What About Today
It seems like only yesterday that the world was coming to an end. We had the prophecy, complete with an official date, and those crazy cultists worshipping their god and telling non-believers that doom was inevitable. When the day finally arrived, some celebrated, some cried, and thousands gathered together in huzzahs and hosannas and hopes of being lifted to a higher plane. Then, something odd happened. Oprah ended her show and life went on.
It’s simple to believe in better worlds, whether in life after death or, just as common, life before this existence. Life in the present is much harder to embrace.
Woody Allen’s "Midnight in Paris" (with a 50 million take at the box office, it’s Allen’s most successful film) has captured audiences’ hearts, not just because of the dazzling dead cameos, but because it reminds us that present tense is precious. And in case you haven’t been paying attention, it’s the only time we occupy.
There’s nothing wrong with disliking the movie, but you’re in trouble if your reasons for criticism are based on a notion that you’re headed somewhere better. In case you’re still not paying attention, that’s not a dismissal of religion; it’s a dismissal of anyone with their head stuck so far up their ass they can only see shit.
Laugh all you want, heathens, but living in the past is just as sinful. As Allen’s stand-in, Owen Wilson, discovers, it wasn’t all hunky-dory back in the day. That conceit doesn’t only apply to a world before yours, but the one you said goodbye to last night. The past is safe because we survived. We were also younger, with more breathing room on our hands. Add all the mistakes we’d like to fix, and going back seems like a trip to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory -- the original flick with Gene Wilder; not that sad Johnny Depp remake that made us sigh with cynicism at the sorry state of modern movies.
If you watch the older generation interviewed, as I did recently, you’ll hear a chorus of current events disdain. Most of the criticism focused on society’s lack of manners, fashion sense, and entertainment choices. No, I wasn’t watching Maggie Gallagher; I checked out Dick Cavett’s 1970s interviews with the likes of Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, and Fred Astaire. Many of the guests smoked (lung cancer victim John Huston inhales a cigar), a practice that, in 2011, would stir outrage and disgust; not that it would ever be allowed to air.
Turn on any war movie and you’ll find an enemy; they don’t disappear. Turn on your mind and you’ll notice that, despite our best intentions to prove otherwise, things are looking up. For gay men and women, it’s the fucking Mardi Gras. Six states have legalized same-sex marriage, and that’s just icing on the grooms’ cake. Forget for a moment DOMA and DADT delays and Michelle Bachmann’s ex-gay-for-pay husband; advertising rules the world and Madison Avenue has pink traffic lights.
Hollywood doesn’t have a Gay Agenda; it has a Make Money agenda, and people want to see themselves in the mirror. Ke$ha and Katy are courting gay fans faster than GaGa can no longer count on them, and when Justin Timberlake’s "Friends with Benefits" character remarks that he likes his butthole teased, the laughter is as heavy as the sigh of relief from the straight men in the theater thrilled they’re not alone. Gays, once the elephants in our living rooms, are now so prevalent on the small screen that Fran Drescher’s homo-themed "Happily Divorced" is a sitcom-plot afterthought, and a ratings hit.
Not that we’re always playing nice: The callous remarks from gays over Amy Winehouse’s death are surprising from a minority that’s been too often marginalized. Every "drug addict" mention before her name reduces her existence to a subset of human beings, in the same way that "gay" movie and "gay" author and "gay" lifestyle reduces ours. Dan Savage is threatening to turn into a Homecoming Queen, throwing verbal spitballs at anyone who doesn’t succumb to "It Gets Better" cooperation pressure, and Google-punning Rick Santorum’s name the way the bullies in school punned his. If you’ve ever watched "The A-List," you might re-think letting gays marry, let alone have children that they might instill their Saran Wrap values upon.
But it is improving. Besides, nothing I’ve seen on the big screen depicts straight people in a worse light (mostly the audience who’s pandered too) than "Crazy, Stupid, Love," a romantic comedy about dumb heterosexuals who drink too much, have sex too much, and lie too much. They do it in a pre-packaged, Utopian formula that we’re supposed to emulate but have been rightfully running away from since Studio 54 died. Everyone involved should be in and ashamed.
People remark that you can’t tell straight men from gay men anymore, and that’s understandable when the gay porn industry prides itself on hiring un-closeted straight men, and guys are quickly becoming the pin-up girls of yore. There isn’t a single name-recognition male model that doesn’t show off a lot of booty, and usually a peek of everything else. Chippendales, once a females-only franchise, has opened its G-string purses to gay audiences, hiring former boy band stars to titillate the guys who only yesterday were forced to secretly swoon.
If Mel Gibson took a great gay role now -- or was lucky enough to get an offer -- he’d be in the same leading-man company as Jake Gyllenhaal, Ewan McGregor, Daniel Craig, Sean Penn, James Franco, Jim Carrey, Javier Bardem, Antonio Banderas, Bradley Cooper, Tom Hanks, Daniel Day-Lewis, Heath Ledger, and, up next, Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover in a film directed by Clint Eastwood. Maybe Gibson should try to star in a remake of "Making Love." Tom Cruise could play his love interest.
Woody Allen’s not fooling anyone, and that’s also his film’s mystique. We all want to go back, not to the real past, but to the one we’re reinventing. The wonderful sentimentality of "Super 8" takes us to 1979, and the heyday of Steven Spielberg, and manages to make drunken dads, government conspiracies, and even bad technology somehow fun. It’s a world made all the better by the advanced filmmaking techniques of the modern age. Left out of the coming-of-age narrative is the kid who’s tormented by his same-sex sexuality.
I always knew I was gay, and growing up I didn’t have a soul to confide in. I never considered suicide, but had I opted for that route I wouldn’t have mentioned the subject in a goodbye note. Gay-teen suicides are tragic and they are not on the rise. What have surfaced are the young adults who admit their homosexuality and the parents and friends and authorities who confront the issue. The cell-phone recording of the transgender woman being beaten at a Maryland McDonald’s is a horrifying reminder of bigotry and hate. The only new development is the advent of recording devices and, for many, the determination to change sexual identity despite the possible consequences. Chaz Bono would have been anathema to Cher’s career when Sonny was around, not a footnote on her Wikipedia page.
I wouldn’t go back to the Gay Cancer, nor would I return to a time when Jim J. Bullock’s "Too Close for Comfort" character was the closest thing to gay representation on sitcom television. I also don’t want to go back to the time when gay bars only attracted gay customers. Yes, having a private club was cool, but being bashed with a baseball bat on your walk home put a damper on the night.
I don’t miss "The Advocate" being delivered in a brown wrapper, nor do I miss the time when gays only had that magazine from which to choose. I don’t miss finding out my favorite movie stars were gay after they died, or got sick, or knowing that if I wanted to watch half-naked men onscreen I’d need to rent "The Blue Lagoon." I don’t miss Ronald and Nancy, or their dismissal of everyone else. If it weren’t for my iPod, I probably would miss a lot of music. I don’t even miss Oprah: As "The Onion" so perfectly satirized, how many times can you ask Celine Dion the same questions?
The most harrowing line in Larry Kramer’s "The Normal Heart" revival packs an unintentional 21st-Century wallop. After one character delves into a gruesome account of a friend dying of AIDS, the actor he’s speaking to tries to comfort him. "Wait," he continues. "It gets worse." It does, and I wouldn’t go back to 1985 for all the beautiful dead men in the world. In case you haven’t been paying attention, there are still people gazing at that decade through Peter Pan glasses. With all that’s ahead, and with all that’s happened, in the present I won’t miss a thing.