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A Few Words in Defense of—and Against—Newsweek‘s Ramin Setoodeh

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A Few Words in Defense of—and Against—<em>Newsweek</em>‘s Ramin Setoodeh

4. “For all the beefy bravado that Rock Hudson projects on screen, Pillow Talk dissolves into a farce when you know the likes of his true bedmates. (Just rewatch the scene where he’s wading around in a bubble bath by himself.)”

So let’s be clear on this: Two out actors’ performances don’t effectively convince Setoodah (which is to say only him, and nothing about any other audience’s reception) that their characters are straight, Jack Nicholson once starred as Helen Hunt’s romantic foil, and Pillow Talk is a late-’50s cinematic artifact that makes it impossible to avoid Rock Hudson’s off-screen sexuality because of a bubble bath (as opposed to the fact that the whole film is so campy in the first place), which means we’ll never have a big, gay George Clooney because coming out is a terrible move for your career. Obviously an infallible string of logic. And by “infallible,” I mean ZOINKS.

Kristin Chenoweth, Hayes’s co-star in Promises, Promises, soon after made like a pissed-off fag hag protecting her very best gays and proceeded to go after both Setoodeh and Newsweek in an open letter posted on Broadway.com, decrying both Setoodeh’s troublingly homophobic message and Newsweek’s even more troubling decision to run it:

“Setoodeh even goes so far as to justify his knee-jerk homophobic reaction to gay actors by accepting and endorsing that ’as viewers, we are molded by a society obsessed with dissecting sexuality, starting with the locker room torture in junior high school.’ Really? We want to maintain and proliferate the same kind of bullying that makes children cry and in some recent cases have even taken their own lives?”

Setoodeh responded in an effort to explicate the real angle behind his argument:

“[If] an actor of the stature of George Clooney came out of the closet today, would we still accept him as a heterosexual leading man? It’s hard to say, because no actor like that exists. I meant to open a debate—why is that? And what does it say about our notions about sexuality? For all the talk about progress in the gay community in Hollywood, has enough really changed? The answer seems obvious to me: no, it has not.”

In Setoodeh’s defense, it’s rather disheartening to read in his response how his original piece so quickly turned him into an object of Internet ridicule and scorn. Yes, the web has a way of reducing a complex argument into a few rudimentary (and sometimes infuriating) soundbites that can turn you into the enemy; and yes, it’s a testament to how far the industry has not come in acknowledging that we’ve yet to have an openly gay actor of the celebrity caliber of George Clooney or Brad Pitt despite all of Hollywood’s talk of acceptance. Maybe this is just me, but it’s as bothersome to live in a society where established, big-name actors still remain in the closet for fear of possibly ostracizing their audience as it is to learn that Setoodeh’s words are being countered with catty insults about his haircut and cruel accusations that he’s a “self-hating Arab.” Neither instance suggests that we’re making much progress in accepting that anybody might have an identity or opinion other than that with which we’re comfortable.

What Setoodeh sadly misses, though, is that the Internet’s uproar comes from him trying to start an important and much needed dialogue about Hollywood’s glass closet by rattling off a handful of performances that he’s deemed in some way either too tellingly flamboyant (Groff and Hudson) or (in Hayes’s case) determinedly unrevealing to ever convince him that these characters are in fact straight. There still is a very important conversation to have about our culture’s obsession with masculinity and sexuality and how it echoes through Hollywood, but if Setoodeh is as interested in interrogating and dismantling these outdated identity politics as he insists he is, then he shouldn’t be using the same bigoted, backward rhetoric that helps keep the closet doors closed.

Benjamin Horner spent his days in school studying English, journalism, and cinema studies. He currently tends to a little corner of the Internet where camp is queen, Nobody Puts Baby in a Horner.