March 9-15, 2006
slantGo Tell It on the Mountain
Are gays tired of Brokeback jokes? Not as long as we're making them.
From Greek Dionysian plays to Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde, through vaudeville and early movie Westerns right up to the MTV generation's propensity to equate "gay" with "funny," Maher's words couldn't ring more true. Vaudeville may have died, but the queer jokes keep cumming. Bah dum dump. (Sorry.)
Brokeback has been called the first cowboy movie where the good guys get it in the end. About a dozen Internet film trailers have been "Broke-backed," transformed into spoofs complete with guitar strumming in the background. There are parodies like Brokeback to the Future, Top Gun and The Empire Breaks Back, which climaxes with a phallic thrust of the laser sword. David Letterman did a top 10 list: "You know you're a gay cowboy when " At number one: "You love riding, but you don't have a horse." There's even a mock movie poster of Kickback Mountain with Tom Delay and Jack Abramoff posed like the film's stars, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.
For gay people, what else is new? It's not like we haven't been saturated before. It usually took rumors about Rock Hudson or Liberace, or emergency room stories about gerbils to bring on a revival of homo gags.
The Brokeback comedy zeros in on "the moment" two men look into each other's eyes, and everybody just knows. As familiar as homosexuality is within American culture, the reality of genuine shared affection between same-sex partners, not to mention sexual intimacy, still carries all of the taboos, religious hubris and morbidity of a homophobic culture. The popularity of shows like Will and Grace with gay eunuchs and minstrels portraying homosexuality as camp makes it "safe."
Some say that it is natural to parody what has turned out to be a cultural phenomenon. Indeed, the timing of Brokeback's release was a matter of carefully planned media strategy. The film was shopped around and rejected by studios for years, even though many regarded it as one of the most powerful and respected screenplays in the Hollywood pipeline. The script, by insider heavyweights Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, didn't advance to production until one of Hollywood's top directors, Ang Lee, committed to the project.
There has been some hand-wringing by gay anti-defamation groups who claim that the overkill of parodies suggests a real message of homophobia. There has always been a slew of socially acceptable slurs taught in the earliest social settings. Fag, dyke, queer, fruit, ponce, butch, queen: All of these taunts can be used as weapons to hurt, scar, threaten or warn. At different times, many in the gay community have felt that the cultural acceptance of these slurs lends credence to stereotypes and can even lead to the demoralization of a minority.
Of course, gays were the first to be making jokes; after all, we are a funny people. Immediately upon the release of the film, gay audiences were punning on Brokeback and "bareback," which refers to a trend in recent years of men having sex without condoms. Even before the film opened, a friend of mine asked me on the street if I wanted to see a preview. When I said OK, he spit in his palm and rubbed his hands together. Now that's funny.
Lewis Whittington writes about gay culture and arts for several publications including the Advocate.