Jan. 27, 2010 - Issue #745: AGA
Tales from the closet
Outrage exposes closeted politicians who vote anti-gay, but barely scrapes the surface of why they're so divided insideFrom a political standpoint, there isn't much to dislike about Kirby Dick's anti-closeted-politician polemic Outrage. Taking square aim at the gaggle of gay American politicians who almost inexplicably support anti-gay measures at every turn, Outrage has a very concentrated and understandable anger, and exposes such rank hypocrisy more or less anywhere it can find it. There are those who argue that even people who are publicly homophobic but privately homosexual have a right to their privacy, that each individual deserves their own space and time to come out of the closet, but such arguments are morally delusional: perhaps if these politicians were even just neutral, they might have a point, but closeted gays who work against gay rights deserve to be exposed, if for no other reason than the voting public has a right to know their representatives are hypocrites of the most heinous rank.
Still, there's an extent to which Dick has let the importance of his message overwhelm more interesting ideas. To some degree, that's an understandable omission in America's political climate: after all, some media sources refused to mention the names of any of the politicians Dick outs, despite some pretty iron-clad cases, including testimony from past lovers. (Though I see this as gutless journalism rather than the conspiracy theory Dick posits: the general public tends to underestimate how much journalists self-censor out of practical concerns rather than any fiat from the bosses, though that's another topic entirely.) But besides the actual fact of what they're doing, there are the reasons behind these choices, a far more complex and interesting topic that Dick largely leaves on the table.
Dick lets his moral and political stances get in the way of the fact that these politicians he's exposing are human. By that I don't mean that their careers or feelings should be spared, but, again, that there must be some kind of reason for why they do it. Forgive me if this seems too apolitical, but what they're doing doesn't seem half as interesting a story as why. The furthest we get into examining the psychology of these men, though, is the assertion that they're voting particularly anti-gay to draw attention away from the fact that they are gay. I can't imagine how many Harvard psychologists it took to come up with that one.
The notion of someone so unashamedly working against their own identity strikes me as an incredibly profound one, especially since there seems to be some genuine variety in the motivations of these politicians (however similar the end result is). There are those, like former Louisiana congressmen Jim McCrery—and one Republican staffer who chided a now-out colleague as "not having the stamina" to stay in the closet—who are or at least at one time were quite aware of their sexual orientation, and who have pushed it to the side in pursuit of power and influence. That's an act of such heinous hypocrisy I don't even know where to begin, but even the most obvious explanation—ambition trumping identity—deserves some further delving (seriously, what kind of a person can do that?). That may seem rather hard to do with people who won't admit their sexuality, but Dick has several interviews with formerly closeted, now-out politicians and he mostly only uses them to talk about what life was like in the closet, without wondering about how they get there in the first place.
Then there's the case of Larry Craig, who Dick devotes a good chunk of the film to and who you might remember as the senator what got busted for soliciting blowjobs in a Minneapolis airport bathroom. His seems a far more personally destructive kind of closet: it appears as though Craig genuinely believes he's not gay—and certainly his behaviour towards one of the men who claims to have had sex with him also suggests somebody who sees gays as sub-human—a kind of self-delusion so ingrained he might actually see women while going down on men. The deep-seated homophobia of his boyhood Idaho is offered as some explanation, but there's more here, and however hard it was to get at, it would have been worth looking into.
But perhaps this is all just picking nits. Dick has made an incendiary and punishing documentary, a thorough piece of journalism that, given the political climate of the US, deserves far more attention than it got. And if nothing else, it proves the old Harvey Milk quote, which closes the film, was dead on: if all the gays in America were just honest with themselves and the people around them about it, gay rights would no longer be an issue. V
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