s a key thing. Each and every artwork is original and there are fascinating insights in them. We’re looking forward to it all.

Is there anything unique about this year’s festival? 

We’ve been working to mark 30 years of HIV. One event is a creative workshop around HIV with a youth group from West London. The second event is happening at the Cockpit Theatre, which is looking at HIV and sex work through role play and acting. We are also addressing the very current concerns of East London homophobia and transphobia at a debate event. We always have a debate every year, but this year it’s something that is a more current topic, but looking at a wider cultural perspective and how arts and other influences are affected by it. It includes Peter Tatchell, local councillors, and practitioners. 

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Interview: Alp Haydar | So So Gay magazine

Arguably the most frustrating thing about seeing your own work performed by other people is that no matter how talented the cast, they’re never exactly how you imagined the characters; especially when they’re based on real-life people. And although it might seem absolutely mental, there is a way around this – do it all yourself. Performing surreal, hilarious and sometimes downright terrifying characters simultaneously might not seem possible, but Alp Haydar somehow makes it work through use of a pre-recorded green screen. A schizophrenic pantomime, if you will. Seeing a man heckled on stage by a fearsome, fundamentalist caricature of his own mother – played by himself – is something everyone should experience once. With a brand new show (Alp Haydar’s Erotic Adventures in Atlantis) about to descend on the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, So So Gay decided to find out more about the man behind the many roles and why he’s the most exciting, unpredictable act in cabaret today.

SSG: How did you first end up performing?

Alp Haydar: I’m of Turkish origin. My parents are Turkish Cypriots, which is a strange identity in itself because it’s not really recognised. You have a hard time saying ‘I’m a Turkish Cypriot’ because Turks as a whole don’t really get where Cyprus is and Greek Cypriots obviously don’t want to share that title with you. I guess I identify with being British; my parents were born in Cyprus when it was still a British colony so I got a British passport. My dad at least is very Anglicised. I’m not English, but I feel more at home here than in Cyprus where I spent a great deal of my youth.

I went back there six years ago and came out to my mother. She went completely crazy. That upset me and disconnected me from her and from Cyprus. I’d just broken up with someone too, and was drinking quite a lot.

There’s this bar called Cellar Door that I went to a bit. I met a guy there who was a pianist and we started off doing some shows together there, Battersea Barge and eventually at the RVT.  After a bit I was left without a pianist and the idea came to start using backing tracks and a video screen for this big gig I had coming up. A few people scoffed at the idea but as I used to edit wedding videos, all those glittery, shimmery, tacky backgrounds I’d done were finally going to be useful!

And from that came the idea of using characters, such as the figure of my Mother appearing while I performed, calling me a fudgepacker and telling me I was talentless. Especially as that’s what I thought the audience would think…

Who else in cabaret are you a fan of?

Dickie Beau is fantastic. He unashamedly sings to backing tracks, which gave me the confidence to do it myself. I don’t see why there can’t be a technical aspect to cabaret like there is in other types of performance.

Where do you get your ideas?

My dad and my mum! My mum is obviously the terrifying, larger-than-life character ‘Sharia Law’. Both my parents know I do performances that involve costume, but how much else they know, I don’t really know. My mum recently came back to London and saw the ‘Sharia Law’ mask I perform in by accident. She even picked it up, but she didn’t put it on. That probably would’ve killed me.

How much technical preparation does a show need on average?

I do a new show every two months, and try and squeeze the life out of it. I’d like to do a new show every three months, which would be a healthier amount of time. At the moment you’ve got to create the music, film it, edit it, make all the original artwork – and then there are costumes. All of this is done on my own.

When you’re not tinkering with green screens and performing, what else do you do for work?

I temp. It’s horrible!

Without giving too much away about the ending of this new show, have you any ideas on what the next one will be like?

I’ve got a run in the New Year which will finish the trilogy of the current shows. Being able to articulate my own ideas, have arguments I can’t have in real life with my Mother – they’re not plot devices or plans, they’re just what’s in me. So technically, this stuff’s already been written.

You’re used to performing to smaller, fringe venues like the RVT. Would you like to bring your material to a vast, Sally Morgan stadium audience?

All I’d ultimately love to do is to bring my shows to the Soho Theatre one day, as I love the place. Ninety-nine-and-a-half per cent of what I do is just to make people laugh. There might be thought-provoking things in there but there’s no cerebral, embarrassing, eating-my-own-excrement style stuff. I just want to pat all the straight men on the back, pat the straight women on the arse and fondle and grope and sleep with all the gay men!

Disclaimer: this video contains some nudity.

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Turner Prize 2011 – BALTIC, Gateshead | So So Gay magazine

The Turner Prize – the UK’s most prestigious award for excellence in Contemporary Art – recently upped sticks from its usual Tate-based venues, and travelled up north to the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead. On 21 October, there was an exclusive opening party and the opportunity to get a glimpse at the four shortlisted pieces; naturally enough, So So Gay were at the front of the queue.

‘Moon’ by Hilary Lloyd

The BALTIC is a striking building, a former flour mill with pre-war architecture married lovingly with a modern glass and steel front. Inside is a treasure trove of modern art, with previous exhibitions featuring masterpieces from Yoko Ono, Sam Taylor-Wood, Anish Kapoor and Spencer Tunick. However, for seventy seven days, the third floor of the gallery has been taken over by the Turner Prize, with the four shortlisted artists each displaying their nominated pieces.

Walking into the exhibition, the first entry is that of Modernist sculptor Martin Boyce (featured image). Nominated for his previous solo exhibition in Zurich, his beautifully precise and striking piece Do Words Have Voices forms the centre piece of his trapezial exhibition, with the ceiling disappearing in a forest of white, and the floor scattered with brown crepe paper in the form of abstract leaves.

Karla Black’s ‘Doesn’t Care In Words’

Continuing through, you’re met with an array of LCD monitors suspended around the room, each named by Hilary Lloyd as MoonShirtTower Block and Floor, with each piece featuring a representation of the title. Multiple moons dance around the screen, while buildings glide around. This piece is nigh-on impossible to describe, to fully appreciate the visual wonder presented on the screens, you need to take time out to stand and gaze.

Next up is Karla Black’s Doesn’t Care In Words, a delightfully eclectic mess of paper, pastel, bath bombs, and paint. As it pours down from the ceiling, visitors get the opportunity to walk under the paper, and view the piece from a variety of angles. Chalked and painted acetate-like substances hang down, as paper peaks its way around the room. An enigmatic piece, cleverly presented in the gallery, gives the feeling of being a child again; playing with wrappings from boxes, or weaving your way around this magnanimous display.

On a somewhat smaller scale, but by no means smaller in impression, is the final nomination; a showing of George Shaw’s works from his travelling exhibition. His works are of equal size (allegedly maintaining the dimensions of the television set that Shaw had as a child) and are all constructed using Humbrol Enamel (the same paint used on Airfix models). This gives them a gorgeous hardened look, with a slight gloss. The paintings (which all feature areas on a Coventry housing estate) are all scrupulously painted, with titles such as Landscape with Dog Shit BinPoet’s Day, and The Age of Bullshitprovoking thought.

‘The New Houses’ by George Shaw

After relaxing in the Turner Prize cafe, and watching the Channel 4 artist interviews, we decided to retire to the bar to gaze upon the colourfully lit quayside, and to discuss our findings over a few beers.  The BALTIC has definitely proven that it’s a world class venue on the Contemporary Art scene; fantastic curatorial skills have shone through, amazing support for educational visits has been provided, and working with the Turner Prize Partners, they’ve advertised this exhibition magnificently.

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GT Celebrates 37 years and 400 Issues | So So Gay magazine

Starting out as HIM magazine in 1974, the first ever gay magazine available in the UK, GT (formerly Gay Times) has grown to be the most recognisable authority on LGBT politics and lifestyle in the print media.

On 1 November they launched their 400th issue with pomp. The celebratory edition comes in four different covers featuring Matthew Mitcham, Joe McElderry, Sir Ian McKellen and Lady Gaga. The issue itself will take a look at the best of GT’s articles spanning the near four decades of its existence.

To celebrate this landmark event, GT will be holding an exhibition of some of the best covers of the magazines at So So Gay’s Best Bar of 2010The New Bloomsbury Set. It’s a great opportunity to chart the changes that the publication has gone through during its lifetime, and grab some excellent cocktails while you’re at it.

GT 400 will be held at The New Bloomsbury Set, London, WC1N 1AG, from 4-30 November 2011. Entrance is free. For more information about the exhibition, visit www.gaytimes.co.uk.

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Exhibition Review: GT 400 (New Bloomsbury Set, London) | So So Gay

This month see’s GT (Gay Times) publish their 400th issue in its 37-year history. To celebrate, they have put on an exhibition looking at the magazine from its origins as HIM, including some of the most memorable covers and groundbreaking articles.

Some of the covers indeed range from the striking to the iconic, and there are many articles that concern landmark moments in UK LGBT history over the past four decades, as well as contributions and interviews with celebrities and prominent personalities.

Some standout pieces include Stephen Fry’s letter to himself, an opinion piece from 1997 looking at the prospect of LGBT rights under a New Labour government, the cover commemorating the bombing of the Admiral Duncan in Soho in 1999, a provocative and titillating porn issue cover, and the infamous interview with David Cameron. Also on display is a suit jacket made from GT covers by Saville Row tailor, Sir Tom Baker.

While a definite sense of severity across the exhibition is fitting, given the subject of many of the articles, some may find this isn’t balanced enough by more light hearted material, such as the interview with Kylie Minogue, or the cover featuring celebrated late comedian Kenny Everett. Also, while what’s on display is interesting, it’s perhaps a bit too concise. There’s a sense that the exhibition could really be more comprehensive if space allowed, which would make for a more fulfilling experience.

It’s brilliant to see that GT have chosen The New Bloomsbury Set in central London to host the exhibition, keeping the milestone event within, and supporting, the community. The bar itself is a So So Gay favourite and was declared Best Bar last year in our Best of So So Gay 2010.

However, it’s the venue that lets the exhibition down. The dim lighting and furniture in the way of some pieces makes it quite difficult to read some of the articles on display. It’s slightly awkward to inspect Sir Elton John’s penmanship while looming over a couple enjoying their drinks, or meander around crowded tables to catch a glimpse of all there is to offer. Being an informal social space, the covers and articles themselves could well be no more than decorative wallpaper. Given the saliency and potency of many of the displays, this is almost an injustice.

Yet this really is not only an important exhibition, but a fascinating one at that. It would be great to see this tour to other cities in the UK, and/or move to a more formal art venue to really give it the stance and status that it deserves. But despite the drawbacks of the current venue, it’s still a must for anyone interested in LGBT history, and a kaleidoscopic eye-opener for everyone else.

GT 400 is on display at The New Bloomsbury Set, London, WC1N 1AG, until 30 November 2011. Entrance is free. For more information about the exhibition, visit www.gaytimes.co.uk.

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Track Review: Nicolette Street – ‘Sticks & Stones’ (Reading Pride single) | So So Gay magazine

Reading’s LGBT Pride may not be as well-established or on the same scale as the other major Pride events across the UK, but as one of the country’s largest towns its recognition is on the increase. Now in its ninth year, Reading Pride is releasing a special charity and anti-bullying campaign single entitled ‘Sticks & Stones’, for the first time.

‘Sticks & Stones’ is sung by pop-rock singer Nicolette Street (who has performed with Anastacia, Pixie Lott and Toyah Wilcox) with her band The Revs and was written and produced by Carl Engelmarc (who has previously worked with Backstreet Boys, Celine Dion and Britney Spears). Its soft folk-rock sound is reminiscent of Alanis Morissette while the song’s message about not letting bullies get to you will not of course escape comparisons to the Linda Perry-penned hit, ‘Beautiful’ by Christina Aguilera.

The song’s guitar-driven melody is straightforward but it seems it was understandably sacrificed to allow the thought-provoking lyrics to deliver its obvious yet important message loud and clear. The bridge uses the famous quote: ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones / But words will never hurt me’, while the chorus directly and courageously addresses the bully: ‘Don’t turn to me say I’m a freak / Don’t look at me that way … What a stupid game you play / After all don’t you know / We’re only skin and bone’.

While the lyrics may not be the most original and creative, sometimes it’s the bluntest ones grab people’s attention more so than those that are too deep and ambiguous to decipher. The final one-and-a-half-minutes of the song brings in gospel elements and the repeated lines: ‘Won’t bring me down / Never, never, never / No, no, no’, which are sung with raw soul that helps breathe more life into it, albeit a little late.

‘Sticks & Stones’ is a simple song that is certainly no ‘Beautiful’, but is just as inspiring and full of heart. You can listen to the track below and it is available to download from iTunes, Amazon and Napster now and will also be on sale at Reading Pride on 3 September when Nicolette Street and The Revs will be performing it live. All profits from the single will go towards promoting and helping with anti-bullying in the LGBT community.

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Video review: One Direction – ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ | So So Gay

We were not particularly impressed with One Direction’s debut single ‘What Makes You Beautiful’; it was cheesy, unimaginative and quite a disappointment after so long a wait, but it seems they cannot do any wrong in the eyes of their hardcore fans – predominantly hysterical teenage girls (oh, and of course some of us gay guys). They teased us with a lyrics video to accompany the song and promised a great video would soon be released – and now it’s here. Unfortunately, it is not so great and adds to our dissatisfaction rather than rescues the boys from their mediocre song.

Set around an empty beach in Malibu, we see the five cuties driving an orange campervan along the highway and frolicking along on the coast. Three lucky girls (that’s two that miss out, then, unless they can share) join them and indulge in some PG-rated fun; running and playing in the shallow water and sand, and gathering around a campfire during a gorgeous sunset. The boys do – of course – all look rather adorable, but those hoping to see a little flesh-baring will have to make do with a two-second long glimpse of them splashing around topless in the sea. It is literally a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moment.

Overall, the ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ video is, as we had predicted, one best watched muted, but it’s nothing to get over-excited about. However, what the song lacks in anything the slightest bit likeable, the video makes up for in portraying a stereotypical Americanised summer by the beach with five guys who look like they could easily be Abercrombie & Fitch models if their music careers continue on the path marked by this weak debut single. That is hardly surprising, considering the director, John Urbano, has already worked with the ‘famous for the hottest models’ clothiers for many years. Hopefully the boys’ next direction will not continue downwards.

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Track review: David Guetta ft. Jennifer Hudson – ‘Night Of Your Life’ | So So Gay

French DJ and producer David Guetta has seemingly never failed to create a song that hasn’t lit up the clubs and the charts, and it seems ‘Night Of Your Life’ could help continue his run of success. Featuring R&B powerhouse Jennifer Hudson on vocals, ‘Night Of Your Life’ has recently been released as a promotional single from his upcoming fifth studio album ‘Nothing But The Beat’, out 29 August.

The song’s 20-second intro sounds like subdued trance music and feels slightly out of place before its addictive and thumping – although slightly repetitive – beat comes in. However, it’s not until the blaring chorus kicks in that the song really heats up, despite the striking similarities to Rihanna’s hit ‘Only Girl In The World’. The lyrics are at first defiant and independent-minded: ‘My love ain’t easy/You gon’ have to put in some work/You can’t buy me a drink thinking I’mma fall for your flirt’. Then in the chorus: ‘Love me/Baby, treat me right/Make it eternity and not only one night/If you love ’til the end of time/Then I will promise you the night of your life’ – again, reminiscent of ‘Only Girl’ but as lyrics to dance songs are usually given the back seat, this can be forgiven.

J-Hud, who is better known for her heartfelt and soul-enriched ballads, shows us that her powerful voice is versatile enough to handle more up-tempo tracks as well. She effortlessly belts out the chorus without overdoing it, proving why she is one of today’s best new singers but also begging the question why she is still so underrated as an artist overall.

While it is perhaps not one of his best or most creative songs, and lacks the individuality and ingenuity of the album’s first two official singles ‘Where Them Girls At’ and ‘Little Bad Girl’, ‘Night Of Your Life’ – which sticks closer to Guetta’s original house music roots – is by no means bad. It could still be a club and radio-friendly hit, and Hudson’s guest appearance as the vocalist on this track should give the singer’s profile a positive boost.

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DVD Review: Eating Out 4: Drama Camp | So So Gay magazine

Directed by Q. Allan Brocka, Eating Out 4: Drama Camp is the fourth instalment in the overtly gay comedy film series. This time, couple Zack (Chris Salvatore) and Casey (Daniel Skelton) – who starred in the 2009 predecessor Eating Out 3: All You Can Eat – and their straight friend Jason (Garikayi Mutambirwa) get accepted into Dick Dickie’s summer camp for aspiring drama queens. However, Zack and Casey’s relationship already hits the rocks before they even set off when tall, dark and handsome Zack catches the eye of the undeniably gorgeous Benji (Aaron Milo), which sends jealousy sparks flying from Casey, especially when Zack openly flirts back.

As well as Benji, other happy campers include tough cookie Lilly, a transitional woman (Harmony Santana); quirky Penny (Lilach Mendelovich); snooty Genevieve (Marikah Cunningham) and of course the eccentric and loud Dick Dickie (Drew Droege) himself, who has been celibate for seven-and-a-half-years and controversially bans any sexual contact between anybody. Benji decides to pretend to be straight for the duration of camp to ‘test’ his acting skills as well as to not ruin Zack and Casey’s relationship, but finds it a challenge, and Zack battles his temptation not to cheat on Casey. Luckily for Casey, though, he attracts the attention of the beautiful Beau (Ronnie Kroell), so even if it does all go balls up, at least he has a comforter available.

Aaron Milo as ‘Benji’: one of the many visual highlights of the film, at least.

The main plot involves the jealous and suspicious (but incredibly cute) Casey, who does not like the sizzling chemistry between Zack and Benji and does not believe Benji is really straight, trying to make sure his boyfriend doesn’t cheat and attempting to catch Benji out as a flaming homo. With the help of the crazy and bubbly Penny, they devise ways to find out Benji’s real sexuality, hoping Zack will be put off by his lies but also risking the chance that he would try it on with Benji. While Zack and Casey’s strange relationship – and the perplexing twists it takes throughout the film – is hard to get one’s head around, the more touching and sincere sub-plot sees Jason trying to figure out his own feelings for Lilly. All she wants is a guy who doesn’t play games and just wants relationships to be simple and straightforward like the olden days. Don’t we all?

For those who like to treat these kind of films as basic softcore porn with a ridiculous plot and script, you’ll be pleased to know that Drama Camp does not disappoint in being just that: heavy writing, full frontal (no erections, though) and muscular butt shots are aplenty, as are the masturbation and oral sex scenes. The latter are cleverly (or annoyingly) filmed to disappoint those who think they might as well have made it into a hardcore comedy porno.

Despite the fact none of these guys and girls are going to be winning Oscars for their less than stellar acting any time soon, and although the script constantly flits between cringe-worthy, outrageous, crudely funny, and even completely baffling, Eating Out 4: Drama Camp does not take itself too seriously and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, either. This film is like an even camper, far more overly dramatic and highly sexualised version of Glee, which it references on occasion, and it’s not afraid to be very in-your-face and openly gay about it. It’s brash, over-the-top and cliché-ridden, but Eating Out 4 also has snippets of hilarity, heaps of sexiness and even some quite emotional scenes to balance itself out.