If It’s Gay, It’s Gotta Be Good, Right?

[12 March 2008]

By Michael Abernethy

The time is the 1840s. An evil witch walks in on her fiancé engaged in sweaty, thrusting, lusty sex with his studly, well-hung butler, and she gets revenge on them both. Flash forward to present day, where we meet Toby and David, who will soon find themselves caught up in the wicked games of the scorned witch and her unfaithful suitor.

However, when we first meet Toby and David, Toby is performing oral sex on his boyfriend in the backseat of a cab. They then lay on the beach for about five minutes before heading to Toby’s house for writhing, pulsating, steamy sex. But alas, they argue and break up, which, of course, sets up their clawing, clutching, throbbing, moaning make-up sex.

Check the time; we’re only 25 minutes into the DVD, and already there’s been more nudity than you’ll see on the entire run of The Sopranos. Amazingly, this isn’t the beginning of the latest porn flic on the market, but the opening half hour of Dante’s Cove, here!tv’s smash supernatural soap opera, now through it’s fourth season.

In short, the show is bad. Poorly written, stiffly acted (no pun intended—well, yeah, intended), and choppily directed, the only thing that Dante’s Cove has going for it is sex, sex, and sex. And not just gay sex; there’s svelte and sensual lesbians having sex, and supermodel straights doing the horizontal deed. All weakly tied together with a jumbled supernatural good vs. evil storyline.

Yet, some greet the arrival of a new season of Dante’s with such excitement that one would think that the show was subliminally broadcasting winning lottery numbers. Bloggers exalt the series, and gay magazines herald each season, although some admit that the show’s main attraction is the sex scenes. To be critical of the show can draw a hysterical, Chris Crocker-type of “Leave Dante’s alone!” response from die-hards.

Dante’s Cove isn’t the only piece of gay schlock to be embraced by the gay and lesbian community. We-re quick to latch on to almost anything gay-related and rally around it, ready to face down any outside criticism. And that can be good. Who else is going to look out for and support our own artistic endeavors if we aren’t first in line to do so? Supporting gay films, businesses, and artists is an important part of forging our identity in a culture. But being supportive and loyal becomes a disservice when it makes the community at large look ill-informed, self-obsessed, or hypersensitive.

Take, for instance, Mike Jensen’s response on AfterElton.com to two Super Bowl ads. His editorial, “Anti-gay Violence in Super Bowl Ads Still Not Funny”, was widely linked to and made the case that ads for Bridgestone Tires and Prison Break featured violence towards homosexuals.

The latter ad featured the show’s villain, T-Bag, being clotheslined by a professional football player. The Bridgestone ad showed a speeding driver swerving to miss both a deer and Alice Cooper, but contemplating running over Richard Simmons. Jensen argues:

Now it’s true that Simmons has said many times that he isn’t gay. Okay, fine. But everyone assumes he is anyway, thanks to his flamboyancy and effeminate demeanor. And the whole point of the ad is that someone with those characteristics is apparently worthy of being run over.

However, Jensen fails to point out two things in his article. First, everyone wants to run over Richard Simmons—and it’s not because he’s gay, or “gay seeming”, if you will—it’s because he’s Richard Simmons. Most of the people I know would take a shot. For all the good he’s done for the overweight, he’s devoted as much time to being a celebrity caricature, and nobody makes more fun of Richard than he does himself. As for T-Bag, he may be gay or bi, but he’s also a sadistic murderer who deserves any misfortune that comes his way.

The second thing Jensen fails to note is that there were a lot of violent commercials on during the Super Bowl. Ads for the films Zohan and Leatherheads were extremely violent, with presumably straight men beating the daylights out of one another.  Poor Justin Timberlake got slammed around like a Raggedy Andy doll in a Pepsi ad, and Cars.com ran an ad appropriately called “Death Match”. Still, no one assumed that Pepsi’s ad was advocating or approving of the abuse of pop stars. 

To be a part of society, the gay and lesbian community is going to have to accept the positive and the negative depictions of “our people”. We can’t always be the good guys; sometimes, we will be the killer in the movie, the villain, or the victim. We’ve reached a point where there are enough positive portrayals of us in the media that being the brunt of the joke or the character everyone hates isn’t necessarily an indictment of every gay or lesbian person.  What was portrayed in the Bridgestone ad was far less hateful than some of the things I’ve heard gay men say about Richard Simmons—are we the only ones allowed to be in on the joke?

Jensen’s hypersensitivity was also showing in his reaction to Brokeback Mountain‘s surprise loss of the Best Picture Oscar a few years ago. (I don’t mean to pick on Jensen, who is an excellent writer.) Writing about the occasion, Jensen said:

The question remaining then is why did the Academy pass over Brokeback for Crash? Given the facts, there seems to be only one answer: good old-fashioned homophobia, or at least Hollywood’s fear of being perceived by Middle America as too tolerant of gay people, which is another kind of homophobia.  (“The Brokeback Mountain Oscar Snub”, 7 March 2006, AfterElton.
com
)

And he wasn’t alone in his assessment. Newspaper articles quoted angry gays—“It’s an outright sign of homophobia in our country”—and bulletin boards filled up with enraged gay film fans’ posts, “It’s all part of what homophobia is about.” But suppose, and I may lose my gay film fan membership card for saying this, suppose that a significant number of Academy members thought Crash was a better movie? I know I did, and so did Roger Ebert:

I chose Crash as the best film of the year not because it promoted one agenda and not another, but because it was a better film. The nature of the attacks on Crash by the supporters of Brokeback Mountain seem to proceed from the other position: Brokeback is better not only because of its artistry but because of its subject matter, and those who disagree hate homosexuals. (“The Fury of the Crash-lash”, 6 March 2006,
SunTimes.com)

Ebert goes on to note that those who disagree with Brokeback Mountain‘s loss focus on why Crash should not have won, but ignore any discussion of why any of the other three films nominated that year should have lost, also. They operate on the assumption that the race was Brokeback Mountain‘s to win, which it easily would have done if not for the liberal homophobes throwing their feel-good vote to Crash. However, if the largely Jewish Academy was voting by agenda, wouldn’t Munich, about the murder of Israeli athletes, have won?

These charges of homophobia are not entirely baseless, especially when Academy members such as Tony Curtis and Ernest Borgnine put their prejudice out for the world to see by declaring their refusal to even watch Brokeback Mountain, an act which should have disqualified them from voting. Still, it’s difficult to sustain a charge of rampant homophobia when Brokeback Mountain received eight nominations and three wins, including the prestigious directing and screenplay awards.

That same year, Phillip Seymour Hoffman won an Oscar for playing the outrageously gay Truman Capote in Capote, and Felicity Huffman was nominated for playing a transgendered person in Transamerica. And the Oscars have rewarded numerous gay individuals with awards over the years, including this year’s winning producer Scott Rudin, so the argument supporting a homophobic response to Brokeback Mountain by the Academy sounds more like bitterness than a well-reasoned proposition.

Among the many honors it did receive, Brokeback Mountain managed to pick up a well-deserved GLAAD Media Award. Unfortunately, not all GLAAD winners and nominees are as deserving. In an effort to “fill out” categories, GLAAD regularly nominates films, tv shows, and CDs that are far from being award worthy.  For instance, in its outstanding comedy category, such dribble as So NoTORIous and The War at Home have received nominations, while teen soap opera Greek has been nominated for best drama. The infantile Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby was nominated for best picture.

Granted, the awards that GLAAD gives aren’t for overall excellence, but for positive portrayals of GLBT individuals; still, rewarding Will Farrell movies and Tori Spelling series is hardly a way to establish credibility. Just because a film or series has a nice gay character doesn’t mean it deserves accolades. Ironically, until this year, the organization dedicated to defending gay and lesbian individuals has excluded gay-niche programming, films, and journalistic writing from consideration, instead honoring less worthy efforts intended for straight audiences. 

Years ago on Saturday Night Live, Mike Meyers portrayed a character who steadfastly declared “If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap!” Far too many GLBT individuals and organizations have adopted a similar attitude—“if it’s not gay, it’s crap!”—as well as an attitude that if it doesn’t exalt all things gay, it’s crap.

Well, that’s crap. When there are genuine insults threatening the GLBT community daily, do we really want to waste our time swatting at imaginary gnats and charging windmills? The Snickers ad from last year’s Super Bowl was a true slap at who we are; the Bridgestone ad is not. The rhetoric of Rick Santorum and Fred Phelps is homophobia; Brokeback Mountain winning only three Oscars is not.

It has taken decades of struggle to reach a point where, but for the rabid haters still holding out, homosexuals are no longer considered the scourge of society. We can be seen in all forms of media, our artists sell out concerts and art shows, and we occupy seats in the halls of government.

So it’s OK if every little thing gay or featuring a gay element isn’t the best possible. We can look at shows like Dante’s Cove and admit, “Hey, this show is crapola.  Hot, sexy crapola with more eye-candy than you can fathom, but crapola nonetheless.”

from So NoTORIous

from So NoTORIous

Michael has been writing for PopMatters since 2000. His primary focus, aside from queer culture, is television reviews and commentary, and his article Male Bashing on TV has been reprinted in two college textbooks. He currently lives in Louisville, KY, and is a Lecturer of Communication Studies at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, IN. As a teacher, he has an interest in the study of contemporary political rhetoric and argumentation. He and his partner Jim have been living in un-wedded bliss since 1995.


Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/if-its-gay-it-must-be-good-right/