Sunday, 21 October 2012

Tony Kushner Screws up Again!


            I never liked Angels in America. I thought the first part (which I have seen) was better than the second part (which I have only read). What was good about it was that it seemed like a very smart TV show -- predictable humour married to pithy sounding Shavian debates.  But ultimately it was all just bad melodrama. Yes Tony, I think gay men are angels too. But sentimental prejudices like that don’t great theatre make, they just put bums in seats. The reason Angels in America was so successful was that it complimented audiences in ways they love to be complimented. It allowed them to think that they were very smart and -- most lucratively for him -- it allowed them to think that they loved homosexuals.
            How did Kushner manage to write a play with significant gay content that was so embraced by straight audiences? Well he placed his very gay central characters in a frame that was terribly, terribly straight. In other words, though  campy Prior heads the cast, the context of the play is a very heterosexual, very much a traditional zeitgeist; the play does not move outside of Mormonism, Christianity, the patriarchy, or monogamous, family-oriented notions of love and sex. Where is the gay mythology? Where is the gay CULTURE? If Angels in America is to believed, all we fags are good for is making self-denigrating jokes about ourselves as we die. This genius notion guaranteed Kushner a Pulitzer Prize. (If you’re interested in hearing more about how straight people and ambitious gays and lesbians can write gay and lesbian plays that make big bucks -- read Sarah Schulman’s analysis of Rent in her fascinating memoir/essay Stagestruck.)
            So I’m not surprised that Kushner wrote the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s upcoming Lincoln. Advance notices tell us that even though the flick is ‘a bit long’ it has ‘Oscar worthy performances’ and makes you ‘know what it means to be an American.’
            I figured Tony Kushner might betray us again.
            Cuz, haven’t you heard?
            Lincoln was gay.
            Who says? Well C. A. Tripp does, in his book The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln (2005). Well maybe he doesn’t actually say it – in fact the website for the book goes a bit crazy trying to suggest that Tripp doesn’t claim that Lincoln was gay, only that he had intimate relationships with men. (“If you purchased the paperback edition of the book you will see references to Lincoln as gay. This was NOT authorized by Dr C. A. Tripp, the author of this book. Dr. Tripp was not a gay activist as he has been portrayed in the paperback but a serious clinical psychologist.” That’s all fine and good, but, like, why are you getting in such a state about it? )
            Tripp’s book has been roundly criticized (it’s on sale on Amazon for $1.33) and I think hardly anyone has read it. But after all, why would they? C. A. Tripp worked for the notorious Alfred Kinsey when he was young. And all of us know now that Kinsey has fallen into disrepute (did you know that Kinsey was a bit gay himself, and actually slept with some of his interview subjects? –- tch, tch tch!) Tripp’s other book -- The Homosexual Matrix -- is probably the most lucid, fair, and informed analysis of the ‘causes’ of homosexuality that has ever been written. And it is completely free of homophobia. For that reason alone it will probably remain forever unread.
            The only problem with dismissing C. A. Tripp’s theories about Lincoln is that they are based on fact. No, his book does not state conclusively that Lincoln was a homosexual, but it does reveal the content of Lincoln’s letters to Joshua Speed, the man with whom he shared a bed for four years, and the man whom Lincoln definitely (on some level at least) loved deeply. There is very little evidence that Lincoln had the same feeling for his wife. There is also evidence that Lincoln had deep relationships with other men that went way beyond ‘just buddies.’  Of course all this can be explained away by the notion that men in ‘olden times’ had terribly florid ways of speaking about their feelings for each other (but really, did they ALL talk that way?) and that before 1900 and Oscar Wilde, homosexuality didn’t exist, in any case.
             The New York Times said, of The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln: “The man who saw liberty and equality as facets of the same thing….this is the Lincoln that matters. The rest is biography.”           
            Because, of course, ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’ don’t have anything to do with homosexuality.
            So the New York Times -- and pretty well everybody else -- thinks that if Lincoln had more deep, intimate, perhaps sexual relationships with men than he had with women, it’s well, just (I’m sorry) irrelevant
            But really, Tony, do you think so too?  
            I have to say, I’m terribly disappointed.