Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Andersen OKs Gay Sheepherders - Not Cowboys

by Kyle Michaelis
I don't think the World-Herald's Harold W. Andersen really meant any harm in his Sunday column griping about Hollywood's using this year's Oscar nominations to advance a social agenda. It's pretty much same ol, same ol' from a conservative old man who has been doing the Bill O'Reilly "Tirade-of-the-week"-thing for decades.

Still, when Andersen tries to speak authoritatively on Hollywood economics, while making a straight-faced complaint at the press' failure to distinguish gay sheepherders from gay cowboys - as if this latter suggestion would be some sort of blasphemy - he really is being too ridiculous for words and demands at least some sort of rebuttal.

Sorry folks, you're just going to have to read this for yourself.
It's certainly nothing new, the Hollywood practice of trying to indoctrinate you under the guise of entertaining you - and making you pay at the box office for the indoctrination.

But this cinema season, Hollywood's emphasis on producing movies with a political or social "message" has become so strong that even predictably liberal observers, such as the Los Angeles Times and ABC's "Nightline" television show, offered facts and comments last week that raised the question of whether Hollywood is losing touch with the interests and tastes of the majority of Americans.

The Los Angeles newspaper described the five Oscar nominees for best film as "movies with overtly political messages." The New York Times referred to "deep political and social themes, from gay romance to the abuse of government power to racial relations to the cycle of vengeance in the Middle East." The L.A. Times story also noted that none of the nominated films has done well at the box office.

In their choices of the five "best film" nominees, the Hollywood voters included a film ("Good Night, and Good Luck") that depicted another figurative exhumation of the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy, working him over yet again for his irresponsible exaggeration - more than 50 years ago - of the infiltration of communists, including Soviet agents, into the federal government....

The "social/political message" film that has received the most favorable attention, "Brokeback Mountain," with eight Oscar award nominations, has received a tremendous volume of publicity and promotion. But I have heard or read only one critical review that seems to me to explain all the attention being lavished on the movie.

Leonard Pitts Jr...wrote that he believes "gay men threaten our very conception of masculinity." Pitts believes that "Brokeback Mountain" challenges that conception by depicting its two principal players as "cowboys" who have a love affair.

The significance, the columnist suggests, is that "there is no figure in American lore more iconically male. Think Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, the Marlboro Man. The cowboy is our very embodiment of male virtues."

I agree with that assessment of the movie or, more accurately, the way the movie's theme is being promoted as a love affair between two cowboys. If homosexuality can be part of the life of two cowboys, what is the justification for considering gay males as less than masculine?

The flaw in all of this is that the two characters depicted in "Brokeback Mountain" aren't cowboys at all. They're sheepherders....

But promotion of the movie, including press reports and commentary, has been dominated by language like "two young cowboys" or "cowboys caught up in a complicated love" or "a cowboys' love affair" or "two Wyoming cowboys."

If the movie had been publicized more honestly as a romance between two sheepherders, its impact almost certainly would have been substantially diminished, I believe. What would have been the appeal of descriptions like "two young sheepherders" or "sheepherders caught up in a complicated love" or "a sheepherders' love affair"?

Let's hope that...the obsessive interest in the movie on the part of the press, movie critics and late-night talk-show hosts will fade.

"Brokeback Mountain" then could be remembered, especially by those who enjoyed the film, as a story involving two males who fell in love on a Wyoming ranch, just not the kind of ranch that would make them into that American icon of masculinity - cowboys.

Wow. That's just one of those commentaries a person can't ever really believe he just read. You don't know whether your eyes should be bleeding from the inanity or watering from the laughter.

I really take no pleasure in beating up on an old writer who no longer even makes an attempt at fact-checking. Nevermind that Andersen's assertion that the Oscar nominees have been economic failures is totally off-base. I don't like nit-picking that "Brokeback Mountain" has already made $60 million at the box office off a budget of only $14 million or that an Oscar win for Best Picture would likely put it over the $100 million mark. Nor, despite Andersen's veiled defense of Joseph McCarthy, the loony king of America's reactionary Right, do I really feel all that compelled to make a stink about "Good Night, and Good Luck" having also earned almost 4 times its budget.

No, I like to write about Nebraska issues, particularly Nebraska politics. This only relates to either because the ignorant but proud defense of the cowboy that Andersen attempts is so very indicative of the same shallow thinking readers have suffered from and suffered by for years.

Maybe this is just a pithy, tongue-in-cheek column. I only wish that I could actually belive that it were so because the material would make for some pretty damn solid satire depicting America's silly hang-ups about homosexuality - here, to the extent that Andersen's defending the Marlboro man's manhood. But, no....he means it. Worse than that, many of his readers probably appreciate Andersen's point, even if it does refrain from making a good and proper condemnation of the homosexual lifestyle. They'll just have to make do with the less obvious but no less demeaning assumptions at the column's heart.

Imagine - Andersen asks the perfect question, the answer to which the people of Nebraska could desperately use some genuine contemplation. "If homosexuality can be part of the life of two cowboys, what is the justification for considering gay males as less than masculine?" Then, out of nowhere, he dismisses the uncomfortable truth about masculinity and, by inference, humanity itself to jump head-long into a silly diatribe that skirts real issues of equality and discrimination in favor of romanticizing cowboys at sheepherders' expense.

It's pathetic. It's stupid. I can't believe I've taken it upon myself to even write about it. But, the cognitave dissonance demonstrated, the likes of which is so prevalent in perpetuating ignorant and hurtful stereotypes, is just too good an example of too many Nebraskans' mentalities to pass up.

Andersen is not the problem, but there is no doubt that he and his way of thinking are part of the problem and always have been. Every Nebraskan of conscience who knows better has a duty not to let this foolishness stand without challenge. To allow such stupidity to go unpunished, even when trivial on its face, is to fail the truth itself. And, let's face it, there's nothing trivial at all about the continued discrimination the gay community faces in this state and across the nation precisely because such stupidity is allowed to thrive.

Now, please God, back to the real news....


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