Saturday, March 21, 2015

Gay imagery – stop it!

I have a confession to make.  I nearly failed English Literature in high school.  **sad face** 

I didn’t get their teachings.   I didn’t understand when they would say, “You should’ve gotten this out of the chapter.”  What I read, and what I understood, is a subjective matter.  If the author meant me to be angry at the end of the chapter, and I wasn’t – does that mean that I should get a C grade?  Or if I could explain to the teacher marking my paper why I was happy and not angry, shouldn’t that mean an A? 

I grimace as I write this, because I hate English Literature as a subject.  I’m a black and white type of girl.  I like one answer.  Maths and Science is good – it’s ONE answer.  You are either right or wrong.  End of story.

Visual imagery was one concept that I did get however, although I disagreed with a lot of what the teachers told me that the author was meaning (hence the C grades).  The concept (for those who didn’t get it either) is that an author can unconsciously influence how a reader perceives a character or situation by the use of scenic descriptions, supposedly unrelated to the story.  For example, the “good” character in a book is dressed in white while the “bad” characters are dressed in black.  Or the places where a reader is supposed to be frightened are dimly lit.  Or even that bad news only comes on days when it is raining.

I got the concept, but disagreed with a lot of it.  Sometimes a puddle is just a puddle. 

I needed 50% pass in English Lit to get into university.  I got 52%.  How close was that?

That concept of imagery is something I think about from time-to-time.  You often pick it up in movies.  Twilight and its sequels are something you may notice.  The vampires (especially in the opening scenes) are mostly dressed in white, instead of the black as you would normally see a vampire on TV.  Movie makers are well aware of colours and how it depicts someone.

Which is why I was angry at a film I watched yesterday.  It was called Shank and it’s a 2009 British indie film.  Unfortunately I cannot recommend you watch it.  I didn’t enjoy it.  I bought it for its gay-romance theme, but I was turned off by its bad acting, trite storyline, and unnecessary violence.  And no – it wasn’t a realistic ending, and romance?  Pff.

But before I get side tracked, I want to mention the gay man imagery used in this film.  

The basic storyline of the movie is about a young, tough gang member, Cal, who is desperately hiding his homosexual encounters from the world and his mates.  Until one day Cal rescues a gay student from being bashed by the gang.  That incurs the wrath of his mates, so he hides out with his new friend and they fall in love.

Olivier, the student, is openly gay, and the first time he appears on the screen, he is wearing a pink business shirt.  I rolled my eyes at this.  Really?  There is no other way to show the audience that this man is gay apart from dress him in pink?

I persevered onward, thinking that maybe pink was just the “in” colour that year.  Maybe all men wore it. 

The second scene Olivier appeared in, he answered the door wearing bright pink shorts as a bathing suit, and another pink shirt.  And yes – it was a different pink shirt – not the one from the day before which presumably had blood all over it.

During the following scenes, Olivier wore either pink or white (or nothing at all…). Even though he was portrayed as very fashionable, frequently shopping and buying clothes, he stuck to these colours.

BUT the kicker came when we had a series of scenes showing rough Cal falling for the gay-and-proud Olivier.  Cal went from hiding his gay sex while dressed in black, to walking down the street with Olivier and shopping.  And guess what?  Cal was wearing a shirt that had pink stripes. 
So in the scenes where Cal is supposedly coming to terms with being gay, and that was okay, he suddenly wore pink?  I just wish the movie makers would stop with the gay man imagery!

It’s a fine line, I know.  What are stereotypes, and what are not? 

If I google “gay man” and ask for images, three out of the first four images that appear on my list are of a man doing something seen as feminine – makeup, a pink feather boa and a purple bikini are all featured in these pictures.  The fourth image is of two men with beards kissing.

I think this is where young people in our world often get so confused.  The beginning of this film (although with its rough acting and violence) was rather thought provoking.  I thought the film would continue down a certain theme, but it didn’t (it was all downhill from about 25 minutes into the movie).  In the opening scenes you find Cal – driven to picking up strange men on the internet, taking them to isolated areas, having to take drugs before he can go through with the sex, and then attacking the men afterward.  It was powerful.  His rage and anger was remarkable.  I could see he was compelled by his urges, but at the same time thoroughly disgusted with himself for giving in.  The only way he knew how to cope with it, was to take his rage out on the other man.  As if bashing them was a way to punish himself.

(As previously mentioned, this line of the story petered out to nothing).

But why are young men in our society like this?  Why are they disgusted with themselves?  Part of the reason (and yes, it is only a part of the reason) is that they are being shown that this is what it is to be gay.  If you’re gay, this you must wear makeup and pink.  They often don’t identify with that image, and therefore they are even more confused.

My debut character of Jay was your stereotypical gay man.  He had the bleached hair, the makeup, the clothes and the daaarling down pat.  Yes, he was gay.  But he wasn’t pandering to an image.  This is what he wanted, so this is how he was.  Conversely, my other romantic lead, Liam, was so far from the glitter and the daaarlings that he was convince that he was not gay.

I adore both of these characters, but neither is more gay than the other.  And movies and other mass produced items should stop unconsciously telling the audience that this is how gay men are. 

If the movie was real life, then perhaps it could be that pink was Olivier’s favourite colour.  (Pink is my 7yo son’s favourite colour).  Maybe Olivier enjoyed wearing it as an affirmation of himself.  I get this.  But to have Cal suddenly turn around and start wearing pink too – just because he was coming to accept his sexuality?  That’s pushing the envelope, people.

I stress that this is just my own feelings.  My review of the movie is that it was not realistic, and the characters were too one dimensional.  You had a lot of extreme stereotypes without justification.  And all paths lead back to the same place?  Hmmm.

But I often wonder, as a writer, am I pandering to the stereotypes?  I love my everyday-men characters, who are guys you could meet on the street, or in a train station.  I try hard to make them individualistic, fleshing out the character, making them realistic without the stereotype creeping in.  My problem, however, is where do you draw the line?  Is making a character the extreme opposite of the flamboyant queen pandering to stereotypes too?  Just how many fire-fighters are gay after all?  And not every twink is looking for a daddy.  And not every gay man wants to get married and have a couple of kids.

So tonight I sit here telling myself I’m a hypocrite.  No one is perfect.  If you happen to come across this movie, and you can stomach the violence, then yes, perhaps you should watch.

Just pretend that shirt is something other than pink.

How to contact Renae:

Twitter:  @renaekkaye

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