It looks like my “Going for Brokeback” piece was written a week or two early. Just this weekend Brokeback Mountain, well on its way to being the frontrunner for the Academy Awards, became the center of two controversies.
One is stupid. A movie theater in Utah reneged on showing the film after it had been booked. This is the kind of idiocy that I expected more of, to be honest, so it’s nice to see that this is the first time it’s happened. Still, it’s become obvious that this movie will, if it gets nominated (and it will), become a lightning rod for the disdain of the Hateful Right.
The other controversy, believe it or not, is even stupider. Gene Shalit, the most ludicrous looking film critic who isn’t on the internet, reviewed the movie and referred to Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, Jack Twist, as a sexual predator. GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, got up in arms. And predictably, some people have no idea why.
It’s troubling to read defenses of Shalit on the web. I’ve seen the defenses here on the CHUD message boards, and I’ve seen it on other sites. I’ll use CinemaBlend’s Joshua Tyler as the example here. No offense to Joshua, but his was the first piece I came across that argued the ignorant position.
Whether Shalit is wrong or right is irrelevant. That’s his opinion of a specific character in a specific film. Being gay doesn’t mean that no one can say anything bad about that character. His comments aren’t hateful nor are they homophobic, though in their "call to action" GLAAD describes them as "anti-gay". But Shalit’s comments speak to the structure of the film he saw and they have nothing to do with his view of gays in general.
Right off the bat this is wrong. It is relevant if Shalit is right or wrong. It’s not an opinion he’s giving, but a grossly incorrect interpretation. Sometimes films invite interpretation of characters and motives, or they’re poorly made and vague. Brokeback is neither of these. Even those who don’t like the film have to admit that it’s incredibly well made – Ang Lee’s intentions are clear, as are the characters. This is a story about two men who share a complete and transcendent – and totally taboo – love. Jack Twist isn’t a sexual predator. In fact, the only way you could see Twist as a predator is if you assume that’s how gays operate, if you believe that gays are voraciously sexual, that gays are looking to “turn” straights, that gays are unable to control their urges. That’s a bias, and a homophobic one.
Imagine if someone had described Denzel Washington’s character in The Manchurian Candidate as shiftless. That’s not based on the character – that would be based on a racist concept of what black people are like. The same thing is happening here with Jack Twist – there is nothing in the film to indicate that Jack Twist is a predator. Not one moment, not one line, not one edit – nothing. In fact a simple viewing of the film will show that Jack is the bottom in the first sexual encounter. How does a predator force his prey to take the top spot?
Being gay doesn’t mean that no one can anything bad about a character – I agree with that. I can also understand where gay activists are coming from when they decry negative gay characters – there are so few gay characters in general that the negative portrayals are very obvious. When minority groups complain about negative portrayals, fools often say things like ‘How many villains are white hetero males?’ The number of white hetero males is pretty much in line with the general number of white hetero males in films – the overwhelming majority of characters are white hetero males.
But again, being gay doesn’t mean no one can say anything bad about a character – unless that person is making the bad thing up.
Joshua goes on to defend Shalit because the critic has a gay son. This is the new “I have black friends,” I guess. Congrats to Shalit for having a gay son. That doesn’t make his misrepresentation of Jack Twist any less nasty and ugly.
Finally, Joshua takes GLAAD to task for not showing tolerance. This, really, is the single lamest thing anyone can say. “Hey, JDL, be more tolerant of neo-Nazi groups! It’s their right to have their opinion!” That’s an obviously stupid thing to say, yet somehow asking GLAAD to not call out a cruelly stereotypical misrepresentation is uncool? Here’s the thing about film criticism – it isn’t one way. A good critic is beginning a dialogue, not monologuing. It’s OK to question or rebuke a critic’s opinion. When did an opinion become so sacrosanct anyway (and again, this isn’t Shalit’s opinion we’re talking about, unless you also believe that denying Luke Skywalker is a male is an opinion)?
Actually, there’s one more finally to add. In the spirit of a review being the beginning of a dialogue, I would like to respond to the Brokeback Mountain review written Joshua. He asks, “Does being grossed out by gay men having sex make me a homophobe? Does it make me a bad person?” Pretty much, yeah. Let me once again make a comparison: exchange “gay men” with “people of different races” and reread your sentence. You’d be a racist, wouldn’t you?