Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Momma, don't let your gay-boys grow up to be cowboys..

I have had no desire, up until now, to comment on that latest milestone in the evolution of American manhood known as "Brokeback Mountain", the Ang Lee film about two cowboys who discover their gayness on the wide open grasslands of Montana. Other than to say, as a non-gay male, that the chances of my seeing this movie, regardless of the cinematic, directorial or dramatic excellence of its achievements, are less than Larry David's chances of being named People Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive". But this, of course, is a given, and I really have no desire to comment on a film that I have not, nor would not see. Let 1000 flowers bloom, I say, and move on.

Yet this commentary about the film, posted by Ross (last name unknown) on Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, has engaged my response reflex in a contrary manner.

To a certain extent, the drama of the movie necessitates this kind of contrast, but it's significant, I think, that the film doesn't offer any model of successful heterosexual masculinity, or of successful heterosexual relationships in general. The straight men are all either strutting oafs, bitter bigots like Jack Twist's father, or "nice-guy" weaklings like Alma's second husband, whose well-meaning effeminacy contrasts sharply with Ennis's rugged manliness. Jack and Ennis are the only "real men" in the story, and their love is associated with the high country and the vision of paradise it offers - a world of natural beauty and perfect freedom, of wrestling matches and campfires and naked plunges into crystal rivers - and a world with no girls allowed. Civilization is women and babies and debts and fathers-in-law and bosses; freedom is the natural world, and the erotic company of men. It's an old idea of the pre-Christian world come round again - not that gay men are real men too; but that real men are gay.


Perfect freedom, you say? No babies? No in-laws? Hmmmmm! When you put it that way, it does sound appealing. But is it a hallmark of manhood?

This is not an old idea from the pre-Christian world, but a not-so-old idea from the Modern world. The ancient Greeks, for whatever Onanistic horseplay they engaged in with their camp-mates, also carried the responsibilities for their wive's, children's and city's defense and welfare upon themselves. This modern Peter Pan of the prairie does not. Men have always been sexual rogues, and always will be. Yet civilized society, to its credit, has always put a higher price on that distinction it chose to name manhood, and that price was sacrifice to the larger community. Such sacrifice was, on occasion, heroic and glorious, but in the main it was onerous, dreary, and debilitating.

Today, of course, it is less so onerous and debilitating. Yet men have learned to shy away from familial responsibilities all the more. I have nieces in their twenties and early thirties who despair of ever finding a man willing to commit to even a long term relationship, let alone crying babies and debts and in-laws. I find it very difficult to see in this trend a movement toward a more real manhood.

7 Comments:

Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Duck:

... but it's significant, I think, that the film doesn't offer any model of successful heterosexual masculinity, or of successful heterosexual relationships in general.

At first, I thought the reviewer was offering this as a shortcoming of the film.

Until I realized it is the shortcoming of Ross's blinders (or, possibly, bad writing).

It is significant? Why?

Well, perhaps not for the reason Ross thinks, but rather that, once again, Hollywood makes a movie in which the men fit Hollywood's preconceived notions, rather than anything like real life.

Whether such characterizations have any impact on nieces in their twenties and early thirties who despair of ever finding a man willing to commit to even a long term relationship is hard to say.

But it is surpassing odd that Hollywood can scarcely bring itself to make a movie extolling the very real gratification that comes from just such long term relationships.

January 04, 2006 7:46 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

I won't go out of my way to see Brokeback, but I might watch it if it crosses my path.

From the previews, and random chatter that I've stumbled across, there may be much to recommend it, the central relationship aside - as Duck touched upon.

Ross' comment, from deep within the homosphere, completely misses an extremely important point. Some gay men get this, while for many it's like viewing a 3-D object as a 2-D observer: For a lot of hetero men, the greatest "vision of paradise" that the "world of natural beauty" offers is the feminine form, not a wooded mountain, crystal waterfall, field of waving grain, or even a woolly sheep, beautiful as those things are.

But it is surpassing odd that Hollywood can scarcely bring itself to make a movie extolling the very real gratification that comes from just such long term relationships.

They did make The Notebook...

I have nieces in their twenties and early thirties who despair of ever finding a man willing to commit to even a long term relationship, let alone crying babies and debts and in-laws.

Tell them to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
No kidding.

Mormon men eat that stuff up.
It's how we prove our manhood, by protecting and providing for our families, and the more kids, the better.

Also, we're known for our quick courtships. A two-year engagement among Mormon couples is rare, even when one or both are still in school.

On a personal note, among my siblings, only one knew their prospective spouse for more than a year before marriage, and four dated their spouses for less than six months before getting engaged - sometimes much less.

January 04, 2006 10:09 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Men have always been sexual rogues, and always will be.

True, but so have women - they just tend to be a bit more discreet about it.

I have nieces in their twenties and early thirties who despair of ever finding a man willing to commit to even a long term relationship, let alone crying babies and debts and in-laws.

That might be a trend, I don't know. Probably young people are more reluctant to commit to long-term relationships. But what I don't see is a trend towards an anything-goes sexual morality that so many doom-sayers see.

It seems to me that a man cheating on his female partner is, if anything, considered a graver sin now than it ever has been. Philanderers on Jerry Springer are booed and howled at by the crowd, who represent a sort of mobbish moral jury. British tabloids abound with prurient disapproval of celebrity 'love-rats'.

Partly it's possibly a product of modern women refusing to be taken for a ride. Where once a blind eye might have been turned to an errant husband's misdeeds, now a divorce is demanded.

Certainly, in the States and Britain we're nowhere near the French-style moral approval of the wife at home in the country and the mistress in town.

Yet at the same time, cheating women aren't treated as quite the pariahs they would have been in the past. Perhaps it's all balancing itself out a bit to a more sane level.


As for Brokeback Mountain, there was a British gangster flick recently called 'Layer Cake', in which a vicious (homosexual) East End gang boss uttered the immortal line "Having sex with women is for poofs."

Made me laugh, anyway.

Half of these Hollywood buddy movies are as camp as a row of tents. At least Brideshead Revisited, and now Brokeback Mountain, are honest about it.

January 05, 2006 1:33 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

When it comes to westerns, I'm with Dennis the Menace. If any kissin' is to be done by the cowboy at the end of the movie, it had better be the horse.

I have been bemused by the fact that the women in the office where I work are VERY enthusiastic about seeing this movie.

One admitted that her husband would be uncomfortable, but she was willing to make him put up with that.

What's up? No idea.

Best guess: They like a good, weepy romance and are indifferent to which sex is involved.

(I don't see a lot of movies, but of the four that I have been dragged to in recent months, 3 were -- contra Skipper -- paeans to long-term relationships, in one way or another: 'Upside of Anger,' 'Memoirs of a Geisha,' and [very long term] 'Corpse Bride.'

(Even the fourth, I suppose, was a tribute to the long-term bond between a boy and his dog: 'Wallace and Grommit')

January 06, 2006 2:58 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

I can't imagine the appeal of this movie to anyone but gay men. Why would a straight woman want to see a movie where a woman's husband leaves her for a man?

The gay angle is just the secondary turnoff for straight men, the fact that it is a romance is the primary. Most men don't want to sit through heterosexual romance movies. There is one romance movie that I've actually paid to see more than once, and that is "Somewhere in Time".

January 06, 2006 3:29 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Let's be completely honest about it: the biggest barrier for us is that men find watching other men kiss each other uniquely icky (but don't have anything like the same problem with women kissing each other...).

However, if the film is made well enough, and the characters are real enough to make you believe, it will be worth watching - the reviews have been excellent.

Aftr all, I recently found myself quite moved by the relationship between a blonde and a 40-foot gorilla.

One romantic movie I enjoyed recently was unusual in that the central characters didn't even get to 'first base' - that was 'Lost in Translation.'

January 07, 2006 2:32 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

I found this review of the movie which confirms what you've read about the quality of the filmmaking, but also confirms my criticism of Ross' positive spin on their relationship.


Review by David Lazar

January 07, 2006 7:41 AM  

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