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