MARK ADNUM: Why do you think Elton John’s been so narky lately?
MARK SIMPSON: I could be nasty and say it’s down to The Change. But I think it’s probably more to do with the fact that he’s fed up playing the Queen Mum role. It got him what he wanted - acceptability and even a certain amount of respectability - but I think the penny’s finally dropped that he doesn’t really want those things after all, or at least that they’re not what they’re cracked up to be. Especially when they come at the cost of being regarded as some kind of perfoming penisless penguin.
MA: Jean Genet showed how to make resonant, lusty and meaningful homo cinema in 1950, but modern-day gay film makers have quite clearly lost this knowledge. This is especially strange since its relatively easy these days for a gay film maker to make and show a gay-themed film, and the film-festival circuit environment should encourage real creativity. Why do you think gay film making is so conservative and mediocre?
MS: Because there is only one story. Coming Out. It was never such a great story in the first place, and it’s so tired now. But gay film makers still keep showing it to us over and over again. They seem to think that by being ‘zany’ or ‘kooky’, giving it a ’street’ sensibility, or putting the story in a third world context, or including amputees, that this tired narrative can look fresh or even slightly interesting but it never does. WE KNOW HOW THIS STORY ENDS ALREADY.
Besides, we also know now that it’s a false ending. Coming out is just the beginning of your troubles.
MA: I think the Vito Russo school of thought has always had a very wobbly maxim, its idea that visibility and positive representation is some universally essential thing that cinema has to come to terms with. I mean, why is there this assumption that gay guys want to race out and see a crap flick about two guys kissing each other when they could go and see something like The Incredibles or Eternal Sunshine? Why has cinema been marked by gay activists, and much of the gay media, as a place where pro-gay messages should be found?
MS: Well, homosexuality is a form of narcissism. So little wonder that gayists want to see themselves reflected in the silver screen. Trouble is, no one else does.
Actually, it isn’t entirely true, unfortunately. Cinema and TV have featured rather a lot of ‘pro gay’ messages of late - and it’s the very nature of these ‘pro-gay’ messages that have made it clear how sadly mistaken Russo and Co. were campaigning for them.
Gays have historically had an unhealthily close relationship to cinema - after all, Joan Crawford did turn an entire generation queer. The industry is lousy with them. For many, Hollywood seems to be the Yellow Brick Road, literally and metaphorically. But they should know better than to expect it to validate them - or solve their problems. The best ‘queer’ cinema and the best way to watch it, is informed by a queer subjectivity on the mainstream, rather than a separatist agenda (which, ironically, is the same thing as assimilationism). Oz is a gloriously ‘twisted’ version of Kansas - it isn’t San Francisco. It’s inside Judy’s head.
MA: In Anti-Gay you wrote that gay men were becoming too detached from nature, and forgetting their mortality. Do you think this partly explains why recent gay cinema is so evaporative, so frigid?
MS: Possibly. But then, we’re all doing our best to forget our mortality these days, with our celeb-porn-plastic-surgery e-culture. And if you think that gay cinema is frigid, you should have a look at gay porn.
MA: Since homosexuals are fluent in heterosexuality, is there a need for gay-themed movies at all?
MS: Perhaps not. And in fact, gay movies - and gay directors - have a way of neutering the most erotic and romantic homo stories. E.g. Joel Schumacher’s Tigerland of a few years back - a buddy flick set in a 1960s army boot camp which is utterly devoid of any sexual tension, or romance. Likewise Stone’s Alexander, in which a gay marriage (sexless, tedious, respectable) replaces the greatest buddy-romance of all time, that between Alexander and Hephaistion. That film is completely fuckin’ frigid.
MA: Speaking of Anti-Gay, I remember reading once where you were planning an Anti-Gay 2. Is this going to happen?
MS: No. I can’t believe that if I said this I was being serious. One AG is plenty enough.
MA: If somebody wanted to torture you, they’d make you watch what gay-themed movie over and over again?
MS: We’ve all been made to watch the same gay-themed movie over and over again.
MA: Germaine Greer has quit the Celebrity Big Brother house in a huff, describing housemate Brigitte Nielsen as being like “a cat with an electrode up its arse”. Do you think you’d last long in such a house, and how would you describe Greer’s replacement, Nielsen’s former mother-in-law, Jackie Stallone?
MS: As for Germaine, much of her own career could be summed up in the description she gave of Brigitte. Ever since she had her cunt photographed for SUCK magazine she’s been a cutting-edge exhibitionist. But in the BB House she met her match and more. I think she left the house because she wasn’t getting enough attention. Jackie’s arrival meant that she was getting even less. As with many feminists, it’s other women - not men - that are the problem.
It’s one thing to ’sell out’ - but if no one appears to notice, what’s the point? I can hardly say I blame her for leaving in a huff, but I wish she wouldn’t go on about saving the bloody rain forest as if any of us believed that was why she went into that madhouse in the first place. When I heard she was in the show I did wonder for a nanosecond whether she might win - after all, she’s Australian and in the U.K. BB is all about a bunch of Brits pretending they’re Australians living in a shared house in Willesden.
Me in the BB house? As a nobody wannabe or as an ex-somebody wannabe again? While I almost certainly don’t have enough self-respect to say ‘no’ (after all, i went to boarding school), I wouldn’t have the guts to say ‘yes’ which is just as well, as I’d make a terrible Australian.
Mark Simpson is the author of Saint Morrissey, Male Impersonators and It’s A Queer World, and was the editor of Anti-Gay, an indispensable essay collection from 1996. He coined the term metrosexual in 1994, and it became a household word after he reintroduced it in a Salon.com article in 2002.
More information on Mark can be found at his website, www.marksimpson.com
(This interview took place in 2005 - ancient, but somehow justified.)