Alibi V.25 No.11 • March 17-23, 2016 

Idiot Box

Go Gay

“Gaycation” on Viceland

Somewhere at the nexus of gonzo journalism, adventure travel, post-punk millennialism and “Jackass”-inspired pranksterism, sits Vice magazine. A couple of weeks ago, the magazine/website/publishing company/record label partnered up with oddball indie filmmaker Spike Jonze and the A&E Networks to take over and rebrand History Channel 2 as Viceland. The new cable channel specializes in basically the same documentary/reality shows as its competition.—but with an added layer of immersion journalism and hipster hosts. Music video director Lance Bangs takes on underground comics in “Flophouse.” Jewish rapper from Queens Action Bronson does the food travel thing in “F**k, That’s Delicious.” Vice correspondent and “international adventurer” Krishna Andavolu examines the stoner lifestyle in “Weediquette.” And newly formed gay icon Ellen Page explores the worldwide LGBT community in “Gaycation.”

“Gaycation” is a fine example of Viceland’s house style. Its host, Ms. Page, is known mostly as an indie film actor (Hard Candy, Juno, Super). She’s also a self-professed vegan, atheist and feminist. In 2014 she came out as gay during a speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s “Time to Thrive” conference. With “Gaycation,” she joins her best friend Ian Daniel traveling the world and seeing how gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people live. The show has a touch of the usual travel show gloss, with the hosts gobbling local cuisine, going to parties, visiting the beach. But it’s got a much more serious undercurrent.

In Brazil, for example, Ellen and Ian attend Carnival. Brazil has an extremely high percentage of openly “out” LGBT people. During Carnival you can’t go more than a block without spotting a group of scantily dressed transsexual revelers. However, Brazil also has one of the highest homophobic murder rates on the planet. In between cruising gay bars, Ellen and Ian talk to the families of murder victims and even quiz a former police officer who casually claims to have killed dozens of gay people. This is not, it must be noted, the happiest of vacations.

Whether they’re in Brazil or Japan or Jamaica, the hosts encounter vibrant, happy, tightly connected communities of gay people. As one person points out, “If you think you live in a place with no gay people, you’re wrong.” Sadly, however, no country is without its ingrained prejudices, fears, hatreds. To their credit, Ellen and Ian do their best to dig up and directly confront these sociocultural struggles. “Gaycation” will open your eyes—but it probably won’t put you in the mood to travel.

Page, who narrates each show, makes for an interesting host. Dressed mostly like Beaver Cleaver, she comes across as curious and crusading. But she’s also quite shy in real life. Watching her dodge the advances of various intoxicated women at lesbian bars around the globe is rather entertaining. Like a lot of Vice’s “correspondents” Ellen and Ian are somewhat unschooled in traditional journalism. This makes them open-minded and considerably unjaded. At times, however, they’re clearly in over their heads.

“Gaycation” is a sometimes uneven mixture of LGBT travel boosterism and reality-confronting journalism. If it occasionally fails to balances the light and the dark in equal measure, it at least gets points for approaching its topic with empathy and intelligence.

“Gaycation” airs Wednesdays at 8pm on Viceland.