Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Not That There's Anything Wrong With That...

I know that I usually focus on transportation and policy issues here at Track Twenty-Nine, but sometimes it's nice to get off on a siding and talk about other issues I find near and dear to my heart. And sometimes, I just read an article in the newspaper that calls out for reflection.

This post is the latter.

I still haven't seen the movie "Milk." I've been meaning to for a while. In fact, I was in San Francisco when it debuted at the Castro Theater, although I didn't find out about that until the following morning, in the Chronicle. But last week, my boyfriend and I went downtown to one of (only) two theatres in metropolitan Washington that is screening the film. The woman in front of us in line got the last two tickets.

So I still haven't seen it. This weekend, I'm going to get there an hour and a half early, since 45 minutes isn't apparently enough. We weren't the only people turned away, either. I think the movie theater could make some more money with additional screenings, but supply and demand isn't the subject of this post.

Kissing is.

Today's Washington Post ran with an article on that subject. It responds to the question that everyone in America, apparently, wants to know: what's it like to kiss a guy?

And the title of the article says it all: Why Can't A Kiss Just Be a Kiss?

James Franco has been fielding questions left and right about his on-screen kiss with Sean Penn in Milk. And after reading some of the questions, I agree with the writer. And I'm offended.

First off, I've never been a fan of Letterman. When I do watch late night television--and that's not often--I watch Leno. I always found Letterman to be in bad taste and quite uncomedic. I mean how desperate can you be for jokes when you have to resort to "will it float?" I'll make sure to steer clear from now on.

"I didn't want to screw it up," Franco told Letterman on "Late Show" last week.

"See, if it's me, I'm kind of hoping I do screw it up," Letterman shot back. "That's what you want, isn't it?"

"To screw it up?" Franco asked.

"I mean, do you really want to be good at kissing a guy?" Letterman said as his audience howled with delight.

Well, yes, Mr. Letterman. I suppose an actor playing the role of a gay man would actually want to be good at it--that's what it means to be a good actor, to be good at portraying something you aren't. And what's wrong with that? Is James Franco suddenly to be shunned because he didn't vomit afterwards?

Mr. Letterman might have been making light of the situation the only way he knows how, but his tasteless jokes suggest something more. They suggest that there's something to be horrified about for any straight actor handling this situation.

The article's author, Hank Stuever, makes this point very poignantly.

Underlying the questions (and the answers) is this notion that a gay kissing scene must be the worst Hollywood job hazard that a male actor could face, including stunt work, extreme weather or sitting through five hours of special-effects makeup every day. We live comfortably, if strangely, in a pseudo-Sapphic era in which seemingly every college woman with a MySpace page has kissed another girl for the camera; but for men who kiss men, it's still the final frontier.

There's a whiff of discomfort of the Seinfeldian, "not-that-there's-anything-wrong-with-it" variety. It's a post-ironic, post-homophobic homophobia, the kind seen most weeks in "Saturday Night Live" sketches or in any Judd Apatow movie.

To put it in perspective for those of you who bat for the other team (after all that's how it appears from my dugout), the article entices the reader to think about how it must feel for those of us in the GLBT community:
"No one ever asks Neil Patrick Harris what it's like to play a straight guy who sleeps with lots of women" on the sitcom "How I Met Your Mother," Scholibo says. "No one ever asks him how 'gross' it is to kiss a woman."

And from personal experience, it is gross. I don't know why. It just is. It always has been. But I don't expect my heterosexual readers to agree with me. And that's fine.

Perhaps the most mature of comments I've heard on the topic come from (heterosexual) "Brokeback Mountain" star Jake Gyllenhaal, who talks about his on-screen kisses in "Brokeback" by saying it's "like doing a love scene with a woman I'm not particularly attracted to."

Exactly. At least one good thing's come out of all this:

I can finally stop saying to Letterman, "I wish I knew how to quit you."

I assure you, that won't be a problem anymore.


noktulo said...

Good call. I just discovered your blog a week ago and now I'm an even bigger fan.

Katherine said...

I'm with noktulo (but reading only a few months :)

The attitude from late night hosts over this "issue" drives me crazy. And I hate that it's "gross" between two men but the greatest fantasy EVER between two women. (So still offensive and seixst...hmmm.) I feel ARGH all around.

copp3rred said...

I don't recall the one time having kissed a woman as gross, just well not right. Too soft, to supple, too much "give". Nothing like a little stubble to warm me up.

Letterman is a creepy old douche, and needs to be replaced, just like they're pushing Leno out the door.

Paul Wilson said...

I couldn't agree more with this post. The question is insipid and offensive. Haven't watched late night TV in years and it doesn't sound like I'm missing anything.

madpark said...

I don't/won't own a tv, and it is exactly because of this kind of smarminess and lack of integrity that I have chosen not to have a set in my home. Pick up a book, go to a concert, go for a train ride! You'll be a better person for it.

Dave Murphy said...

I simply laugh off Letterman's unease with the subject. I don't believe it should be looked at as an attack on homosexual lifestyle, rather an insight to his lack of understanding or sensitivity on the subject. As a vet, he's made comments about the military that make me roll my eyes in disdain. Fact is, he's just a bad comedian.

As for the buzz over this topic, I believe that it stems from the fact that it is emerging from a taboo. homosexual congress to much of our culture is a relatively foreign concept. I think that to damn this sort of reaction only drives a wedge. It needs to be confronted and challenged, not written off as a hate crime.

In any event, Letterman needs to retire from Late Night.

Anonymous said...

Society does seem to suggest that a straight man kissing another man is far more taboo than a woman kissing another woman. I can see the outrage in that.

However a few friends of mine were recently discussing that it seems we each know dozens of gay men but only a handful of lesbian women. Myself I probably know through work, my condo and social circles over 40 gay men in the DC area. While I know a several lesbians in NY I don't know even one openly lesbian woman in DC. I find this curious...

Matt! said...

I'm a guy who kisses guys, and I love Letterman. His discomfort with guy-on-guy kisses is no worse than some gay men I know who recoil in revulsion at the prospect of kissing a woman. Dave's not asking any questions that millions of folks aren't already asking. Maybe by getting this topic out in the open, even via humor, folks can begin to move past the stigma.

And now, back to watching "Will It Float?"