This weekend viewers and critics fell head over heels for Michael Douglas and Matt Damon as make-believe lovers. But what if their gay romance had been portrayed by actual gay actors? Would it be a different, less-seen story?
Here's the deal: the ratings are in, and the much buzzed-about Liberace movie Behind the Candelabra is a big winner. The biopic nabbed 2.4 million viewers, HBO's highest ratings for an original movie in nearly a decade. It's not entirely surprising. You had A-list actors doing plenty of promo. You had a juicy story: a look at the loving but difficult relationship between a dramatic showman and his younger lover. And the Twitter-verse was tiring of talking about the new Daft Punk album, so the options were basically to gorge on the new Netflix-produced season of Arrested Development or watch Candelabra and come up with clever hashtags like #GoodWillManhunting. (I just made that up! RT IF U LIKEY!)
The success must have been vindicating for director Steven Soderbegh, who took his blockbuster-made cast to HBO after movie studios balked that the film was "too gay." The record-setting ratings (and even a cursory glance at social media) confirm that lots of straight eyeballs wanted to see the flick - so "too gay" it was not. But could it have been?
Watching noted heterosexuals Michael Douglas and Matt Damon playact being a couple is one thing. But what if these gay roles were played by actors who are actually gay? Would 2 million people still be willing to watch them smooch? That seems worth asking, before we become too self-congratulatory about living in an age where a movie like Candelabra can be a success.
Not to digress by a couple decades, but I somehow found myself reminded of a scene from the '80s movie Heathers, which starred Winona Ryder and Christian Slater as a Bonnie & Clyde-esque high school couple. (Life would be grand if all roads led back to that movie.) They accidentally kill two sexist football jocks, then stage it to look like a double-suicide brought on by tortured gay love. At the funeral, a mourning father comically wails, "I love my dead gay son!"
Christian Slater's character snickers to Winona's: "Wonder how he'd react if his son had a limp wrist with a pulse?"FULL ENTRY
For a brand accused of bullying, Abercrombie & Fitch took a lot of punches over the last week. And I don't mean the kind that land on your shoulder, bro, and are followed by somebody passing you a cold brewski while a Dave Matthews Band fiddle solo plays on the frat living room's stereo. ("It's a boss system, man. Graduation present. My dad owned a Tweeter.")
Here's the skinny (ZING!): a 2006 Salon interview was recently excavated in which Abercombie CEO-slash-Catman Mike Jeffries seemed to suggest that the reason his clothing stores don't carry XL- and XXL-sized women's clothing is because larger gals don't fit into the "cool kid" image he wants his brand to cultivate. (This during the same week that Abercrombie became only the second American company to sign on to a landmark factory safety plan in Bangladesh. Bummer, said A&F's PR department.) The social media consensus was swift and immediate, positing a two-point backlash. One, that Jeffries is a shallow, gross jerk. Two, that Abercrombie is discriminatory.
On the first matter, I concur. On the second, at the risk of inviting hate-tweets, I don't.
First, feast your eyes on this viral video by Greg Karber, Internet Guy. In response to Jeffries' remarks, and reports that Abercrombie disposes of unsold clothes rather than donate them to the needy, Karber passes out secondhand A&F threads on Skid Row. He dubs it a #FitchTheHomeless campaign, and encourages viewers to do the same.
This is the kind of misguided, kneejerk response video that has become infuriatingly common to scandals du jour. In his cavalierly launched quest to seize online infamy as an enlightened millennial who stands against marginalizing people, Karber manages to marginalize people: homeless people. His way of sticking it to the A&F Establishment is to incense Jeffries by associating his brand with the homeless, which actually cops to the idea that the homeless are sullying and embarrassing. The video misdirects us with tinkly piano music of the I-Am-Beautiful-No-Matter-What-They-Saaaay variety. But take it out, and you're left with a visual WAH-WAH horn. Karber thumbs his nose at square-jawed A&F preps, but his poor people-as-props exploitation bespeaks a mentality of similar privilege and even less self-awareness. (Karber has said he's glad the backlash to his video will "start a dialogue," which is Sanctimonious Hipster for, "I guess I didn't think of it that way.")FULL ENTRY
Sigh. They grow up so fast.
It seems like just yesterday that actress Amanda Bynes was cheek-pinching cuteness personified as the star of All That and The Amanda Show, Nickelodeon sketch comedy series that were popular with millennial tweens.
Then in late March, only a couple months after emerging from semi-retirement, she fired the tweet heard round the world: "I want @drake to murder my vagina." From that point on, it's been a 90-day spiral (seemingly) downward through concentric circles of young Hollywood hell. Her Twitter account has become the C-SPAN of erratic behavior. Everything happening in real time.
But stuff got really real last night. After Bynes tweeted topless pics looking strung-out in a bathroom, Jonathan Jaxson, her friend and a Hollywood publicist, announced via Twitter that he had spoken to her on the phone. That she was drunk and in self-harm mode. That he had called the NYPD to check on her. (Some of his tweets have since been deleted.)
Bynes became angry, denying that she received a police visit and lashing out at former co-star Jenny McCarthy, who has been vocal about her concern for the younger actress.
Jenny McCarthy: "Police are at @AmandaBynes house. I hope they get her help. Enough of this circus. She needs help."
Amanda Bynes: "@JennyMcCarthy you're ugly! Police weren't at my house old lady! Shut the f--k up!"
"@jennymccarthy I need help? What are u talking about? Aren't u 50 years old? I'm 27, u look 80 compared to me! Why are you talking about me?"
Over the last month and a half, Bynes has also been tweeting allusions to an eating disorder, demanding - USUALLY IN ALL CAPS - that tabloids only publish the flattering photos she provides, threatening to sue same tabloids over various "lies!," shaving her head (okay, just one side), macking on Drake some more, and modeling via selfie photos her new look. Imagine a backup dancer from a Sisqo video started gargling with Drano and turning tricks by the overpass behind a K-Mart. Add eyelash extensions. Ta-da.
The whole affair has led to comparisons with Britney Spears' similar saga. It wasn't that long ago when Spears, originally a squeaky-clean Mouseketeer (subsequently molded, perhaps to greater detriment than we realized at the time, into a panting Lolita pop star), was shaving her head. And attacking paparazzi with an umbrella. And stumbling, catatonic, through a VMA performance. And getting wheeled out of her home on a gurney after a several-hours standoff with cops.
The difference is that in 2007, only early adopters were on Twitter - even among celebrities. So while the broadcasting of Britney's breakdown was jarring in its invasiveness, it was still filtered to some degree by the limits of traditional media; we saw only what the paparazzi did, when the tabloids allowed. But through Twitter, Bynes has removed the middleman. She's giving unrestricted, backstage access to the demons in her head. She has her smartphone in one hand and the steering wheel in the other.
We're not rubbernecking at this accident. We're being invited, by a crash victim with a gaping head wound, to please, please watch her bleed.
Somehow, that feels even more profoundly disturbing. And you have to ask: do we have a responsibility? To deny her, for her own good, the attention she's so desperately seeking? After all, she seems more popular than ever right now. Sure, she's lost some disenchanted All That viewers, but there a growing cult of fans that have emerged because of - not in spite of - her recent antics. They tell her she's gorgeous. They demand new selfies. She does something crazy. They call her "queen." She retweets them.
In fact, there's a vocal minority that thinks it's all premeditated kookiness. That Bynes is only crazy like a fox, and actually enacting a Hollywood starlet's version of performance art: digital age-style. Social media is her soapbox and 953,000 (and growing) followers are the curious passerby standing agape on the street corner, watching as Nickelodeon's answer to Karen Finley stands there bathing in honey, or smashing eggs with a hammer over a soundtrack of spoken word poetry - or, you know, taking selfies to show off her new cheek piercings. Whatever.
An act. Hey, why not? Remember when Joaquin Phoenix faked a midlife crisis to promote his movie, I'm Still Here, about having a midlife crisis? (Which was actually a mockumentary about, basically, how easily duped we all are.)
Is this supposed to be Bynes' version? Commentary on obsessions with sex, body image and tabloid culture, coming from some crafty, self-aware starlet? Part of me laughs, and thinks that's ridiculous: "Amanda Bynes. Performance artist. Riiiight." Then I stop laughing. Well, why not? What the hell do I know about Amanda Bynes?
Aside from, by now, more than I ever needed to.
And there you have it. Now I know about her. Now I'm talking about her. That's certainly her point.
But her motivation? That's more mysterious. And whether it's illness, addiction, fame whoring or commentary, I suspect it would require more than 140 characters for her to explain it.
As the coverage of NBA player Jason Collins has shown, reactions to coming out stories are no longer (necessarily) full of tears, bile, and/or venom. Sure, Collins has received occasional gay name-calling and stirred up predictable anxiety about locker room politics: that quirky, tummy-twitching little nervousness born of internalized homo-eroticism. (Inserted: Truth.) But for the most part he's been lauded for breaking down a barrier of silence and shame in the sports world, America's game preserve of masculinity.
Of course, the idea that male gayness should be immediately conflated with femininity is a uniquely modern notion anyway. I doubt Spartan warriors would have taken kindly to Drag Race-esque suggestions to "Sissy that walk, hunty!" (Although wouldn't 300 have been way better if the Spartans and Persians settled the war by lip syncing... for... their... liiiiiiives?) But that's a subject for another day.
Point is, telling people you're gay in 2013 doesn't always result in the type of angst and turmoil depicted in 1950s melodramas inspired by the work of Tennessee Williams. ("You're a - a queer sort?" GASPS, CLUTCHES PEARLS.) That's great. But can tolerance, when misguided, go so far that it inadvertently becomes insulting? Can overenthusiastic acceptance jump the proverbial shark and become patronizing? Those are the questions asked by G.B.F. (Gay Best Friend), a new comedy flick screening at the Museum of Fine Arts on Friday as part of the Boston LGBT Film Festival.
Synopsis: Gay teen Tanner comes out to his totally-hip-with-it mom (Will & Grace alum Megan Mullally) and high school classmates. He immediately becomes the Most Popular Boy at Skewl, where all the girls compete for the cache of super-fabulous coolness that comes with having a real-life G.B.F. at your side! ("Our very own homosexual!" Squeal!) Tanner even finds himself subjected to a 'mo makeover at their hands, since he disappointingly, "doesn't even sound like the ones on Bravo."
Just to be clear, the open (if condescending) arms that await Tanner does not represent the experience of all, or even most, gay teenagers. There's a reason why certain statistics show that LGBT youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, and are three times more likely to report feeling unsafe at school. (And yes, being harassed because you're gay is different than being harassed for other reasons - which, at the risk of shilling my own writing, I attempt to explain here.)
But lawd, there's no doubt that a subset of young women exists that views gay pals in strictly self-serving terms like "shopping partner!" and "my bestest girlfriend - but better." To these Debra Messing in the Makings, sweet though their intentions may be, it's not always about wanting a friend with his own rounded identity. It's about wanting an accessory that, like a designer belt, makes them look fashionable by association. It's about wanting a lapdog to fawn over. It's about wanting an on-call therapist and sycophant. ("My G.B.F. is just waiting to come out of the closet and tell me how fierce I am!" yelps JoJo in the film trailer.)
It's refreshing to see a flick take that condescension to task.
G.B.F. director Darren Stein is the guy behind Jawbreakers, an undeservedly overlooked '90s teen comedy about praying mantis mean girls. Stein had said that the dark comedy and high camp of Jawbreakers was partly inspired by the '80s high school classic Heathers, but it seems like G.B.F. might be a closer thematic cousin: in both films, a previously ignoble condition (in Heathers it's teen depression) suddenly becomes a badge of trendiness.
The rightful celebration of Collins' coming-out aside, it'll be nice when being gay is a matter of ordinariness, too.