Tuesday, March 28, 2006

essay updates

I remember when I read this article back in the NYT magazine some weeks ago, feeling that there was something I didn't quite like about it. In the Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley expresses it more eloquently than I could have:
In certain precincts occupied by certain members of the American intelligentsia, it has for some time been quite the fashion to ferret out racists in one's familial woodpile and then to write books about them. The ostensible purpose of these books is to provide intimate, confessional evidence of the degree to which racial prejudice has infiltrated every conceivable corner of American life. Their obvious if unstated purpose is to show how the (white) author has triumphed over his or her sordid ancestral inheritance to become a person of impeccable credentials on matters racial. Though all due modesty and claims of imperfection are expressed, the reader is expected to stand and cheer as, at book's end, the author's heroic achievement is revealed in full.

I had posted earlier about Daniel Mendelsohn's fine review of Brokeback Mountain. Producer James Schamus responds to Mendelsohn, in what I must say, is an extraordinarily dishonest letter.

I am not radical enough to insist that it was the film-makers' duty to market Brokeback Mountain as a "gay" film; after all, their first priority is that the film does well, that it recover it's costs. If that involves toning down the gay elements in the publicity stills, so be it. But surely there's nothing wrong in admitting that; the only ones offended will be radicals and the film is good enough to appeal to everyone. But Schamus insists on having his cake and eating it too -- he name-drops terms from queer theory, just to appeal to people who believe in it, and he talks about the "universality of love". But the best line has to be this:

And it is true that we have marketed the film primarily as an epic, sweeping romance between two men, and do not append the words "gay" or "homosexual" to our marketing blurbs for the movie (although you never saw a poster or ad telling you that either Titanic or The Bridges of Madison County was the "greatest straight love story of all time").

This is a breathtaking statement. Of course, the fact that the word "straight" isn't used to describe Titanic does not mean that the movie doesn't advertise its straightness. (There is the fact that the only people who use the word "straight" or "heterosexual" are gay men; straight people don't really think of themselves as straight). I will only quote Mendelsohn's response here and then get off the topic once and for all:
With breathtaking disingenuousness, given his ostensible commitment to queer theory, Mr. Schamus suggests that Brokeback shouldn't advertise the sexuality of its characters any more than straight mainstream films do. But of course, those films do advertise, relentlessly, the heterosexuality of their characters—as even a quick glance at the posters used to advertise, say, Titanic and The Bridges of Madison County will confirm. There, one can see what is, after all, the standard visual representation of erotic love between two people, which is a clear image of two yearning lovers embracing. One wonders why, if Focus Features is so open, proud, and celebratory of its film's homosexual love story, such an image is utterly absent from its print and TV ads for the movie—just as the open, unashamed, and insistent use of the word "gay" is absent from the producers' promotional rhetoric, starting with the pages—any and all of them—of the press kit.

Finally two fascinating articles from the Post and the Times here and here.

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