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    Wednesday, December 07, 2005

    No Protest for Brokeback

    From Salon:

    The new celluloid version of C.S. Lewis' "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" finally arrives in theaters on Friday, the same day the smaller but also eagerly awaited "Brokeback Mountain" debuts. The two films could hardly be less alike: One is the family blockbuster of the winter season with heavily marketed Christian overtones; the other is a small love story about two cowboys. And yet their simultaneous release this weekend could touch off the year's first real box-office culture clash.

    The Disney/Walden Media version of Lewis' Narnia tale comes with all the bells and whistles of a crowd-pleaser -- CGI wizardry and epic battles -- and the studios are hoping, no doubt, that it will become just the first installment of a lucrative fantasy series, à la "The Lord of the Rings," but with more episodes (there are seven books in "The Chronicles of Narnia"). In a marketing campaign built on the lessons of "The Passion of the Christ," Narnia has also been skillfully sold to the Christian audience via special church screenings and a plethora of Sunday school teaching materials that tie into the film, much of it orchestrated by Motive Entertainment, the company that helped launch "Passion."

    "Brokeback Mountain," on the other hand, is a quiet drama made very much in the mold of classic American tragic love stories, and has been compared to everything from "Titanic" -- even the movie posters are purposefully similar -- to "Gone With the Wind." But while in no way political in itself -- the story sticks close to the characters and the arc of their relationship -- a film about two cowboys (even one with the tag line "Love is a force of nature") cannot help finding itself suddenly sucked into a political vortex beyond the filmmaker's control, given the current cultural divide over gay rights. It's a film that "bucks Hollywood convention" and "explores the last frontier," and in a year that has seen a ferocious national debate over same-sex marriage, a taboo-busting movie that brings together two rising young male Hollywood stars locking lips on the big screen is bound to stir controversy.

    Or you'd at least be forgiven for thinking so. Because it turns out that there's a concerted effort -- on both sides -- to avoid turning "Brokeback Mountain" into a political battle.

    Instead of boycotts, picket lines or enraged letters to the editor, conservative Christian groups are hoping to kill the film with silence. Robert Knight, director of the Culture & Family Institute at Concerned Women for America, says his group has made a conscious decision not to campaign against the film. "People aren't going to walk around outside theaters with protest signs," Knight says. "This is not 'The Last Temptation of Christ,' which was such an affront that people felt they had to respond. This is something that could be and should be ignored.

    Wow. Queers can now just be ignored! Hooray! No more "God hates fags" signs at the funerals of the bashed! No more boycotting of companies that advertise in gay-themed publications or sponsor gay-friendly events!

    Somehow I doubt the fact that Christian groups aren't protesting Brokeback Mountain will "kill" it.

    "Imagine protesting 'Titanic' or 'Gone With the Wind,' " says Dave DeCicco, communications director at the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. "It's a really bad idea, because you're going to have broad appeal with the movie. One of the things people in this country enjoy is a love story. The right-wing lunatics are maybe smart enough to back off."

    The fact that a gay love story can now count as a "love story" sounds like progress to me, though it is Dave DeCicco saying it, no James Dobson.

    "I don't think it's going to be another 'Philadelphia,' because it's one thing to garner sympathy for a man dying of AIDS; it's another to tell America that they should accept two cowboys lusting after each other," says the Culture & Family Institute's Knight. He also brushes off the potential effect of an Oscar nomination or win -- which helped catapult "Philadelphia" into mainstream consciousness -- by citing a canard about the failure of Oliver Stone's biopic on Alexander the Great. "I don't think it will matter. I mean, look, 'Alexander' was doomed when word got around that it had a bisexual aspect to it. People don't want to see that. They don't want to see two guys going at it. . ."

    Oh they don't, don't they? Well, the gay men's porn industry better LOOK OUT!

    (And the notion that the failure of Alexander had anything to do with the queer factor is hilarious- I think that's the only reason anyone saw it at all!)

    Oddly, there's more outrage over the perceived damage the film will do to the hallowed masculine image of cowboys. A story about the movie in the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune -- cited by Matt Drudge -- quotes lifelong resident and playwright Sandy Dixon as saying she doesn't know a single gay cowboy: "There's nothing better than plain old cowboys and the plain old history without embellishing it to suit everyone." Or, as Knight puts it: "A cowboy who's lusting after his buddy isn't fit to wear cowboy boots." (Curtis Monk, who leads an AIDS-awareness program and also coordinates events for Wyoming Equality, tends to disagree. "I alone personally know 15 gay cowboys who come to our dances.")

    In other words, there aren't a lot of "out" cowboys who go around proclaiming their sexual orientation in the straight world. Much like Jake and Heath's characters in the film. Hmm.

    "Maybe after years of MTV shoving sexual license in kids' faces there's a whole new generation ready for two cowboys going after each other instead of the cowgirl," says Knight, "but I hope not."

    Yeah, maybe after having the most fucked-up version of heterosexuality "shoved in their faces" kids will enjoy watching a real love story between two men.


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