Citizen Dick


By Richard Lawlor
By Richard Lawlor

Ridin’, Ropin’, and Redecoratin.’
Did you hear the one about the two gay cowboys? More than likely, you’ve heard quite a few. They’ve moved Scooter Libby, Janet Jackson and Anna Nicole Smith to the hinterlands of late-night TV comedy.

With respect to the late, great entertainer, the bawdy Sophie Tucker, here is this fellar’s entry to the barrage of Brokeback Mountain jokes.

“I was in bed last night with my sheepherder boyfriend and he said to me, ‘Jack, you got no tits and a tight box.’” 

I said to him, “Ennis, get off my back!”

Brokeback Mountain jokes are all the rage. USA Today declared that in 2006, “Gay cowboys are now the new penguins.”

“The avalanche of jokes, parodies and quips inspired by the winner of four Golden Globes shows no signs of abating almost seven weeks after opening in theaters,” USA Today writer Susan Wloszczyna declared.

Like offers for cheap Cialis and Viagra, Brokeback Mountain chat now fills the Web world. Movie poster spoofs featuring male couples from Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay (in Kickback Mountain) to George Bush and Dick Cheney (inDumbfuck Mountain) are widely circulated.

Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno, David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel have all had their say. I’ll place odds that John Stewart will have a Brokeback Mountain reference within his first 60 seconds hosting this year’s Oscars — if not a full-blown, musical, cow-poking production number.

The phrase “I wish I could quit you” has been so integrated into pop culture I wouldn’t be surprised if a certain restaurant chain changes its pitch-line to “I Wish I Could Quiznos.”

This film has fascinated me since I heard of it last fall while researching a column on filmmaker John Ford and discovering a secret, homoerotic side to his cowboy tales. (See “Macho, Macho Man,” Oct. 9, 2005)

I will fess up now. I haven’t seen it. I’ve actually lost interest from all the god darn hype surrounding the movie, hype that brings out the best and the worst in people on both sides of the Fruited Plains.

Brokeback Mountain been banned in China and pulled from movie theaters in Utah. It will not be shown in U.S. Military theaters around the world. (They claim it’s a matter of timing. A shortage of armored suits that protect you from gay cowboys seems a more likely scenario.) 

Referring to a lovemaking scene between Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, that sweet piece of rancher meat John Gibson at Fox News said, “What’s more difficult to watch: George Clooney getting his fingernails ripped out in Syriana or that?”

When President Bush was asked his opinion of the film at Kansas State University, he said. “I’d be glad to talk about ranching, but I haven’t seen the movie.” 

When the audience laughed, he added, “I have heard about it.”

The film has its share of gay naysayers, too.

Scott Withers, host of Q Television’s Brunch and a network producer, was the first I knew to give a big “thumbs down” to the movie. It had just been released in L.A. and New York, and Withers went wild urging viewers to see anything else.

On the subject of the accolades being thrown at director Ang Lee, Chrisanne Eastwood, host of QTV’s On Topic, “Ang Lee, Ang Lee. Pretty soon you’ll be hearing that his urine can cure people of illness.”

The Oscar nominated stars Gyllenhaal and Ledger are currently getting a lot of “whoa doggies” for refusing to describe their film relationship as a gay one. Making the media rounds, they are promoting Brokeback as a love story between two tough cowboys.

Described by some as “giggley” and at times “sophomoric,” the actors’ appearances and the general “ungaying” of Brokeback Mountain marketing materials are sources of continued debate. 

Yes, pardner. There have been full-blown fracases.

During his “Critic’s Choice” segment on the Today show, veteran reviewer Gene Shalit referred to Gyllenhaal’s character, Jack, as a “sexual predator,” who “tracks Ennis down and coaxes him into sporadic trysts.” (He forgot to mention they were drunk on moonshine at the time.)

GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) was quick on the draw, saying Shalit promoted “defamatory anti-gay prejudice to a national audience,” and criticizing NBC News for providing him with a platform to air his views. “Shalit’s bizarre characterization of Jack as a ‘predator’ and Ennis (Ledger) as a victim reflects a fundamental lack of understanding about the central relationship in the film and about gay relationships in general,” GLAAD said in a statement. 

“It seems highly doubtful that Shalit would similarly claim that Titanic’s Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) was a ‘sexual predator’ because he was pursuing a romantic relationship with Rose (Kate Winslet),” said the organization, which called Shalit’s “branding” of Jack “defamatory, ignorant and irresponsible.” 

Shalit waved an off-white flag, sending a note expressing regret for having angered many in the gay community. 

“I certainly had no intention of casting aspersions on anyone in the gay community or on the community itself. I regret any emotional hurt that may have resulted from my review of Brokeback Mountain.” 

Shalit’s gay son, physician and author Peter Shalit, wrote a letter of his own to GLAAD defending his father. Admitting it wasn’t the first time he had disagreed with his dad about one of his reviews, he felt compelled to write after seeing the “buzz online,” in which some bloggers treated his father “as if he’s an enemy of gay people.”

“He had no idea that his review of a movie, and his reaction to a particular character, would be seen as homophobia. Of course he is not homophobic,” said the younger Shalit.

The end is not in sight.

Whether it’s evoking tears or guffaws, all this confounded mass media attention “might could be” a good thing.

Another Oscar contender, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America) is nominated against Brokeback Mountain for his screenplay of Steven Spielberg’s Munich

His thoughts on the brouhaha: “I think American culture is closely allied with American political progress, and a film like Brokeback will absolutely kick down barriers and open up people’s hearts and minds.”

So I promise, I will eventually mosey downtown to see the movie. I’ll leave the hat and chaps at home, but bring my own chewy tobacky. I wonder how much the Nickelodeon charges for beef jerky?

A semi-retired arts promoter, Richard Lawlor is co-founder of GFPM Enterprises (producers of and The Companionnewspaper). His column, Citizen Dick, runs biweekly.