Pop culture treasure, high culture trash.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Radicalism begins at home

Brokeback Mountain. I love it. I love that the leads cruise each other in the very first scene without even knowing they're doing it. I love that everybody in my theater gasped and yelled, "Oh shit!" in unision when Alma caught Ennis & Jack making out. I love that Ang Lee allows his characters to have complicated motivations and histories and desires that cannot be covered by the labels 'gay' and 'straight.' Yes, it is polite, yes, it leaves envelopes unpushed, but the encouraging fact remains that this mainstream film threatening to win several Academy awards features Heath Ledger greedily fucking Jake Gyllenhaal. As the Philly City Paper nailed it, "It's one thing to have circuit boys bang each other on the gay-fest circuit; quite another to have hot young stars cradle each other's faces at the multiplex."

Are Ennis & Jack gay, bi, or confused? The film doesn't know, and god bless it, it doesn't care. What it cares about is exploring modern American high masculinity and the toll it takes on men forced to obey its codes of emotional straightjacketing, stoicism and denial. Nobody has been able to deal intelligently with this in the last 10 years, except maybe Todd Haynes, and it needs attention now. If a couple of blow job scenes had to wind up on the cutting room floor in order for this movie to make it to screens and inspire even a handful of phobic football dudes to reexamine their asssumptions about what it means to be a man or a homo, then I say hot damn. Did we really need a gay Brown Bunny?

Snaps also to BB Mountain for the sweetest, saddest credits music of recent memory: Willie Nelson blithely queering the folkie standard "He Was A Friend of Mine" followed by her majesty Rufus Wainwright. All of us queer types in the Uptown were sitting there sniffling, "Totes, totes" through our tears.

My full film response, clarification & Foucauldian hoedown available here.


Lizzie said...


one thing i am increasingly supportive of is the idea that sexual orientation as it has been constructed since the late 19th century is completely inadequate--harmful, even--because it takes this incredibly nuanced, complicated and individual thing called sexuality and flattens it and pinches it off to the point where it can't begin to represent people's real, lived sexual experiences. and when it doesn't, people feel guilty or weird. sexuality is so much more than who you want to have sex with. it's WHAT you want to do, and what you don't want to do, and what you want to have done TO you, and how often, and where, and why**. and how you feel about it before, during and after. the words straight, gay and bi don't begin to cover these areas even though they are just as important as, if not more important than, sexual object choice.

one reason i think bb mountain is so right on is that it avoids this pitfall. it avoids saying that jack & ennis get together because they have this mysterious, internal psychic identity called "gay" WITHOUT overlooking the probability and the power of the fact that they prefer to sleep with each other before anyone else. sexual preference can be overwhelmingly uni-directional, but it is still only that: a preference. and for that reason it makes about as much sense to group people into heterosexual and homosexual categories that contain the truth about their "identities" as it does to group people by whether they drink coffee or tea.

BUT--but, we do not live in a political vacuum. we live in a world where people who fuck/love/desire people of their own sex are discriminated against, whose lives are materially, often devastatingly affected by their sexual preferences. and because of this it is politically expedient to wave around those inadequate words gay, straight and bi. if we didn't use labels it would be a lot harder to work towards social change. labels are helpful for making the crucial indexical move of saying, "THESE people HERE are discriminated against, THESE people need rights and advocacy." what i am critical of is the tendency to take that move a step further and assume that since "gay" people are grouped together we ought to have something in common besides the fact that we are gay. this is inane and naive, and only supports the homophobic idea that there are deep, fundamental differences between queer and straight people.

one bb mountain review i read noticed that jack & ennis' dilemma is caused not so much by the fact that they are "gay," or even that they are merely, as i like to think of them, two men in love with each other, as it is by the fact that they are cowboys. the central truth of their identities is not that they secretly want some hot boy ass, but that they are happiest herding sheep in the mountains.

**Cf. the cf. of all cfs & my personal Hail Mary, Eve K. Sedgwick's Axiom #1 from The Epistemology of the Closet.

femme feral said...

wow. great review. thanks. I'm def gonna try to see this movie now.

Anonymous said...

well done!

smelly mcsmellsmell said...

never cease to amaze lizzerz.