- Originally from my Media and Popular Culture’s Final report
As we all know, the political and social wars between heterosexual and homosexual society are reaching its peak when some countries and even some states of the United State decided to legalized same-sex marriage. According to Dan Savage, “Really, when it comes to gay rights, there’s two wars going on. The first war is political. But the cultural war is over.” (2012). That is what we were saying in the old times when it is, basically to some extent, over, but in social atmosphere, we know it still moving and does not have any sign of ending. Furthermore, the most important factor that always getting its hand in our daily life is Media; especially visual media’s representation. If throughout “Come out” campaign or “I agree” with the rainbow flag by celebrities or people who have great influences on society, we can see not only now they would not mind about being criticized as advocators of LGBT community but also they can get themselves being spoken as open-minded or have high sympathy with homosexual people if they are heterosexual, or just simply being praised as brave to showing their sexual orientation if they are homosexual. Hence, the power of visual media’s representation has the same meaning, but different in the way they convey the message about LGBT, for this report, we will carry out these two films which are both directed by well-known director Ang Lee: The Wedding Banquet (1993) and Brokeback Mountain (2005). There are two reasons about choosing these films: First, these films are both directed by Ang Lee, a heterosexual director, especially, The Wedding Banquet’s script is also written by Ang Lee; Second, choosing two films with opposing theme – Brokeback Mountain has the colour of tragic when the other is mixed with humour – in order to show how this concept is understood and depicted in the society level, we want to examine sexual minorities matters in each background of the films.
First, as I mentioned above, Brokeback Mountain (2005) is the film which we can see it is surrounded by the light blue colour sphere that caused moody and sadly peaceful for audiences; and so do the characters and film’s plot. Overcome stereotypes barrier of the argument :”Queer cowboys cannot really exist”, Brokeback Mountain is the tragedy between Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar, two mid-Western cowboys who came to Brokeback Mountain to earn a living by doing shepherd together, hence occurred a secret love relationship between them, “a love story about two guys who happen to be gay” (McBride, 2007, 96). About The Wedding Banquet (1993), it is a light comedy about a Taiwanese guy Wai Tung and his American lover – Simon, in order to hide their homosexual relationship from Wai Tung’s parents, a fake wedding was made up, led to many humorous aftermaths.
There was an argument between these two films in the relation to their director, since The Wedding Banquet is written and directed by Ang Lee but he only directed Brokeback Mountain, as well as Ang Lee used the concept of homosexuality mixed with politics of races, Asian – Americans and ethnical popular culture, which was shown in the relationship of Wai Tung and Simon, Ang Lee applied rather light tone to describe a humorous comparison between liberal queers in progressive 1990’s America and the opposing conservative Taiwan, which is conveyed through the characters of Wai Tung’s parents. While in Brokeback Mountain, it is American constructions of masculinity and heroic national ideal of the Cowboy (Patterson, 2008). Furthermore, it is said that there are three kinds of queer cinema: films made by homosexual people, films reflecting matters involve with them, and films watched by them (William Leung, 2008); and both films we examine fall into second type; goes with the combination of The Wedding Banquet’s script is written by Ang Lee – a heterosexual, we can see another different about the sexual minorities matters between two films. Ang Lee only used homosexual relationship as one of the add-on factors to complicate the gender politics matters and not really use this as a main material to specify the racial as well as cultural conflicts, or highlight Wai Tung – Simon’s relationship itself.
While on the contrary, Brokeback Mountain, does not need any controversial material, but stroke directly into the tragedy when Ennis and Jack’s stories mainly flowed by the timeline of refusals between them, where the happy life of two men could never happen when they (especially Ennis) not only rejected their true identity to live a lie, but also bring that feelings of an ugly truth about the love between men is inevitable to all kind of masculine men, especially American national cowboys’ fantasy. These two men lead lives that are full of bad choices, and they leave a world of hurt behind them and always fraught with difficulties. According to Leung (2008), Brokeback Mountain strikes audience as a passionate tragic and desperate struggle of queer and queerness to refuse their identity but their painful goodbyes and joyful reunions help demonstrate that love cannot be limited to any single political, ethnical, philosophical or theological position.
To some extent, it maybe right to say The Wedding Banquet is simply a mixed comedy film, featuring some emotional moments, about two gay characters, despite of Brokeback Mountain, a can-be-considered as gay film (though by some anonymous comment, this also a film about two gay characters, what happens to men with gay feelings then they rejected gay feelings lead to their emotional destruction and a wasted life). The story of a couple trying to cover their love life and do not want to disappointed the parents also desire for their acceptance, or the sad love story of a couple who cannot be together because of each others’ stubborn characteristic also the fear of living that harsh life of being judged by others from society; generally, just like any other movies about any other normal couple. To wrap up, in these films, the visual media’s representations are put into queer relationships and all their social factors are used to pursue such circumstances as above.
To digging more about other aspects, more specific about how sexual minorities are perceived by mainstream society. As queer films, I would like to add some additional information relates to psychology perspective: society in general, in the connection with going on social wars between heterosexual and homosexual, there are things that we can figure out in both films, such as homophobia (which related to psychology field, includes three main states: detecting the phobia, facing it, and passing it), homosexual acts, and how characters overcome/ accept their homophobia. These are also, in my opinion, critical aspects of queer film as well as queer cinema.
First, homophobia issues appeared in Brokeback Mountain in a painful way, is presented in a blunt and brutal hue. About the mainstream society, homosexuals are seen as “dangerous sexual predators, pathetic AIDS victims, or silly effeminate clowns” (Patterson, 2008). For instance, they are shown through unpleasant, sometimes disgust behaviours of other people when seeing if Jack is showing too much friendliness toward any man, or the attitude of Aguirre when seeing Jack and Ennis cuddling. Even Ennis’ father’s actions are taken into account when he showed no pity at all to his boys, or Jack’s father turns a cold shoulder when Ennis came for Jack’s death. When not only Ennis (and maybe Jack) are being discriminated by other people but it was Ennis discriminated himself by sinking his own mind in his haunted childhood, “There were two old guys shacked up together. They were the joke of the town, even though they were pretty tough old birds.” One day they were found beaten to death. Ennis says: “My dad, he made sure me and my brother saw it. For all I know, he did it.” (Roger Ebert, 2005). According to Martin F. Manalansan, 2007, that is the worst thing that can happen to gay people in specific and human being in general, “At worst, they are internally homophobic, self-hating imposters getting the best of both worlds.”. On the other hand, The Wedding Banquet express the hatred from society in a less painful tone (since it is a light comedy movie), but mostly focus on both political, traditional racial and religious homophobia (includes Asians – Americans racial matters). For example, when Wai Tung’s mother questioned about Simon’s background, especially these reactions are seen constantly after Wai Tung admitted with his mother about his abnormal sexual orientation, she showed the most extreme homophobia reacts when she urges Wai Tung to move out from Simon’s house. Another discriminated actions from society when two Western neighbours of the couple saw Wai Tung kiss on Simon’s cheek at the opening of the film.
Second, this part is to focus on the second point, homosexual acts. One more thing that is considered as one of the character of queer films’ second type: involve matters about homosexual and made by heterosexuals. That is, a lot may question how can two straight actors can kiss and make out with each others on the screen? But that is another problem that will be answered later. The main point here is, most of homosexual actions occurred when characters have their private space, as in Brokeback Mountain is when Ennis and Jack are only people who spend their time in Mount Brokeback, or not being “gazed” by other people in public space, for The Wedding Banquet couple, they have to adjust their attitude in order to avoid the “gaze” from society, specifically is the camera. But even how carefully they tried to hide their feelings, Ennis and jack are still caught when they were in their long time no see passionate kiss by spectators (Ennis’s wife – Alma), or in The Wedding Banquet, Wai Tung and Simon’s sweet cuddles and kisses are mostly always being watched by Wai Tung’s parents. According to Mulvey (1975), The manner in such actions are depicted is an example of voyeurism, using another person as an object to stimulate viewers sexually through sight, as the love of watching from the position of the spectator in cinema. Normally, women are often seen as objects for men to gaze, but in this queer film, men are put in other men and women’s gaze (Wai Tung’s parents, Alma, Aguirre are now being observers), which is opposing to traditional concepts of female described in John Berger’s work “Ways of seeing” (1972).
Third, passing and overcome of homophobia. Passing and overcome here are not only mean to get over the stereotypes as people are always talking about, but also the characters which they have the ability to be accepted as male or female both physically and socially. The only problem that is brought in here is homosexual men struggle to pass straight men. Overcome helps men to keep their masculine’s credentials, improve their social position and impact. As in Brokeback Mountain, the moment when Ennis decided to give up on Jack and get married with his former girlfriend, in order to pass his tendency as gay. Though they had great time after reunion, Ennis still found out that it would be better for him to settle down and pass what happened in Mount Brokeback, also decided to keep his secret as a homosexual. In The Wedding Banquet, climax appeared when Wai Tung revealed his “unnatural” sexual orientation to his mom, at the same time, admitted he used to had a girlfriend during high school, hence, clarify one truth about how hard for Wai Tung to found and accept Simon as his meant-to-be soulmate. As we can see about the common of both ways how characters passing their tendency, they are both related to heterosexual relationships with people from opposite sex. Therefore, women can be also considered as victims of being masks for men to hide away their sexual tendency from society, or the object to examine if homosexual men can find any attraction from them to define their status, or being defined as straight. But to some extent, which can be seen in the endings of two films, if in The Wedding Banquet, all characters are happy and pleased of what they had, Wei Wei found her happiness, Simon is accepted as Mr.Gao’s (Wai Tung’s father) second son. On the contrary, Brokeback Mountain’s Ennis and Jack cannot received that kind of happy ending because of Jack’s death, chains of refusal from Ennis, then how Ennis put everything, included all of his relationships and social status to regret.
Last but not least, both films, especially Brokeback Mountain, has created great influences toward popular culture. Alongside the phrase, the term “Brokeback” became an adjective to describe something with gay overtones, becoming a part of the lexicon at the time (Noveck, Gay groups hope to capitalize on Oscar night, 2006). Additionally, though this is not the first time they showed queer films publicly, but Brokeback Mountain is a good example of queer content to be made available at public/ more specific: screen/cinema.
To sum up, the matter of sexual minorities are not anything new to be brought into discussion, especially under society’s perspective. But with visual media’s representation, plenty of perspectives and viewpoints also arguments are brought up. Not to mention about differences between time gap and films’ genre, The Wedding Banquet and Brokeback Mountain, which are both directed by Ang Lee, have clarified how sexual minorities (in this paper is gay relationships) are perceived by society, base on films’ plots and characters’ manners, showing homosexuality is not only include the fight for gay rights but also tragic consequences of the issues which we may never know.
- Berger, J. (1972). Ways of Seeing. London: British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books.
- Dan Savage. 2012. Newsweek Magazine.
- Leung, W. (2008). So Queer Yet So Straight: Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet and Brokeback Mountain. (http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/jfv/summary/v060/60.1leung.html)
- Martin F. Manalansan. 2007 (http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/journal_of_lesbian_and_gay_studies/v013/13.1manalansan.html)
- McBride. 2007. 96. (https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/24526302/go-here-popular-american-culture-association-in-the-south/31). p22
- Mulvey, L. (1975). The Active/Male vs. Passive/Female. (http://www.eng.fju.edu.tw/Literary_Criticism/feminism/gaze.htm)
- Patterson, E. (2008). “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”: Men Who Love Men, Western, and Brokeback Mountain. (http://www.glbtq.com/sfeatures/pattersonbrokeback.html)
- Roger Ebert. Brokeback Mountain Review. 2005 (http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/brokeback-mountain-2005)