When the trailer for Fire Island — Logo's upcoming reality show about six gay men summering in the fabled queer enclave — dropped in March, it generated a lot of buzz. The 90-second clip promised "cocktails, sunshine, boys" in a dizzying display of abs and attitude. Saturday Night Live even spoofed it in a skit, "Cherry Grove," which showed a group of women exhibiting "affluent lesbian" stereotypes.
Of course, the series immediately had its critics. In an op-ed for The Advocate, trainer Jason Wimberly bemoaned reality television as an "exploitive and actually rather reckless" medium that capitalizes on the worst kind of depictions.
In the article, Wimberly voiced a fear that shows like Fire Island could actually encourage bad behavior in the communities they portray. He also worried about the public-relations impact of broadcasting a niche group of gay people to the world.
"In a time with so many of our rights being challenged daily, LGBT people must choose to elevate public perception of us as best as we can," Wimberly stated. "We are above this sort of mindless 'It doesn’t matter, it’s just a show' dialogue. It does matter."
At the New York premiere of Fire Island, the cast members responded to Wimberly and other critics on social media who claimed the show is bad for gay representation.
"Six guys can never represent everyone," said Khasan Brailsford. He added, "It’s lighthearted, and you can’t take everything too seriously. ... Tune in. Make your own decision before you criticize."
"I think that [the criticism is] all for naught," said Justin Russo. "Fire Island has been around since the 1930s. ... It’s been in the spotlight for decades. There’s 90 seconds [in the trailer], so of course it’s going to be a little more exploitive. But if you watch the show and you take a look at what’s going on, you’ll see that it’s much deeper. ... So enjoy it."
"I find it kind of ironic that we’re trying to build each other up within the gay community [and we receive that kind of criticism]," said Cheyenne Parker. "Regardless of what we’re doing, we’re not harming anyone. And I would never have played a part in something like that."
"I’m so happy and so proud of this project, and so confident in it," Parker added. "I’ve seen a couple episodes, and I’m like, living, it's great."
Peppermint, a contestant this season on RuPaul's Drag Race, said there is truth in many stereotypes. Those with stereotypical behavior also deserve representation, she argued, and sometimes the images we loathe are the ones staring back in the mirror.
"The flamboyant stereotypical gay hairdresser isn’t the kind of person we want to see on every representation of gay men," she said. "But that person still exists, so they should have a space and a place in our media existence as well."
There's also an upside to controversy. Several members of the Jersey Shore cast, who walked alongside those from Fire Island on the red carpet, attested to as much when they spoke with The Advocate.
"Bad press is good press," said Sammi "Sweetheart" Giancola. "Whether people are talking about you, bad or good, they’re talking about you."
"It’s almost like you made it. Because then the trolls come out," said Jennifer "JWoww" Farley, who had some advice for the Fire Island crew: "Take the criticism with a grain of salt because you’re not doing anything bad."
"I think that our bad publicity was the best thing that ever happened to our show, because it puts more eyeballs on it," said Vinny Guadagnino, who cautioned viewers to save their criticism for individuals rather than make blanket critiques. Guadagnino pointed to his own track record as a positive representation for Italian-Americans that defied stereotypes.
"The real people who watch the show will understand who you are," he concluded.
Fire Island airs April 27 on Logo TV. Revisit the trailer below.