December 30, 2005
Stereotypes are for sheep?
WARNING! This post has been called a "spoiler." People who don't want to read about certain details in "Brokeback Mountain" might not want to read any further.
You'd never know Childress was a terrible place merely by Googling the name. What you get are interesting facts like these:
The community was named after George Campbell Childress, who wrote the Texas Declaration of IndependenceHey wait a second! Number of murders and homicides was 0? What about the awful Sawyer family who murdered motorists by the carful and then ate them? As attentive fans of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre know, Childress was the nearest town to the murder scene.
And now, from "Brokeback Mountain," we know that homosexuals get beaten to death in Childress.
Which means the above statistics can't be right, can they?
Should it matter that "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Brokeback Mountain" are actually fictional? That no such murders actually took place near Childress?
Is it fair to ask whether Childress is a victim of unfair stereotyping? Might it have been better to pick another town?
Another state, perhaps?
The reason for my concern about Childress is that I saw "Brokeback Mountain" last night, and the night before that I rented and watched the umpteenth version of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." (A must for all fans of Full Metal Jacket's R. Lee Ermey, BTW....) What I'm troubled by is the logic of stereotyping a small town I've never visited and probably never will. Am I supposed to be more afraid of cannibals with chainsaws? Or homophobes with tire irons?
Somehow, the latter seems intended as the more truthful stereotype of the two. Perhaps evocative of the death of Matthew Shepard?
No, that can't be right, because his name aside, Matthew Shepard never herded sheep, and he wasn't what you'd call a man's man. He was tiny and effeminate, and it is doubtful he could have put up much of a fight -- either on the night the thugs beat him to death or any time.
But the "Brokeback Mountain" guy who was murdered in Childress, well, he was tough enough to ride bulls in rodeos, physically threaten his bullying father-in-law into submission, and duke it out with his violent boyfriend. He was also smart enough to carry on a gay relationship behind his wife's back, as well as score with guys in Mexico (where such things can be more dangerous than here). He just didn't strike me as the type who'd get himself beaten to death by fag bashers.
I don't mean to engage in stereotypical thinking, but the few cases of fag bashing I've personally known about took place not at the hands of cowboys, but in urban areas, at the hands of minority youths offended by gay men who ventured too close to "their" neighborhoods (and who were too open for their liking). This is not to say that small town Texans wouldn't do the same thing, but seeing stuff like that on a big screen always makes me wonder whether there's a message being sent. ("GAY MEN BEWARE! Texas towns are dangerous places.") In reality, I think most gay men would be more likely to be attacked in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, or even tolerant San Francisco than in Childress, Texas.
But again, is Childress really the issue?
Or is there a bigger stereotype meant to include Texas, Wyoming, and other flyover states? The red-state/blue-state cultural stereotypes, perhaps?
Anyway, there was just something about portraying a Texas small town that way that struck me as a bit unfair. I can see past the stereotypes (assuming that is what they are), but are there clueless people out there who won't?
And am I supposed to care about clueless people?
As it is, the clueless hordes drive me to utter distraction, because while I don't know where they are or what they think, they are always invoked by communitarian proponents of the National Kindergarten mindset which so infuriates me. From what the ideologues on both sides say, they -- the little people -- are victims of bad leadership and propaganda aimed at manipulating them and leading them astray. The evil Red State Neocons make them think Saddam Hussein personally directed the 9/11 attacks, fill their minds with homophobia, and trick them into voting for antigay marriage ordinances. Clearly, they don't know what they should think. This justifies the people on the other (blue state) side in telling them how bigoted, insensitive, and murderous they are, and of course what they should think.
It's almost as if American ideologues on both sides believe that non-ideological Americans are sheep to be led. But it's insulting to tell people they're sheep. It can backfire. So, instead of telling them that directly, they're told that they're acting like sheep if they follow the evil ideologues on the other side.
I tire of this, mainly because I dislike the idea that Americans are sheep. In fact, I hate the very idea of human sheep. I do my best to deny the existence of a class of people who want to be led, and I defend individuality to the best of my ability, because I don't think it is natural for human beings to be led, much less Americans, who are a proud, independent, individualistic people.
On some deep subconscious level, I hated the endless images of sheep in "Brokeback Mountain." I'm not sure why, but I'm now finding myself wondering whether I saw them as a symbol of the imaginary mindless Americans who think what they're told to think, and whose existence I deny, but who fill me with fear and loathing. For, if we are a nation of sheep, then libertarianism is wrong, and the communitarians, the fascists, and the Communists are right. So, I refuse to believe in sheep. The catch is that it makes me sheepophobic. (Would that be oviphobic?) I hate and fear the sheep I deny, because they threaten my view of a proud, free, independent America.
Is it an accident that the cowboys in "Brokeback Mountain" were portrayed as neglecting the sheep while they were screwing, or am I just being paranoid?
Author (and non-Texan, non-Wyomingite) Annie Proulx doesn't say much about the sheep, but the way she talks about her characters might be seen as a tad condescending:
I had to imagine my way into the minds of two uneducated, rough-spoken, uninformed young men, and that takes some doing if you happen to be an elderly female person. I spent a great deal of time thinking about each character and the balance of the story, working it out, trying to do it in a fair kind of way.It didn't seem fair to me.
But then, neither did "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," and I never complained about that.
So what the hell is my problem with unfair stereotypes and sheep?
(I think I should conclude by reassuring myself that these movies are all fiction and we are not a nation of sheep.....)
UPDATE: A reader who wishes to remain nameless has sent an email titled "Stereotypes are sometimes real" in which he argues that in his experience, small towns are more dangerous for gays:
My partner and I have lived in rural northern California together for 27 years. Our experience in many ways mirrors that of what is portrayed in "Brokeback Mountain" (We haven't seen the movie yet, but have read the reviews - so I'm kind of flying loose here.)Obviously, these things can happen anywhere, but I can only speak from personal experience, and the incidents I've known of took place in large cities. It's certainly true that Christian Identity types (as well as certain fringe fanatics) often prefer rural locations, but I'd want to see a statistical breakdown before generalizing.
I do remember reading about the Matson-Mowder murders described in the email. Yet California as a state was never implicated in the same way that Wyoming was for the Matthew Shepard murder.
(If I lived in Wyoming, I might consider that a double standard.)
UPDATE (1/02/06): The Philadelphia Inquirer's Faye Flam rounds out the discussion of "Brokeback Mountain" with a quasi-scientific piece on gay sheep:
....in his book Biological Exuberance, author Bruce Bagemihl details gay behavior in a huge variety of wild animals. Here's an excerpt from his section on bighorn mountain rams: "Typically the larger male rears up on his hind legs and mounts the smaller male... the mountee assumes a characteristic posture known as lordosis, in which he arches his back to facilitiate copulation."I say Bah!
posted by Eric on 12.30.05 at 07:57 AM
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