December 31, 2009

WHY BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN IS IMPORTANT... AND WHY IT IS STILL PROBLEMATIC

Oh dear. That didn't take long.

What the fuck do you think, ripping on Broke Mountain like this? It's not like you have written anything that is remotely as important as this movie, so shut the fuck up, until you do something that touches people, what you done?
Ah, emails. The ability to reply instantly and be angry. Oh well. To that one person who I now know reads this blog. I said that Brokeback Mountain is an important movie, and will help and very likely already has helped young gays surrounded by small town environments (where being gay must be hell) to come to terms with who and what they are...

... but the actual storytelling is merely a Romeo and Julia type love story, in that roundabout way of they cannot come together, yet they cannot be apart (remember the quote of the movie? "I can't quit you." Surgeon General's Warning: Being Gay Can Be Damaging To Your Health).

Brokeback Mountain is one of those movies that are mostly prevalent today. It puts the finger on a problem and shows us that the problem exists, but it never actually transcends said problem.  In other words, the being gay part is mostly defined as it relates to society as a whole. Just as most "black" movies define their identy as being black relates to society as a whole.  That implies a direct acceptance of what society considers to be mainstream, and the definiton of such identity is almost all the time a negative one. Let me be perfectly clear. It is a definition that is based on we are not like them, or – if you wish to take mainstream society's point of view – they are not like us. And that is their problem. Or the problem. Or our problem. But it is defined as a problem.

Sometimes it takes the form of shame (as it does in Precious), sometimes it leads to a fierce, yet utterly retarded celebration of such differences. Chris Rock is a prime example of the latter, together with most rappers. If one listens to Rock's stand-up comedy, upon second or third viewing, when the laughter is gone, you realise that Rock is one racist motherfucker, and no, racism is not merely defined by the majority of those who do the oppression, it is defined by the acceptance of your oppressor's definiton of you, and then the subsequent celebration of how they see you. Yes, I'm a nigger, the rappers tell you (while making most of their money from white suburban boys who have never known poverty, and most certainly do not come from the streets, wherever the fuck those streets are). Fucking deal with it, cracker!

Same with gays. Same even with Jews, who now have happily taken on the exact definition that was thrust upon them by the Nazis... and now actually delude themselves into thinking they are a race. No, kids, you are not. You are, if I am being nice, a societal community based upon a common belief (and I still believe you should sue the Christians and Muslims for copyright infringement, after all, you invented God... and they merely wrote unauthorised sequels). What you are not? What you never will be? A race. But just like Blacks define themselves primarily in the terms thrust upon them by the white majority of yesteryears, seeing themselves as Black first, so do today's Jews primarily see themselves as Jews first... and once gays come out of the closet (that must be one damn big closet, by the way. Genetically, it is believed that roughly 10 percent of the world's population is gay, so that is kind of hard to keep them all in there, unless said closet was built by Noah) they do very often the same.

But back to the movie. I believe that pointing out a problem is very important, but what is even more important in storytelling is to say What If?

What if? Most powerful phrase in human history, that is. Let me tell you a story. I grew up in Germany, and when I was growing up, we didn't have black people here. I mean, sure, there must have been some somewhere, but they were not a part of your daily experience. And yet, the biggest sitcom in 1980s and early 1990s Germany was? What? Hm? Can you guess? The Cosby Show. The genius of said show was that – for the most part – colour didn't matter! Cosby told stories that were universal. A middle class family (upper middle class) with normal, middle-class problems (remember that? When we still had a middle class? Just wait. In a few decades, they will be as much of a myth as those aristocrats of the middle ages). And for me, growing up, that was what Blacks were like. Pretty much like my family (well, they certainly had more money than us on that show), only funnier.

When I went over to the United States to have my Fulbright Scholarship, my head was filled with those images. No the gangsta bullshit. Not the nigger, get off my fucking pride bullshit. It was Cosby, and Denise, and Theo (mostly Denise, though, grrrrrwl). And so I never had those notions that there was any difference between them and me. That, while you can call it blatantly manipulative and almost propgandist, was what Cosby managed to do. Have a kid in a different part of the world grow up... without prejudice!

In other words, he didn't define himself and his TV family in terms of how they relate with the rest of mainstream society (for the most part, but I admit that the whole African thing and the Black Month episodes went straight over my head at the time. I knew they were somewhat important, but they never stuck out as a sore thumb).

That is what I want for gays as well. To have something that transcends the problem. That, by the way, is why I am totally for marriage rights for them. Hell, if marriage is so sacred, why do we have a divorce rate of 50-60 percent, depending on what study we choose to believe? Why not show them... just like us? In movies, I mean? Why do we have to be stuck with the bullshit that was Will & Grace? Why is the kid in Glee almost a caricature of a gay boy?

Because they are not like us!

That is what most movies and TV shows harp on (and some gays, oh dear god, the guys from Queer Guy could have been invented by Michael Bay for the hairdresser/stylist scene of The Rock)

They are not like us!

Pffft. Of course they are. But that is what we should show on the screen, be it big or small. To be integrative and not pushing them out, either as a celebration or as a damning cliche.

In my TV pilot script THE CAGE, I have two of the characters being a lesbian couple. Now, you wouldn't know it if you read the scripts. It's there, but it's there mostly for the two actresses who will have to play the parts. I chose – on purpose – to not make a big deal out of it. They are two people. They are in love. Sooner or later, that they are lesbian might turn out to become a problem for them, but by that point I want the audience to know that they are just like us.

Mostly, in my scripts, I don't even tell you if a character should be black, white or whatever. I don't think in these categories, for the most part (there is one exception, in a script called POSSESSION, but... there is a reason why a certain character should be black, and should the movie ever be made, you will know at the end of the movie why, and no, it isn't a racial statement, it's a statement on how movies like that are usually constructed)

In another one of my scripts, there is a gay couple, and I play them straight. Hahaha. I made a funny. But seriously, there is a reason why they turned out to be gay, and again, it has nothing to do with anything other than a serious plot point that led me to think, how can avoid a certain cliché? How can I circumvent a particular question the audience will have at that point, because in movie conventions, x, y or z has to happen. And so they became a gay couple. And once that happened, I thought to myself, how the hell can I prevent this now from becoming a stupid cliché? Simply. By not dealing with the difference! By not dealing with the problem! They are a couple. period. And so I wrote those two men they way I would write a straight, heterosexual couple.

They are just like us!

And that is what we should do in movies, in books and on TV. Not just point out the problem, but extrapolate, to show that it shouldn't be the problem that defines us and them.