Sigourney Weaver’s red ribbon: A reaction to Jeffrey (1995)

Hello again everyone.

This is going to be the last film review for the semester. (Yay!) I can’t tell you how sick of writing these I am. Don’t get me wrong here, I am enjoying that I am finding something to write for school AND for the blog. However, I am finding myself hating the focus on movies that this class has. I am not a movie person in the slightest. When I do indulge in watching a fictional film, typically it is something silly, girly, and childish. When I am watching something that isn’t fictional, the films tend to be dark, scary, and documentary pieces. Other than that, I don’t really have much of an appetite for film.

So, yeah, I am glad that this is almost over. However, there is going to be one final paper due for the class. I am sure that it is something that I could post here as well. Though, I will have to think about how I am going to manage that. I am sure that if you have been interested in my writings so far that you will be interested in that as well, but it is going to be rather long (like 20-pages long). So, I will think about it.

Anyway, the film that I am working on today is called Jeffrey. The movie features a number of big names from the 1990’s. While I would love to summarize the movie quickly for you here, I am not sure that I can think of anything more to say about it than what is in the reaction below.

[Image] Jean-luc Picard in typical Make it so fasion.

At least Jean-luc Picard was in this movie.

Jeffrey (1995) is a gay romantic comedy about a man who gives up sex and ends up stumbling into Mr. Right in the process, but unlike all other romantic comedies, Jeffrey relies on AIDS—a deadly, incurable, sexual transmitted virus—for the majority of its punchlines. In doing so, the film awkwardly attempts to further acceptance for those living with HIV/AIDS. However, because of its frequent departures into the absurd, the film could easily pass as a satirical piece. In this, the film’s point could be to call out the stupidity and arrogance of the blasé treatment of safer sex practices in the post-AIDS crisis era or simply homonegativity itself. However, the ambiguous relationship between this film and the satire contained within leaves the viewer to decide whether it is truly a work of irony or a serious romantic comedy. As with all things, the truth likely lies somewhere in between.

In viewing the film, I was left with a deep sense of confusion over my inability to tell where satire ended and the plot began. Throughout the film, there are many points that are clearly meant to be satirical in nature. Some of these arose from characters, such as those played by Sigourney Weaver and Nathan Lane, which were included almost entirely for comedic effect. Because of this, however, it becomes unclear whether the same ironic reading could be extended to the likes of Sterling (Patrick Stewart), Darius, or even Steve—characters with a much more substantial impact on the plot of the film.

More worryingly, this problem I had in differentiating the satirical from the substantial extended to aspects of the film beyond its characters and plot. This means that, while I feel that many aspects of the film were problematic, I feel as though any raised concern can simply be countered with a defence stating that that aspect was intentionally absurd. Because of this, I wonder whether this film could be marked as the first film to demonstrate so-called “hipster homophobia.”

Hipster homophobia is a concept, similar to hipster racism or hipster sexism, where homophobia or homonegativity is presented in such a way to make it intentionally absurd or subjectively ironic. In this, those perpetuating hipster homophobia are attempting to challenge the societal expectation of homonegative depictions through over the top uses of these very depictions. In this way, the creator of the work is expressing their belief that blatant expressions of genuine homonegativity are no longer taken seriously and that such obvious depictions of such are seen as humorous and/or whimsical.

However, portrayals of this type often backfire on their creator. As Poe’s law would suggest, there is always going to be a subset of the audience of any satirical work that will not understand its satirical nature. As a result, these people will accept the work for its face value and not for the message at its core. In the context of hipster homophobia, this means that some of those in the audience will take the over the top depictions of stereotyped gay men as the way things actually are rather than taking them as the ironic representations that they were meant to be. Because of this, hipster homophobia inadvertently supports the homonegative actions of those who do not understand its irony and allows for (or encourages) the continuation of homonegative actions under the guise of satire or humour.

Of course, this is only one way of interpreting this film. The other obvious way of doing so would be to take the film on its face, as a realistic portrayal of the creator’s feelings about gay men. In this interpretation, the film moves from inadvertently supporting homonegative assumptions to actively bolstering them, taking on a much darker tone as it does so. This is because the film then becomes little more than a collection of harmful stereotypes and irrational ideas, not the least of which involves the active questioning of safer sex practices.

While the main character does eventually warm to the idea of practising safer sex towards the end of the film, the way in which he announces this seems as though he is making an exception for his desired partner. Prior to this, the message of the film about safer sex practices was one showing them as tiresome, dull, and romance-destroying. This presentation of safer sex practices offers support to misconceptions which pervade our society about these practices, and only serves to discourage their employment by the masses. Given the very serious nature of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, Human papillomavirus (HPV), and antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea, the discouragement of effective prevention measures is irresponsible, but yet all too common.

Beyond this, however, Jeffrey did no better in its portrayal of the gay man. In fact, the film defined gay men (and perhaps men in general) in such a way as to make giving up sex a laughable, foolhardy endeavour. This was not done through the strength of writing or the power of performance, but instead it was accomplished through relying on tired tropes about men and (gay) men’s sexuality. These stereotypes of the oversexed man and the uncontrollable male sex drive are nothing new to media representations of gay men. In fact, it is for this very reason that gay men have historically been viewed as sexual predators exploiting others for their sexual desires. While this harmful generalization could be seen as applicable to heterosexual men as well, it is often assumed that gay men are far more sexual than even their heterosexual male counterparts. This makes representations of the uncontrollable gay male sex drive all the more salient to the audience and all the more problematic for the gay male community.

In addition, the main auxiliary characters in the story, Sterling and Darius, do nothing to improve this stereotyped view of gay men. With Sterling being a catty interior decorator and Darius being a “chorus boy” in the production of Cats, these characters are the epitome of the feminine gay male archetype. As such, these characters do little to move beyond the regressive notions that conflate homosexuality with gender transgression. Further, those in other marginalized communities do not get much better treatment. After all, the film’s only non-white character (a Black man) is portrayed as a server at a restaurant, and the film’s only transgender character is played by a masculine-looking cis-man in a dress and is depicted eagerly awaiting surgery.

Because of these heavily stereotyped representations that clearly harm the communities on which they are based, I almost hope that the creator of the film was aiming entirely for creating a work of satire. However, as I mentioned above, I am sure that the truth lies somewhere between these two opposing interpretations of the film. The reason that I believe this is because the film seems to have a plot that is far too serious to lend itself to an ironic interpretation. However, it is clear that many aspects of the film are not meant to be taken seriously at all. It is because of this that I feel that the line between satire and seriousness has been blurred. However, with either interpretation (or some complex mixing of the two), something that the film can not escape is the sense of unironic hypocrisy that comes with its attempted advancement of acceptance for those living with HIV/AIDS.

During the contrived courtship between Steve and Jeffrey, Steve mentions that he does not want to be Jeffrey’s red ribbon. In this, Steve expresses that he does not want to be reduced to a decoration highlighting Jeffrey’s acceptance of those with AIDS and implies that such self-centred, surface level engagement with the cause is all too common. Nevertheless, those in the cast and crew of this film do not seem to actually engage with this message. Instead, it feels as though many of the big names who got involved with this film did so as a way of publicly displaying their humanitarian efforts. In this way, the film serves as the red ribbon for its cast and crew, a status Steve expressed his explicit disapproval of.

Again!? So soon!?

*sighs* That’s right, it is time for yet another reaction paper on a film that was shown for the class. This time, the movie of choice is Silverlake Life: The View from Here (1993). Unlike many of the other movies that we have seen so far,Silverlake Life is a cute like documentary. I don’t think that I have much to say that I haven’t said below, so I will leave you to it.

World AIDS Day logo, with a bright red ribbon.

World AIDS Day

Silverlake Life: The View From Here (1993) is a powerful reminder of the personal devastation that often awaits those with a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS. From its outset, the film makes it clear that the ending will not be one of cheery songs and happily ever afters. Rather, the film announces its intentions to document the lives of partners Tom and Mark as they experience their spirals of AIDS-related decline. In this, the documentary does not shy away from even the hardest of facts; Instead, choosing to highlight the physical tole AIDS is taking on each of their bodies and even allowing the viewer the gruesome opportunity to see the ultimate result, at least in Tom’s case.

Throughout this entire process, the couple does their best to not only show the physical ravages of the disease, but also its emotional costs. Frequently, the viewer is confronted with the emotional dilemmas that Tom and Mark face as they try to understand, and prepare for, their eventual deaths. As an example of this, Mark and Tom talk about how family visits take on a new meaning as their health declines. In this, they talk about how, while they want family to be together in the hard times they are facing, they also understand that family visits are an undeniable signal of their quickly approaching end. However, this is not the only example, as even the most mundane of daily tasks has the potential to result in such emotional turmoil. When faced with a long day out at the shops, Tom gets quite angry with Mark as he continues to add “just one more thing” to the list of jobs. Although this anger is mostly at his own growing physical incompacity, to some extent, Tom still misdirects it at his partner, Mark.

Thankfully, however, this does nothing to harm the relationship or the dedication that either has to the other. Instead, it was just a passing feeling arising for the ever increasing limitations that AIDS places on the body. This physical and emotional realism, as well as the disease/life balance that is struck throughout the film, make Silverlake Life one of its kind. Even though the movie highlights some of the most gruesome moments of living with (and dying from) AIDS, the film still comes across as more of a tragic romance than a romantic tragedy. That is to say, that, despite the focus on the disease that is slowly taking both of their lives, the film also (inherently) centres the relationship between the two of them, and the love and dedication that makes this possible. In doing so, Tom and Mark, once again, stand as proof-positive that gay men are capable and willing to commit to such long-term, devotional relationships, a fact that (despite frequent confirmation) still comes into question today.

Further, because the film makes it a point to address the dedication and (assumed) monogamy of Mark and Tom, the film also helps to break down preconceptions about the strength of the relationship between HIV/AIDS and promiscuity. While frequent casual sex does put one at increased risk for contracting the disease, promiscuity is not an essential part of this process. It is quite possible to contract HIV from a single session of unsafe sexual activity or from a variety of other sources; a fact that is commonly ignored in a rush to cast blame for the illness onto the actions of others. So, in spelling this out yet again, Mark and Tom remove some the loaded assumptions about, and relieve some of the stresses on, all the people who unfortunately follow in their footsteps.

Overall, Silverlake Life: The View From Here provides the viewer with an excellent, yet disturbing, introduction to the ravages of AIDS on the gay community. While the movie does little to address the far reaching nature of the epidemic in this era, the film easily and appropriately personalizes this deadly, painful, and incapacitating disease; something not to be taken lightly. However, in leaving this film, it is still possible for one to feel as though AIDS is a fate for the unlucky or unwise and not the population destroying menace that it actually was. Because of this, I feel that Silverlake Life should commonly and consistently be paired with the other side of this coin, so that those watching it can more fully comprehend, not only the physical and emotional tole of the disease, but the population and community scale tole as well.

Gendered Homophobia: A comparison of Cruising (1980) and Windows (1980)

Hello again, everyone.

It is time for another reaction paper, and thus, time for another blog. I was hoping to get something more up between the last reaction paper and this one, but a lot has happened since then (which you can read about on my personal blog). For this reaction paper, I have been tasked with watching, comparing, and responding to Cruising (1980) and Windows (1980).

A bit of background: Windows is a movie that centres around Emily, a young woman who is caught in the gaze of a predatory, psychotic lesbian: her “friend” Andrea. Early in the movie, we see Emily getting attacked and sexually assaulted as she enters her apartment. Later, it is revealed that Andrea had this arranged simply to get the chance to hear Emily moan (something the rapist forces her to do at knifepoint). As Emily does what she needs to deal with the trauma of being sexually assaulted in her own home (namely, moving to a new apartment), Andrea takes advantage of her friend’s choice to start watching her from across the river (with help of a high powered telescope). As Andrea grows more and more devoted to Emily, she starts killing anyone that gets between her and her love interest. Finally, (after killing Emily’s cat, Emily’s neighbour, and her own psychologist) Andrea corners Emily. As Emily finds out about Andrea’s plan and involvement with her rape, she develops as a character and slaps Andrea hard enough to jar her from her murderous, manipulative ways.

Cruising, on the other hand, is a very dark film in which Steve Burns, a straight rookie cop, goes undercover to investigate a series of murders claiming the lives of gay men in the leather scene. As soon as he steps into the role of a gay leather daddy, the sexuality around him is ramped up to 11. As he slowly integrates into the scene, he starts to find himself “affected” by the role that he is asked to play. While it isn’t ever made explicit, it is implied that his involvement with the leather gay community is driving him towards a penchant for violence, sex, and possibly murder. In the end, he finds his killer (not before fingering the wrong guy and watching him get beat down by the cops). However, as the murderer lays in hospital recovering from his run-in with Steve, another body turns up, this time Steve’s neighbour from his stake-out location. It is dismissed as a lover’s quarrel, but was it really?

Considering these two movies, if you are looking for a decent queer-as-murderer movie for your Halloween night, I suggest that you try Windows first.

Although the crime dramas Cruising (1980) and Windows (1980) are two films that follow in the “Queer-as-murderer” tradition of Hollywood film-making, they are about as different as gay men and lesbian women; Or, at least, as different as they are assumed to be. While the differences between these two movies may be striking and the similarities may be worrying, one thing sticks out more than anything else: gendered homophobia.

Much like other forms of intersectional oppression, gendered homophobia is a Gestalt conceptualization of homonegativity as it happens within a patriarchal system. In this, sexism and homonegativity are inseparably connected in such a way that the whole is greater, or more oppressive, than the sum of its parts. In relation to the films, both can easily be said to be homonegative in concept, setting up the murderer as a psychotic queer; However, in taking the films as parts of the same historical reference point, the gendered homophobia starts to come into focus. While neither film explicitly endorses the stratification of gays and lesbians by gendered class, the two films, taken together, very much do. 

Unlike earlier films that seem to conflate sexuality with gender, effectively making one’s gender secondary to one’s sexual orientation, these two films do much the opposite. As such, Cruising, rather than showing gay men as one-dimensionally effeminate because of their sexual orientation, shows gay men, particularly those in the leather community, as the peak of hypermasculinity. While this retelling of the social narrative offers a new dimension to the social conceptualization of the gay male, it also seems to re-entrench notions of masculinity and expectations of men. In doing so, and doing so in such a uni-dimensional way, Cruising lends support to the creation and perpetuation of a new stereotype, one which writes gay men into the role of oversexed hypermasculinity, almost as an overcompensation for past transgressions of their gendered expectations.

In Cruising, this means that the friendships and emotional connections of the past are gone. Instead, almost every interaction between gay men includes some sort of sexual advance or sexual activity. Being that the setting for this movie is before the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s, this may, in fact, closely resemble the reality of the leather community of the time. However, as the leather community is merely one aspect of the larger gay community, the singular focus on it only serves to exaggerate the promiscuity of gay men and the prevalence of the gay leather scene. On its own, this would not be a problem as there is nothing wrong with either casual sex or the gay leather scene; however, as the general public is constantly looking for one narrative that describes all gay men, this narrative does far more harm than good.

Similar to the way that Cruising supports the foundations of a hypermasculine ideal, Windows offers support for many of the sexist assumptions about women. The most striking example of which comes again from the realm of sexuality. In this film, although Andrea (the murderous lesbian character) can be said to be taking a predatory role in the “relationship” between herself and Emily, Andrea still goes about this as passively as possible. In conversations with her psychiatrist, Andrea is urged more than once to open herself up to her love interest, to tell her how she feels. Despite this, she fails to do so right up until her very last interaction with Emily. Instead, Andrea takes a psychotic twist on a standard female archetype by killing anyone who appears to come between the two of them.

This deadly, one-sided fascination starts even before the movie does and continues right up until the final scene. From this, the viewer gets a sense that, despite her psychopathy, Andrea is naturally monogamous: a trait commonly ascribed to women. Further, even within her intense obsession, the role of Andrea’s sexual desire is surprisingly unclear. Despite the fact that Andrea contracts someone to rape Emily at knifepoint (simply to obtain a recording of her moaning), Andrea seems to make nothing of the night she has Emily trapped in her apartment. After all, Emily claims that, throughout the night, Andrea simply professed her love for her over and over again. In leaving this to the last possible moment, a passive aggressive tone is struck under all of Andrea’s actions, as though Andrea has been hinting for Emily to make the first move all along. Along with the terrible communication skills that this implies, this disposition away from overt expressions of sexual interest in favour of a manipulative passive aggression is yet another (charming) stereotyped feminine trait.

Common to both movies is the theme of psychopathy causing murderousness. In Cruising, it is implied that the psychopathy of the killer arises from the disapproval of his father. Whether this is a jab at father’s who reject their gay sons or an attempt to address the etymology of the sexual orientation, the fact remains that ‘daddy issues’ are inexorably connected to stereotypes of gay men. In Windows, on the other hand, the psychopathy seems to be a sort of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. However, in both cases, the film-makers do nothing to challenge the conflation of this psychopathy with the character’s status as a sexual minority. This glaring oversight in two different movies of the same time period suggests a systemic problem with the conflation of these two concepts, a problem that still exists in an altered way today.

Overall, both films act as relics from the not-too-distant past, as well as reminders of the stereotypes that continue to impact gay and lesbian communities today. However, it would be unfair to claim that the films are equally bad, in quality or oppressive undertones. In both of these regards, Cruising comes out as the clear winner. Despite the fact that Windows’ only lesbian character is a psychotic mass murder, the sensitization of the sexuality and the extreme othering of the leather community in Cruising were far worse. Further, with the extremely weak psychological twist ending in Cruising, it is hard to believe that this film was more of a success than Windows.