How do we look at ourselves objectively? What if we’re not getting what we need? Are we allowed to change? These are some of the questions tackled by History, a web series created by Jack Tracy with Necessary Outlet Productions. The six episode series follows Jamie, a thirty-something New York lawyer who has recently broken up with Jared, his boyfriend of five years. The show intersperses the present, where Jamie is navigating his new single life, with flashbacks to his relationship; each glimpse of the past offers a new piece of information that both complicates and clarifies the character. Though the show centers on Jamie’s dating life, it’s also a story about friendships, being young in New York, and the challenging process of realizing who we are and what we want.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Tracy over email about the importance of self-reflection, the question of authenticity, and the trap of serving too many masters.
Carrie Mullins: This question of learning and evolving from our past — or being dragged down by it — is a major theme of the show. What made you decide to create a web series around this conceit?
Jack Tracy: I wanted to emphasize the importance of self-reflection, which is something I try very hard to integrate into my daily life. Plenty of people go to therapy, plenty of people use friends as therapy, but in my experience it’s exceptionally rare for a person, aided or un-aided, to actually look back at the common themes in their life or current behaviors and say, “Oh, this is why I do that” — let alone make changes because of it.
It’s so important to do because that’s how you grow as a person. And it’s so difficult because inherent in that sort of reflection is an admission of fault or weakness or willful blindness. It’s not fun to call yourself out, it’s much easier to judge others. But to become a better person than the one you are today, and we all have room for improvement, checking yourself, without indicting yourself for what you might uncover as a “flaw”, is vital.
checking yourself, without indicting yourself for what you might uncover as a “flaw”, is vital
So I wanted my show not only to champion self-reflection, but also to show that it can be a reward in and of itself. Self-awareness alone, even if you can’t fix what you’ve identified quite yet, is great. It’s OK to just realize why things tend to go a certain way for you, accept the admission, and move forward with that knowledge. It’s quite empowering.
Photographs: Necessary Outlet Productions
CM: Jamie is the heart of the show. Can you talk a little about the process of creating his story? You’re a lawyer as well, is that correct? Did you bring any of your own experiences to the writing?
JT: The story is based off of my own experiences as reflected through Jamie, which is actually my mother’s name. I am named after my father, but my mother has been the guiding parental force in my life and so I thought it was only appropriate that I name my fictional self after her.
I went through a breakup, and aftermath, very similar to Jamie’s and I actually wrote all six episodes of the show while I was going through most of what is depicted as “the present” timeline in History — meeting the real life Will, Matthew and Ted, who all very much exist. So does Dog — Matthew’s cat — whose real name is Food and who plays Dog in images in the show. That was all about 3 1/2 years ago.
Emotionally, I was probably at the lowest I’d ever been. In fact, it’s really hard to see Facebook trudge up the old posts on their anniversaries — my disastrous move, announcing the breakup, seeing the friends peel away — because now I see just how fragile I was at the time by the complete destruction of my day-to-day life in nearly every respect. But, I was able to have enough awareness at the time to realize that those feelings are valuable creatively. I was also just starting to explore screenwriting at the time so I said to myself, write your story, and everything you feel while you still feel it, before you forget it, in hopes that it would become useful one day. Three years later when I achieved a good quality of life, I decided it was time to bring it to life.
And yes, I am still a lawyer! I run a legal analysis department for a market-leading business intelligence service. But artistic expression is a necessity for me, I’ve learned, and so to foster my need for a creative outlet I created “Necessary Outlet Productions” to produce works like History.
Photographs: Necessary Outlet Productions
CM: History employs flashbacks to create the emotional backstory for Jamie. They let you explore the issues around his relationship with Jared. Can you talk a little about juxtaposing his life as a single guy versus one in a long term relationship?
JT: Well for Jamie, his relationship with Jared was him “playing house” in his 20s. He did what society told him would make him happy — find a good looking guy of equal financial means, get a nice apartment on the Upper West Side, take fun vacations, climb social ladders, network, eat at fancy restaurants, and go to nice parties. And while Jamie and Jared may have been happy to start, may have had a connection as really great friends, it soured because of all the things that weren’t there that Jamie was made to feel he was wrong to ask for in the first place. The things that really matter to him — unwavering loyalty and sexual chemistry. Things that he was made to believe — by society, by others — were expectations that he should give up on because he was getting everything else from Jared. Jamie believed his friendships were just how friendships worked, that sex just wanes in any relationship, and to ask for more from friends was unreasonable and to prioritize sex was morally bankrupt.
And at the same time all that is going on, Jamie is learning and accepting his own “gayness.” Jamie and Jared were in their 20s, so not only were they maturing as young adults but they were also getting comfortable with what it was to be gay. Dealing with and slowly shedding all of that ingrained homophobia that I think most gay people my age are burdened with — even if you are out and proud as early as high school. There’s still something inside you that labels certain interests or mannerisms as “too gay” or “too queeny” — things that you must steer clear of to be acceptable, things that are unattractive in yourself and others, things that even make you a “lesser” gay in the pecking order. And while Jamie was slowly abandoning all of that external judgment in favor of just being himself, Jared wasn’t going with him on that journey. So while the relationship was strained due to what was missing, at the same time Jared was becoming Jamie’s biggest critic as they grew apart, sowing further discord.
Single Jamie, on the other hand, does what makes him happy. He’s more comfortable in what it means for him to be gay, recognizes other people on their journeys, and surrounds himself with people who make him happy — not the people who society might tell him he should be with or he might benefit from socially or economically. He’s rejected that any way but his way is the right way for him, defends it fiercely and challenges anyone to tell him otherwise.
CM: How do you go about trying to authentically portray the culture and lives of young gay men in New York City?
JT: The difficulty is there is no single authentic depiction — there is only ever a depiction that is accurate to some. My problem with media depictions of gay life to date was that it never captured what was authentic to my personal experience. Everyone’s either too pretty and perfect or too messy. Too sexual or too asexual. Too “masc” or too “queeny.”
I think audiences find extremes entertaining partly because it’s comfortable to set them apart from yourself and say either “oh I wish I was that” or “oh god I’m so much better than that.” Extremes are also easier to portray, but there is danger in perpetuating stereotypes. And then avoiding stereotypes has it’s own problems because they are born from some element of truth. Gio, in History, is a Broadway-obsessed queen. I know that person, so you can’t tell me he’s a stereotype because, well, I know him. But you have that to think about as well.
With History, the goal is for every audience member to find someone they relate to, or at the very least someone they know. To be able to say, “Oh, I know exactly who that person is.” And in order to do that, that means there are no heroes and no villains. You might love Jamie for his loyalty but hate him for his attitude towards hookups. You might love Will for his big heart but be critical of his views of masculinity. In the same way you accept and reject things about people in your own life. I’ve done my best to make everyone as complicated as possible — to give you something you love about them and hate about them. That’s what makes them, and the world of History, authentic.
Photographs: Necessary Outlet Productions
CM: LGBTQ relationships are becoming more common in mainstream media, but unfortunately they’re still the exception. What are the challenges for LGBTQ content creators?
JT: I think you can fall into the trap of serving too many masters. First, the breadth of the audience you want. The more “mainstream” you make your story, the less it will ring true to your LGBTQ audience and the more likely you’ll be called a sell-out. The more LGBTQ you make it, the more you might alienate the “mainstream.” Second, LGBTQ is a lot of letters (and I’d add IA) so if you focus on G, are you not properly servicing L, B, T, Q, I and A? Then go beyond that — what about different ages in those groups? Races? Cultures? Religions? Economic circumstances? You can spin in circles trying to make sure you are serving all of these masters, because someone is inevitably going to complain that they are not being served by your piece, and the LGBTQIA community, by being so historically underserved, wants every LGBTQIA piece they see to service them, specifically.
I serve no master but myself, and I get to rely on the fact that the story is based off of my own life experiences. If someone wants to tell me that I’m not being helpful enough to the gay agenda, or I’m not relating enough to a broader audience, or I’m not as inclusive of letters other than “G” — I can just say, “Hey, this is how it happened, more or less, I’m just telling my truth.” And as I keep hearing about the show from viewers, the more you forget about any master and just tell the truth, the more people will relate to it. This is a show about certain types of gay people living a certain type of gay life, but the underlying truths — rejection, loss, gender conformity, love, loyalty and friendship — they apply to everyone. The truth serves everyone, and people know truth when they see it.
this is a show about certain types of gay people living a certain type of gay life, but the underlying truths — rejection, loss, gender conformity, love, loyalty and friendship — they apply to everyone
CM: Unlike many web series, History’s episodes are approximately 30 minutes, which make them closer in format to traditional TV. How did you decide on this versus shorter episodes?
JT: When I wrote the scripts, I had no eye towards length — I just wanted to tell the story in a way that made sense and convey the ideas I wanted to convey. Our shortest episode is 22 min and our longest episode is 32 min. The 22 min episode, if stretched to match the others, would feel unnecessary. And I think there’s very little fat to cut from the longer episodes — you’d eliminate key storytelling moments.
But isn’t that the beauty of internet distribution? The rules of TV are driven by advertising and programming schedule blocks that I don’t have to pay attention to. I think the brevity concern for web content was that the viewer was expected to consume it either on mobile or while doing something else on the computer. But that isn’t true anymore. My Vimeo and YouTube accounts are on my TV, my DVR is connected to my phone…does it really matter anymore? If it’s something worth sitting down and watching, you’ll go sit down and watch it, even if it’s distributed like a web series. The relationship between the two should mean nothing to a viewer. It’s the content that matters, because you can get anything anywhere you want it. Let the content dictate the form.
If it’s something worth sitting down and watching, you’ll go sit down and watch it, even if it’s distributed like a web series
CM: Do you have any recommendations for must-watch web series?
JT: I have to be honest, I made a concerted effort not to watch a single web series when I decided to do History, which probably sounds terrible. As History was my first step into this world, I didn’t want to become influenced by the way other people presented their shows, especially since History is based on my life. I especially steered clear of any gay web series so that if someone wanted to make a comparison that another show did something similar or did it better or did it more effectively — I honestly wouldn’t know. I just wanted to be able to present my case uninhibited.
So instead, I’ll leave you with some, in my view, classic web programming that the younger gays may not have stumbled upon yet: Very Mary Kate, Jessica & Hunter and Sassy Gay Friend. I quote them to this day.
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February 16, 2017