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That Moment of, "Oh"

My friend and colleague Anna, the Napoleon of crime, and I are accustomed to combing our beloved pulp sci-fi TV shows for slash (or "queer theory" if we want to feel special) readings which are not actually there. If we're not quite at the level of passionately defending the PURITY of the LOVE between Captain Skyrocketpants and Perfesser Brainface, we're making sly little asides about how, hee hee, they're so in love, hee hee, they want to do each other, hee hee, this show is so gay. Sometimes it seems like they're almost making it too easy.

In one episode of Babylon 5, Ivanova confides in her (female) best friend, Talia, about being secretly telepathic (something which I think never came up again) using very coded-gay-seeming language. Talia asks, "Susan, why didn't you tell me this before? I thought we could trust each other." Ivanova says, "It's got nothing to do with trust. I've spent my entire life hiding this, Captain. It's not something you can just change overnight. It's hard enough telling you this now." Anna and I glance at each other knowingly. This show is so gay.

Talia says there's something wrong with her quarters and she needs someplace to stay. Ivanova offers her room. Tee hee, hoo hoo, ha ha, they are going to do it!

They hang out wearing silk bathrobes. Tee hee! So doing it!

Ivanova wakes up during the night and... looks for Talia... next to her... in the b... oh. They are doing it. But wh... When did... Why were we not informed??

A more suddenly jarring instance occurred about twelve minutes into the Al Pacino/Jeremy Irons (not like THAT) Merchant of Venice, which although I'd read the play and I knew you could easily play the Antonio/Bassanio friendship up very gay if desired, I for some reason didn't think they were going to go that way in this production. (I think I'd heard it compared to the Trevor Nunn production as the less gay one, or something.) So here I am, doing my normal thing, and delighting in all the little slashy moments, and yet feeling somehow gluttonous, like I'm getting too much.

Example. For our first introduction to Bassanio, we see him going by Antonio in a boat, looking like this:

Hi, I'm Bassanio, let me look at you seductively over this cup.

Antonio responds by murmuring his name and offering a sweet smile.


Antonio gets super mad when Salerio or Solanio (nobody can tell 'em apart) does the whole "Are you in love, Ebenezer?" bit. He even adds an extraneous "fie"!

"Fie, fie, fie!"

Now back to gazing dreamily out of the window. I wonder what he can find so captivating out there?

Why, it's Bassanio, looking stupidly dashing!

Bassanio decides to unburden himself of his money troubles while lounging on Antonio's red-and-gold-sheet-clad bed in a pose not unlike the Creepy Cox Cable Mascot.

"To you, Antonio, I owe the most in money, love."

And his grateful hand-on-face makes one wonder if Lt. Cadman has inhabited his body.

Dude, nobody does that to somebody they're not going to totally kiss.


In the end, the production did leave the relationship pretty much ambiguous, so that Jeremy Irons was able to argue convincingly in the special features that the relationship isn't a homosexual affair and to reduce it to that is missing the point (so shame! get your mind out the gutter! pay no attention to the fact that Antonio's eyes are closed like he's totally expecting it), and I actually agree, although I also think that to call it non-homosexual is equally missing the point, literary male amity being as much about erotic passion as it is about trust and idea-sharing and back-to-back fighting and "two souls in bodies twain" etc etc, which itself is romantic love, so that whether or not the boys are actually sleeping together is not actually central to the more important question of whether they love each other, which they clearly do, although where that love falls on the spectrum from friendship to romance is unclear and unstable and that's what makes the relationship interesting, BUT WHATEVER, JEREMY IRONS--you have contributed much to the field of "tension-filled male friendships of stage and screen," and so whatever you think about it I salute you. The point is, you can believe what you want about the relationship between the two men, but once they've kissed on screen, the sexual and romantic possibilities are out in the open, and you're no longer a clever girl for spotting them.

The moment when the subtext becomes text invariably gives me the hollow feeling of having used a tank to shoot fish and a barrel. It's like if you spend your life becoming the world's best Easter egg finder, and brag that you can enter any room in which Easter eggs are hidden and immediately find them, no matter how cleverly concealed they may be, until finally on Easter you enter the hiding site and zero in immediately on an egg, holding it up and crowing did I tell you or what, only to realize in a sickening moment that you just found the egg that was sitting out on the table next to the sign "Here is what the hidden eggs will look like!" and everyone is staring at you like you're a dumbass.

Or, to use examples that actually have some grounding in fiction, it's like watching When Harry Met Sally and nudging your friend knowingly every time they indicate that they're interested in each other, giggling "Dude, they're so in love" and "Heh, they're so STRAIGHT for each other." It's like missing the last twenty minutes of Sixth Sense and posting a lengthy, badgeringly persuasive essay to your LiveJournal saying things like "Come on. That scene in the restaurant?!! Is there any 'live reading' for that??!" Or compiling a list of Reasons Why Batman and Bruce Wayne Are Totally the Same Person (You May Not Believe It, But It's Totally In the Text, Go Back and See For Yourself!!!) You're sitting there "gathering evidence" for something that is explicitly there--like, great, you successfully understood a plot point in a work of a fiction, do you want a medal or a chest to pin it on?

See, the subtext hunt is like a game, Me vs. The Show, where "The Show" represents some entity involved in the creation of the work (writers? producers?) who are fighting unsuccessfully to suppress its inherent gayness. Sometimes the Show lets go of its end of the rope, and I end up splattered in mud.

I'm not saying I don't like overtly gay romance stories. Some of my favorite things in life (Luck in the Shadows, Paul Lynde, lesbian sex, the Leafs this season) are overtly gay. I'm just saying that I, like Christian Fundamentalists, want to know ahead of time through some sort of ratings system the gayness level of any given story. I can then plan my TV schedule, and my level of "hoo hoo they're so gaaaaaaaaaay" nudgery, accordingly.

That or I could start paying attention to, like, the point of these stories. I hear Merchant of Venice has a Jew in it.


- Laura