Monday, December 15, 2014

The New York Times Can Kiss My Ass

The New York Times Can Kiss My Ass

Dear New York Times,
I understand that an organization that produces as much content as you do will, occasionally, produce something impressively tone-deaf (see Alessandra Stanley's piece about Shonda Rhimes last September).  But for the most part, I love your paper.  I read it daily.  I get it on my Kindle and my iPhone, just in case I'm jonesing for some news and one of my gadgets isn't available.  Reading the Sunday Times is probably the only ritual I've performed for over twenty years. 

Imagine my glee when I saw "9 Kisses," in this Sunday's (12-14-14) edition: a movie that promised to show me 9 short films, each one featuring a kiss between two great actors from the last year in movies.   

I like kissing.  I like movie stars.  This'll be fun, I thought.

Each kiss hits a different note, and the piece is successful as a whole, on an aesthetic level, because of the gamut it runs.  In their stolen kiss outside a costume party, Reese Witherspoon and Benedict Cumberbatch show us how furtiveness ups a kiss's sexiness like nothing else.  The unexpected passion of Laura Dern and Steve Carrell's lip-lock is used to great comedic effect.  When Shailene Woodley kisses her trainer Jack O'Connell after accidentally punching him in the face, something unexpected bubbles between them, a surprise that reveals a world underneath.  Each kiss in each of the short films has a definitive, unique tone.

Which is why I find it so incredibly offensive for the only guy-on-guy kiss in this piece to be a desparate ploy, between David Oyelowo and Timothy Spall (4:50 - 5:35).

I encourage the readers to watch all eight minutes of the movie (video box at the top of this blog, or click here) - it's quite enjoyable, for the most part.  Here's the synopsis:  David Oyelowo and Timothy Spall are in a saloon, arm-wrestling.  It looks like David Oyelowo (younger, stronger) is going to win, but then that rascal Timothy Spall kisses his opponent (on the lips, no less!), distracting him and giving Timothy Spall the edge he needs to win.

This kiss is aggressively anti-romantic.  It is a tactic between two real guys partaking in a macho activity, something so butch that it eliminates the possibility that either one of them might be actual homosexuals. Don't worry - your movie tells its viewers - not only is the guy-on-guy kiss de-sexualized as much as possible (it's also the shortest kiss in the flick), none of the characters in this movie are gay men. 

And I think this is really at the heart of why I think your film sucks, New York Times: you were too cowardly to dare to show what a real kiss between two men looks like.  The girl-on-girl action (Jenny Slate & Rosario Dawson, 2:15 - 3:00) is sexy, joyous and full of love.  And I get it - from before we are conscious of sex, we're taught to think that lesbians are sexy while fags are scary.  But this film has an opportunity to combat the nasty, latter part of that stereotype, to show some genuine warmth or romance or kindness between two men kissing.  In failing to do so, you don't just eschew your responsibility: you perpetuate close-mindedness.  

In the behind-the-scenes movie that accompanies "9 Kisses" (entitled, obviously enough, "The Making of 9 Kisses") director Elaine Constantine says that, "We decided it would be all public spaces at night." (1:20)  Gay marriage is legal 35 states in the USA right now.  Wouldn't a more powerful dramatic choice, let alone a less homophobic one, be creating a film where two men kiss after reciting wedding vows to each other, for example?  Or what about a proposal.  Getting down on one knee and proposing to my now-husband was the scariest moment of my life - full of dramatic possibility with infinite richness.

Instead, in depicting the kiss between two men as a desperate ploy and last resort, you reinforce the idea that the only appropriate response to kissing another man is to feel shame.  Well, I think you and the film's director, Elaine Constantine, are the ones who should feel ashamed. 

Or, better yet, do something about it.  I dare you, New York Times and Elaine Constatine: get two great male actors from 2014 movies and create another 45 second film showing them kissing in any scenario that's not drenched in shame.  Show me funny, show me touching, show me stupid.  Show me anything.  But don't show me shame.  I grew up surrounded by it.  I have to deal with looks and threats, still, when I hold my husband's hand in public.  I have had enough shame.

To end on a what I hope is a positive, constructive note: here's a picture of me and my husband kissing at the end of our wedding ceremony.  I thought I'd include it in the hope it might inspire you to see the gorgeous possibilities.