Christopher Pratt (cpratt) wrote,
Christopher Pratt

On the differences between Auntie Mame, The Women, and Fox and His Friends

Yesterday was my niece Jocelyn's second birthday, which was celebrate in high style at Mazza, an Italian deli on 30th St. Mark, my nephew, and Jocelyn had delicious ham pizza, my brother, his wife, and her Mom had Sprite and not much more because they were still tired from the drive back from Big Bear and a late lunch at Coco's. Me, I made the mistake of a $14 spelt beer from Belgium (what the hell was I thinking), but dessert afterwards, across the street at Scoops, made up for that.

Next up was a trip further into the heart of South Park: Pizzeria Luigi, favorite of the transplanted East Coast crowd. Me, I'm a huge fan of Brooklyn pizza, but I'm sorry: this was singed matzoh with random gourmet crap lounging listlessly on top. I should've recognized that when I saw them using squeeze bottles to daintily anoint the barbecue chicken pizza with hoisin for that special CPK-esque twist. The meat pizza was fine, though.

So! This is the hopefully interesting part of this otherwise pointless post. At some point in the evening, someone demanded that there be a movie night consisting of THE WOMEN followed by AUNTIE MAME. [Thanks, Google Desktop Search, for pointing out Matt's post, which must have given birth to this thread.] I immediately jumped in and said no fucking way, not if I can help it. If it's gonna be gay movie night at my house, then we're gonna watch FOX AND HIS FRIENDS, sorry. Immediately, the same old tired tropes were trotted out: homosexuality is a kind of femininity, you can't be homosexual without having subjected yourself to the gay canon (let's see: THE WOMEN, AUNTIE MAME, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, MOMMIE DEAREST), homosexuality necessitates appletinis and camp, etc. etc. etc.

I call shenanigans. Let's have a quick look at these movies, shall we?

THE WOMEN was released in 1939. It's a filmed adaptation of a play written by a woman, directed by a homosexual. There aren't any men in it. As Maude Lebowski would say, the plot is ludicrous, so the reason old school gays love it is probably because it talks like they talked prior to 1970: every reference is to she or her, men's names are always preceded by a "Mrs." (ask evergreenpie about that), and so on.

AUNTIE MAME was released in 1958. It's a filmed adaptation of a book written by a bisexual man (or, rather, a gay man who married and had children, yet found himself tortured by that). This time around, the only man in the movie is a bad guy (Dwight Babcock); it's easy enough to read this as a struggle between "be who you really are" (that is, Mame, the woman) or "give in and be what society wants you to be (Babcock, the man).

FOX AND HIS FRIENDS was released in 1973. It was written and directed by a bisexual man who never seemed to think too much about what that meant. It's about a young working class man who, after his boyfriend is arrested and losing his job, wins the lottery, allows himself to be seduced by middle class gays who promise to be his friends, but only if he uses his money to buy the right things, give up on his old pleasures (e.g. anonymous sex in train station toilets), and change his aesthetic values (no more jeans - it's all nice furniture and tasteful antiques from here on out).

Speaking personally, coming out means finding the freedom to be who you truly are without having to apologize for your tastes to anyone. When I first came out as a seventeen year old college student, I was crushed to find that gay people wanted nothing to do with me. They were listening to Wham!, I was listening to Throbbing Gristle. They were wearing tasteful sweaters; I was wearing flannel and 501s. I wanted to see TAXI ZUM KLO; they wanted to see MAKING LOVE. Right from the beginning, they made it absolutely clear that I was wearing the wrong clothes, enjoying the wrong art, and most definitely inhabiting the wrong body as well. So what did I decide? I decided to ignore the accepted scene entirely, have faith in myself, be honest about my sexuality and my taste, and hope that, in time, I'd find others who found themselves in a similar situation. This was 1987, and it wasn't until 1989 that I finally found other men who were at least open to befriending others who were different. It was a lonely couple of years, and I always found it bitterly ironic that the usual reaction to social ostracization was to employ precisely the same methods, creating a weird dialectic of them vs. us: breeders vs. gays, witty homosexuals vs. boring straights, "real men" vs. queens.

To this day, I bristle whenever I hear someone say "I'm going to have to take away your gay card unless you come see VEGAS IN SPACE/THE WOMEN/AUNTIE MAME/THE RITZ/whatever." To me, it's the same old story: you can't be one of us unless you dress/talk/act/enjoy like we do. What makes it worse for me is that I don't see the point of mimicking 1930s women or of hoary 50-year old movies that (shocking, isn't it?) suggest that we go out and enjoy life (sounds like a commercial, doesn't it?). With very few exceptions (Quentin Crisp, perhaps), I don't think we come out of the womb predestined to talk like Joan Crawford: it's a learned behavior, something we do when we can't be ourselves, a kind of telegraphing of our real intent. Similarly, post-1968, we hardly need to be reminded that some poor suckers are starving to death - that was a long, long time ago. The world's out there, waiting for you to make what you will of it, after all.

So. When I suggest you see FOX AND HIS FRIENDS instead, what I suppose I'm really asking is for you to challenge the received notion of what gay culture is. It might have been that in the 50s and early 60s, but is it who you are, really? Are you sure you aren't being invited into a gay middle class society that's going to strip you of all the things that make you you? How much are you willing to give up to be accepted into a society that may take away some of the greatest pleasures you enjoy?

Believe me, you don't want to end up like Franz Bieberkopf, aka Fox. His hopes were the same as most of ours: companionship, acceptance, guidance. Thing is, though, it never hurts to think critically about the tradeoffs we all consider making to achieve those things. Sometimes you may wind up worse off than before you began.
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