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DIG DIRECTOR

Larry Gross
Larry Gross is the director of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and is a pioneer in the field of gay and lesbian studies....






 
 

Year of the Queer: Hollywood and Homosexuality

(Page 3)

As our society is increasingly inclined to choose entertainment figures as its cultural heroes, it is hardly surprising that the stars of stage and screen have been as devoted to the sanctity of the closet as any Washington politician. Despite, or perhaps because of, the stereotypical assumption that Broadway and Hollywood are havens for homosexuals, there has never been a major Hollywood star who has voluntarily come out. This is not exactly a matter of personal choice. The entire industry operates on the principle that the American public is suffused by prejudices that must be catered to. In earlier decades the same logic required Jewish actors to submerge and hide their ethnicity. As Hollywood historian Otto Friedrich described the practice of the film studios: “In Hollywood, stars assumed neutral names like Fairbanks, or Howard, or Shaw; actresses underwent plastic surgery; some made a point of going to Christian churches or donating money to Christian charities. This was not so much a denial of Jewishness—though it was that—as an effort to make Jewishness appear insignificant.”

Friedrich tells the story of New York actor Jules Garfinkle, who changed his name to Jules Garfield for the Broadway stage, but when he arrived in Hollywood Jack Warner told him that Garfield didn’t sound like an American name. Upon being told that Garfield had been the name of an American president, Warner relented, but the Jules had to go. As one of Warner’s executives put it, “... we wouldn’t want people to get the wrong idea.” “But I am Jewish,” said the future John Garfield. “Of course you are,” said the Warners executive. “So are we ... most of us. But a lot of people who buy tickets think they don’t like Jews…. And Jules is a Jew’s name.”

With only minor changes the same discussion could have occurred last week in connection with homosexuality. But while there may be less pressure nowadays for Jewish actors to change their names or their noses, lesbian and gay performers are still expected to stay quietly in the closet. In a 1980s interview Kim Fellner, then information director for the Screen Actors Guild, said, “Hollywood creates its own myths about what is and is not acceptable and it does not believe the public will accept an actor kissing a woman on screen if he goes home at night with a guy.” In the same story, publicity agent Alan Eichler added, “It’s not morals, it’s just a dollar-and-cents decision. That’s what runs this town.”

In the last decade the industry has become relaxed about openly gay folks in backstage roles, and there are now numerous directors, writers and producers who are not required to hide or dissemble. It might even be said to be an advantage to be openly gay backstage at this point, adding liberal gold stars to the enterprise. Broadway and Hollywood have become used to the sight of award winners thanking same-sex partners and even, as in the case of “Hairspray” songwriters and Tony award winners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, kissing them. 

Still, there is an unshakable conviction on the part of most people in positions of power in the entertainment industry that the American public will not accept openly lesbian and gay performers, especially in romantic lead roles. Lesbian and gay actors and others who begin to achieve success and celebrity are quickly taught the rules of the game, if they haven’t already demonstrated their discretion. As prominent gay writer Armistead Maupin put it, “One of the unwritten laws of gay life, is where you reach a certain level of fame, you shut up about your homosexuality. You’re not told this by straight people, you’re told it by other famous homosexuals who are ushering you into the pantheon of the right.” Openly gay British actor Ian McKellen remarked to a gay American journalist in 1992: “There’s not one [leading actor] in your country. Not one. It’s odd, isn’t it? It’s the one area of American life where there are no openly gay people.” 

A new play that just opened Off Broadway, “The Little Dog Laughed,” puts this familiar backstage dilemma out front. As described by New York Times reviewer Ben Brantley (Jan. 10, 2006):

What has garnered the most advance attention for “Little Dog” has been the promise that it would be about a closeted gay actor who knows his homosexuality is incompatible with being a matinee idol. Sure enough, the character of Mitchell (Mr. Huff) is suggestively familiar enough that certain contemporary male stars (names withheld in view of possible litigation) should probably stay away from this show if they want to avoid sleepless nights. (Diane muses wonderingly on her client’s nave idea of taking his mother as a date to an awards ceremony “so that no one will know he’s gay.”)  Certainly the play’s basic plot hinges on the professional problems of such secrecy, after Mitchell begins an affair with a young prostitute named Alex (Mr. Galecki) while visiting New York. Diane has secured the film rights to a play in which the lead male character is gay. And as she observes: “If a perceived straight actor portrays a gay role in a feature film, it’s noble, it’s a stretch. It’s the pretty lady putting on a fake nose and winning an Oscar.”

It’s not that there aren’t plenty of gay actors around Hollywood who could readily handle the dramatic challenge of “Brokeback Mountain.”  As “Little Dog” suggests, being openly gay is not a career option for young actors with romantic lead or action-hero (i.e., A-list) ambitions. Aspiring actors can advance only with the active assistance of agents and managers. These key gatekeepers are vigilant in guarding the value of their investments in their clients’ careers, and they know full well—and remind their clients if necessary—that there is a reserve army of the uncast waiting in the wings to replace any young talent that refuses to play by the rules. Only an actor who has achieved sufficient success—read box office clout—to be independent of these constraints could break the mold by coming out while still young and attractive enough to be credible in romantic roles. When this happens, and one must assume it will eventually, it will be a Jackie Robinson moment that might pave the way for other queer talent (it’s also a safe guess that it’s more likely that a woman will pioneer here than a male actor).

Critic David Ehrenstein has noted that those actors who have come out—among them Chad Allen, Mitchell Anderson, Robert Gant, Randy Harrison, Peter Paige (the last three being the only openly gay cast members of Showtime’s “Queer as Folk”)—are “left to fend for themselves in indie and pay-TV climes…. When it comes to parts like Ennis Del Mar, Jack Twist and Truman Capote, they’re not even going to get an audition. Only heterosexuals need apply.”  Whether the slim roster of openly gay talent has actors who would be credible contenders for these parts, even were they allowed to audition, is a question that points back to the enforced closet in which the industry locks gay actors.

When straight actors take on gay roles, we can expect to encounter showbiz gossip intended to convey the heterosexual bona fides of any actor cast in a gay role. When the successful Off-Broadway play “Boys in the Band” opened in New York in 1968 Cliff Gorman, the actor playing Emory, “the definitive screaming queen,” made sure the public knew he was only acting. As a New York Times reporter explained in an interview entitled, “You don’t have to be one to play one,” it’s “not exactly the kind of part you’d imagine for a nice (married) Jewish boy.” But then, “Cliff really needed the money,” and was so broke he had even taken to “hocking his wife’s silver candelabra.” Elsewhere in the article we were shown Cliff popping open a cold beer, listening to country music (the only music “that really moves him”) and generally swaggering around the living room. In the accompanying photograph he clutched his “incredibly beautiful” wife. 

In 1983 The New York Times ran a lengthy feature article, “How Stars of La Cage Grew Into Their Roles,” the week “La Cage aux Folles,” a musical comedy about a gay couple, opened on Broadway. One of the stars of the show was Gene Barry, “best known to millions of television viewers as the debonair star of Bat Masterson, Burke’s Law, and The Name of the Game.” As the Times put it, he “did have a public image…. The possibility of being stigmatized” concerned him for a while, he said, and the impact on his family was another question. Before accepting the role, he gathered his wife and three children for a family conference to make sure it was all right with them.

The pattern remains unbroken today on the slopes of “Brokeback Mountain.” Publicity about the “gay cowboy” movie has enforced all the rules of this game: The actors’ heterosexual credentials are much rehearsed, and their method-acting skills admired. In an early account of the film, while it was still in pre-production, Salon.com quoted a Hollywood executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity: “Realistically, let’s talk about the giggle factor. I mean, it is a story about gay cowboys! That is the most daring thing you can do.” 

Still, as Salon’s Rebecca Traister put it, “If the I’s do get dotted on Gyllenhaal and Ledger’s contracts, it’s worth noting that both will run less of a risk of being ‘taken for gay’ than many of their colleagues; Gyllenhaal dates supercute wunderkind Kirsten Dunst, while Ledger squires Naomi Watts, 11 years his senior, to lots of events covered by Us Weekly.” As it happens, the account in Salon and Us Weekly needs to be updated, because as anyone paying even the slightest attention will know, Ledger and supporting star Michelle Williams, who plays his wife Alma, became romantically involved during the shooting and have recently had a baby.

Their straight cred firmly in place, Ledger and Gyllenhaal can face the inevitable barrage of questions about what it’s like to kiss another man. After all, this is an important demonstration of the acting skills that might win an Oscar. As Guardian critic Philip Hensher put it: “the actors in these films are always at pains to stress the incredible trauma involved in having to pretend to kiss a person of the same sex in front of cameras. To be fair, this is always a subject that unhealthily obsesses interviewers, but actors’ responses are often highly amusing. Jake Gyllenhaal has said: ‘Heath and I were both saying, “Let’s get the love scenes over as fast as we can—all right, cool. Let’s get to the important stuff.” ’ ”

Sometimes the actors evade the dangerous implications of their roles—that their acting might be too real—by trying to widen, or cloud, the lens. In a cover-story interview in the gay-oriented style magazine Details, Gyllenhaal stresses the universality of “Brokeback’s” story: “My character could have been played by a woman and it would have made just as much sense.” Apparently not having read any of the promotional material on the film, the actor says that he doesn’t believe Ennis and Jack are gay: “I approached the story believing that these are actually straight guys who fall in love,” he says. “That’s how I related to the material. These are two straight guys who develop this love, this bond. Love binds you, and you see these guys pulling and pulling and tugging and trying to figure out what they want, and what they will allow themselves to have.”

Ledger played the same card in an interview in Time magazine. “I don’t think Ennis could be labeled as gay. Without Jack Twist, I don’t know that he ever would have come out,” Ledger tells the magazine. “I think the whole point was that it was two souls that fell in love with each other.”

“Brokeback Mountain” producer James Schamus told one reporter that he was not worried about audiences who were troubled by the love story and sex scenes between men. “If you have a problem with the subject matter, that’s your problem, not mine,” Schamus said. “It would be great if you got over your problem, but I’m not sitting here trying to figure out how to help you with it.” But he also knows how important it is that the story be defined as universal. “Once people saw the film, they understood that it was a film about a kind of epic greatness that can exist in anyone, anywhere, no matter who they are, no matter what their sexual orientation or class or historical circumstances.”

Next Page: It’s Not Gay, It’s Universal

Dig last updated on Feb. 27, 2006


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By guy cap, November 24, 2008 at 5:22 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I gave up judging gays or trying to listen to them prove me wrong.They will be judged and then and only then will they know wether the were right or wrong.It is not my worry,however, I always try to protect myself and be prepared for GODS judgement.

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By Straticus, May 28, 2008 at 6:21 am Link to this comment

...you are incredible! “the bible is against it, so need I say more, puffer?” That very line only shows you for the neanderthal you are. The Bible is against it…ROTFL…Ok…you want to talk “big picture”? You want to play the “religion” card? Well consider this, bible boy:

We have been around since the very beginning of time. We didn’t suddenly appear in the 60s. We have been hugely influential throughout ALL of time, all eras, all periods of enlightenment in art and music, philosophy and literature. Therefore, this being the case, we are ALSO a part of your god’s grand design. If you insist on discussing creation, then you have no choice but to accept the fact that we were created as well, and from the very beginning of recorded history, in your god’s image. Hey! That makes you JUST like me!!! You can quote scripture all you like; myopic mongoloids like you who are threatened by that which PROBABLY excites you tremendously have no other recourse. You make me laugh. You don’t make me the least bit angry because your “opinion” is meaningless to me, and to anybody else who understands the concept of clear thought. So by all means. Continue spewing your hatred, your incorrect statistics, and your incredibly erroneous “facts”. Want me to give you a listing of the gay bars in your town so that you might actually have the guts to act on your secret fantasies? Please, by all means, keep the nonsense coming. I find it endlessly hysterical smile

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By Anwar Katiyar, September 27, 2007 at 1:53 am Link to this comment
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i wants hollywood movies (bf)

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By nelson, September 8, 2007 at 9:03 am Link to this comment
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Romans 1:21-32

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By kavishka, May 25, 2007 at 4:34 am Link to this comment

HOLLYWOOD SEXUALITY
Thanks for having me.
unFame.com says: It’s not about anything but the bottom line$. Homo this or that…it’s just genre demographics, marketing.

Corp Hollywood—the owners of all major and Indie studios—throw a commercial genre topic or film out based upon popular demographics. It has no point, no meaning, nothing but a quick buck for a popular title|topic|genre.

To discuss anything corp is dishing out today is like a drunk man rambling on about a splinter in his hand.

Want to get real. Have someone in DC w/a hot lawyer take corp Hollywood to court for a monopoly on the US arts. signed, free the US arts

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By Blueboy1938, May 2, 2007 at 1:37 pm Link to this comment

Well, now, profanity and invective combined.  Nice to know that you can put two things together in the same sentence.

Not only are you unable to recognize it when you make a totally fatuous and nonsensical statement, you also can’t discern when you are making a completely unsupportable accusation, either.  You don’t know me.  Therefor, you can’t label me.  I hope, for the sake of your blood pressure, that you will calm down enough to avoid apoplexy and critically examine your statements to see that they do no credit to your position, fraught as they are with slander and calumny.  I’m sorry that you are so threatened by this whole thing that you are incapable of civil discourse, only the reflex of lashing out and name-calling.  Too bad, so sad, you’re mad.

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By Blueboy1938, May 2, 2007 at 12:39 pm Link to this comment

Excuse me, Mr. Blank, but your vitriol won’t hide the fact that you made a totally illogical statement.  You can’t like or dislike something that you don’t know about.  Someone who is “in the closet” is, by definition, unknown.  I guess that escapes you.

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By Blueboy1938, May 2, 2007 at 12:06 pm Link to this comment

Well, Point Blank, how could you possibly know that, if they were all in the closet?

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By Douglas Chalmers, April 20, 2007 at 1:15 pm Link to this comment

Just came across this on the net - “Gay subculture in ‘bug chase’ sees HIV as desirable”  http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/subculture-sees-hiv-as-desirable/2007/04/20/1176697091985.html which surfaced after a man there was jailed for deliberatley infecting others with AIDS!!!

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By Erik, January 16, 2007 at 1:00 am Link to this comment
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Thanks for the very insightful article. I noticed a minor factual error here:

“In 1993 playwright Tony Kushner astonished the theatrical world with the success of his epic, “Angels in America,” winning Pulitzer and Tony awards and selling out theaters for a two-part, seven-hour gay fantasia on national themes (as Angels was subtitled). Critics were predictably
quick to see Kushner’s work in a broader, dare we say, universal light. Writing in the Chicago Daily News under the appropriate headline “Angels reaches
beyond gay issues,” Richard Christiansen offered a representative sample:”

I’m originally from Chicago so I knew that the Daily News ceased publication some time before 1993
(it ceased publication in 1978 according to this Chicago Public Library timeline:
http://www.chipublib.org/008subject/005genref/gischron.html)

A Google search shows that Richard Christiansen is identified as a Chicago Tribune (not Chicago Daily News)theater critic:
http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr;=&q=“angels+in+america”+“richard+christiansen”&btnG=Search

See also this Chicago Tribune news release on Richard Christiansen’s retirement:
http://about.chicagotribune.com/newsreleases/10504.htm

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By Queer Larry, December 5, 2006 at 11:26 pm Link to this comment
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YO dawg im diggin the message here, its real nice.
me and my wife of a year and a half now really feel excepted at this website. keep up the verbal abuse to anyone who downs you on your orientations,ya’ll. <3respect.
ps. brokeback mountain, brokeback house, brokeback house on a mountain. peaceANDlove

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By gay rape, June 2, 2006 at 5:45 pm Link to this comment
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We are wellocme to it’s configuration.

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By rape stories, May 31, 2006 at 3:47 pm Link to this comment
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Best of the text i read about a problem.

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By R. A. Earl, April 9, 2006 at 9:38 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In #6256, SonicEmpire wrote, in part, “Fear and loathing of homosexuals is primarily a Christian problem….”

I disagree.

The problem is a profound lack of backbone and integrity in our education system and those who work within it. Members of school boards are derelict in their duty when they disallow the presentation to students of full and complete, relevent, factual, honest information ON ANY TOPIC, including homosexuality.

It’s all politics with a healthy dose of intimidation by religious zealots. I don’t blame teachers quite as much as the administration… everyone has to earn a living and, as a teacher within the system, you either teach what you’re told to teach, or you will be unemployed.

When the learning population is fed a load of bull, either by deliberate misinformation, or by distortion of the truth, or by deliberate omission of pertinent facts, we get a “Brokeback Mountain.” Enjoy!

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By SonicEmpire, April 1, 2006 at 1:35 am Link to this comment
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Fear and loathing of homosexuals is primarily a Christian problem and it also isn’t that greatly looked upon in the Muslim faith, but in the jewish faith homosexuals are more accepted as well as in the Native American culture and in some spiritual religions. It is also primarily an American problem. In Europe most people could care less who you date as long as you are not coming onto them. I saw Brokeback Mountain and I thought it was a good film, but it could have had a more intense ending I felt. The part where Gyllenhaal dies flashed by to quickly and I’m sure that slow people in the audience didn’t get it. I can’t believe that Crash won the Oscar, it wasn’t a good enough film. I could understand if Capote, TransAmerica, North Country or some of the other good films won if not Brokeback Mountain, but instead it was crash, which has a good valid message, but I think that crash was chosen on purpose not to anger or alienate most Americans who disagree with homosexuality. The Oscars did get lower ratings, because people were expecting Brokeback Mountain to be best picture, so many didn’t watch it. What I found offensive was the song that was chosen ‘It’s hard out here for a pimp’, I felt it was compleetely inappropriate and offensive to women and thsoe performing just made minorites look stupid.

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By sam moat, March 16, 2006 at 1:19 pm Link to this comment
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I just hope Hollywood shows that Brokeback did not have a message by making a movie about two gay cowboys who quit riding side saddle, straighten up and fly straight.

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By A. Syndi, March 15, 2006 at 2:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wasn’t the premise of Same Time, Next Year basically the same….people married to others meet for a yearly tryst?  In an age were 1 in 2 marriages will dissovlce within 5 years, the struggle to stay in a relationship when society makes it easy to get out doesn’t have any drama unless someone in the relationship is using the marraige to evade society’s scorn.

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By GoZero, March 5, 2006 at 9:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

All you folks waiting for the film industry (or the nightly snews/infotainment) to reflect the reality of the world we live in need to get in line (we have extra chairs…). African American men cannot have loving wholesome relationships with African American women, white/other women, or even other African American men in the minds of the media’s powerbrokers and culture fascists.

That’s why Oprah and Condi must remain single women if they want to remain popular because being single they reinforce the notion that they have no real practical (African American) counterparts/options for companionship and thus frame themselves (and their race) as freaks of nature and maintain white america’s self delusion.

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By Ron Samuels, March 4, 2006 at 12:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Because centuries end with the “00” years and begin with “01” years, as there was no “year zero,” Oscar Wilde actully died in the 19th century, not the 20th.  I guess that means Truman Capote’s distinction, if Mr. Gross is correct, as “the most obviously gay writer of the 20th century” is secure.

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By S. Beckner, March 1, 2006 at 12:25 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

HELLO! Anybody out there ever heard of a guy named Fassbinder? Thirty years ago, Fassbinder’s films explored every aspect of homosexual life, including his 1978 opus “Year of Thirteen Moons”, in which a gay man undergoes a sex change to gain the sexual favor of of his straight ‘object d’amour’. Considering that BBM doesn’t approach Fassbinder’s high water mark on this subject, yet none of the critics have referenced his films when discussing the picture, I suggest that we take a harder look at Hollywood’s greatest prejudice—subtitles.

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By E. C. Bogle, February 21, 2006 at 10:03 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The reason ‘The Guardian’ and other sources call ‘BBM’ a “universal love story” rather than a “gay love story” is that their writers cannot imagine gay men who do not fit their stereotypes of such persons: effeminate, bitchy, urban, promiscuous, etc.  And if such stereotypes aren’t there, the characters can’t really be gay.  Another strategy of avoidance is to see the stereotypes anyway:  as one local critic with blinders on wrote, the story reflects “the gay lifestyle.”  No further elaboration on how.

All good stories must have conflict at their center.  What is unusual about ‘BBM’ is that it is indeed a universal love story about gay characters who face their own kind of conflicts, especially Ennis’s own homophobia.  Some stories about other minorities also reach universality.  It is, however, both more difficult and easier for gay stories to achieve universality in the eyes of readers/viewers.  More difficult because men are terrified they will violate their own stereotype of what a “real man” is if they empathize with the characters.  Easier because rarely is a gay man or lesbian brought up in a glbt milieu.  African-American children are taught to be like their “brothers” and “sisters.”  Some glbt children, to fit in, force themselves into the stereotypes—like the lesbian who told a PFlag group that when she finally gave up on being straight, she went out and bought three pairs of men’s jeans and a man’s suit so she would fulfill the image her West Texas community had of such people.  Others, however, like Jack and Ennis and myself and millions of others, are perfectly ordinary products of their own background who have no desire to fulfill any of the old-fashioned ideas.

That is the contribution of ‘BBM.’ There is no “gay lifestyle,” no stereotypes, just people struggling with life, which, as Larry McMurtry said on ‘CBS Sunday Morning’ February 19, is difficult for each person in each person’s own way.  And as Ennis says, “If you can’t fix it, you got to stand it.”

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By Michael O'Neill, February 14, 2006 at 7:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dear Sir or madame,
re: request

last week I wrote and sent in my opinion through this form on the brilliant piece “Year of the Queer…”  For whatever reason it has not been posted. I wasn’t very smart and copy it for my own intentions, because I presumed it would be available here. It was the only copy I had. I might like to try to expand my thoughts on Brokeback Mountain and it would be helpful for me to refer to that piece I sent in. Would you be so kind to send me back a copy of my opinion.
Thanks mucho,  Michael O’Neill

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By Milton Jones, February 10, 2006 at 10:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Just a note: anyone interested in seeing a movie about gay people with actual gay people playing in it should go rent Torch Song Trilogy. Better acting and you actually feel something, proving that you can be authentic and “universal” at the same time.

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By Lyle, February 10, 2006 at 2:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To Frank: (Comment #3055)
You said:  “I for one am not really interested in watching two men getting rearended by each other.”
Do you know, according to research I have read, that a majority of gay men do not participate in anal intercourse?  Straight men just assume their penis has to be inserted somewhere and that is what gay men do.  You are incorrect, if you assume that.

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By R. A. Earl, February 9, 2006 at 11:22 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To Frank - #3054 & #3055 -

I have no problem with your “aversion” to watching, but what I do have a problem with is your ASSUMPTION that what you don’t want should apply to everyone.

Oh, I realize you didn’t actually SAY that… but I’d bet a month’s pension that’s your attitude.

That’s the MAJOR problem in a heterogeneous society… the so-called “majority” somehow ASSUMES the right to dictate, or try to dictate, its values, beliefs and behaviors as the only correct ones and everyone else must either comply, or at the very least, remain “in the closet.” You hear it all the time… “I don’t care if he’s a homo, just so long as he doesn’t flaunt it in public.”

What the (fictional) “moral majority” conveniently forgets is that this is NOT their country exclusively… that everyone in it has an EQUAL right to participate as he or she chooses just so long as it doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s right to do the same.

The homosexual population IN NO WAY interferes with the heterosexual population’s right to “life, liberty and the persuit of happiness.” So why does this (fictional) majority assume it has the right to interfere with the members of minorities rights to do the same?

Please answer.

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By R. A. Earl, February 7, 2006 at 10:14 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In #2850, Francois LaFleche posted “The homosexual minority will never be treated exactly the same as the majority, no minority is.”

This statement caused me to pause. I have some doubt it’s entirely correct* but, for the life of me, I can’t understand WHY this situation exists.

* (Aren’t we ALL part of some minority or other? Even the Ozzie & Harriet “American” family doesn’t come anywhere near representing a MAJORITY of families… at least none I’ve ever known. And, to stretch a point, if you’re not Oriental, you’re sure as hell in a MINORITY position on this planet!)

Anyway, exactly WHAT is this (fictional) majority AFRAID OF? In the case of homosexual activity amongst males, does anyone on this forum KNOW of any male who has been sexually assaulted by another male? I’m not talking about the “straight” male who, during a drinking binge, winds up having sex with another guy, and then in the morning going berzerk because he enjoyed it but can’t handle what that might mean. That’s not sexual assault in my books. In short, unless it’s a case of forced RAPE (a la the scene in DELIVERANCE in 1972), we have to assume all other sexual activity between men is CONSENSUAL… so what’s the problem?)

It’s my confirmed belief, that this fear by males of sexual contact with other males is TAUGHT… it’s a LEARNED BEHAVIOR. Remember, I stated that it’s the FEAR that is taught. I “guess” most “straight” males have no wish to engage in sex with another male just as I “guess” most “gay” males have no wish to have sex with a female. But where does the FEAR come from… the kind of fear that would enrage someone to point of assault and murder?

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By Frank, February 5, 2006 at 1:10 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr Lafleche, You are absolutely right.
I for one am not really interested in watching two men getting rearended by each other.

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By Frank, February 5, 2006 at 1:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr Lafleche, You are absolutely right.
I for one am not really interested in watching two men getting rearended.

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By R. A. Earl, February 4, 2006 at 10:47 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

J. Miller in #15 wrote: “To me the sad thing is that people give a crap about Hollywood in the first place. If someone spends 1 minute thinking about what is said and done in Hollywood that is sad. Who cares?”

In a way I agree but the clear fact is that what Hollywood puts on film often, in many minds, becomes FACT. For example, our general understanding of the “Old West” is almost entirely a FICTION gathered from decades of watching “Westerns.”

Or how about an analysis of all the war movies that have flickered on our silver screens? Aren’t they almost ALL crafted through the lens of the West? Isn’t “God” and “right” ALWAYS on “our” side?

Hollywood’s output would be of no great concern if students were taught critical thinking in grade school. Perhaps then we’d have fewer mental robots populating our leadership.

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By lizardo, February 3, 2006 at 9:48 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thanks to multiverse for bringing up and blowing the “universality” cover. Don’t you think it’s a gay theme when the characters’ choices are limited by their fear of discovery and the fear of violence being done to them? I heard some nervous chuckling in the theater when Ennis and Jack were seen by Alma, kissing passionately on their first reunion.  My response to that discovery was fear for them, and that undercurrent of fear IS a gay issue.

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By J. Miller, February 3, 2006 at 6:26 pm Link to this comment
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To me the sad thing is that people give a crap about Hollywood in the first place.If someone spends 1 minute thinking about what is said and done in Hollywood that is sad.Who cares?

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By multiverse, February 2, 2006 at 11:05 pm Link to this comment
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I couldn’t understand it either when the Guardian and other critics called Brokeback a universal love story. The fact that the characters are gay drives the plot. If that was taken out, some kind of convoluted process would have to take place to position the two characters together like that over such a long period and then keep them apart later. It wouldn’t be easily believable or captivating.

The sexual orientation of the characters is central to Brokeback. You can’t pick a universal story from it without shredding the entire thing.

The movie also had great visual/aural art and talented actors besides a tight story. All three combined to make it so achingly sad. Any one of those three could have made it a flop if they had not been so wonderfully done.

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By Jim Kahn, February 2, 2006 at 6:27 pm Link to this comment
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Exactly, what ARE people so afraid of regarding gay people?  Aside from all the usual religious and moral bigotry and misinformation that people usually hide behind, what IS the actual fear here?
We’re not talking about something life threatening: “I’ve got a gun-give me all your money or I’ll make you gay!”  We’re talking about a natural preference, (yes, natural!) you know, that simple energy that draws one person to another, not a required fixed behavior regarding one’s sexuality.  It doesn’t work that way.  No one MAKES anyone gay any more than anyone MAKES a person straight.  It’s not like politics or religion or hate or even abstinence, believe it or not, those you choose or learn…sex is innate.
And why does this perpetual fear and constant paranoia seem to affect more men than women?  Why ARE men so afraid…and what is it that they’re so afraid of?

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By Ron Samuels, February 2, 2006 at 5:26 pm Link to this comment
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Right you are, Ms. Bensinger, there was not a single depiction in “Brokeback Mountain” of anything resembling a “suck.”  Oh, I forgot Ennis sucking on his wife in their nude scene.  There’s more screen time in this so-called “gay cowboy movie” devoted to heterosex than the homo variety.  If straight guys knew this, there’d be a lot more of them accompanying their women, who presumably make up the bulk of the audience, to see it.  Maybe they’re waiting for the DVD so they won’t risk someone seeing them leaving the theater with a big s***eating grin after seeing Ann Hathaway’s boobs.

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By Per Fagereng, February 2, 2006 at 2:09 pm Link to this comment
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RA Earl says gays and lesbians are no threat to the American way of life. I wish they were. The American way of life (corporate, all-consuming imperialism) will kill us all. I try to be a threat, and I’m fairly optimistic. The US Empire has passed its peak, and I think it will fall within my lifetime.

RA Earl is right in saying that gays are being used as a scapegoat. A recent article in Monthly Review tells how working people in Ohio, rather than fight the boss, are fighting gay marriage. That’s really stupid.

The corporate empire doesn’t care at all about gay rights. Gays present a market opportunity, a way to distract working people, and a way to let liberals feel noble without rocking the boat.

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By R. A. Earl, February 2, 2006 at 12:08 pm Link to this comment
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Re Andrea Bensmiller’s comment #6.

This is about as intelligent and well written post as I have ever read on the internet.

I’m not American (at least not “US” American) but I’ve lived in the USA, worked there and watched, and even admired the culture all my life. However, it seems to me that when anyone or any society decides that it is superior to all others some “switch” is thrown in the collective consciousness that disables their ability to differentiate between reality and fantasy, honesty and fraud, even right from wrong.

Gays and lesbians are no threat to the “American” way of life or to the family or to marriage or to the morals of the country. They never have been. Sexual orientation is NOT the problem. It’s just the scapegoat used by the fearful to cover their own inadequacies and lack of understanding of diversity on this planet.

Homosexuals contribute every bit as much as anyone else in many more ways than there’s room to itemize here. If any group is a threat to the “American way of life” it is those, of any stripe or status, whose prejudices and bigotry combine to poison their sense of reality and fair play.

There’s no room for fundamentalist thinking or behavior in the governance of a pluralistic society such as the USA pretends itself to be. Oh, it might have begun with that ideal but for some reason “US” America has lurched off the rails of democracy onto the siding of fascism. It’s an ugly thing to watch.

Hollywood is the handmaiden of Disneyland. Many “Americans,” for some unfathomable reason, have decided they’re both the REAL THING… and have moved right in.

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By Ian Pepper, February 2, 2006 at 10:52 am Link to this comment
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Great article.
Any thoughts on the following?

There are two kinds of homophobia.
The 1st regards effeminate behavior in men to be repulsive.
The 2nd regards sexual interaction between men is an abomination.

The two types of “homophobia” are not logical corollaries, & each may & in fact does exist independently of the other.

I have known many straight men (in & out of bed - I myself am gay) who regarded 1 as acceptable, but not 2, and vice versa.

I haven’t yet seen Brokeback Mountain (it has yet to be released in German), but I suspect the film plays it safe by dealing with only one of these issues, while excluding the issue of effeminacy in men altogether—as well as the issues of gay culture, gay family life, gay rights, gay politics. It removes homosexuality (or rather “sex between men”) to a mythical Marlboro realm.

Most importantly, it suggests that sex between putatively heterosexual men is either a rarity in American society, and that when it does occur, it represents shattering experience that disrupts the normal lives of its protagonists.

Is any of this true?
Or do straight men have sex with men all the time, all the while telling themselves that they’re not gay, that they despise “gay” (i.e., openly homosexual, effeminate) men, & that because they are married and have children, that makes them normal matter how many men they sleep with?

In any case, that is what straight men have always told me after they had picked me up for sex.

Once straight men get past the initial shock of this film, won’t it appeal to many of them by presenting a scenario involving sex with men, real men, not fairies, that is set in a time prior to Stonewall, prior to the disruption of gender norms in American society, in an idyllic past when men could have sex with one another without being mistaken for gay?

What message will straight men take away from such a scenario? perhaps the lesson of the film is: go ahead, guys, take those fishing trips, but to be discreet, and don’t let things get out of hand. No kissing!

It is only natural that the actors in Brokeback Mountain are straight, because this is a film by, about, and for straight men.

Which won’t stop millions of gay men from jerking off to it.

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By robert davies, February 1, 2006 at 10:24 pm Link to this comment
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Interesting article on homosexuality on the Hollywood screen. A long time ago I read something re the homosexual novel: no happy ending allowed there, either, in the 40s and 50s etc.

I’d be very interested in an article on how much U.S attitudes have changed, how close Brokeback Mountain is to our present day and where the movie goes off track. Exclude the fundies. Regarding homosexuality pre-60s: nearly everyone, including many gays, was a fundie: unnatural,degenerate,“deviated prevert”—or sick,
or guilt-ridden or doomed to be unhapppy.

I see a great turn for the better, but I expect a backlash. One can’t assume that a public that puts up with Bush is going to be enlightened, tolerant if not loving.

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By Ron Samuels, February 1, 2006 at 8:59 pm Link to this comment
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Actually, Mr. Gross’s declaration that Truman Capote was the 20th Century’s gayest author is safe, since Oscar Wilde died in 1900, the last year of the 19th Century, not the first year of the 20th.  Centuries begin with a year one (1901, 2001), as there was no “year zero.”

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By Andrea Bensmiller, February 1, 2006 at 6:26 pm Link to this comment
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Though Mr. Gross’ opinion is clearly stated and well-research, I’d have to disagree with his assertion that progress towards equal representation rests mostly with Hollywood’s inability to surpass its limits.  Intellectuals (particularly liberal ones) like to argue that all of America’s limits are set not by the American public but by authoritative figures without the faith to change the system. This is total mythology that further muddies America’s ability to progress because it absolves the public from their real history and responsibility to evolve as a society.

You can see this at work in all facets of American life – from food to music. You cannot sell Americans something they do not want – whether it be European yogurt that is not sweet enough (they tried) or music that doesn’t follow basic formulaic writing and come equipped with half-naked teenagers writhing on the floor (I would know - I’m a musician). Blaming Hollywood for America’s inability to come to grips with its homophobia misses the point.

Changing societal structure is the work of radicals and businesses are not in the business of radical change – whether it be the film business, the music business, or the fast food business. They simply meet the needs of the people they sell to, and when profits drop they change their tactics.

I have personally been in the change business for 15 years now. It began with my tearful coming out to my Fundamentalist Christian family and has evolved into a long journey of change and discovery for all of us. I personally don’t feel that movies are what makes the difference to my staunchly Catholic mother, but have discovered that the idea of universality actually DOES. I know that if she sees Brokeback, she will likely be touched by the story because it will remind her of me and perhaps the other brave gays and lesbians she has met over the years who have never lied about their orientation but rather chose to engage in the long hard dialog that seeing eye-to-eye requires.

As a lesbian, I really don’t care if the actors in a gay-themed movie are gay or are straight, or go out and downplay their incidental brush with the issue. I care that for once in a long long time, there is a gay-themed movie that is universal enough to reach a lot of people and DOESN’T SUCK. I care that award winning actors are in it at all. I care that another gay –themed film was released at the same time and was so banal that it has totally gone unnoticed (Imagine You and Me). To me that is progress – THAT is what I have personally been working for all these years –  a brief glimpse of real equity.

If gay parts have to be played by gay actors and shamelessly promoted as gay, gay, gay, we will never reach the promised land. I want someday for no-one to care a wit that I am gay, just as I hope someday Americans will develop better taste in music and food. But pretending that we don’t set the bar for ourselves in all of these things is a gross error in judgement.

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By FRANCOIS LAFLECHE, February 1, 2006 at 5:49 pm Link to this comment
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The conclusion should be that we still live in a country where the majority is heterosexual and is not willing or interested in viewing or hearing about the genuine homosexual experience. The homosexual minority will never be treated exactly the same as the majority, no minority is. Almost all the points brought up in this opinion piece could apply to other minorities, not just the homosexual minority.The exception of course relates to the   inability of heterosexual men in this culture to watch any gay sexual activity. There will be a woman president of Saudi Arabia before that changes.

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By Per Fagereng, February 1, 2006 at 4:44 pm Link to this comment
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I think it’s interesting that “gay” movies don’t offend anyone except the Christian Right. It’s not an issue for the corporate empire. To the corporations, gays are another market opportunity.
Most folks want to be forward-thinking, but they fear to rock the boat. So they support a safe issue like gay rights (which deserves support on its own terms).

The Brokeback Mountain guys were sheep herders, and we know about them. What would really upset people would be a movie about gay soldiers in Iraq. I’m sure there are a few.

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By elizabeth farnum, February 1, 2006 at 3:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Grossman’s points are certainly well taken and important. The whole Brokeback Mountain thing has been bothering me - for two reasons in particular. First, the assumption that it is more “challenging” for a straight actor to play a gay character than it is for a homosexual character in a feature film and second because I think it has spawned a wave of homophobic jokes at the dinner table, in tv commercials, and in “spoofs” like SNL.
I do think however that the story, the film, and the recognition of the film also represents something positive in our country’s attitude toward sexuality, sexual preference, gay perspective, etc. Even if it is only the generation of discussions like these which are ocurring in many places. I know that my local (semi rural) movie theatre is only showing the film because it can make money on it now, but many of us here had our doubts that we would be able to see Brokeback Mountain in our own town.

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By Jose Rivero, February 1, 2006 at 1:41 pm Link to this comment
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Susan Block is right.

Hollywood utilizes sex and morality, mixing them, massaging them, to ultimately tell the peole what is right and what is wrong. If you are right you get the girl. If wrong you will suffer some punishment. The standards of behaviour that Hollywood portrays have been confusing people for many years.

Hollywood HAS to be in some sort of concordance or agreement with the current government. Their movies are by no means independent-minded. Sadly, many people “learn” from those movies. Which by the way, are getting dumber and dumber (with some few exceptions)

Luckyly, Hollywood is not all that is there. Almodovar’s movies are pretty much based on gay characters, and by no means these moves adhere to any morally-correct standards, thank God.

There is more in the life (of a movie fan) than Hollywood.

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By Susan Block, February 1, 2006 at 1:14 pm Link to this comment
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Hollywood’s denigration of lust and active sexuality does not begin and end with homosexuality.  ANY kind of active, non-reproductive sexuality is denigrated and punished in almost all mainstream Hollywood movies.  A sexually active individual - especially if it’s a female - almost always turns out to be a criminal or becomes the victim of violent crime.  Hollywood loves to exploit the sex appeal of attractive actors and actresses - after all, sex sells!  But once they’ve sold their audiences on buying their tickets to enjoy a little sexual heat, once they’ve titillated us with a scene or two of hot exciting passion, they dump a bucket of cold morality all over any form of sexual expression that doesn’t fit within the confines of marital reproductive sex.  Obviously, homosexual behaviors aren’t reproductive, and they’re rarely marital.  So Hollywood exploits gays (nonreproductive sex sells!), but almost inevitably punishes and/or denigrates them, just as it does to other sexually active characters who aren’t engaging in sex just to have babies.  With human populations exploding all over the world, you’d think we’d honor forms of sexuality that don’t result in more mouths to feed.  But Hollywood, no matter how many special effects and hip dialogues or sexy costumes they use, is mired in a very conventional morality that stands firmly against sex for pleasure.

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Dig Director's Blog

Feb. 27, 2006

OK, the votes are in and now we all, or those of us who care, will have to wait till March 5 to find out whether the high water mark of the Year of the Queer in Hollywood will have been the nominations sweep by “Brokeback Mountain,” Hoffman, Huffman, etc.  In other words, did the Academy voters actually mark their ballots for this year’s apparent favorites?  Will the foxy stalwarts of cable talk shows be proved wrong again?

When the Brokeback wave first broke over the industry the predictable consensus of the bloviators was that the “gay cowboy” film would bomb once it ventured outside the coastal enclaves into the heartland, but that it would clean up at that March madness of the lavender left known as the Oscars. 

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Feb. 7, 2006

In 1983, Ed Asner, then president of the Screen Actors Guild, spoke to the Golden Gate Business Association, a gay and lesbian business and professional organization.  Asked about his advice to gay and lesbian folk not to come out of the closet in the entertainment industry, Asner replied, “Out of my own gut instinct, I [do] not consider this wise.  I know that within the gay acting community itself, many of the agents who are aware of the conflict, the bind, the grief that occurs with actors who cannot proclaim their sexual preference, [know] there’s a lot of suffering and a desire to be open about it.  And these agents and actors support me to a very large extent in advising non-publicization.” ...

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