Friday, January 13, 2006

Thoughts on "Brokeback Mountain"

I remember reading the "Brokeback Mountain" story when it was first published in the New Yorker, I believe about eight years ago, and it pretty much freaked my shit.

I'm usually quite culturally liberal, but there's something about homosexuality that always makes me think of the Roman empire crumbling and stuff like that. It seems to come to a head pretty late in a civilization's decline, By the time it becomes prominent, I think it's equivalent to the bruises you start to see on a piece of overripe fruit. It represents a new, deeper level of decay.

Anyway, I'm sure there are many individuals for whom homosexuality does not seem like a choice. But I think there are as many or more people for whom homosexuality is an option but not a foregone conclusion (in other words, they're in the middle of that 6-point spectrum used to rank homo vs. hetero). I haven't seen the movie yet, but I think depictions like this that get people thinking about homosexuality will cause many to go ahead and explore it, whereas they probably never would've if society kept a better cap on it.

I don't think I'm a homophobe: I've had friends and roommates who were gay. As part of the gay-friendly early '80s punk/new wave scene, I went through my own teen process of determining it wasn't the right option for me. Within the last three months, I have brewed a pot of decaf to share with a confirmed gay man from Hollywood, CA, and sat up late talking with him, along with my wife. I'll probably see the movie on DVD eventually, and I'll probably admire many things about it. My gut-level response to Larry Miller is that it was dumb to pull the movie at the last moment. I don't believe in censorship.

But deep down, I'm alarmed. I see more bruises forming on the fruit. I think we're in trouble. To mix in another metaphor, compared to the heterosexual sexual revolution of the '60s, I think the gay movement is like crack cocaine next to pot, in terms of potential to ruin people's lives and upset the right balance of things. However, fruit is going to ripen no matter what you do, and part of me is clinically interested to watch our civilization follow the natural process. Problem is, when this fruit eventually falls off the tree, I don't see how we can avoid going with it. I guess that's where the Church comes in, to form some kind of alternative zion society where we can escape the fate. I hope this zion society has electricity.

I watched all six hours of the up-with-gays Angels in America the other week, so that adds to my angst a little too...


Anonymous said...

This was, I’m afraid, one of the most half-witted posts I've ever read in my life. And one of the most unthinkingly homophobic.

You may see the greater acceptance of the age-old reality of homosexuality as a sign of the impending apocalypse, or of the collapse of American civilization at least, but you're precisely wrong. It’s a sign of increasing civility.

Homosexuality didn't herald the end of Classic Greek civilization; roaming barbarian Roman hordes did. Classic civilization owes most of its achievements in the arts and sciences to homosexual artists and philosophers. Equally, homosexuality didn't herald the end of Roman civilization; roaming barbarian hordes of Goths did. The greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance (DaVinci, Michelangelo and Caravaggio) were homosexual.

So to lame the blame for the collapse of civilizations at the feet of gays is historically insupportable, breathtakingly reductive and - frankly - stupid.

Are you homosexual? How on earth can you make projections about the so-called choice/orientation issue without knowing what you’re talking about? Who would “choose” to join a minority that is daily menaced and marked by the unthinking bigotry that you have just indulged in?

Christopher Bigelow said...

You've painted me into a more extreme corner than I think is justified. I don't think gays cause civilization to fall; I think that when civilizations start increasingly tolerating, accepting, and celebrating the gay lifestyle as a good alternative for more people, it's one of many possible signs of moral decay. I certainly don't "lay the blame for the collapse of civilizations at the feet of gays."

Also, in my post I acknowledged that for some people, homosexuality isn't really a choice. I don't think we should be mean to them. What I'm concerned about is an environment in which many people who have both homo/hetero potential would more easily choose the homo. I've been involved in social scenes in which being gay was quite cool, and the more of those kinds of scenes that grow up and blend into the mainstream, the more gay people there will be. And I'm just saying I think that's not good.

To the degree that "Brokeback" makes people more humanly empathetic toward people in this situation, it's probably good. But to the degree that it makes people think it's okay or cool to allow themselves to drift into this lifestyle, I think it's bad. And I do think many teens and younger adults, in particular, who are still forming their sexual identities, could be swayed by things like this in a way that ruins the rest of their lives. But for adults who are more set in their sexual ways, perhaps the net effect of seeing the film is good, in helping them understand the plight.

Anonymous said...

I have never, in my long life, met a teenager or an adult whose sexual orientation was not fixed and fated from their earliest recollection. I have never met someone whose sexual orientation was altered, changed, re-directed or what have you by social factors or the idea of “coolness”. I never had any doubts about my own sexual orientation, nor have I known anyone else who did. The heart wants what it wants, and that's all there is to it, really.

You must admit it's not common for a heterosexual to become homosexual, nor a homosexual become a heterosexual; there’s a reason for that; it can’t be done.

You traffic in this risible “any straight person can become gay" myth because it absolves you of having to acknowledge the reality of gay lives.

If the sexual orientation, gayness, does not really exist, then you don't have to face up to your collusion in their oppression, do you? No wonder you don’t believe in it – you don’t want to see yourself as the oppressor that you are.

Gay people exist mate. They really do. And blaming them, or denying their orientation, or suggesting that they were somehow duped and seduced (in contradiction of the facts) is your way of ensuring they can not live openly in society with the dignity and integrity that you demand for yourself.

It’s never occurred to you, I bet, that the real problem facing gays isn’t immorality or promiscuity or social isolation – it’s you. Your sanctimonious judgementalism blights their lives and confines them to the shadows.

You writing makes clear that you can’t quite conceive of them as on an equal footing with yourself. That's obvious. That’s why you’re the last person on earth who should be addressing their plight.

I hope that you will spend more time listening to gay people instead of writing about them. You need to, I can see your comments are not yet informed by real discussions with them.

delagar said...

(1) Learn a bit about actual Roman history. That's my first piece of advice. (2) Learn something about gay folk and when and where they were tolerated. (3) Don't go spouted off about things you know nothing about.

Anonymous said...


Since you admit you haven't yet seen "Brokeback Mountain," I'll refer you to a review by a conservative Christian who got coerced into seeing it with a group of friends (everything else had sold out):

You have to register to read the comments, so I'll quote a few paragraphs:

"It's been four days since I saw the film, and progressively, day after day, I have been forced to admit that I am ashamed of the way I felt about homosexuals. I literally had no concept of what life is truly like for these individuals, and must continue to be....

"I can't explain what I'm feeling, but I haven't had this kind of doubt (about the church I go to) since I made the decision a long, long time ago to leave the family business against my father's wishes. I also didn't go into the same branch of the armed forces that he went into. Which is another story. In a way, I guess, my own personal history and my relationship with a disapproving (and uneducated) father somehow made me "get" what Heath Ledger's character goes through. Let me just say that a lot of heartache was involved. The God I believe in, that I teach my kids to trust, would never wish the kind of pain that I went through on anyone, which really I now know for real, is the same kind of pain homosexuals must go through just to live what for them is an honest life, and the choice they must make. I'd never had my eyes opened to this before, not ONE IOTA.

"Tonight, winding down, I said a little prayer. It was more or less the same thing that's been going round and round inside my head since I saw this movie... who am I to judge? I honestly was trembling at one point during the credits before we got up to leave, and I had to struggle to re-gain my composure. Now that I am remembering that, it reminds me of the way I trembled when I first asked God to forgive me of my sins and accept me as I am.

"'Brokeback Mountain' humbled me."

Things like that give me hope for the future of humanity. Your post doesn't--quite the reverse, in fact.

Even if homosexuality is a choice, what on earth does that matter? Why is it wrong to share physical intimacy with someone who has the same genitals as you? And don't you DARE resort to some scriptural reference to answer that, especially given your admission that you don't much read the scriptures. Just try to offer me a compelling reason why it's so awful for two women or two men to set up house together and share a bed.

Given that you tout your connection to polygamy in your banner, I'd also suggest you watch "Latter Days" (which is out on DVD). As one of the characters points out to a priesthood holder who condemns homosexuality and dismisses it as an "alternative" lifestyle, Mormons were long the champions of a "perverse," "alternative" approach to sexuality. Mormons don't have much room to judge when it comes to other consensual adults claiming some basic human right to non-mainstream forms of sexuality and marriage.

Christopher Bigelow said...

I wouldn't presume to judge those who are 5 or 6 on the scale--in other words, those who effectively don't have a choice. I'm still concerned that, as society becomes more permissive and we're conditioned by movies like this to be more accepting and sympathetic about homosexuality--which is good in some ways, such as reducing hate and judgmentality--more people who are 2, 3, and 4 on the scale will drift into homosexuality, which I think is a problem.

I personally believe homosexuality is a bad thing, but I don't have any new arguments about why--I'm sure you've heard them all before. I think it's not exactly parallel with but similar to alcoholism, with most of its destruction occuring on a spiritual level. Plus, it makes people miss out on parenthood who might otherwise have made a real contribution as a parent.

To tell you the truth, I'm not sure how much of a stomach I have for debating this, because I start feeling mean and nasty like a racist or something. But I think that comes because of the skillful rhetoric and social pressure of those who are pro-gay, not because this issue is equivalent to race or because my position is necessarily wrong. I would certainly never be prejudiced toward an individual gay person just for being gay; I wouldn't presume to know all the reasons why and their personal situation. I am simply alarmed to see society going in a direction where more and more people will become gay; this movie is obviously a HUGE bellwether of that process, for all the good it may also do in reducing judgmentality.

Anonymous said...

The reason you "feel mean and nasty like a racist or something" when you say things like this is because you are smart enough to realize that by doing so, YOU ARE being mean and nasty like a racist or something, but you are not morally responsible enough to deal with the fact that that realization should compel you to change your attitudes.

What you've written is beneath you, ethically and intellectually. Of course you know enough about biology and the actual composition of real families (now and throughout history--Oscar Wilde, after all, had two sons) to know that being gay does not foreclose the possibility of parenthood. And I am sickened that you would assert, without any support at all as to how, that homosexuality causes some sort of spiritual destruction.

If you want to know what really causes spiritual (and emotional, and social) destruction, read up on the cost to society, families and individuals when a gay person marries a straight person, a problem particularly acute in Mormonism, which preaches, oh-so-glibly, oh-so-smugly, oh-so-devoid-of-actual-support, that homosexuality "is not exactly parallel with but similar to alcoholism, with most of its destruction occuring on a spiritual level." People desperate to escape that "destruction" do all kinds of destructive things as they seek to avoid it--only to realize eventually that there's a better, easier, less costly way to live, which is just to let people be gay if they want to.

Bigotry is much more destructive to society than same-sex love, and your discomfort with your own comments suggests that on some level you know that. You should feel not only mean and nasty, but foolish as well for what you've written here. If you don't like being labeled a bigot, don't talk like one.

Richard said...

You're right. That's it. The Roman empire crumbling. I couldn't put my finger on it, but that was the undeveloped idea that came to my mind too about Brokeback Mountain and our culture's hyper-obsession with all things gay and bright.

Saviour Onassis said...

What is it with Mormons and their OBSESSION with conversion? Before I was excommunicated, I was given an ultimatum. I was asked to choose between my sexuality and my church. This was possibly the easiest choice I have ever made, but even as I made it, I was told that "action" would be taken against me because of it. I was a college student in a small town and if my sexuality went unpunished by the church, it would encourage more gay boys to come out of the closet. That is what my bishop told me. That I must be made an example of. He was afraid that my sexual orientation would become contagious.

"Brokeback Mountain", when you finally see it and realize, is NOT a beautifully photographed advertisement for the homosexual lifestyle. It is a long, slow meditation on pain and loss. The idea that those who are, as you say, "on the fence" about their orientation, will convert to homosexuality after seeing this film is just plain dumb. I cannot imagine anyone seeing these two men caught up in such anguish and turmoil, saying "I want that for myself!"

One good thing about films like this is that it gives homophobes a chance to fly their flags. Please, don't say that you are not homophobic when you are. "I personally believe homosexuality is a bad thing, but I don't have any new arguments about why--I'm sure you've heard them all before." I have heard them all before, Christopher, far too many times. Like I said, it was the easiest choice I have ever made.

Christopher Bigelow said...

The movie may not be "a beautifully photographed advertisement for the homosexual lifestyle," but by dramatizing one couple's "pain and loss" like this, one implicit message I'm alarmed by is that society should start enabling and embracing gay relationships like this. No, I don't want individuals to suffer like those two suffered, but I don't think the alternative of becoming a more gay society is right either--and that's naturally the solution that I'm worried most people will embrace.

So anyway, I expect barbarians to flood us from the mountains soon--oh wait, they already are, up at Sundance. (I am just kidding.)