On May 17, Black Sheep debuted the official trailer of their new, straight-to-YouTube reality dating show, Sparks Camp. And although they have yet to release the first episode, the show has already been met with so much criticism (mostly from “gay twitter”) and started an online discourse on diversity and representation – basically just another Wednesday night on Twitter!
So we checked out the trailer to see for ourselves what the fuss is all about, and here’s a rundown of our thoughts on the Philippines’ first-ever “BL dating reality show”.
What’s with the BL tag?
Grab a seat and prepare to sip because the dramuhhh starts early this season! 🍵
See you on #SparksCamp, the Philippines’ first-ever BL dating reality show, this #May24 and catch us every Wednesday, 8 PM, on Black Sheep’s YouTube channel! pic.twitter.com/EJlEI4zjoA
— Black Sheep (@Black_SheepPH) May 17, 2023
Why not just call it the Philippines’ first-ever gay dating reality show? Because BL or Boys’ Love is a genre of fictional media, guys. Yes, homoerotic and romantic relationships between men are the centerpiece of BL but, last we checked, it’s not an umbrella term for everything that involves boys and love.
Calling it a BL dating reality show not only screams as an obvious attempt to piggyback on the genre’s growing popularity, but it also co-opts the work done by those who invented and upheld BL (mostly queer women, by the way) regardless of whether it fits the bill in the first place, let alone its creators understand it.
No, it doesn’t have to be diverse.
Probably a hot take, but watching the trailer, I was fine with the cast. I hoped for different body types but wasn’t so upset to have found none. And yes, I know this is certainly because I, like many of us, have been trained to accept that only certain body types and certain looks get to be on such shows. But if we’re going to ask a gay reality dating show for diversity, where’s that energy for Love Island, The Bachelor, and every other dating show in existence? So no, I didn’t really have a problem that it wasn’t diverse…
…until I saw Black Sheep call it diverse.
10 diverse guys?! Looking for spark?! Outdoors?! With DRAMA?! I’m SEATED. 🪑
From the acclaimed director Ted Boborol comes #SparksCamp this #May24 on Black Sheep’s YT channel. pic.twitter.com/gn4BEEEC32
— Black Sheep (@Black_SheepPH) May 14, 2023
Sparks Camp calls its cast a diverse set of guys and Twitter isn’t having it. And honestly? Same.
I mean, sure, technically, diverse can mean guys who come from different backgrounds, I guess. But we all know that in the grand conversation of queer representation in the media, diverse means more than “not all of them are from Metro Manila”! And let’s be honest, this choice was deliberate. This choice was informed by said conversation on diversity and inclusivity, the call for visibility of all sorts of queer body types, colors, and expressions. And for production to use the word despite being far from delivering is worth calling out.
In defense of problematic casting…
Diversity issues aside, Twitter doesn’t seem to be a fan of the show’s casting choices, with one cast member in particular receiving heat. Now although we’re surely not defending people for their problematic behavior and we can’t presume to know the cast personally to judge their character, we can’t say we’re surprised because big, polarizing personalities are a reality show staple. Can you even imagine the amount of memes we wouldn’t have without them?
Besides, the challenge of any storyteller – and yes, reality show producers are storytellers – is to stretch the audience’s ability to empathize with characters, especially the most problematic ones. It’ll be interesting to see whether the show manages to do that for cast members people have already decided they dislike. And yeah, growth over getting “canceled”, always.
A good choice of host
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It’s honestly nice to see an empowered woman like Mela Habijan, who’s consistent and diligent in her work as an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, get her coins on this show. With her onboard, one can pretty much rest assured that at least the face of the production is actually doing the groundwork for the community and is not just here for the quick buck.
That being said, we do hope she handles the very valid criticisms about the show better hereon and stops defending it at every turn.
Here for the drama
Disagreements with a lot of their marketing choices aside, Sparks Camp’s trailer still does manage to entice with its tease of the show’s mechanics, location, and of course, the drama.
See, a lot of people are bemoaning as early as now how these gay guys will be annoying on this show, but some of us don’t mind. We don’t exactly watch reality dating shows to see our ideal selves, right? Mess is what makes the most iconic reality show moments iconic, after all. And even if they all prove to be annoying, a lot of straight people are annoying on reality shows, too! We’re all for equality, and now this many gay people are allowed to be annoying on TV? I think that’s beautiful. Chariz!
PSA: Not all queer media is for every queer person
In all seriousness, it should be understandable if certain members of the community do not support Sparks Camp. If this isn’t for them, we hope there are pieces of queer media that suit them, then. And to the team behind this show, it’s understandable if you don’t get to cover all the bases of the queer community, too. We’re sure that there’ll be those who’ll feel seen by the show, though.
The thing is there’s been such a huge pressure on queer creators to represent the community and represent it well in the media and, in turn, such a huge pressure on queer consumers to support every queer media out there as a means to demonstrate our power. I think this is why we tend to be so critical of every queer content that comes out and why it hurts queer creators when their works feel neglected. As our battle for equality’s far from over, the community wants our best to be out there now while the creators want the community to support what for now is their best.
May the community find comfort in knowing that their queerness does not oblige them to support every queer content out there. May queer creators find fulfillment in knowing they’ll still be able to represent some of us, albeit never all. May our goal be to saturate the market with as many stories about as many of us as possible, until all of us find something that speaks to our unique experience as queer folks.
Will we watch it?
Oh, yes. Our arms are folded, our eyes squinted, but we are on the couch with popcorn and Twitter app at the ready—yes.
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