It’s getting to the point where if you find homosexuality offensive and do not wish to be “confronted” with it, you’re going to need to withdraw from the modern world. For example, there’ll be films and music videos that fill the entertainment pages that you can’t watch. If your friends talk about them over dinner, you can’t participate.
Two films with big advertising budgets now playing in Singapore cinemas will be off your list because they contain homosexual characters. One may not be such a great loss, it being rather mediocre, but if you for ideological reasons cannot watch the better of the two (and far better), then it’s your loss.
The mediocre one is J Edgar, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and rated M18 by the Media Development Authority (MDA) on account of “some homosexual content”.
I thought the subject matter was too ambitious for the screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. Also, Hoover’s personal life was not consistently documented historically and the gaps would have been a major problem for any screenwriter, not least one who chose to make Hoover’s personal life the centre of the story. The result is a rather superficial and patchy melange of different elements that don’t tie up properly. Many questions hang unanswered, though in a sense this reflects the difficulty in understanding the real and very complex Hoover. See also the Guardian’s review of this film.
The much better film is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, with Gary Oldman in the role of George Smiley. It too has been rated M18, but for a “sexual scene”. Did MDA miss the homosexual subtext?
As you must surely know, it is based on John Le Carre’s novel of the same name. See the Guardian’s review of this film.
What you may notice about these two films, and increasingly, all films and television dramas with gay and lesbian characters, is that homosexuality is depicted matter-of-factly. Unlike films from ten years ago or earlier, when homosexual characters in a script would compel examination of the issue of sexual orientation whether positively or negatively, this is no longer the case.
And when you think about it, it was rather weird then. If a film has an Indian character, must it dwell on Indianness? If it has a left-handed character, must it offer a commentary on left-handedness? Or if it has a Muslim family in the story, must be offer judgment on Islam and Muslims?
Of course not. They’re just characters who behave in a manner natural to them, contributing in some way to the plot, not necessarily related to their Indianness, left-handedness or religion. More and more, that’s the same role played by gay characters nowadays. They are part of that natural mosaic that is humanity and hardly worth remarking on.
To remark or to respond twitchily is to betray one’s discomfort. Yet many Singaporeans still do, in effect preferring to stick their heads in the sand while millions around the world have moved on, even forgetting that only twenty years ago, actors would refuse to play gay roles; doing so was widely seen as a kiss of death to their careers.
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The New Paper’s lead story for Tuesday, 14 Feb 2012, was of three junior college students who were punished for a jovial ‘dare’. Neither the students nor the school was named. The front page used the word “prank”, but as you will see from the facts, that was the wrong word to use. In a prank, the recipients of the plan would be caught unaware and embarrassed. In this case, everyone participated willingly.
What happened, according to the newspaper, was this:
A week ago, ‘Andy’ (pseudonym given by the New Paper) promised to shave his head bald if two schoolmates (both boys) would kiss each other on the lips and allow themselves to be filmed. The two other boys did. Andy and others filmed it, but it was not reported to have been uploaded to the internet.
The incident took place in the school canteen with about 20 – 25 others around. Witnesses said it was no more than a peck, and over in seconds. They all saw it as a joke, but all those involved were promptly hauled up to the principal’s office and told to delete their pictures. Suspensions from classes were issued to the two boys who kissed — the newspaper did not say for how long — and Andy was pressured to withdraw from the school.
A post on the incident surfaced on an online forum last week. Netizens who commented on the post felt Andy should not have been expelled.
Wrote one: “In my opinion, there wasn’t any real need to expel the boy and I feel so wronged for the boy.
“You want to expel people who have pictures of themselves making out? Go ahead, and do it for ALL of them, and not only selectively.
Another added that the punishments were “unjust and draconian”.
— The New Paper, 14 Feb 2012, Boy was too scared to tell dad what he did, by Bryna Sim
The newspaper contacted the school whose principal said Andy had a history of disciplinary breaches, an explanation that suggests this was the last straw.
Huh? This can only be the last straw, if it is a straw. It can only be the disciplinary breach that hauls his record over the line, if the incident counts as a disciplinary breach in the first place. But why is a light-hearted schoolboy dare, teenage behaviour since time immemorial, a disciplinary breach?
Assuming the school anticipates accusations of anti-gay discrimination, the school may say snogging between students regardless of gender is not allowed. Even so, were they snogging? I think everyone in the canteen knew what it was — a tease and a dare. The two kissers were not made to do so against their will. They sportingly rose to the challenge — which, frankly speaking, I consider a rather positive attitude.
The school may say, a kiss, however short, is still a kiss. Really? What if the drama club puts on a play that requires one character to kiss another, and the actors do just that? It’s an act, right? You’re not going to expel them for that, surely? But wasn’t what the two boys did for the dare an act too?
There’s no running away from it: The school over-reacted.
And you can guess the most likely reason why: Homosexual panic. They may not admit it, but the phobia is showing. The principal and other teachers might even have imagined that if the video or pictures went onto the internet, it would be disastrous to their image and a black mark on their careers. They don’t seem to realise that a whole new generation sees it differently. Like having gay characters in today’s films, and going by the comments online, it’s no big deal anymore.
It’s when you make an issue of a non-issue, when you twitch, turn pale, deny reality and otherwise spew moral diarrhoea, that it becomes news.
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Here’s a tip to that new generation: If your school bans kissing and if your teachers can’t differentiate a peck from snogging, or an act from the real thing, here’s another way you can tease each other with a dare without getting expelled: Dance with a same-sex partner.