Fri, Jan 20, 2006 - Page 16 News List

Ang Lee challenges the modern male

By Craig D. Lindsey  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA

PHOTO: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Brokeback Mountain is the resident, talked-about/blogged-about movie of the moment. With its excess of critical praise (including mine), Golden Globe nominations and box office record (highest per-screen gross of any non-animated movie in history), it's being touted as the film that'll take over the Oscars.

But that's not what people are talking and blogging about. In the midst of all the Brokeback brouhaha, men seem to be going out of their way to say they won't see it -- and then dispensing a really good reason why.

Some say Ang Lee's cowboy love story is not their cultural cup of tea. They hate romances of any kind. Or they hate cowboy films.

"I'm not really all that interested in cowboy life," Houston poet Eric Blaylock told me. "It's just something [African-American males] don't relate to."

Others say they're resisting a liberal media trying to guilt-trip them. On his blog, Vanity Fair columnist James Wolcott called out several such guys, including Slate's Mickey Kaus, who invoked the name of liberal media king Frank Rich of The New York Times in his statement of contempt.

"When the film's national box office fails to live up to its hype and to the record attendance at a few early screenings," Kaus writes, "prepare to be subjected to a tedious round of guilt-tripping and chin-scratching by Frank Rich and every metropolitan daily entertainment writer who yearns to write about What the Movies Say About America Today. (Wild guess: They say we're still homophobic!) ... Maybe if we all go see it, Rich won't write about it!"

And James Lileks (at www.lileks.com) complained about Entertainment Weekly's giving the cover to Brokeback Mountain (plus an inside story to Transamerica) over The Chronicles of Narnia, as if the editors felt that they needed to "encourage movies about cowboys in love, because somewhere in some small town a gay youth looks at the box office grosses, and decides to stay in the closet out of fear he will be eaten by a computer generated lion who manifests the stigmata. Or something like that." (For the record, the magazine did its next cover story on Narnia.)

Leave it to Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld and star of the HBO sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm, to boldly go where no straight man would even think about going: He said he's afraid the movie might turn him gay.

In a New York Times op-ed piece headlined Cowboys Are My Weakness, David describes himself as a "susceptible" person -- "easily influenced, a natural-born follower with no sales-resistance."

"If two cowboys, male icons who are 100 percent all-man, can succumb, what chance to do I have, half to a quarter of a man, depending on whom I'm with at the time?" David writes.

Later, he admits that there are perks when you are part of "the gay business": "I know I've always gotten along great with men. I never once paced in my room rehearsing what to say before asking a guy if he wanted to go to the movies. And I generally don't pay for men, which of course is their most appealing attribute."

David's piece was funnier than nearly all of Curb's recent season. But you can't deny that there is some truth in it. After all, in this country, some people think homosexuality is an epidemic -- scarier than Communism, folks! -- and some even consider Brokeback a recruitment film.

If anything was more predictable than the hype for Brokeback, given its credentials and strategic release, it's the backlash. And the backlash is bubbling away.

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