Alex Blaze

Can gay columnists play homophobic?

Filed By Alex Blaze | May 12, 2010 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: broadway, George Clooney, New York, Newsweek, promises, ramin setoodeh, Ryan Murphy, sean hayes

Ramin Setoodeh has written an article in Newsweek that questions whether gay actors can possibly play straight. Good question! Sometimes I wonder if straight people can play gay, but then I realize that they're brave, open-minded allies if they do and I put my brain on hold.

This isn't the first time Newsweek's Setoodeh has been called a homophobe. He wrote a longer piece on Larry King, the junior high school student who was shot in school by another student because he was gay and gender nonconforming, and blamed the murder on those nasty, PC state functionaries who told him he had a First Amendment right to present his gender as he wanted in school.

Patricia Nell Warren also responded to one of his more bizarre columns where he criticized Adam Lambert getting too much attention and praised his Christian Idol competitors' religious creds.

He also wrote a column last year arguing that femmy gay men are hurting the movement, exalting those who "think of themselves as 'post-gay,' meaning their sexual orientation is only part of who they are." Meaning they're masculine and pass for straight better and are so... normal. That he implicitly included me in that group, since he was talking about "younger men and women," was just icing.

Notice a pattern? I'm by no means a regular Newsweek reader. The info-tainment journal is something I read when I'm waiting for an appointment, maybe, but otherwise it's just not that seriously, steeped in lazy conventional wisdom, and has a general right-leaning bias (not inherently bad) that it refuses to acknowledge. So I'm assuming there are other offending articles Setoodeh has written for Newsweek that have just passed me by.

This column, Setoodeh's getting more attention. His column starts by saying that Sean Hayes of Will & Grace fame is too queeny to play straight and that he appears to be "trying to hide something" in his performance of Promises, Promises. Hayes's Broadway co-star Kristin Chenoweth responded saying that no one's noticed anything about Hayes's performance and that she was personally offended that someone would be so obsessed with an actor's sexuality that he'd start reading things into the performance.

Setoodeh, bizarrely, held Rock Hudson up as an ideal for his "beefy bravado," even though he really was a gay man hiding his sexuality, unlike Hayes, who's out. It makes it seem even more like this is going on in Setoodeh's head, that he's projecting his own knowledge of the actors' personal lives onto their performances instead of their sexuality shining through.

Which is basically Setoodeh's defense. He wrote another column for Newsweek this week, a third I was just talking about "society"'s feelings, a third I'm gay so that makes it all better, and a third boo hoo for me. It doesn't make much sense - his original column clearly attributed his thoughts on gay actors to himself except for four sentences at the end. He even goes so far to accuse the New York Times of doing the same thing, even though they focus on the performance, not Hayes's sexuality. Perhaps he knows something more about what the writer there was thinking than the rest of us do, but....

He's right, though, that gay actors have trouble coming out, and that Hollywood (more so than Broadway) is still very homophobic. But the problem is exactly what Setoodeh did himself - impose our knowledge of an actor's real life on to their performance. It's something that happens a lot to gay actors, even though most people can ignore their knowledge of an actor's life when going to see a movie. (Take anything from Tom Cruise after his conversion to Scientology, for example.)

So that was all a great conversation people had going, which means that publicity vulture's like GLEE's creator, Ryan Murphy, have to swoop down, dance like clowns and direct attention to themselves:

I extend an open invitation to Mr. Setoodeh to come to the writers room of our show, and perhaps pay a set visit. Hopefully then he can see how we take care to do a show about inclusiveness...a show that encourages all viewers no matter what their sexual orientation to go after their hopes and dreams and not be pigeonholed by dated and harmful rhetoric...rhetoric he sadly spews and believes in. Hopefully, some of the love we attempt to spread will rub off on Mr. Setoodeh -- a gay man deeply in need of some education -- and he not only apologizes to those he has deeply offended but pauses before he picks up his poison pen again to work through the issues of his own self loathing. Give me a call, Ramin...I'd love to hear from you. I'll even give you a free copy of our Madonna CD, on which we cover "Open Your Heart," a song you should play in your house and car on repeat.

Ba-zing? That's a pretty awkward set up for a joke/CD promo, considering this guy writes for network TV.

He also called for a boycott of Newsweek, which is a pretty silly idea as well. Not only is no one reading it anymore as it is, boycotting media outlets for their political and cultural stances - or those of their writers - only encourages media to become blander and blander. If editors worry about boycott calls for everything they publish anything, they'll just publish fewer and fewer pieces that actually challenge readers. And, well, we have few enough as it is without us boycotting for oatmeal.

When it comes to Setoodeh, all I can say is that he's probably carving out a contrarian niche so that he doesn't seem beholden to the homosexual agenda, something many folks wear like a badge of honor. He's probably learned his lesson - he went too far this time - and will more finely tune his opinions for future columns.

But I've seen plenty of gay actors playing straight on stage - we get free tickets around here to lots of shows in Paris. And their performance really just depends on the actor. And I've seen straight actors play roles very different from how they are in real life, and it's no big deal. Audiences understand the difference between fiction and reality.

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I suppose that's why they call it "acting" not "being" Mr. Setoodeh.

In Setoodeh's article, he dismisses Hayes as wooden and insincere because Setoodeh can't see him as a man wooing a woman. I've been both the man wooing the woman (wooing, yeah, not quite the word I'd use), and the woman being wooed.

Wooden and insincere are probably the two most fitting adjectives to describe straight men "wooing" a woman that I could use. Just the other day I was trying to do a little boating on a lake near my house, when Joe Straight-Man came up to "help" me and I had to invent a husband on the double quick or I probably would have wound up doing the doggie paddle, and I don't mean in the lake. How many straight bars has Setoodeh been in? Seriously. Not the ones I've been in, clearly.

I don't think I call Setoodeh's article "homophobic," though. There's a word that sees entirely too much overuse. Homonormative is my word for it. But I gather that most people aren't familiar with the term. Especially Ramin Setoodeh.

I completely agree. After reading the article, it's not really homophobic, it's just a little confused. I think the issue that's not being talked about is our cultures weird obsession with celebrities' sexuality. A blogger from Cinematical points out our unhealthy addiction to celebrity.

Of course gay actors can play straights. Homosexuals can often go years convincing their family and friends that they're heterosexual.

I guess Mr. Setoodeh never heard of Rock Hudson. Women all over the world fell for him, in a heterosexual way. pretty good acting, I would say. How about Richard Chamberlain. Another case of woman going totally nuts for the guy, who was Young Dr Kildare, and many sexy movie leads.

However, it does seem that in order to pull this off, it may require the actor staying in the closet.

He did mention Rock Hudson, and I think Setoodeh's point is that they should stay in the closet. Which is weird, since he was worried about gay actors playing straight looking like they're trying to hide something. Should they be actually trying to hide something in order not to seem like they're trying to hide something?

His original article is very limited. I would ask what he thought of John Barrowman (*swoon*) who has made appearences in Deperate House Wives and Doctor Who. Or Neil Patrick Harrison in How I Met Your Mother? But these questions defeats the point.

He has this expectations in how men should act. Jonathan Groff's character on Glee is not hetero-normed at all. He is a musical loving, perfect hair, does ballet, etc. and thats the point Setoodeh goes after, not his macho Spring Awakening preformance.

I also don't think homophobia is the right word for this. Sissyphobia comes to mind, from a book title I read years ago. This is the way men are supposed to act. If we moved beyond that expectation then it is portrayed wrong and if that person is gay then it is because their inner gayness is coming through. I'm sorry but that argument doesn't hold salt.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | May 12, 2010 9:39 PM

Rumor has it that if elevated to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan still plans to play Babe Ruth in a 2015 remake of "The Babe". Lindsay Graham will appear as himself.

Midtowner | May 12, 2010 11:54 PM

Just love how we devour our own...he's gay. We don't all share one brain, one way of thinking and one way of viewing the world. He wrote an article, alot of people disagree with with it, some people do agree with it...

Give him a break, cause if you don't you may be the next one who says or does something the gaystream doesnt like and it will be you on the firing line...peace.

I am gay. He is gay. Bu he is not one of "my own." The fact that we don't share one brain is the VERY REASON that I'm comfortable "devouring" him for his idiotic remarks. You seem to be the one claiming that we ought to share one brain by suggesting that his gayness should free him from much deserved criticism Being gay doesn't give him a pass. Bigoted is bigoted, be the bigot straight or gay.

C'mon, let's all fess up here... Does any of us really want to see Sean Hayes playing a straight ladies man? It's just unbelievable except as a comedy.

Hayes both played a flamboyantly gay man and he is one in real life. I'd rather see him play parts where sexuality doesn't matter or where he can be himself. I don't want to force him into a straight mould.

NPH is more believable as a straight cockhound on his TV show just because he didn't spend a decade playing a part that was Super Gay. His history both on and off screen is part of his persona.

Think Mel Gibson. Would Bareback Mountain have worked with him in Jake G's role? Of course not. He's too butch and anti-gay. What about Hayes in the role? Nope. Too gay to fit the story.

I think what it's more about is that we have very few roles written for our people where we're not forced into stereotypical roles, relationships, and expectations.

twinkie1cat | May 13, 2010 12:59 PM

I don't know why this is even a question. Acting is acting and life is life and the twain don't necessarily have to meet although it would be nice if actors only paid socially responsible parts that reflected who they really were. Many straight men have played gay in movies---Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes in "To Wong Foo" come to mind. Gay men have played straight---Neil Patrick Harris, for example. Even lesbians have played opposite of who they were. And pretend bigots, like Archie Bunker are legendary. And then there are the degrees of butchiness with the gay couple on Modern Family. The fem acting gay character is actually straight, while the butch acting one is actually gay.

I think Mr. Setoodeh is being a curmudgeon and trying to attract attention and increase his own monetary value. Controversy attracts attention and makes money for pundits. Witness Rush Limbaugh. Is he really as evil as he appears to be? Maybe, Maybe not. Sarah Palin is making plenty playing a dizzy politician when she is really a brilliant wolf making plenty of money for it.

Betty White, could probably play gay, a murderer (Come to think of it she did that on Boston Legal.) a bigot, or an animal hater if she chose too. That's what an actor does. They play a part and people fall in love with the person the actor plays, just like women did with Rock Hudson. He was a fine hunk, gay or straight. ANd columnists and politicians are only one step to the side of actors. You really have to know them to figure out how much is real and how much is acting.