Monday, January 31, 2005
by Wayne Besen
In a recent USA Today column
, radio host Michael Medved wrote an absurd rant about Hollywood's supposed disdain for Neo-Puritans simply because Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ
did not get an Oscar nomination for best picture.
"The Oscar nominations announced Tuesday illustrate Hollywood's profound, almost pathological discomfort with the traditional religiosity embraced by most of its mass audience," wrote Medved.
Did it occur to the conservative shock jock that The Passion
didn't get nominated because the profitable movie on the prophet was just God-awful? Does today's conservatively correct crowd have such a big chip on its shoulder that it can't handle any legitimate criticism? Holding the belief that The Passion
didn't deserve an Oscar nomination is not liberal or anti-religious - it is simply pro-art.
Look, I've seen hundreds of movies and "The Passion for Pain"
was the worst one ever made. The movie was grotesquely and gratuitously hyper-violent, virulently anti-Semitic and virtually devoid of Jesus' true message of love and compassion. Why would Gibson waste a few minutes of film showing Jesus loving thy neighbor when he could dedicate the celluloid to Biblical brutality?
The entire movie consisted of Jesus getting slowly beaten to a pulp by sneaky Jews with Louisville Slugger-like noses. I got the impression that Gibson scoured every Synagogue and bagel shop in Manhattan to find the 100 most sinister-looking, beady-eyed stereotypes imaginable. It might be news to Gibson, but not every Jew looks like the Grim Reaper.
I'm a fan of action and horror movies, but the stomach-turning violence in The Passion
was overkill to the extreme. The movie industry should have given it a rating of S&M. Gibson and his apologists defend his pornographic snuff film by saying that it was important to get across that Jesus had suffered. Sure, because before Gibson's morbid movie, everyone was under the impression that crucifixion was a ball.
Come to think of it, The Passion
was like a self-righteous Rocky flick with Jesus playing the bad-ass boxer and Mother Mary in the ring-side role of Adrian, as she followed her son from one grisly scene to another. "Yo, Mary." Only the tacky Gibson could turn the Biblically beautiful into a bruising burlesque.
I was also bothered by Gibson's sanguinary scenes, which were unbelievably phony and shockingly unrealistic. Gibson's Jesus shed enough blood in the first hour to have killed any man. Instead of dying, we got another hour of gore with enough blood to fill the Red Sea. If Jason from Friday the 13th were at the theater he would have stood up and screamed, "Enough Already!"
The most absurd Medved point was that Hollywood has lost its moorings because it used to celebrate successful movies like Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments.
"Hollywood once chose to praise movies that eloquently affirmed the religious convictions of the mass audience. But in 2005, top nominations went to films that went out of their way to assault or insult the sensibilities of most believers."
To compare The Passion of the Christ
to classic movies like these is laughable. Gibson's movie was shallow, one-dimensional and bizarrely fixated on torture. The Ten Commandments
, on the other hand, was a terrific movie with layered characters, an engaging plot and the violence was within the context of the story -- not the point of the story.
If Gibson had produced The Ten Commandments
, the first half of the movie would have been the Egyptians drowning at sea, with money shots of their bloated, eye-bugging, asphyxiated carcasses. The second half of the movie would have been Moses suffering in excruciating pain as he walked through the scorching desert. Gibson would have shot close-ups of Moses' parched tongue and we would have been voyeuristically treated to his starving, skeletal followers barbecuing scorpions to survive.
We can only hope that Gibson stays away from creating more films where he turns peaceful, non-violent men into vigilantes. Give Gibson the chance he'd give Gandhi a gun and arm Buddha with a Beretta.
Finally, what disturbed me most about The Passion
was that when I went to the theater it was packed with impressionable children. It seems it's okay for conservatives to bash violent movies as long as they cater to a liberal audience. But, if a movie portrays Jesus or even Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, sickening displays of bubbling blood and spilling guts is considered wholesome family entertainment.
Hollywood got it right by not succumbing to the far right's pressure campaign to nominate an inferior, psychotic movie produced by what appears to be a highly disturbed Mel Gibson. If the judges asked "What Would Jesus Do"(WWJD), I think it is clear he would snub Gibson and vote for "The Aviator".
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
by Wayne Besen
Earlier today, a spokestoon for SpongeBob SquarePants announced he is breaking up with gay puppet icon Tinky Winky. Irreconcilable differences were cited, such as they were physically incompatible as neither one had private parts. The spokestoon also charged that Tinky had been chronically depressed after not getting cast for a part in the Broadway musical Avenue Q.
Hey, if Focus on the Family leader James Dobson can create a surreal gay plot with SpongeBob SquarePants, why can't I? If you haven't heard, Dobson accused the animated yellow sponge, who lives in a "pineapple under the sea", of starring in a "pro-homosexual video".
"Does anybody here know SpongeBob?" Dobson ominously asked on stage at a pre-inaugural dinner for members of Congress. If you listen closely to the C-SPAN rerun, I think you can hear alleged closet case David Drier, R-Calif., stand up and exclaim, "Oh, I do. I know Spongy Poo." But the character's sexual orientation was news to everyone else in the room.
The video in question, "We Are Family" (OK - maybe it does sound a little gay) calls for tolerance of all people and will be shown in schools. You think a professed Christian like Dobson would embrace such a loving message. But no, he considers anything short of throwing gay people on the rack "pro-homosexual".
I have to admit, I sometimes envy right-wingers. They can be as creative with reality as they wish, and their bamboozled base of boobs rewards their audacity with membership and money.
Imagine if the shoe were on the other foot and a liberal leader like Howard Dean claimed at an Inaugural dinner that Porky Pig was a secret right wing Republican with ties to Halliburton.
First, the audience would be silent, waiting for the punch line. Then there would be an outbreak of random, nervous snickers. Finally, the place would erupt in uproarious laughter as security searched for a butterfly net to take him away.
But in right wing circles these days, everyone seems to be singing from the same song sheet: Loony Tunes.
The reason Dobson & Friends hit these nutty notes is because their feckless flocks are gullible. For example, during the presidential campaign the Republican National Committee sent a flyer to conservatives in West Virginia and Arkansas that showed a Bible with the word "BANNED" across it and a photo of a man, on his knees, placing a ring on the hand of another man with the word "ALLOWED." The flyer tells these hapless dupes to "vote Republican to protect our families" and stop the "liberal agenda."
Could anybody really be that dense to think that Barney Frank and Hillary Clinton were going to drive a division of armored Volvos into West Virginia and repossess heavily thumped Bibles? Oh yeah, Bush won the state with the help of "values voters".
If there is one lesson I've learned in politics, it is that once people believe the Lord is on their side, there is no such thing as stooping too low to please Him. With a clear conscience, conservatives will trot out lying hacks like commentator-on-the-take Armstrong Williams and discredited quacks like Richard Cohen to promote their agenda.
Cohen is the president of PFOX, a Virginia "ex-gay" group that specializes in helping parents reject their gay children. The author of "Coming Out Straight" and Dr. Laura Schlessinger's ex-gay advisor, Cohen is one of the leading "experts" right wing political groups use to say that gay people can become heterosexual through prayer and therapy.
Earlier this week, I dropped the bombshell that Cohen had been permanently expelled from the American Counseling Association for unethical behavior. Before this revelation, I had reported in my book, "Anything But Straight" that Cohen had once belonged to a bizarre cult on an island near Seattle that got in hot water for practicing nude therapy.
Despite Cohen's peculiar past and disgraced career, right wing groups had no qualms about making him an anti-gay spokesperson. The moral of the story is the right has no morals. Any lackey who tows the party line can be a high-priced "expert" with no checks or balances to make sure he or she is legit. But what is the incentive to have respected experts when the unbalanced bring in the checks?
If SpongeBob would only become an ex-gay, he could replace Cohen as a right wing spokesperson. After all, they'll take anyone, no matter how cartoonish.
Monday, January 17, 2005
by Wayne Besen
In their gratuitous zeal to undermine same-sex families, Virginia lawmakers are showing about as much wisdom as Prince Harry in a costume shop. In the opening week of Virginia's general assembly, four separate constitutional bans on the freedom to marry were introduced. This continuous drive to marginalize and stigmatize gay families may gravely damage the reputation of Virginia and cause a gradual brain drain that will hurt business interests.
Virginia is not alone in its rush to attack same-sex couples. On Election Day, 11 states passed Constitutional Amendments banning marriage for same-sex families. But even in this conservative environment, Virginia stands out for not just buoying discriminatory marriage laws, but bullying its gay citizens. The state has been nothing short of aggressively anti-gay, making life increasingly intolerable for gay Virginians:
- In 1997, the Virginia Assembly passed a law forbidding marriage between gay people and voiding marriages of gay couples performed in other jurisdictions.
- In 2004, Del. Robert Marshall sponsored the so-called Marriage Affirmation Act, a draconian law that not only bans civil unions, but may also strip gay people of their basic right to enter into private contracts, such as wills and medical directives with their life partners.
- Virginia is the only state that forbids private companies from adding any household member, aside from a spouse and dependent children, to a group health plan.
- Even though the U.S. Supreme Court's Lawrence v. Texas ruling overturned sodomy laws, Virginia has defiantly kept its "crimes against nature" law on the books in an effort to intimidate and harass its gay citizens.
Obviously, there is already a glut of anti-gay laws in existence. The spectacle of grandstanding delegates tripping over one another to add a superfluous Constitutional Amendment is beyond political pandering - it's persecution. This heavy-handed overkill sends the message that gay people are not wanted - or even tolerated - in Virginia. As a result, many gay people are choosing to bring their talents and spend their tax dollars elsewhere.
For example, after the Marriage Affirmation Act was passed, Virginia Tech biology professor Lynn Adler left the school to work at the University of Massachusetts. In her letter to Virginia Tech's president, Adler said she was "sad and sorry" to be going, but the laws of Virginia made it too difficult to live in the state.
Another example is that of Fredericksburg-area couple Barbara and Tibby. Barbara, a therapist, and Tibby, a retired schoolteacher, have been together for 40-years and lived in Virginia for more than three decades. According to the Free Lance Star, in 2001, Barbara had a brain aneurysm. While she is still able to function, her long-term future is uncertain.
Thanks to Del. Marshall's Marriage Affirmation Act, the couple can't be sure that the legal contracts they once drew up will sufficiently protect Tibby if Barbara passes away. Although they would much rather stay in Virginia, they are moving to Maryland.
"The whole thing has been a nightmare," Barbara, told the Star. "The law has already accomplished what it set out to do - to squash us and to hurt us."
Meanwhile, on the other end of I-95, Massachusetts anti-gay activist Laurie A. Letourneau is loading up her truck to move to Virginia. She simply could no longer live in a state that allowed gay people the freedom to marry.
"This place is a cesspool. It's pathetic," she told the Worcester Telegram, discussing her home state, which has the third lowest divorce-rate in the nation. "We have an ineffective Church and a bunch of wimps in the legislature."
Well, she won't have to worry about girly-men in the Virginia legislature. Richmond is chockfull of moral macho men like Del. Marshall who chase senior citizens with aneurysms to Maryland in the name of family values. As Virginia drives out more college professors and long-term families, it can expect more mean-spirited yahoos like Letourneau to settle in the state, turning Tidewater into a backwater.
Fortunately, this month nearly 300 members of Equality Virginia tried to undo the damage by lobbying the General Assembly for equal rights. Participants, such as lesbian mother Carol Schall, told lawmakers of how discrimination hurts their families.
"They wouldn't let me in the [hospital] room," said Schall, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch. "My partner couldn't speak for herself, and I was literally clawing at the door. It was the worst day of my life."
If people have to continue to claw at hospital doors to see loved ones, it is only a matter of time before this cruel and invidious discrimination causes the best and the brightest, gay or straight, to claw at Virginia's exit door.
Thursday, January 13, 2005
by Wayne Besen
Conservative commentator Armstrong Williams is embroiled in a scandal where the Bush administration paid him $240,000 to promote No Child Left Behind. Democrat Rep. George Miller, who is on the House Education Committee, said the arrangement using taxpayer's money was "probably illegal." When Williams said he represented values, we never knew he meant the value of his bank account.
As someone who has met the slippery Williams, I'm not the slightest bit surprised that he pawned his opinion to the highest bidder.
A few years ago, I was on the Armstrong Williams show as a representative for the Human Rights Campaign. From the moment our eyes met, we clashed. He looked at me and scowled in disgust and I glared back at him. I immediately felt that Williams had more issues than a New York magazine stand and was a master phony that dripped with self-loathing hypocrisy.
It wasn't William's right wing views that so rattled me. After all, I had debated many leading Neo-Puritans and actually found a few of them – such as Sean Hannity and Cal Thomas – pleasant and even courteous off the air. What unnerved me about Williams was that I felt he genuinely hated my guts because I was openly gay. This was no standard political disagreement, but a very personal one, where Williams seemed threatened by my very existence.
Our on-air debate grew unusually testy, with Williams teaming up with some unmemorable right wing lawyer to denounce homosexuality. Usually, when a show cuts to commercial break, there is a cease-fire in the culture war as the debaters make uneasy small talk. However, when the commercials came on, Williams' gloves came off. He launched into an unprovoked anti-gay Jeremiad and bizarrely began defending his own heterosexual credentials.
"I know who I am and I know what I like. I'm a man and I'm comfortable with who I am." Williams repeated this several times, not exactly sounding like the paragon of comfort he was trying to impart.
Unsettled by William's surreal behavior, I did a Lexis-Nexis search that evening and what I found wasn't the slightest bit surprising.
In 1997, Stephen Gregory, a former male employee, sued Williams for $200,000 accusing the anti-gay commentator of sexual harassment. Gregory alleged that Williams kissed his mouth, fondled his fanny, groped his groin and climbed into bed with him on business trips. Gregory said that Williams – who denied being gay - fired him after he rebuffed the conservative's advances.
Thanks to this week's propaganda scandal - to paraphrase Williams – now we all know who Williams is and what he apparently likes: Men and Money.
But the greater outrage is not Williams' despicable, unethical and unprofessional behavior. After all, it is not entirely unexpected that a black, homophobic former protégé of the late Strom Thurmond and Clarence Thomas who is accused of fondling a man might sell his soul. No, the real crime is the Bush administration's proliferation of propaganda in what is supposed to be a free country.
About the same time as the Williams expose, the Government Accountability Office accused the Bush administration of violating federal law by producing phony news segments about drug abuse. This propaganda disguised as genuine news appeared on 300 television stations and reached 22 million households.
Meanwhile, an internal CIA investigation found this week that its former director, George Tenet, failed to adequately protect America from terrorism prior to 9-11. His reward for this historical and deadly blunder: The Presidential Medal of Freedom. And as we watch the CNN split screen, we can see the administration's chief architect of torture, Alberto Gonzales, getting the nomination for Attorney General, while the booby trap called Iraq continues to bleed America.
The Los Angeles Times also revealed that conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas accepted $42,200 in gifts making him by far the largest recipient from 1998-2004. To give you an idea of the extent of Thomas's penchant for presents, the next closest gift recipient was Justice Sandra Day O'Connor who accepted a mere $5,825 in gifts.
America under Bush is a political Red Light District where the greatest sacrifice one can make is to lie in the name of loyalty. It is a twisted world of politicians pimping policy for perks and political prostitutes trading their reputation for riches. This corrupt system has a corrosive affect on the political process in America and explains the rise of dozens of mendacious pseudo-experts like Williams and Ann Coulter.
Fortunately, Tribune Media Services dropped Armstrong Williams' syndicated column this week. I'm sure, however, it won't take long before Williams resurfaces. Thanks to the Greedy Orwellian Pravda (GOP) there is a premium for "journalists" who play on the team. If Williams is fortunate enough to get caught in another couple of administration-centered scandals, he might even be eligible for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
by Wayne Besen
It seems a little discordant that the issue of gay people marrying is ubiquitous when gay couples are virtually invisible in society. In today's America, you have a better chance of seeing a couple of polar bears sunbathing on Main Street than you do a same-sex couple holding hands.
If you take a look around, the only place you are likely to see affectionate gay spouses are on the gayest streets in the gayest of gay ghettos. There are really only three possible explanations:
1) There are no gay or lesbian couples living outside San Francisco, New York and West Hollywood.
2) Gay people live everywhere. However, they have an unexplained medical condition where they are unable to feel love unless they are breathing the magical sea air of Provincetown, Rehoboth or Fire Island
3) Same-sex couples across America are reticent to show public affection because of harassment or hate violence.
The 2000 census showed that same-sex partners live in 99.3 percent of all US counties, which disproves my first theory.
My second hypothesis doesn't hold because there is no medical condition inhibiting gay peoples' ability to love. Of course, there are gay people who use thinly veiled defense mechanisms such as "I don't believe in PDA." Give me a break - even the most uptight, emotionally distant heterosexual couples still hold hands in public.
This leaves Option Three. According to the FBI's 2003 report on hate crimes, (the most recent year statistics are available) sexual orientation just surpassed religion as the second highest category. The report shows that 8,715 reported hate crimes occurred, with 1,430 (16.4 %) based on real or perceived sexual orientation.
As alarming as these numbers are, I believe they would reach epidemic proportions if gay and lesbian couples didn't self-censor their behavior. For those who disagree (especially heterosexuals) I dare you to stroll for 30 minutes hand in hand with a person of the same-sex down almost any street in America. If you want to prove your mettle, do it in a county that voted for George W. Bush by at least a 10-point margin. If you really think you're a tough guy, you can walk the strip one more time in drag to experience the harassment transgender people often encounter.
I believe that if every person in America volunteered to take this challenge, it would offer most people a new appreciation of what it is like to be gay in much of America. This would be the ultimate diversity training!
On a day-to-day basis, choosing where to show even mild affection can put enormous stress on same-sex relationships. For example, over the New Year's holiday I went camping near St. Augustine, Florida with my boyfriend Ben.
When we got to our assigned campsite, I looked around and we were hemmed in between two families: The Beverly Hillbillies and the crew from Deliverance. There were about ten people and a total of thirty teeth. Did they survive by roasting marshmallows? On one of their vans there was a great anti-Evolution bumper sticker and another that said "Choose Life." Empty beer cans littered the mouth of one of the camouflaged tents.
I do admit that I am guilty of Yahoo-profiling. For all I know, these folks might have been pro-gay and used their truck as a float in the gay pride parade. But I'll take my chances with being wrong - at least I'm alive.
After studying the situation, I asked Ben if we could move to a more private location. At first, he got upset and said they looked like nice families.
"Sure, just because they are families, that makes them nice," I sarcastically retorted. "Just like Focus on the Family, The American Family Association and the Family Research Council." He saw my point.
We ended up getting a more private campsite and had a great time. Still, when we went for romantic country walks, unlike heterosexual couples, we had to discern when it was safe to be ourselves. And in a place where half the people looked like Elmer Fudd, it was a difficult question to answer.
Ironically, when we got to liberal Gainesville, Florida the next day, cowardly punks in a passing car called us "queers." This is the third time I've experienced such an incident in the past year.
I partially blame the political climate created by George W. Bush and his ugly Federal Marriage Amendment. Indeed, political homophobia has become pathological to the point of a Virginia lawmaker proposing this week to sponsor an anti-gay marriage license plate. How many people have to be hurt before grandstanding politicians realize that their hateful words have real life consequences?
As much as they might like, the opposition cannot forever use the threat of violence to silence. As more gay couples are married and have children, we are going to see less self-censorship on Main Street. In America 2005, same-sex couples have pulled off the surreal feat of being everywhere, but nowhere. I believe in the next few years this will radically change.