BuzzFeed’s viral arm is infamous for trying just about anything to unearth traffic gold, but in recent weeks the video team has alighted on a particular … let’s say content sub-vein … that’s caught Outward’s interest. Which, given that the series of videos all involve straight (or seemingly straight) guys doing kinda gay stuff, is not surprising. So far, BuzzFeed has had dude-friends looking at each other naked, straight guys judging the attractiveness of male celebrities, and most recently, dudes making out with other dudes. These have all done relatively well sharing-wise, which raises the question: Why does BuzzFeed think we want to see this? What is it about watching straight guys doing gay things that’s so appealing?
On a first pass, two fairly straightforward emotional explanations come to mind. BuzzFeed is clearly playing, for one thing, with at least the suggestion of pornography. To be sure, the men are not porn-star attractive, nor are the scenarios particularly sexual; but still, something about the kissing and the nakedness does touch on the allure that “straight-to-gay”-style gay porn—which capitalizes on the idea that straight men are seducible under the right circumstances—holds for many viewers. On the other hand, there’s a sweetly endearing aspect to the segments: The men are clearly feeling bashful about activities that, from a gay point-of-view, are laughably low-stakes, so it’s hard not to feel a certain amount of puppy-dog pity for them. That BuzzFeed’s producers have been able to cast and shoot these micro-docs in a way that encourages responses both erotic and tender is a credit to their powers of manipulation.
But beyond that heady mix, I think there’s another layer worth noting. Straight guys, despite being the so-called “norm,” can feel, paradoxically, like the most mysterious kind of person, especially to those of us who are not straight or not guys. Their motivations often seem opaque, their fears—especially around homosocial intimacy—outsized, and their actions inexplicable. Being on the margins of society in one way or another means that you will be looked at, noted, and examined for your difference. Traditionally, straight guys have existed in the dead center, and so there’s something brilliant about turning the camera back on them and placing stress on the very quality—male heterosexuality—that defines that centeredness.
This, of course, is just another way of saying that straight masculinity remains one of the most policed parts of our culture, and so it’s no surprise that transgressing those boundaries will translate to page views. I can’t say whether BuzzFeed is really interested in transgression or simply uncomfortable LOLs, but in making these weird videos, they’ve created clickbait that just so happens to graze, affectionately and awkwardly, against something profound.