Meditations in an Emergency
At the moment, Im staring at a photo of Nicholas Gonzalez. He plays Alex Santiago -- ex-boxer, former UCLA med student -- on Resurrection Boulevard. In the photo, Nic is showing off his come-hither visage, to-die-for mouth and especially fine biceps, flexed with his hands behind his head. Some stylist had the wisdom to put him in a snug white T-shirt whose sleeves are really short, bunching up around the shoulders so that some of his armpit hair shadows the lower belly of his biceps. I cant think of anything more theoretically probing than stripping Nic down and grazing in his pits as I ponder casting him in the Sal Mineo role for a remake of Who Killed Teddy Bear? and trying to taste every seme of his response, in a recent interview, to the question If you could be trapped in the reruns of a television show from the 1980s, which one would it be and why? Handsome answered: Wonder Woman. Those boots, those legs. Tie me up with the Lasso of Truth. After grazing is over, I intend to test the limits of the golden lasso against his skin and to express the truth from every fine part of his body.
Obviously, I am interested in the theoretical ramifications of lust -- thinking as a kind of lust, lust as thought -- as well as in how stars summon libidinal energies beyond their reckoning. Supposing a history of such ramifications, the hermeneutical resonance of munching armpits, and how the fantasy of doing this and more to Nic as opposed to Charles Nelson Reilly means representationally, one might assume I might be able to glean some insight or clarifying observations from a book that traffics in the zone of such matters. And yet Gay Fandom and Crossover Stardom: James Dean, Mel Gibson and Keanu Reeves offers no succor to the pangs of my critical inquiries.
The title page features a two-page spread of a still from My Own Private Idaho: River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves cruising on motorcycle. (It remains such a striking shot that the book could be just a pretext to market the hot image.) Although he notes in passing that the two stars ride (God forbid they should cruise) around on a motorcycle together, Michael DeAngelis spends no time interpreting, analyzing, considering, much less dreaming about what, how or why such a scene means, nor what the still -- which he uses only in the stingiest manner, as illustration -- conveys on its own. (No invigoratingly obtuse Barthesean third meanings for Mr. DeAngelis!) Such hermeneutical wondering and wandering might necessitate actual cogitation and some sense of play, and, gosh, its really difficult to prove and footnote play. Thinking about how the still, the photograph, produces meaning might necessitate having to ponder rather than just mention bike culture and its gay cinematic history -- from Marlon Brando in The Wild One to Joe Spencer in Warhols delirious revisioning, Bike Boy, itself a remake of his racy I, a Man. A pit stop for interpretation might have allowed watching, in order to fuel his own intellectual motor, Kenneth Angers Scorpio Rising and, in particular, Kustom Kar Kommandos -- rather than cite someone elses watching -- so that bike cultures referential difference from car culture, and how both variously influence and are influenced by leather culture, may be parsed. Men revving their engines, bending over to get under the hood, tuning their machines to purr, getting greasy: Studying the still might mean dealing with the mechanic -- guy with tools -- as erotic fix, worker in the libidinally resonant body shop. Given a book beginning with two chapters on James Dean, one might consider how River Phoenix, in the still (and as he matured in his career), with his sun-kissed dirty-brown hair and shades, channeled Dean. His shades hide his eyes and suggest some unknowable and unarticulable but performed interiority and turmoil, while, sunglasses-less, Keanus eyes are open, staring out on the road (the future) ahead of him. Considering Phoenixs relation to Dean would require confronting the form thought takes: how the book might have had a complex arc by beginning with Dean and ending with Phoenix, who not only, like Dean, died young, staying pretty, but also was, unlike Dean, beginning to enunciate and act upon his own sexual desires, even though they diverged from the heteronormativity (if that is what it is) of Hollywood.
Look at Keanu and River straddling that hog: When two guys hump a bike, at least two readings are possible: 1) River is feminized, Keanus bitch, willing passenger to his driver; or 2) riding that bike, snug against his man, Rivers in power and in position to top Keanus key anus, lending a special inflection to taking a back seat.
Except for an inadequate personal narrative about some man (lets call him George) who dominated [his] attention at a certain point in his life, DeAngelis never states why the book focuses on these stars as opposed to others. He never interrogates how race or class may complicate fandom; whether it is even possible or desirable, given the radical instabilities of identity, destroyed everyday anew (as Proust conceptualized a century ago), to extrapolate a coherent audience to nominate as gay; or why the book jumps almost 30 years -- from Dean to Gibson and Reeves, from the 1950s to the 1980s -- without DeAngelis ever attempting to contemplate a male star from the late 1960s andor 70s, when due to Vietnam, Stonewall, Womens Lib and Black Power, among other things, masculinity got a makeover whether it wanted it or not. Perhaps a digression on the importance of Burt Reynolds: how, with his performance in Deliverance and then his posing nude for Cosmopolitan, both in 1972, he was a crucial, hirsute model of masculinitys looked-at-ness and its participation in homosexuality (particularly on the level of disavowal and shame -- I got so fucked-up last night -- a disavowal introducing the probability that both masculinity and homosexuality are, as categories, always negotiable). A digression on early-70s Burt might not even have had to mention the later complications of his walking Dinah a Shore, marrying Loni Anderson and ducking AIDS accusations. While theres little rancor or abjection when masculinitys made over comically (Joe Namath in hose) or contradicting itself for the good of the children (Rosy Grier doing needlepoint for Free To Be You and Me), Reynolds, still perfumed by Deliverance, in Cosmo was doing neither. Exactly what he was doing has yet to be determined, though his appearance in Boogie Nights provides a fascinating gloss on it all.
DeAngelis refuses to state what he thinks, much less what or how or why he desires without the proviso of quoting someone else. In other words, its a classic example of a queer theorist or gay-and-lesbian theorist, call him what you will, too scared of academic protocol to be marked by the scarlet obsessions of fandom and too ashamed to be a fan, a type whos never had any problems with scopophilia since hes too busy aiming for scoporrhea (247 looking nonstop). For example, he quotes scary essayist Daniel Harris on After Dark, taking his word that that fag rag never declared its [gay] allegiances but played an endless game of hide-and-seek. Since one of After Darks major advertisers was Dorian Gray Ltd. Cosmetics for Men, Id like to know exactly what allegiances werent being declared.
Although making a big deal out of demonstrating how certain male crossover stars accommodate identification and desire within fantasy and the melodramatic mode, DeAngelis never makes clear why anyone should give a damn whether or not any star -- or any other erotic object -- accommodates identification and desire. Let me put this another way: What would it mean to desire or identify with a star who didnt accommodate such libidinal energies? Would it stop the imaginary transactions? Can you desire a star wrongly?
The headline for this piece comes from Frank OHaras great poem, which OHara also used for the title of his important first book. In terms of thinking as a pleasure, academic meditation about gay, lesbian andor queer identity and culture is in a sorry state of emergency, and I can only hope that it will die and that something more lively, ruthless and truly queering will take its place. There is so much to be thought about, written about, studied and yet so much theory that purports to be queer queers nothing, theorists trying to pass off ignorance, laziness and tedium as a serious endeavor rather than just having fun trying to snap the sensual whip of a sentence. Theres not a moment reading DeAngelis book when I felt, Wow, this guy really understands James Dean, Mel Gibson and Keanu Reeves. I didnt even get the feeling that he had bothered to watch all of their movies, much less have a sense of the solar shock of imagining seeing Deans first appearance on screen, or in real life, at a bar being a human ashtray. I invoke OHara because his book included a poem, For James Dean, written, along with other poems for Dean, in 1955, the year of Deans crash. Without knowledge of OHara or his poems, its impossible to think about what it might mean to cast Dean as Lycidas.
This book about gay fandom, male stardom and gay spectatorship never cites, even bibliographically, Wayne Koestenbaums The Queens Throat, Jackie Under My Skin and Cleavage, or Boyd McDonalds Cruising the Movies: A Sexual Guide to Oldies on TV -- which is like thinking you could write about Jackson Pollock and not examine in some way, even by choosing to ignore or vilify, the writing of Clement Greenberg. As depressing as this is, its not surprising. Nowhere does DeAngelis consider what kind of stars Dean, Gibson and Reeves are (are they the same type of star?). Not knowing what kind of stars they are, there is no way for a reader to know what is needed to be a crossover since DeAngelis provides no examples of stars who arent crossovers. Even if he could be excused for not citing Koestenbaum and McDonald, because somehow their work falls outside the myopic purviews of the academic, that DeAngelis never refers to Patricia Whites unInvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability is ludicrous. Maybe familiarizing himself with star genres, i.e., Agnes Moorehead and Paul Lynde as supporting characters, might have clued him in to how lacking his conceptualization of stardom and crossing over is. No fresh interpretation of the complex interrelations of an actors private person, his public persona and the character he portrays here; DeAngelis demonstrates no understanding that it is by some such triangulation that something called a star can exist at all.
Chapters on James Dean, but no mention of Andy Warhols use of Dean, which includes a fey, stylized, ballpoint-pen drawing of Deans head with an overturned car in the background from 1955, or of interVIEW as a crucial site of gay fandom and fan-making, or of the devastating queer interrogation acting, being and Hollywood underwent by Warhol in his films. No mention of lesbian appropriations of Dean -- for example, Sadie Bennings -- or of the erotic perfection of his red jacket, which at some point in Rebel he uses to warm a sleeping Sal Mineo. No notion of how Dean, who starred with fags Sal Mineo and Rock Hudson, is different from them. No understanding of the cyclonic force of Elizabeth Taylor, whose presence so destabilizes any normative sexuality and concept of body that she can both stand in and speak for homosexuality while her beauty and unsatisfiable appetites (sexual as much as any other) warp the ostensible narrative of any given film to become a gloss on her life. Theres a long pointless chapter on turgid hack Mel Gibson without any negotiation of the dwarf, Billy Kwan, played by dyke Linda Hunt in The Year of Living Dangerously, who spends most of the time cradled in Gibsons arms or straddling his shoulders.
And certainly, pace Mel, theres no theorizing about how the retarded (Gibson in Tim) prefigured his homoerotic buddying and leather resonance in Gallipoli and Mad Max, despite the possibility that any Hollywood or television representation of the mentally retarded is a strange transference of homosexuality. Its a book with a chapter on Keanu Reeves, published more than two years after The Matrix was released, which, not referring to the film at all, cant consider that its enormous popularity and strong box-office draw occurred because it could deliver both of Keanus core fan groups -- those who like him with short hair and those who like him with long jet locks. No thought on the Keanu of The Last Time I Committed Suicide who, like Matt LeBlanc in many episodes of Friends, vies for the title of Bear Cub of the Year, transvaluing heft (years before Tony Soprano) in a period when most gay mens moral raison detre is to have a perfect six-pack, signifying being a viable participant in commodity culture, good health, and a deluded invulnerability (HIV negative).
I want the body, dear body, used as a site and non-site to express truths, the more unprovable the better. If you are actually masochistic enough to finish this book, youll have no idea of the theoretical implications or truth of referring to someone, Keanu-like, as young, dumb and full of cum, but you will know the meaning of the second term, of which this is, sadly, the cumless example.#
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in Los Angeles.