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"The Backlot" Fades Away

Posted on December 20, 2015 at 6:30 PM

By Dennis Stone


I would guess that most everyone reading this has had the experience of going back to visit a place where they formerly lived, and reminiscing about some of the good times from that time and place. I would also guess that most people who have done that have encountered a situation where the location has dramatically changed, or has even been torn down.


I just tried to go back in time myself by visiting “The Backlot” website for the first time in several months. Alas, it’s not the place I remember, and seems to be in a process of being demolished. The first thing I noticed was that the look of the place was entirely different, though the feel was less that of rejuvenation than the feeling you get when a classic piece of architecture is replaced by a soulless building with sleek lines and “contemporary” style. The second thing I noticed was that Ed Kennedy’s iconic “Morning Meme” was no longer appearing.


Research showed that Ed wrote his last Meme on October 25, following the merger of “The Backlot” with “NewNowNext,” another entertainment based website owned by Logo. Longtime editor Dennis Ayers also departed, replaced by Dan Avery, who is editing both sites. “The Backlot” no longer has its own unique URL. Rather, it is now simply a subset of the “NewNowNext” site. In other words, “The Backlot” no longer actually exists in reality.


I never stopped thinking of “The Backlot” as “AfterElton,” its original name from its creation in 2005 until the name change in 2013. The site is a very important part of my life. I discovered it in August 2007, shortly after the first kiss between Luke and Noah on “As the World Turns.” I immediately recognized the kiss as a milestone event, and in looking around the internet for reaction I discovered AfterElton. I remember being rather shocked by the vitriol many commenters expressed about the kissing scene. I don’t actually recall the nature of the negativity, but it had something to do with the scene not going far enough, or being too late in coming, or something. It was inadequate and disappointing, and people were angry.




I thought people were not seeing the issues properly, so I signed up as a member and left a nicely reasoned comment explaining why. I then left town for the weekend with no internet access. When I got home Sunday night I was surprised by the fact that I was being roundly attacked by almost everyone. Not being shy about disagreeing with people, I fought back. Eventually I started commenting about many other subjects. Unfortunately, at that time I was too belligerent and too unwilling to see both sides of issues, and I made more than a few enemies. I decided to quit the site, and so I had my membership terminated.


I couldn’t stay away, though. Here’s a fact that I’ve never revealed to anyone. I re-signed up as another user, with a different profile and different name. And also with a new persona of being more reserved and more accommodating of other points of view. And guess what? I learned that such an outlook is a huge improvement over trying to push my agenda with no consideration of others. In essence I became a new person.


Eventually I came back as myself, but I was indeed changed. And then “Glee” came along and began to dominate the site. It also became a big part of my online gay life, as I anticipated each show, and then engaged on “AfterElton” in what seemed like never-ending debates about its merits. I must have made some good points, because editor Michael Jensen approached me about writing an article for the site about the show. Unfortunately, I was then in the worst part of my recovery from staph infections in both eyes (including partial disability at work), and I couldn’t commit to something that computer intensive.


Not long after that, Michael and his partner and co-editor Brent Hartinger left the site, which seemed to be moving toward a lighter, less substantive format. I complained about it in a comment, and new editor Dennis Ayers approached me about writing substantive pieces for the site. I therefore began work on the piece that became “In My Tribe: Gay Culture, Traditionalists, and the ‘New Wave’.” Dennis was having issues with it, and we went back and forth about changes and different directions. In the meantime, in a burst of inspiration, I wrote the piece titled “Advice To Gleeks: Get a Life” in one evening. It was published within a week (on May 22, 2012), and generated a large audience and huge controversy. Many readers were deeply offended, but others thought I nailed the phenomenon perfectly.


On June 7, 2012 the “In My Tribe” piece appeared, and was then reprinted in two parts by “LGBTQ Nation.” It also generated a large audience and spirited response. I began work on a third piece. Unfortunately, around that time it was announced that “AfterElton” was changing its name to “The Backlot.” It also developed that the nature of the site was becoming lighter and more entertainment based. I finished my third piece, which Dennis Ayers rejected within hours. Further communication made it clear that my type of writing no longer fit the site. My third piece was called “Why Do We Watch Bad TV Shows Just Because They Have Gay People In Them,” and after some re-writing eventually appeared on this site.


I tried to remain a contributing member to “The Backlot,” but I was losing interest. I then hatched the plan for this site. Once work on this site began I simply didn’t have much time to contribute comments to “The Backlot.” Eventually I ceased visiting altogether. Until now. I thought it would be fun to visit such an important part of my past. But, like two of my childhood homes, it now exists only in my memory.


Though, actually, a part of the site remains. As I said, “The Backlot” name still exists, and it has its own page as a subset of “NewNowNext.” The daily column “Briefs,” written by Snicks, still exists. Anthony Langford still writes a column about soap operas. And some of the old regular commenters I remember from years ago are still making comments. The best part is that the nature of the commenter community remains relatively intelligent, mature and respectful to one another. And that’s not a meager endorsement. Just look at the comment sections of other sites. I’ve never encountered a comment community like that of “AfterElton.” Especially after I grew up and started to think about the other person’s perspective before posting. The merger occurred recently, and it will be interesting to see if the nature of the commenter community survives.


“You can’t go home again,” the novelist Thomas Wolfe told us in the title of a 1940 novel. In my life I’ve found that to be generally true. And it’s true of “AfterElton,” the site I owe so much about my current place in the gay world. It gave me friends, it launched my writing career, it helped me understand in a broader way the gay world around me, it helped me to mature and grow up. But it’s now essentially gone, and I’ll have to find new “special places.” The good news is that there are always new special places to be found.



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8 Comments

Reply Mike
11:19 PM on January 20, 2017 
P.S. 2 - Just realized that an old great article is still there: http://www.newnownext.com/why-cant-you-just-butch-up-gay-men-effe
minacy-and-our-war-with-ourselves/06/2009/

That's the kind of stuff I miss. And another one that I remembered: http://www.newnownext.com/cbs-president-nina-tassler-on-networks-
lack-of-gay-visibility-we-want-to-do-better-yet-somehow-they-dont
/08/2009/

Michael was our only voice at those TCA events. He pressed those network people and I feel like he's an unsung hero given the improvement over the years.
Reply Mike
11:06 PM on January 20, 2017 
Dennis, so glad you read my post. I couldn't resist doing a bit of research and here's what I "discovered".

The last official post under The Backlot "franchise" is an old article about The Devil Wears Prada by Louis Virtel, who had left the site well before the merger. Strangely though, if you click on his name you won't find all his previous posts, only a few random ones. And there are a bunch of posts made by snicks, Ed Kennedy and Lyle Masaki listed separately, which are dated after the "vanishing". So basically their archiving system is a mess, but I still can't believe there wasn't a final, properly done post acknowledging the value of AfterElton/The Backlot.

I clicked on several recent posts made by the current NewNowNext team (Dan Avery, who overtook Dennis Ayers' job after the transition, is still there). The majority don't have any comments and the ones that do, aren't exactly popular either, so it seems like their incredibly insensitive decision to simply throw away a decade's worth of activity by an engaged community didn't pay off. What a surprise. And yet, somehow, Logo still finds it reasonable to spend money on the site. How does that make any sense?!

Anyway, it really is such a shame that something so meaningful will have to remain in the past and that new readers who come across the History of AfterElton/The Backlot won't be able to fully grasp the experience we had without the comments...

P.S. I just had to reread your Glee article. As a fellow Gleek, I can easily remember the heated discussions...some people really took it way, way too seriously. But unlike that Shatner quote about Star Trek being just a TV show, AfterElton was definitely not just a site and we were lucky to have been a part of it.
Reply Dennis Stone
7:02 PM on January 19, 2017 
Mike - I just checked out JoeMyGod for the first time in awhile, and I take back my recommendation that you check them out. The comment sections are nothing but insults and no-thought reaction to whatever article they are commenting on. Everyone thinks exactly the same way, so the comments are just mindless reinforcement of what everyone already thinks. There is simply no substance there at all.
Reply Dennis Stone
6:41 PM on January 19, 2017 
Mike - One of the good features of this site is that I'm notified when someone makes a post. Otherwise I may never have gone back to this article again. I totally share your feelings, and I discovered myself not long ago that there were no new pieces appearing at all under "The Backlot" name. I didn't know the archived comments had disappeared from the articles. That really is a shame. I have still never encountered a site with the commenter community that site had.

The only site that has any sort of community thing going on a substantive basis is joemygod.com. However, I have major difficulties with that site because it's mostly political and the commenter "family" seems really rigid, and not tolerant of opinions outside their narrow parameters. They are a quintessential example of the "bubble" that we've been hearing more and more about lately.

At one time Ulysses Dietz and I considered changing this site to an overt "roundtable" type site, with both of us recruiting the people we were still in contact with from AfterElton. The idea was to throw out ideas or concepts, and then have us all engage in discussion. We never followed through, of course, as you can tell.

I'm very unhappy to say that I think the AfterElton experience might have been a once in a lifetime experience.
Reply Mike
2:51 PM on January 19, 2017 
Hi, Dennis

Not sure you're gonna read this, but I hope you do. Only today I found out TheBacklot had officially come to an end, not even a proper end, it just seems to have been abandoned since last summer. For various reasons I also stopped visiting the site and while I was aware of the NewNowNext merger, I still had some hope it would last.

I feel guilty somehow, even though I know there's nothing I could've possibly done. I guess it's more about not having shown enough gratitude for the writers and collaborators who made AfterElton such an important part of my life. Now everyone's moved on and all that's left of that place, which I'll always treasure, are the archives.

What stings even more than the inglorious end is that all the comments have been deleted, a consequence of what I assume was some reckless format change. 10 years and hundreds of thousands of comments vanished! That's just so depressing...

I know there are other sites on the internet, but that community is something that can't be replaced. Is there anything even remotely close to what AE was out there? I'd really like to know because right now I feel very sad.
Reply Ulysses Dietz
7:22 PM on January 17, 2016 
Here we're on the same (web)page, Dennis. I loved AfterElton, and mourn its passing. I made friends - including you - there and in some measure it changed (improved) my life. I still keep in touch with Michael and Brent...and other friends who shared AfterElton with us.
Reply Dennis Stone
5:17 PM on January 16, 2016 
Sigh....Even though I know that everything is ephemeral it still makes me sad when important parts of my life go away, and TBL is in that category.

[Hue-Man]
About 15 years ago, I made a pilgrimage to the site of my childhood home - it had been moved to another location and the site bulldozed. I had trouble recognizing any landmarks from 13 years of my youth. I wasn't particularly disturbed by it, accepting it as a reminder that nothing stays the same.
Reply Hue-Man
7:36 PM on January 15, 2016 
About 15 years ago, I made a pilgrimage to the site of my childhood home - it had been moved to another location and the site bulldozed. I had trouble recognizing any landmarks from 13 years of my youth. I wasn't particularly disturbed by it, accepting it as a reminder that nothing stays the same.

I have similar feelings regarding the demise of AE - the writers and the commenters made an effort to have a conversation on a (usually) rational basis. TBL exists today as an after-thought; I assume an accountant has worked out that there are more visitors to NNN with TBL than without. I feel no inclination to visit the rest of the site once TBL is consigned to the deep.