Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Art not propaganda

Art, not propaganda
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, February 8, 2006

The inability to tolerate ambiguity defines the authoritarian mind.

To control freaks, there’s no such thing as art, only propaganda. Every story must have a didactic message, the simpler the better. In that regard, self-styled “Christians,” in the politicized sense, are much like Marxist advocates of “socialist realism.” Hence, the success of a complex, deeply humane film like “Brokeback Mountain” can’t help but induce anxiety. The movie’s recent Oscar nominations brought out the usual hired scolds to peddle cant about the film industry’s alleged promotion of the dread “homosexual agenda.” I saw a particularly inane report on ABC’s “World News Tonight” claiming Hollywood was “schizophreni [c ]” because it can’t decide whether to make films about “gay cowboys” or fantasies about African lions that are allegedly Christ symbols.

Is it possible for TV news to get any dumber ?

To begin with, it’s offensive to use “schizophrenia,” a devastating mental illness, as a synonym for “confused.” Second, there’s no such thing as “Hollywood” in the politicized way people use the word. There’s
a large, enormously varied film industry, one of America’s few remaining internationally competitive industries, that churns out every kind of picture investors think might make a buck, from “The Passion of the Christ” to “Big Momma’s House 2.”

Do creative people generally tend to be more socially tolerant than, say, CPAs ? Basically, yes. Unless you’re eager to hustle down to the Cinemaplex to see “Turbo Tax 2006: Director’s Cut,” you’d better get used to it.

What’s really worrying the “Christian” control freaks (I don’t accept the hijacking of the word by fundamentalists ) is that “Brokeback Mountain” is playing so well in the American outback. I saw it with my wife and her girlfriend on a Sunday afternoon in Little Rock along with an audience of approximately 400. Two weeks later, it’s still playing at two theaters here. According to The New York Times, it ‘s also doing very well in cities like Bozeman and Missoula, Mont.

Pundits who predicted the film would have no audience outside New York, LA and San Francisco are being forced to recant. Slate’s Mickey Kaus was reduced to chortling that it’s evidently bombing in Clovis, N. M. I wonder what movie with no car chases, explosions or talking animals has done big box office in Clovis of late.

As for the “homosexual agenda,” if you had only “Brokeback Mountain” to go by, you’d say that being gay guarantees a life of self-hatred, guilt, sorrow and loneliness. Stated abstractly, the film’s theme is very close to that of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” : When two people forbidden to love each other do love each other, catastrophe follows. The story unfolds with the inevitability of classic Greek tragedy.

Even the sex scenes struck me as anything but erotic, because Jack and Ennis, ranch hands drawn to each other during a summer tending sheep on a remote Wyoming mountain, are almost fighting—fighting themselves,
fighting each other and fighting the doom that the laconic Ennis in particular fears can only come of giving in to their desire. To reassure the skittish, there’s nothing either gentle or explicit about it.

It’s partly the film’s brilliant use of the iconography of the American West (despite its being filmed in Alberta, Canada ) that gives it so much of its power. Never mind the nervous jokes about Jake and Ennis being sheepherders, not cowboys. These boys can ride skittish horses into the high country, living comfortably in a primitive camp all summer and shooting elk for meat. It seems idyllic only to those who’ve never tried it. Jack, the more vocal of the two, meets his wife during a stint riding rodeo bulls. A more “manly,” in the sense of dangerously deranged, sport cannot be imagined.

And yet these boys are “queers.” The film makes its audience deal with it in ways its characters cannot. Ennis and Jack can’t fit their desires into the lives they think they need to lead. Part of me kept thinking, “These boys need to move to Denver.” Except that, as it happens, one of my oldest friends runs a sheep and cattle ranch in Montana. I visit him whenever I can, partly for the fishing Jack and Ennis lie to their wives about. That country gets inside you. Move to Denver? He’d rather die. Lately an interesting debate has broken out in the New York Review of Books about whether “Brokeback Mountain” is a “universal love story,” as many critics have insisted, or “a tragedy about the specifically gay phenomenon of the ‘ closet,’” as author Daniel Mendelsohn puts it. “If Jack and Ennis are tainted,” he writes, “it’s not because they’re gay, but because they pretend not to be; it’s the lie that poisons everyone they touch.” I’d say it’s both, and it will open your mind and heart if you let it.

•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award.

Lily Tomlin said it best. "No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up."

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