I could be talking about why Ralph Nader needs to go over somebody's knee. Again. I could be gloating about Abramoff's guilty plea, and enjoying the prospect of the rats going all Room 101 on each other. I could be mourning for thirteen hard-working blue-collar men in a coal mine in Virginia who died horribly because somebody was too goddamned cheap to follow safety regulations. I'm not going to.
I'm going to talk about something essentially pointless, which is to say Brokeback Mountain, which is finally open in Vegas, and which I'm going to go see on Saturday.
Or more precisely, I'm going to talk about the furor. And why the furor makes me tired. Soooo fucking tired.
I haven't seen the movie yet, because, as I said, we just got it here in the depths of Red State Nevada. But I'm going to see it, because I liked Annie Proulx's story, and because--that ugly Hulk incident aside--I love Ang Lee. Lots and lots. Yes, including Ride With The Devil and The Ice Storm. He's the source of my Tobey Maguire fixation, after all. (Mmm. Tobey MaGuire. I'm sorry, where was I?)
Anyway, right, gay cowboys. Thanks.
Just to establish my street cred, I grew up immersed in queer culture. I'm reasonably comfortable with straights, gays, bisexuals, asexuals, transpersons, queers, drag queens, butches and femmes of any gonadal arrangement, poly, monogamous, het, and intersexed persons. The whole glorious menagerie of the human zoo is pretty much cool with me, assuming your adults are consenting. And I tend to write a lot of characters of non-stereotypical sexuality, because I can, and because that's what the people I know are like.
Anyway, what I'm finding kind of... goofy... about the furor is the way people will get het up (beg yer pardon) and go neck deep over imposing their politics on everything. It's not just political correctness; it's their own specific species of political correctness. Every piece of art has to have an agenda, and the agenda has to conform. (I'm talking more about professional criticism here than about private citizen commentary, FWIW.)
So I've read in the past few weeks that the movie is groundbreaking, or that it's unfortunate stereotyping, that it's a blow for gay rights and understanding, that it's a slap in the face of "gay culture" because it's not gay enough. On a mailing list I'm on, one kind soul linked an LA Weekly review that takes the position that the critical response to the movie suffers from some political incorrectness because it focuses on the masculinity of the protagonists. The critic there made the point that every Stonewall drag queen was ten times the hero of any closeted gay cowboy, because those ladies did something about it rather than cringing under the whip.
And the critic is correct in that. The critic is also not thinking beyond his agenda.
Now, I really liked a little movie from about ten years ago called In & Out. I thought it was hysterical, and accessible, and generally deadly funny. I seem to recall it recieving a lot of criticism back in the day for its stereotyping of homosexuals. As kind of frilly, effeminate, Barbra-Streisand-listening girlymen.
It was also a pretty definite plaint in favor of tolerance. Which, to its credit, Proulx's story is, too. In a very different and much less funny way. How about Torch Song Trilogy? You want a heroic drag queen? There's your goddamned heroic drag queen. I love that movie. Or To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar. Heroic drag queens galore.
See, here's the thing. Any given work of art cannot show every aspect of a conversation. It can provide a shattering glimpse of another man's soul and his lonely world, if it's good art. It can punch through a preconception. It can maybe make you care, for a minute, about somebody you might otherwise never have paused to feel compassion for.
And not every work of art that enters a conversation needs to conform to a certain political agenda to have something worthwhile to say.
And there's another reason to put people who are not just like us in our fiction, and to try to understand them.
(I'm also seeing a lot of slash fans talking about how the movie/story is slash, because of the various ways in which it develops. I am tempted every time to point out to them that those are the tropes by which love stories develop, and that slash, being a subgenre of love story (well, with the exception of some of the stuff you Potterfreaks write, OMG, I do not click on those links anymore! she said with affection.) conforms to love story tropes. But that's neither here nor there--it's just kind of a small associated facepalm, and not nearly the headdesk I'm having over this other pile of wank.)
I'm right there with you about the heroism of the Stonewall protestors. And my response would be, so go write me a damned New Yorker story about the Stonewall riots. Art is not a fucking zero sum game. There is not one right way to do this. (There are a shitload of wrong ways, but that's another story.) Hell, maybe I'll write a story about Stonewall. Somebody ought to.
Good lord, people, can we listen to ourselves for a minute?
We're bitching about a movie that's making people react with compassion to the plight of a couple of fictional characters, in ways that may incrementally improve the nationwide level of people giving a fuck about people who are Maybe Not Just Like Them and thus stave off the metaphorical Heat Death of the Universe for a couple more nanoseconds, and we're unhappy because we don't like the quality of the compassion?
Give me a break.
I personally think there's probably something America can learn, today, from a patent (as opposed to a subtextual) love story between two men who are just guys. I don't think it's ducking the issue. I don't think it's spoon-feeding the masses something they're not ready for. And I think, based on what Ang Lee said in the interviews I've listened to, that he wanted to tell a love story. This particular love story.
And I think that's probably what he did, based on my respect for his previous work and a total ignorance of the property in question. It's a particular story, told a particular way, and it's one facet on the diamond.
And, you know, I swear to you, every time I write a book and introduce a character who is gay or bisexual or intersexed or straight or asexual or Jamaican or WASP or Russian or Martian, I have to pause for a moment and make sure I'm thinking about that character as a person and not as a mouthpiece for an agenda.
And I am sure that that's going to piss somebody off. I can see the spots now where my work won't conform to somebody's agenda. (And most of them are Kit, really.) And man, you know, I don't really goddamned care.
Because the instant I start bending my characters into people who exist to advance an agenda rather than to tell a story, I'm creating propaganda, not art.