Representation of the Gay Community

Today we spoke in class about the representation of Jack and Ennis as being overtly masculine characters. It could be argued that their representation in this way may makes their homosexual identity more easily digestible to a wider range of audiences; specifically heterosexual males. In Mercer’s piece “Dark and Lovely,” he speaks to the problems this kind of representation presents:

In a situation where the right to representation is rationed and regulated, so that minorities experience restricted access to the means of representation, there is often an assumption on the part of funding institutions and an expectation on the part of the audiences that they should “speak for” their particular community (CV 744).

In this case, other homosexual identities are neglected for one which, as aforementioned, that might cater better to heterosexual audiences. Brokeback Mountain does not “speak for” any gay person who does not behave in a way that is typically considered hypermasculine, i.e. fishing, tractor riding, gun wheeling men.

Writing about Brokeback, Film critic Roger Ebert counters this point, saying,

Strange but true: The more specific a film is, the more universal, because the more it understands individual characters, the more it applies to everyone. I can imagine someone weeping at this film, identifying with it, because he always wanted to stay in the Marines, or be an artist or a cabinetmaker (

Watching the scene in which Jack and Ennis are arguing over the brevity of their times at Brokeback, I was reminded of a past long distance relationship that I had and the heartache it entailed. I am sure that others viewing the film each identified with specific points as well.

Despite the pressure and impossibility to represent a whole group of people in a film, Ebert’s argument points to the commercial success of Brokeback. By underrepresenting part of the gay community, Ang Lee is able to have a wider audience empathize with the relationship between Jack and Ennis, thereby potentially supporting those not represented in the film.

Romanticism and it’s Function in Brokeback Mountain

While watching Brokeback Mountain there were two things that struck me. One was the film, initially, turning a pretty blatant blind eye to the time period in which the movie takes place, which does get corrected with a purpose later on.  The second is the amount of shots that were taken of the Wyoming landscape. As I watched the film, specifically as the two go back to Brokeback over the years, I saw how these two points are working in conjugation with each other to highlight the philosophies of Romanticism. Romanticism was a period of art during the 1800’s that focused on getting away from society and reverting back to beauty of nature in response to the industrial revolution. Writers and Poets like William Wordsworth, William Blake,  Henry David Thoreau (later on in the period), and the Hudson River School believed in the transitory and timeless qualities of nature that could allow human to reevaluate the status of their changing society. This philosophies, I would argue, seems to parallel the political message of this film. Keeping this in mind the my original question as to why the time period isn’t really noticed in the film, because Brokeback is an escape from the society and the time that doesn’t accept who their love. This is why we constantly see the long shots of the beautiful Wyoming landscape, nature, in the Romantic sense, is consider to be timeless.

Also, if at this point you don’t agree with this, I found this picture when you look up Brokeback Mountain . The painting being juxtaposed is by Alvan Fisher, a prominent Hudson River School painter.  http://


Violence and Invisibility in Brokeback Mountain

In the case study section of Understanding Film Theory, there is a quote about Brokeback Mountain (2005), in which the author states “I am unaware if a single review of Brokeback calling the leads what they are—a sad statement on the invisibility of bisexual experience and the level of biphobia in both the mainstream and gay media.” (196). This quote struck me as interesting when I first read it, and after watching almost all of Brokeback in class, it is easy to contextualize it. The idea of “invisibility” of the bisexual experience was interesting to me. Most obviously, Ennis’ resistance to seeing Jack anywhere but Brokeback points to the need for secrecy in order to have any kind of relationship.

Additionally, however, I thought the incorporation of the masculine identity spoke to the invisibility and taboo nature of two men engaging in a relationship. The use of violence as a signifier of masculinity was especially interesting. To me, this also points to how masculine and queer theory can be intertwined. During the Thanksgiving scene at Jack and Lureen’s house, after turning the TV back on to the football game, Lureen’s father asks Jack “don’t you want your boy to grow up to be a man?” The necessity for sports, especially a sport that lends itself to violence, as a qualification for being a man struck me as interesting. It was an easy way to categorize Lureen’s father as a stereotypical heterosexual man, and thus an antagonist to Jack’s alternative sexual preferences. At the conclusion of the scene, Jack is able to regain control of his house. The most telling part of their power dynamic came at the very end, when Jack took over carving the turkey from Lureen’s father.

Furthermore, the allusions to violence between Jack and Ennis were interesting. Whenever they were intimate, they each faced an inner struggle that externalized itself in near violent rages. Even when they hugged, both Jack and Ennis had a tight grip and their bodies became noticeably stiffer. This violent, animalistic nature juxtaposed against the fact that they were two men falling in love. The tenseness and anger trapped in their bodies points to the taboo nature of their relationship; they both know that what they are doing is not considered right by the hetero-normative society they live in. At one point this violence does boil over when Jack lassos Ennis; their ensuing playful wrestling ends with Ennis punching Jack. Thus, while the movie is not overtly brutal, the tenseness and hidden rage within Jack and Ennis points to a certain type of violence. This violence demonstrates the inner turmoil of the characters as they attempt to reconcile with the near invisibility of bisexuality in their world.

Is “Gaze” Applicable to Masculine Theory?

Last week, a major focus on feminist theory was the objectification of women in film through the three male gazes. While not all of feminist film theory focuses on “the gaze” or how to reverse it, a good portion of the scholars we read discussed the gaze. Not all scholars were as thorough about discussing the gaze as, say, Mulvey, but could not avoid mentioning it in some capacity. This points to the pervasiveness of the male gaze in film.

I found it interesting, then, that the male gaze was seldom discussed in the chapter on masculinity. Obviously the male gaze would take on a different persona. The camera’s male gaze, for instance, would not be as prominent, as the camera’s male gaze was predominately utilized to show fragmentations of women in order to objectify them. However, that still leaves two gazes: the male protagonist and audience

While the male protagonist gaze and audience gaze predominately deal with how a man will look and act around a woman, I believe they are applicable to masculine theory. In Steve Neale’s piece in chapter 10 of Understanding Film Theory, he writes that “in order to divert any homophobic or homoerotic feelings, the male body is defaced in some manner as a way of relieving the sexual tension. This can also apply to male friendships on screen.” This “defacement” of the male body occurs in order to distract from any voyeuristic pleasure on the part of the audience. To me, this implies a heterosexual male audience gaze. If the voyeuristic pleasure took into account a heterosexual female audience or homosexual male audience, then detracting from the voyeurism wouldn’t be necessary. Additionally, the need to undermine any sexual tension between male friendships because they run the risk of exuding homosexual tendencies implies a heterosexual male gaze.

The rest of the chapter discusses the changing definition of masculinity. However, it does not discuss whose “gaze” is considered in the shifting masculinity. Do men go from “beefcakes” to vulnerable to meterosexual for the sake of a male audience or female audience? Or both? It was interesting to me the absence of a more in-depth analysis of gaze that accompanied these shifts considering the prominence of gaze concerns about gaze in feminist film theory.

Reversing the Gaze

“In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female figure, which is styled accordingly. (UFT 155).

I would argue that Mamma Mia (2008) does not “return” the gaze, but reverses it by either directly objectifying men, or at least denying them the opportunity to command control of the passive female.

Until the wedding scene in which Donna (Meryl Streep) reluctantly agrees to marry Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Donna maintains power in her relationships with all of her former love interests, even demanding that they leave the hotel. It is only until Donna marries Sam that her position of power is altered- and even in that case Sam does not gain power, but their relationship becomes ‘even/neutral’.

Donna’s best friend, Tanya (Christine Baranski), similarly maintains control in her relationship with her admirer Pepper (Philip Michael). Tanya uses her overt sexuality to subject Pepper to her whims. Although she is an object of Pepper’s desire and therefore his “gaze”, Tanya commands ultimate control, denying his advances.

Rosie (Julie Walters), another of Donna’s best friends, is the active female in relation to a passive male, Bill (Stellan Skarsgard). Rosie’s “determining gaze” occurs in one of the final scenes of the film, where she pursues a reluctant Bill relentlessly until he finally returns her advances.

The relationships between men and women in this film reflect the authorship of an all female production team. With their influence, women in this film escape the gaze, allowing them to deflect it, control it, or use it to their own devices.