Longhorns or Long Stereotypes

Longhorns (2011) directed by David Lewis is a film I’ve had on my Netflix queue for ages.

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From the cover you can see its laden with all sorts of stereotyping about gay men, their bodies and a fetishisation of the hyper-‘masculine’ cowboy figure. But not only that, its relationship to the über-‘masculine’, Texas-centric UT Austin plays into the wet dreams of many-a-viewer.

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What Lewis tried to do is to recall the success of Brokeback Mountain (2005, Ang Lee), but failed in the process. He even tried to put the story in the context of the homophobic 80s to give it that something else, but again, he failed. What he managed to succeed at is falling into the same pitfalls of most other white gay films: using sexuality as a means to blur identity and soft-core porn. While this is not necessarily problematic, it adds nothing new to the genre of LGBTQ films. More importantly, it further entrenches the LGBTQ community into the ceaseless debate surrounding our obsessions with sex and how our meaning revolves around that sex, which ultimately pins our identity as amoral and not worthy of the public’s attention. Of course, I don’t agree with the idea that the LGBTQ community is solely obsessed with sex, no more or less than heterosexuals are (point in argument: the porn industry), but films such as these rely on hot men having sex with other hot men as their main selling point.

I guess my point is really, gay male oriented films are obsessed with sex (at least the contemporary ones). While sex is definitely a huge part of who we are, there are other attributes that gay filmmaking could focus on, but for some reason it is not being done. The major ‘hits’ in the last few years for specifically gay filmmaking promise scenes of graphic sex (see the Eating Out series). I’m just failing to understand how that can be the sole focus of these films when there are real issues to be dealt with amongst the LGBTQ community and the wider public. More importantly, if we want to focus so much on sex, let’s focus on how this obsession is leading to a body image crisis that may even be surpassing female body image issues. Admittedly, this is not an academic piece, but I found a fascinating article that encompasses these exact sentiments I’m expressing. In his article “The Gay Male Gaze”, Mitchell B. Wood highlights current research surrounding gay male dissatisfaction with their body-image, citing that:

Several studies over the last decade have examined body dissatisfaction among gay males, lesbians, straight males, and straight females. Of all four groups, gay men report the highest levels of body dissatisfaction (Strong, Singh, & Randall, 2000) or show levels of dissatisfaction comparable to straight women and lesbians (Beren, Hayden, Wilfley, & Grilo, 1996). (45)

If these issues persist amongst gay men, then why do gay men go out and create these semi-pornographic films that only perpetuate negative notions of healthy and attractive body image? It’s as if hardcore gay pornography were not enough. Perhaps it works as a compensation for the lack of innovative story lines in gay porn, or maybe we really are that sex obsessed as Michael (Queer As Folk [2000-2005]) claims:

The thing you need to know is, it’s all about sex. It’s true. In fact, they say men think about sex every 28 seconds. Of course, that’s straight men. Gay men it’s every nine. You could be at the supermarket, or the laundromat or buying a fabulous shirt when suddenly you find yourself checking out some hot guy. Hotter than the one you saw last weekend or went home with the night before, which explains why we’re all at Babylon at one in the morning instead of at home, in bed. But who wants to be at home, in bed? Especially alone, when you can be here, knowing that at any moment, you might see him. The most beautiful man who ever lived. That is, until tomorrow night. (http://queer-as-folk.hypnoweb.net/episodes-/saison-1/episode-101/script-vo.60.353/)

Michael’s claims are LOADED with stereotypes and LGBTQ commonalities, but there is a reason this show was watched and obsessed over by the LGBT community. These other films have worse distribution and a more restrictive audience, I agree, but there is something eloquent about bouncing quality acting, hard-hitting issues and sex and sexualisation within a television show. These films lack, and it’s a damn shame. They could be so much more than they are.

 

If you want to read “The Gay Male Gaze” here is the citation:

Wood, Mitchell J. “The Gay Male Gaze.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services 17:2 (2004): 43-62.

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Hellbent: A Queer Occurrence

Slasher has gone through many phases, cycles, changes from its early inceptions to the present day. These films have a varied founding, with conflicting ideas of their origination (some saying with TCM or Black Christmas in 1974 and others pointing to Hitchcock’s Psycho). Whatever the case may be, there have been many imaginations of the formula. Hellbent (2004),

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directed by Paul Etheredge,

is a re-imagining of the horror subgenre, not in that it does something new with the narrative structure, rather it plays with notions of gender and sexuality.

One commonality amongst many slasher films is the final girl. Carol Clover coined this term in 1993 in her book Men, Women and Chainsaws, which, simply enough, identified that there was typically one surviving female character who was ultimately victimised and terrorised until she is either saved by a man or saves herself. Hellbent reinvents the final girl by shifting her gender to a male character, thus creating the final boy.

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Not only is the final surviving character’s gender altered, but so too is his sexuality. What remains, then, is a semblance of the same heroic male figure who must sacrifice himself in some form for the final victim’s survival.

What Hellbent has done, however, is not change solely the final surviving character, rather, the entire stereotypical character pool has undergone a sexuality shift. Where they haven’t shifted, however, is through the fetishisation or sexualisation of the minoritised body.

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As you can see in the photo above, both men are figured as sexual objects to one another. But through their positioning, we understand that the final boy is looking at/lusting after his male, shirtless, counterpart. Not only is this preconfigured through editing and positioning, but it is also configured through the accentuated lighting, which highlights in darkness an idealised/fetishised male physique. Moreover, we can even move as far to say that, through our identification with the final boy, we the viewers are meant to fetishise the sexualised male. However, this is not meant to be a critique of filmic practices, rather an exploration of their alteration to queer an arguably heterosexual subgenre. I do find this an important step of progress in filmmaking, considering that, since the release of this film, there have been several new installations of queer horror.

One criticism I will give this film is that it is overly indebted to negotiating gay male stereotypes, which I find as a gay man to be at times frustrating. Etheredge obviously has in mind a vision to combat negative stereotypes often attributed to homosexuality, however he does not do so effectively with all of them. In fact, through this attempted negotiation, he perpetuates them further, entrenching the gay community into frivolity, capriciousness and promiscuity. The final boy is not the chaste figure the final girl presents, even though this is not so much an issue. What is an issue is that the final boy is easily provoked into sexual relations, a signal that even the most ‘moral’ of gay men are not moral. I admit that sexual interactivity is important to become visible, but not through weak characters. I’d rather see man whores who are proud of their various partners than a character forced into something. Moreover, it positions the final boy as a feminine character, moving away from an independent queer ideology that can be read from the final girl.

My final thought is this: I appreciate the efforts of the film and enjoy it as a film, but as a film that trumpets itself as ‘the first gay slasher’ it really needs to take a page out of Sleepaway Camp (1983) and focus on more non-normative affects of sexuality and identity.