Aldrich Tan

Queer Love Goes Mainstream

I found out about "Brokeback Mountain" months ago when it was a tiny gossip article on AfterElton.com, a Web site reporting the latest news in gay and bisexual male visibility in mainstream media. I pinched myself multiple times as I read that Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal would be swapping spit in this so-called "gay Western" movie.

I wasn't dreaming.

I have seen many other notable and honorary queer movies that rival "Brokeback Mountain," but these movies, if they do ever hit the theater circuit, are categorized as "artsy" and attract only those who find out about them on PlanetOut.com.

The fact that two famous male celebrities are confident that this movie is not career suicide shows America how far we've come in terms of gay visibility. Every queer milestone, from Showtime's hit television series "Queer as Folk" to NBC's slapstick "Will and Grace," paved the way to this movie.

"Brokeback Mountain" is a Pulitzer Prize-winning short story by Annie Proulx about two macho cowboys falling for each other in conservative and rural America. Rodeo cowboy Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) and ranch hand Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) are sheepherders in Signal, Wyoming. Lonely in the wilderness and surrounded by hundreds of sheep, Jack and Ennis start to break out of their macho-men shells and turn to each other for comfort.

Then the summer ends and they drift apart. Ennis marries his sweetheart Alma (Michelle Williams) and Jack gets seduced in Texas by cowgirl Lureen (Anne Hathaway). They raise families in separate states. But every year, for the rest of their lives, Jack and Ennis find themselves back on Brokeback Mountain in an unspeakable relationship.

It's the untold story of same-gender loving men who gather in secret and whose closeted love story brings more truth about being homosexual than any Pride parade could ever do. And Donnie Darko's doe-eyed Gyllenhaal and Cassanova's charismatic Ledger making out on the big screen? That's the stuff locker room fantasies are made of.

Could this movie be a hit? I had nightmares for a month before "Brokeback Mountain's" release of movie theaters with tumbleweeds rolling around the seats and a few American Family Association members popping champagne bottles. But the box office told a different story. In December, "Brokeback Mountain," which was only showing in five major cities with notable populations of openly queer men, was already the highest grossing movie per-theater.

Having climbed up and down "Brokeback Mountain," I'm now coming to the conclusion that the mainstream media's overall labeling of the movie as "gay" is problematic. I'm better off watching blurry versions of "Falcon" clips off the Internet because Gyllenhaal and Ledger fail to meet up to the sticky, sweaty, and juicy adjectives and verbs of Proulx's short story. The lackluster sex of "Brokeback Mountain" introduces the controversial idea that being gay is more than just about being sexual with men.

From the looks of the movie, Jack and Ennis prefer quietly riding horses together with the spectacular Wyoming backdrop to their sorry attempts to have man-to-man sex without a manual (and without protection!). Basically, these men are not in lust with each other. They're in love with each other. Jack and Ennis have a beautiful and, dare I say it, sexy, relationship…with their clothes on.

It's a romantic story line worthy of hits like "Titanic," "Monster's Ball," and "Jerry Maguire." After their initial roll around the hay, Jack and Ennis continue to ride horses and each other…for over 20 years! That's 19 years and six months longer than my longest relationship.

By the middle of the movie, even horny little ol' me preferred to see Jack and Ennis growing old with each other on the ranch to Jake and Heath mastering "The Joy of Gay Sex." Director Ang Lee should save that for the DVD's unrated version.

Alas, Jack and Ennis live in a world without rainbow flags, pride parades, terminologies, other men who like long walks in the woods, and tolerance. They live in two states that unanimously voted for our publicly homophobic president. Their relationships with their wives gradually fall apart, but these loveable label-less deviants aren't the enemies. The ultimate villain is a moralistic society that cannot comprehend their love and swallows them whole.

Thankfully, we now live in a society where "Brokeback Mountain" is one of the country's top ten films, a society in which the movie just won four Golden Globe Awards. My dreams about "Brokeback Mountain" are getting better. I see film companies fighting over scripts that feature gay characters. I envision both heterosexual and homosexual movies being shown comfortably next to each other in theaters. I can also foresee multitudes of young queer men re-enacting the scene where Jack Twist ropes Ennis in the same way that young girls stretched their arms out like Kate Winslet in "Titanic."

All Jack and Ennis had in the end was "Brokeback Mountain," but the popularity of their love story lets the next generation of queer citizens hope and fight for more. And you bet your sweet ass that I'm hoping Jake and Heath make out Britney-Madonna style when they win their Oscars.

The Next Generation of News

The fate of the printed press will rest in your hands. Or rather, at your fingertips. In fact, you are becoming part of this media shift as you read this article -- not in print, but online.

According to the latest reports from the Newspaper Association of America, newspaper readership continues to drop, going from 62.4 percent in 1990 to 54.1 percent in 2003. In an extreme case, the San Francisco Chronicle reported a 16 percent decline in sales from March 2005 to September 2005.

Part of that decline has to do with how people like me get the news. It's not that I'm choosing to be uninformed and not reading the news anymore. In fact, I'm more in tune with what's happening than ever before. While copies of my printed local daily newspaper, The Davis Enterprise, sit on the stands collecting dust, I'm online getting my news for free.

These days, who has time to read the lengthy daily newspapers when there's laundry to be done and quarters to be salvaged? I want to see my news delivered in up-to-the-minute free byte-sized pieces -- and thanks to the BBC Online and CNN, I'm saving lots of quarters for laundry.

That's good news for me, but bad news for the newspaper industry. Unknown to many newsreaders, the digital age is wreaking havoc on printed newspapers -- both in readership and in classified advertising.

Classified advertising is the backbone of the newspaper industry. The money from classifieds funds a significant portion (27 percent, according to a December 11th article in the LA Times) of a newspaper's budget. Even my high school newspaper survived solely because our advertising efforts paid for the paper's printing.

But with the rise of sites like Craigslist.org, which provide the same classified advertising that newspapers do -- but for free -- newspapers are facing a huge loss in revenue. According to a November 30th article in the SF Weekly, Craigslist.org takes away $50 million a year in revenue from Bay Area newspapers. I still remember the days when searching for a job, a car, a house, or even grocery coupons took place through the daily newspaper. Now, one can accomplish the same tasks online without paying a dime.

Major metropolitan dailies, such as The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The San Jose Mercury, and The Los Angeles Times are trimming down their staff and their text in the wake of declining readership and revenue. As a result, the quality of newspapers are suffering and young journalists such as myself will have a more difficult time finding a job. I received a letter from The Oregonian saying that they cannot have their summer internship program because of "budget cuts." Uh-oh.

On the bright side, I believe that the digital era of journalism will usher in a new system of news reporting. The next generation of reporters must work harder and faster (and unfortunately, for less pay) to develop news for the next generation of news consumers.

It is a transition that I witnessed as a newspaper intern for The Visalia Times-Delta when it launched an online breaking news section. Reporters would upload a short five-paragraph preview of their story and update the story as it developed. The final story would appear in the newspaper the next day.

I wondered why the newspaper would instantly offer its latest news for free. My editor told me that many of Visalia's residents were frequently visiting the newspaper's Web site, so this was a way of reaching out and retaining them as readers.

Newspapers' websites are also helping newspapers retain advertisers, too. According to a December 11th article in The Los Angeles Times, the readership at newspaper sites overall is up 11 percent in the last year to 39 million. "Newspapers are seeing a rapid rise of online advertising revenue to $2 billion," according to the article. It may mean more pop-up ads for newspaper readers, but the press will survive.

As long as there are still people who read and make the news, journalism will still have a place in society. The Internet and the digitalization of the daily metropolitan is only fueling the reader's ease to find out about the latest events developing in their community. A generation that loved the smell of a freshly printed newspaper will be replaced by a generation that loves the speed of digital text loading through DSL.

BRAND NEW STORIES

Happy Holidays!