That would be Brokeback Mountain, or so it would seem from the slobbery, but entirely predictable, press coverage. (My favorite comment so far: New York magazine critic Ken Tucker’s declaration that, “You either buy into this tale of men in love or you join the ranks of those who’ve been snickering during the movie’s prerelease trailers, and who can be divided into the insecure, the idiots, or the insecure idiots.”) I don’t know whether insecurity or idiocy has anything to do with it–but how thoughtful and sophisticated of the Rt. Rev. Tucker to dismiss those who don’t get the movie as boobs or moral retards–but it does seem pretty inarguable that the mainstream American film audience doesn’t have much enthusiasm for a film that depicts male-on-male eroticism. What’s interesting to me is that there really is an appetite, however limited, for non-erotic male homosexuality (e.g., Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, The Birdcage), and there is an appetite for lesbian eroticism in mainstream film. But not frank male-on-male eroticism. I can’t begin to explain the discrepancy–I mean, why so many people find male-on-male eroticism distasteful, when they tolerate the same from female-to-female–but it’s real. Anyway, Brokeback Mountain might actually be a great movie, but I work such long hours and have so many responsibilities around the house that on the rare occasion when I have an opportunity to see a film, I can’t work up much enthusiasm for spending that time and money watching two dudes betray their wives and children cowpokin’ each other. Then again, I’m not planning to see the big monkey movie either. Giant apes make me feel insecure and idiotic.
I predict “Brokeback” will be a box office flop, and we’ll see a long, pearls-clutching round of media bashing of Red America for being insecure and idiotic. But really, film critics are insanely insular. I was one for seven or eight years, and they are almost to a man quite liberal. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but it’s clear to me why so many people distrust film critics, and are mostly right to do so.
You know, it’s not only liberal cultural politics that separate most critics from the mass audience, but something harder to pin down. It has to do with experience. Critics live in such a rarefied and aestheticized world, seeing five to 10 movies a week, that they quickly grow bored with the sameness of movies. Without quite realizing it–this happened to me as a conservative–critics become suckers for novelty, especially of the transgressive sort. At its worst, you end up with a theater full of the most important film critics in North America at the 1998 Toronto Film Festival, roaring their approval of the creepy and misanthropic Todd Solondz’s film “Happiness,” which featured, among other transgressive delights, a comic set piece showing a suburban dad trying to drug his son’s little playmate so he could anally rape him (he succeeded). It was one of the sickest movies I’ve ever had to sit through, but it received rave reviews–and, unsurprisingly, flopped at the box office. We’re a nation of insecure, idiotic Philistines, ah reckon. I’ll have to remember to ask the Rt. Rev. Tucker.