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Thursday, September 20, 2007
So, let's look again at that William Friedkin quote about Cruising: . A lot of the protests against the film in ‘80 said that it seemed to indicate that the gay lifestyle brought about murder, death, violence… and strangely, you know I find that so off-base. I never got the same criticism from the French government when I made The French Connection and the dope smuggler is a French guy and the guy working for him as his hit man is another French guy. And I never heard from French people that I was accusing all French people of smuggling heroin into America, but that was one of the tacks taken by the protests in 1980. And I think they were reaching – I think there was an enormous reach to find a foundation for the criticism.
The obvious point is this: in 1980, if you wanted to find a film with positive portrayals of French people, you could. But at that same point in time you really couldn't find many positive portrayals of gay people. And many of the ones you did find were problematic for other reasons: sissies and queens tended to be the dominant image of gay men in film and television. So it's a laughably absurd false equivalence that Friedkin is building there. Secondly, on the off chance that some person of French ancestry was offended by The French Connection there was an entire French film industry that person could turn to in order to find less offensive portrayals. But in 1980, we were still about ten years away from the "Queer Cinema" days (for good or ill). There were pretty much no mass media portrayals of gay people other than the homophobic or otherwise problematic portrayals in mainstream films. And lastly, Friedkin is apparently the least text-aware director of all time, because both his film and the novel it is based on do rather explicitly make a case that all gay people are deranged predators.
I'm fascinated by this, not because Cruising is a particularly good film or one worthy of commentary (it pretty much deserved all the negative reviews it's gotten over the years, to set aside the accusation of homophobia in the film), but because it's recent release on DVD is coincident with the return of an ever-popular media meme about gay men: the sexual predator.
Ironically, it was the disgrace of two conservative politicians, Bob Allen and Larry Craig, that got the media latched onto the gay sexual predator angle, with some help from the increasingly bizarre antics of Fort Lauderdale mayor Jim Naugle. Allen and Craig, for those living under a rock, were both arrested for soliciting undercover officers for sex in men's room, while Naugle has made keeping gay men out of public restrooms an obsession, much to the embarrassment of his constituents. These three men have kept the media talking about the idea of public sex, cruising, and the role of gay men in both. What's been over-looked, of course, is that these incidents aren't really about gay men. Craig and Allen both claim to be straight, and honestly, I believe them. For the most part, gay men don't resort to cruising for sex in bath rooms. Closeted "straight" men do, however. They do this because societal homophobia either keeps them in denial about their true sexuality, or they're self-hatred expresses itself in self-destructive ways. But "gay men have sex in public bathrooms; what freaks" is an easier story to sell to the public. More recent news stories, particularly a story about pre-adolescent boys engaging in school bus fellatio, seem to suggest that this kind of salacious and insulting news reporting is going to continue for awhile.