Wednesday, March 08, 2006

John Morgan Wilson's piece on Brokeback Mountain

My good friend Rita, who works on this esteemed publication, sends regular goodies to me: jokes, extracts from the media regarding social issues, and especially a lot of great coverage around gay and lesbian issues.

She sent this link on to me today and I thought it worth presenting here.

John Morgan Wilson, a journalist and novelist, here presents a timely reminder that for all the excitement over Brokeback Mountain, there remains a dominent current of homophobia.
I’m talking about one of the stars, Heath Ledger, telling a publication that he and costar Jake Gyllenhaal had to “work hard to keep from laughing” when they prepared to kiss each other in a scripted scene. It’s not something I can imagine him ever telling a reporter about a romantic scene he’d shared with a female actor. (At least he’s honest about his discomfort with kissing a man; I’ll give him that.)

I’m talking about the likable Gyllenhaal going on the Jay Leno show to promote the movie and saying pointedly that the initial idea of playing a “gay cowboy” was unthinkable, and that years earlier he’d been repulsed when someone had suggested he read the Annie Proulx short story on which the eventual movie was based. (I wonder if reading stories involving violence or emotional abuse also turn him off so fervently.)

I’m talking about the affable Leno falling all over himself to make sure his TV audience knew that he considered Brokeback a “wonderful” film. This despite his endless homophobic jokes over the years during his monologues, particularly his asides with bandleader Kevin Eubanks, when they make it clear that they find the idea of physical intimacy between two men really icky. (Though he doesn’t seem to realize it, the unmarried Eubanks’s reflexive revulsion to any reference to gay sexuality stopped being funny and started looking suspicious years ago.)

I’m talking about the repeated references in the endless media coverage of Brokeback Mountain to the heterosexuality of director Ang Lee and his male stars, reflecting their apparent need to distance themselves from homosexuality. (Or maybe it’s just the publicists and reporters who feel that’s so important.)

I’m talking about their constant pleas during interviews, direct or implied, for moviegoers to get beyond their preconceptions and experience the film as a great love story regardless of its same-sex nature. (Put another way: We realize that you find gay love alien and gay sex disgusting, but, hey, this is a movie, so don’t let your understandable repugnance keep you from seeing a great flick.)
It's hard not to notice the implications of these things when they are so clearly laid out.


Anonymous said...

"I’m talking about the likable Gyllenhaal going on the Jay Leno show to promote the movie and saying pointedly that the initial idea of playing a “gay cowboy” was unthinkable"

And then he found out it was about gay shepherds and he couldn't have been happier!

"Heath Ledger, telling a publication that he and costar Jake Gyllenhaal had to “work hard to keep from laughing” when they prepared to kiss each other in a scripted scene. It’s not something I can imagine him ever telling a reporter about a romantic scene he’d shared with a female actor."

Well he probably hasn't read as many celebrity interviews as I have then, because actors are always saying things like that. It's usually when they already know the actress in question, admittedly, but that's more of an intimacy issue than one about homophobia.

But honestly, did he really think that one popular movie about gay love was going to make homophobia disappear over night? I can see his next three articles already:

1) I was shocked to discover racism still exists despite "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" and "Crash"!
2) My God! Women are still discriminated against despite the popularity of movies like '9 to 5' and 'Tootsie'
3) Shoot me in the legs now! Old people are still being ignored despite the moral message of 'Cocoon'! I can't believe it!

Some journalists can write any old bollocks and still get it published. It's amazing. Wish I knew what their secret was, because I've got so much more bollocks than they'll ever have stashed up and ready for venting that I'll be a rich man by the time it's all spewn out.

I can feel the first of it emerging. "How 'Life on Mars' shows that we should never travel back in time to the 70s." Stop me, while you still can...

Anonymous said...

Having seen the trailer, I decided not to see the film: a chick flick is a chick flick, no matter the gender or sexuality of the protagonists. Well, it was certainly promoted as a chick flick - those of you who have seen it can tell me I am wrong.

Anonymous said...

You might like to know ... I misread the final paragraph of Mediumrob's comment as referring to 'Men Are From Mars' rather than 'Life on Mars' - and it still made sense!!!

JodyTresidder said...

Wilson's article is sharply written - even though it rather gloomily states the bleeding obvious, I thought. (Wilson certainly lets his gloom get the upper hand in the last four words of his final line: "Let’s not forget how much work remains to be done in a battle for equality and dignity that will never end.")

But I think I'm pretty much with MediumRob. Yes, Wilson is right that the mainstream US talk show hosts can safely assume giggles in response to "safe" gay jokes. I'm straight, FWIW, so maybe it's my problem that I find this a yawn, and pathetic as well as par for the course rather than an outrageous revelation.

MeiumRob though has Wilson bang to rights about the Jake and Heath jokey love scene comments during interviews being "more of an intimacy issue than one about homophobia."

Also, the intention of Ang Lee and his actors in stressing their own heterosexuality has always been, surely, to lift BBM out of the box office poison of the "pink agenda" niche? I don't see Wilson making a reasonable attempt to properly acknowledge what a unique slog the BBM marketing has been.

(Meanwhile I'm fascinated to see how far the fiendish new Oscar rumour will spread: the one that insists Jack Nicholson deliberately read out the wrong winner for best movie - and that it was BBM - not Crash - all along!)

Anonymous said...

Messalina: I think you'll find you can replace most of my comments with completely random words and they'll still make the same amount of sense as before.

Anyway, I've been feeling a growing amount of annoyance towards John Morgan Wilson all afternoon. I'm starting to feel he's a symptom of something worse: liberal back-stabbing.

Consider this: your neighbour comes round with a bucket of paint. He says he's got a load of paint left over from a job and some time off that afternoon and he's noticed that some of the paint on your house is peeling. Would you like him to fix up your house? You say sure. He does the painting. What do you do when he's finished?

a) Say "Thank you very much!", buy him a drink/do him some kind of favour in return and then have a go at your next-door neighbour for trying to steal yours and his milk bottles?

Or do you

b) Spend the next hour telling him his painting is rubbish while the neighbour proceeds to nick all your milk bottles?

Practically the Sermon on the Mount, isn't it?

But you get my point: John Morgan Wilson could have spent a happy wee time slagging off homophobes for killing gay men and women, discriminating against gays when hiring for jobs, etc; instead, he decides to slag off the makers of BBM for not being gay enough and for not going on the Tonight Show and telling Jay Leno he was indulging in cheap comedy.

I wonder if he needs an oxygen tank to keep him going in those rarified heights from which he can look down in judgement on the rest of the world, so unsullied by the dirty compromises of life.

If perhaps people with a liberal agenda could spend less time attacking each other for not being liberal enough and more time attacking conservatives for being racist, sexist homophobes, maybe the liberal agenda wouldn't be making such a "tactical withdrawal" right now.

I've got that off my chest now. Ooh er missus.

JoeinVegas said...

Oh my, such intellectual discussions going on around here. I'm almost afraid to leave a comment now. Well, not almost.

Gordon said...

Always a touchy subject this (up there with race, religion and... ohh I dunno.. the death penalty or something).

Is it right that homophobia exists? No.

Is it condone-able that homophobic statements are still made by mainstream media? No.

Is it slightly understandable that, given that most of the people involved with this movie are straight, they are not entirely sure how to talk about something they don't fully understand? Yes.

Condoning these actions and trying to understand why they happen are two very different things. Yet they are bulked together. This doesn't not make a good argument.

And let's be honest. It's a movie. Not a sociological or cultural movement.


Anonymous said...

At the risk of causing ROb proliferation... I'm with mediumrob on this. When I read Wlson's piece I thought "But straight actors have to overcome giggles all the time when snogging on camera, especially by take 116". And jodytresidder makes a good point about the problem of BBM's being pigeonholed as a "gay" film. Just think of Clare (Boob Pencil): she was hardly going to turn down the offer of publication by Diva for "The Dying Of Delight", but its being identified thereby as "lesbian fiction" must have limited its potential readership.

And milk bottles - I like it!