Friday, 19 June 2009

Out Rage - Edinburgh International Film Festival review

This new documentary from Kirby Dick seeks to do for closeted Republican politicians what his earlier This Film is Not Yet Rated did for the MPAA, namely expose hypocrisy and a self-serving agenda.

Until the mid-1970s the Republican and Democrat parties did not appreciably differ on their stance on gay issues. True, a reason for this was perhaps that before the Stonewall Riot and the birth of the gay liberation movement there probably weren’t any votes to actually be won around gay issues anyway.

With the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 this changed. For Reagan saw the Republicans enter into an unholy alliance with Christian conservatives, leading to the emergence of the so-called “culture wars” between progressive/Democrat and reactionary/Republican elements.

As a consequence, it became all but impossible for Republican politicians to admit their sexual preferences to the wider world. The resultant divergence between their homosexual practices – as interviewees make clear the appellation gay can hardly be ascribed to many of these individuals – and their anti-gay preaching to the crowd is unsurprising, the usual hypocrisy to be expected from politicans.

What was far worse, however, was the way family values ideals often impacted on their voting within congress, not just on things like gay marriage and adoption but also funding to fight the AIDS crisis.

Equally disturbing is the silence of the mainstream – read straight – media on these issues, leaving the job of naming and shaming closeted Republicans to gay activists, press and bloggers.

Much like This Film..., Out Rage is successful in doing what it sets out to, in getting its serious point across adroitly and with considerable wit.

It proves more limited in its relevance and accessibility however. Whereas we in Europe are familiar with Hollywood product and, through it, are indirectly affected by MPAA decisions, what the US as a nation or at a state level decides to legislate for and against rights remains a domestic issue.

Thus, for example, whilst under Reagan Republicans were voting against gay equality legislation and AIDS funding alike, under Thatcher Conservatives were voting against the former (i.e. Clause 28) but were devoting money towards the latter, even if this was perhaps motivated more by the fear of AIDS spreading beyond gays and drug addicts than any actual sense of compassion for those with 'deviant' lifestyles.

More serious criticisms are what is missing even in the US context. That the film is really about homosexual Republican men, rather than lesbians, bisexuals or transgendered individuals can at least be explained away by reference to the party’s male establishment bias, the likes of Sarah Palin notwithstanding. But, on the other side of the coin, one would thereby like to know more about the wives and girlfriends of homosexual Republican: What do they know? What is their understanding of the situation?

I also felt Dick might have done more to draw out possible parallels between past and present. One noticeable thing, again from a UK perspective, is the tell-tale nature of the names of many of those featured: that a James McGreevey is Irish-American, a Barney Frank or Larry Kramer Jewish-American. What’s evident is thus how in other respects Americans have overcome old prejudices and no longer feel the need to misrepresent themselves in terms of one – i.e. the WASP – ideal, and the possibility that the self-hating Republican gay is something of a contemporary analogue to the old cliché of the self-hating Jew.

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