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Brokeback Country

Joey Falco | Monday, February 6, 2006

During a recent address at Kansas State University in which President George W. Bush offered audience members the rare opportunity to ask him questions that had not been scripted in advance by his public image Gestapo, one individual jokingly (or perhaps boldly) inquired as to whether or not the president had seen the film “Brokeback Mountain.”

“I haven’t seen it,” Bush responded with a grin that sent waves of laughter rolling throughout the auditorium. “I’d be glad to talk about ranching, but I haven’t seen the movie.”

The fact is, the president was probably lucky that he hadn’t seen Ang Lee’s Oscar-nominated western that brought a whole new meaning to the phrase “ride ’em, cowboy.” After all, the over-politicization of American life has reached such a sickening level that even one of our most cherished national pastimes – the motion picture industry – has become a political hotbed rife with opportunities for Democrats and Republicans to tear at each other’s throats.

For instance, conversations about “Brokeback Mountain” (which, as everyone knows, depicts the tragic love affair between two cowboys) have become so taboo and politicized that a true debate over the merits of the film itself is downright impossible. Most socially conservative Republicans would not even step into a theater to see it because of the thought that America’s manliest profession could be “homosexualized” by the likes of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. Most liberal Democrats, on the other hand, have been raving nonstop about its open-minded brilliance and envelope-pushing edginess – even if they have never even seen the movie.

If you love the movie, you’re a “gay-lover.” If you hate it, you’re a homophobe. Ironically, this movie that was supposed to be mind-opening has only proven how close-minded and judgmental Americans can be (on both sides of the political spectrum).

To be honest, I thought that “Brokeback Mountain” was one of the most boring, tedious, cheesy films I have seen all year. The love story, while unconventional and at times awkwardly hilarious, seemed forced and unrealistic, and the dialogue made George Lucas sound like Charlie Kaufman.

Nevertheless, posting this opinion on a liberal blog or newspaper message board like the Daily Kos or the Village Voice would have probably resulted in my being labeled a backstabbing, Bush-loving bigot with as much party loyalty as Joe Lieberman.

But that’s the reality of political life in modern America. It’s as if everywhere you go and everything you do – grocery shopping, church-going, football playing, movie watching – someone is reading you your political Miranda rights and “anything that you say can and will be used against you” in the public forum. Even worse, the possibilities for moderation and personal decision in life – such as being a practicing Catholic who supports a woman’s right to choose or perhaps hating “Brokeback Mountain” while supporting policies like the legalization of gay marriage-are all but nonexistent. After all, that would involve conciliation, free thought, personal decision, and, worst of all, flip-flopping.

As a result of this depressing and stressful situation, even a simple trip to the movies has become a metaphoric vote for Democrat or Republican. Case in point: The five films nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards are all in some way politically motivated and in most cases expressions of liberal political thought. “Brokeback Mountain,” as already discussed, is a clear outcry for social tolerance of homosexuality. “Capote,” a biographical tale of the flamboyant author Truman Capote, also dabbles into the subject of homosexuality in middle America. “Crash,” which in my opinion blows its four other competitors out of the water, is a brilliantly weaved story of racial tension and intolerance in one of America’s most diverse cities – Los Angeles. Stephen Spielberg’s annual contribution to the awards, “Munich,” is a dramatic depiction of the violent aftermath of the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Finally, “Good Night, and Good Luck,” the story of journalist Edward R. Murrow’s bold challenge to McCarthyism during the Red Scare, was deliberately written by George Clooney to encourage the media to “ask tough questions of anyone in power.”

And there you have it: the gay vote, the minority vote, the Jewish vote, and the “liberal media” vote. No matter who wins the Oscar at this year’s ceremony, the Democratic Party will certainly come out on top. (If only our presidential candidates could have this kind of success rate.)

Beyond a reiteration of the cliche that Hollywood preaches to the liberal choir, though, this politicization of the film industry and one of our most cherished forms of mindless entertainment is only something that will further divide an America that is already starting to resemble a blue Oreo stuffed with way too much red cream. As George Washington warned in his legendary farewell address, “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension … is in itself a frightful despotism.”

And the first step toward ending this factionalized despotism? Nominating a film for Best Picture that all of America can appreciate and enjoy – like “Walk the Line.”

Or, at the very least, “Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous.”

Joey Falco is a junior American Studies major. His column appears every other Monday. He can be contacted at jfalco@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.