Monday, December 19, 2005
by Wayne Besen
If it weren't for gay people and gay bashers would anyone know about Wyoming? Sure, it is a beautiful state with some fine folks. But Matthew Shepard, Mary Cheney and now the movie Brokeback Mountain are the only reasons it makes news.
One would think the state would be so ecstatic about the national attention generated by the gay cowboy movie, it would produce custom "Brokeback Mountain" vanity plates. But no, the movie has yet to find an exhibitor in the state. Aren't Wyoming's residents the slightest bit curious why the rest of the nation can suddenly find their state on the map?
Wyoming isn't alone in miscalculating America's readiness to embrace this cinematic masterpiece. I've been getting e-mails from people who are furious that they are being treated like children and denied the opportunity to share in the Brokeback experience.
"It would be sad that I would have to get on a plane and travel to larger, distant cities to see this wonderful movie that's long overdue," a man wrote me from South Carolina. "I wonder if it will be on sale when it comes out on DVD or will I have to special order it especially when there are more lewd and sexually graphic straight movies on display for all to see?"
Theatres that won't show this movie will ignorantly cite "community standards." This reminds me of efforts to close strip joints in small towns citing the same reason, yet conveniently overlooking that people who live in the community pack these places.
This is not to draw an equivalent between stripping and Brokeback, but to make the point that the complexion and complexity of communities is far different than often presented. Having traveled throughout America, I can say that the whole blue/red state conventional wisdom is misleading. In all corners of this nation you find substantial numbers of gay people and thoughtful, progressive straight people. So, to deny a substantial minority enriching cultural opportunities, such as Brokeback Mountain, does not reflect community standards, but rather tyranny of the slight majority.
Try as some might to suppress the movie, Brokeback Mountain is an unstoppable force. The acting is superb, the cinematography magnificent and the message piercingly honest. But most important, it was released in a diffuse media age where the real impact won't be felt until the movie goes from the big to little screen.
As the man who e-mailed me said, he will see Brokeback Mountain on DVD if the local yokels deny him the theatre experience. The movie will also be available on digital cable's multitudinous channels. And now, people will be able to literally watch the gay cowboys from the closet on their easily concealed video I-Pods.
While the Hollywood media machine's unveiling of Brokeback Mountain has been as dramatic as Wyoming's Grand Teton mountains, the long-term effect on American culture will have more in common with the rolling hills of the Great Plains.
Mainstream Americans will watch this movie in the coming years in the privacy of their own homes. Attitudes about gay people will be transformed and greater acceptance will follow. People will learn how destructive the closet is, not only on gays, but also on the people caught up in the sham families created to protect these closets. It will also help undermine the right wing's promotion of ex-gay ministries. The dramatization of shattered families in Brokeback Mountain exposes these groups for the divorce mills they truly are.
Indeed, "ex-gay" leader Stephen Bennett in USA Today talks about how his program is so feckless that merely seeing Brokeback Mountain caused one of these arranged marriages to nearly shatter.
"I just spoke with a married man on the telephone who is contemplating leaving his wife and children," said Bennett. "He says he's gay, and Brokeback Mountain has influenced his decision."
What has not been talked about is the profound affect the movie is having on the already out gay community. It has caused many people I know to reevaluate their lives and ponder the meaning of life, love and relationships. Watching the struggle of the two protagonists Jack Twist and Enis del Mar makes today's gay people stop and think, "I really have it easy. Given this freedom, have I lived true to myself and opened myself to the possibility of love?"
The main reason that Brokeback Mountain will be a crossover hit is because of its universal message. Its success comes down to the ending scene where Enis del Mar is alone in his bare-bones trailer overlooking the haunting prairie. He opens a closet and wistfully touches the hanging clothes of Jack Twist, who has been murdered.
It is a gut wrenching moment for the character, but also for moviegoers. They are forced to confront fears of loneliness and to ask themselves if they have lived life to the fullest and expressed their love to the people who matter most?
Gay or straight, the answer to this question is all too often, no. In essence, we all have our own secret Brokeback Mountain and the movie subconsciously asks people to find their purpose and embrace their passion, because life is short and fragile. It is this searing, powerful message more than the fact the messengers are gay that will ultimately help people understand the struggles of gay people, and more importantly, themselves.