A HYBRID NOTEBOOK OF POETICS AND PORNOGRAPHIES

Pornography Disclaimer

This is a an imaginary diary of facts, confessions, or messages. This is a notebook of working but broken ideas, lines, images, notes on books I'm reading, writers I admire, and brief fantasies of language. Here unfiltered  all mannerings pseudo-private, publicized, ur-. Here I am art and unrevealed: poetic, political and pop. These are my moonlit rough beginnings and should not be taken literally, directly, truthfully, reliably, and none of it is legally binding. These lies are all choreographed, but only haphazardly. Beware.

30.3.08

MY GAYEST CONTRADICTION

Speaking of in-flowering contradictions, identity politics, and fun, this morning I read this post, relating Jay Leno's recent interview of actor Ryan Phillipe and an answer from the gay public. 

Ryan Phillipe's earliest role as an actor was as a gay teenager on the daytime soap opera, One Life To Live. Here's an excerpt from Leno's interview:

JAY: Can you give me your gayest look? Say that — say that camera is Billy Bob — Billy Bob has just ridden in shirtless from Wyoming.

(Your sycophantic audience hoots with laughter at the idea of a strapping lad like Phillippe giving a “gay look.”)

PHILLIPPE: Wow. That is so something I don’t want to do.


Leno's "joke" is "funny" because it asks us to insist on a stereotype we intuitively recognize as taboo.  That is, we must accept the idea that "a gay" is a strange and social abnormality, sideshow, the man-woman, the midget, the bearded lady. The genetic mistake, an aberration with a personality. Now, I'm a great lover of freaks, and in some dark way I love the sideshow, because it is home to my longing. 

But it's also true that this kind of humor reinforces a faulty stereotype. It's anachronistic to think that gays have a "look" that is defining. Caricatures are identity too, but by nature they are reductive, satirical, misleading, false. What's dangerous about the Leno interview is that he forces Phillipe--and in this way the audience as well--into a precarious moment of decision. What is the "gayest look" and how does one make it? There is a violence committed here, that Biblical Gideonse points out, quoting playwright Jeff Whitty's letter to Leno on his blogpost: "would you ask a  guest to make their 'blackest face'? Their 'jewiest face'?"

I like Leno. I've watched the show and probably will again. He makes me laugh, and I understand that comedy is based on the jester's ability to insult the king with the knowledge of himself. But in our reductivist political climate, considering the not too distant memory of the Don Imus incident, it seems inappropriate to incite the harmfulness of a stereotype and then relieve us of the responsibility of saying, this is wrong. At the same time, if you watch the clip, it seems to me that part of the point of Leno's jab is aimed at the nature of television, and the curious job of the actor to present a "gay face" without having to actually present a gay person, which--thankfully!--Ryan Phillipe acknowledges by his refusal.

I don't think we should picket Leno. I don't think his intent was to bash gays. But we can think about the nature of the language used. It's the nature of a joke to trick us, to make us uncomfortable by revealing what's underneath the mask of social etiquette. It's the shock of knowing ourselves as we are that is so funny. We are our best deceivers, psychic tricksters, psycho-comediennes. We should ask ourselves about this instance, What is being assumed for us, and What kind of trick does the language of Leno's "joke" play on us? As a nation, we should ask ourselves what joke television plays on us with its caricaturesque cast types. As gays, our ability to laugh at ourselves is important, but in this case, like Phillipe, we ought to remember that the stereotype amounts to an accusation of cruel inferiority.

A friend of mine who designs toys at Mattel recently told me that in a meeting one of his peers referred to a toy design by saying, "that's gay." Someone spoke back: "Gay as in creative, smart, well-designed?" No. Gay as in inferior, mis-shapen, deformed, and, with old misogyny, effeminate. We often forget the layer of sexism inherent to this trendy insult.

In response to Whitty's letter, this website was started to showcase the simple fact that we--gays, strangers, friends and family--acknowledge that stereotype is a caricature of the many-faced beast of us. It's wrong to assume your face doesn't belong here too. In the end, I'd say, this is fun!--I'm prancing! I'm butch! and mostly, I love Leno for this opportunity to post a picture of myself kissing my own middle finger to the sky.

Friends and Strangers, here I am saying it. American Me. Again. Wearing Whitman:

Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself.
I am large. I contain multitudes.


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

My God, you are one incredibly sexy man!

Anonymous said...

I totally agree. WHen are we going to see the rest of your body? you look like you have an intense physique chap! Come on ...please indulge us....we read your thoughts, lets see the body!

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I've got one foot in the grave and the other's in my mouth.

Poetry Disclaimer

My work has been awarded the Katherine C. Turner Prize from the Academy of American Poets, a Swarthout Award, and has twice been nominated and shortlisted for the Pushcart Prize. My first book, A Book Called Rats, was selected for the Blue Lynx Prize for Poetry (Eastern Washington University Press 2007). I'm curating editor for the online journal of poetry: PISTOLA and my poems and reviews most recently appear in Massachusetts Review, Beloit, Ploughshares and RAIN TAXI. I currently teach writing and literature at Santa Monica College in southern California.