My conversation with Coyne, frontman of the Flaming Lips, starts at the 2:25 mark. Towards the end, host Jim Shearer forced a little debate between me and another writer where I had to defend Rolling Stone against Spin (which wasn’t hard), but that didn’t make it on the clip above.
Chris Crocker will always be a byproduct of Britney Spears. And it’s easy to hate him for that, as easy as it is to hate Paris Hilton, Perez Hilton and anyone on reality TV. In the new documentary Me at the Zoo, premiering tomorrow night on HBO, I got the sense that we’ve made very easy for Crocker to hate himself too.
First time filmmakers Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch put Crocker in front of camera one more time, but now the former pop culture punching bag gets treated more like the human he is: a victim of celebrity obsession, internet stardom, online bullying and public stigma. But beyond that, Me at the Zoo tells the story of a generation discovering itself with emerging technology and against a truly intolerant society.
The documentary explores the web’s transformation in the early 21st century, going fast from communication device to a method of non-stop self-expression and mass approval. Then, during MySpace’s early days, Chris’s catch phrases and outlandish dance routines made him a comedic force. The self-proclaimed transgender twink from Tennessee quickly gained a following as a true provocateur with Britney posters plastered all over his walls.
Not surprisingly, Chris’s take-me-or-leave-me personality and refusal to succumb to gender norms didn’t garner quite as many friends in real life Tennessee. He was homeschooled in high school and kept making videos with an angry — almost violent — demeanor as a way to fight back at all the prejudice he had experienced. His videos and his fixation with a young Britney Spears, society’s manufactured blonde pop perfection, gave him quick salvation.
Of course, all that changed once Britney became over burdened by her own fame, ironically giving Crocker a platform to experience his own taste of the fame monster. The “Leave Britney Alone” video became a pop culture staple almost over night, the first memorable viral clip to embed itself into the public arena largely in part to its timely appeal.
Chris’s defense of Britney’s performance at the VMA’s in 2007 would not have reached such wide-scale notoriety if it had not been authentic, raw, much like Chris’s previous videos. At that time, before Google decided to capitalize on YouTube with ads and partnerships, creating a viral sensation was more of an art than a science. And if anything Chris Crocker is a fascinating performance artist. And quite famous, too. But as Octomom has told us, there’s nothing worse than being famous and broke.
Me at the Zoo is not just a capsule of a lamentable era, how the internet fueled our celebrity-obsessed society train wreck. Directors Veatch and Moukarbel (Jake Shears’s husband) slowed down the fast-paced, information highway pastiche composed of media clips from YouTube, late night talk shows and Britney interviews with beautiful, sweeping imagery of the South with Chris Crocker as the out-of-place fairy — a platinum blond with a tank top tan, hooker boots and an iPhone — in the midst of it all.
During those moments, I learned things about Crocker I never knew before: his mother’s drug problems and her attraction to men who break chairs over her back, how his grandmother’s reliance on prostitution led to her untimely death, his great-grandmother, a hooker too.
Perhaps the most important thing I learned from watching Me at the Zoo was that Britney Spears is not the only tragic Southern mother in need of public care. Crocker was surprised he had been the first to make a video defending the pop star during her breakdown. For to Chris, defending moms with scars was the familiar thing to do.
The film also captures how genuinely funny Crocker really is in person. The thing is, Crocker does deserve his own reality show, but one that focuses around his chatty barbs with his grandmother (who knows how to cleverly shoot him back), instead of him prancing around Los Angeles like a agglomeration of every paparazzi-bait blonde who’s died well before her time.
I left The Zoo rooting for Chris Crocker to make an escape and become a ring leader of his own. Rooting for his unapologetic — almost defiant — way he never once stopped being himself even after all the death threats. Rooting for him being so conscientious of the world despite growing up in a town that can only be described as narrow-minded at best. A town still perhaps more sympathetic than the internet at large.
Crocker critics including his hometown church-goers, Fox News anchors and countless cyber bullies have commented on how he brought all this upon himself, by relentlessly posting intimate details of his life and provoking with wild gender fucks. But why can’t a teen make videos in his home, post them on the internet, be crazy, experiment with gender identify, have fun, dance, incite conversation, all that without fearing for his safety or that of his family? Our society should be one of communal support of our youth, as queer and crazy and downright self-obsessed as they may be, not one that loves to hate other people for opting to try and express themselves. To borrow one of Crocker’s early catch phrases, bitch please!
Gay men, who used to frighten the horses with flamboyant displays of sexual outlawry, gender treason and fabulousness, have supposedly dropped their insignia of tribal belonging and joined the mainstream. Gay men, it seems, have become indistinguishable from normal folk. Now, that’s progress for you!
Back in the Bad Old Days, or so the story goes, there was such a thing as an edgy, subversive gay male culture. But it was an artifact of homophobia.
All that foofy stuff looks irrelevant to modern gay men, who don’t see themselves as belonging to a separate culture, let alone such a queeny one. For today’s gay men, life is composed of PTA meetings, church socials and Nascar races.
The problem with such a claim — besides its denial of the Lady Gaga phenomenon — is that we’ve heard it for so many decades now that it can’t possibly be true. At least since the 1970s, gay men have been drawing invidious generational comparisons between gay boys in their teens and 20s — modern, liberated, enlightened, untouched by gay culture, “utterly indistinguishable from straight boys” and “completely calm about being gay” (as Andrew Holleran put it in his 1978 novel, ‘Dancer From the Dance’) — and older gay men, fanatically attached to an outdated gay culture and convinced that it is the only gay culture there is.
But let’s set aside whether the rumors of the death of gay culture are really true or greatly exaggerated. Why is it so important, particularly at this moment, that gay culture be pronounced, if not dead, then on its way out? Does the possibility of a distinct gay culture express the notion, now scandalous, that gay men might be different from other people? Does it challenge the myths of gay assimilation and gay ordinariness?
Yes, all of the above. Gay men who play by the rules of straight society and conventional masculinity, and who don’t aspire to belong to any other way of life, are more acceptable, to themselves and to others. The last obstacle to complete social integration is no longer gay sex or gay identity, but gay culture.
And yet gay culture is not just a superficial affectation. It is an expression of difference through style — a way of carving out space for an alternate way of life. And that means carving out space in opposition to straight society. Style itself represents a deviation from the ordinary. It has to stand out, or stand apart from the world as it is given, in order to qualify as style.
To understand gay male culture as defined by style is to alter our sense of its meaning. That is especially useful when it comes to all those gay male styles that reveal some connection with femininity. Such gender-deviant styles make some gay men nervous, not only because they impugn their virility, but also because they recall those hoary Victorian definitions of homosexuality as a congenital abnormality involving a pathological reversal of sex roles — a mental illness.
Instead of worrying that the feminine associations of diva worship, interior decorating or the performing arts may make gay male psychology look diseased, the real question we should ask about gay style is what its refusal of canonical masculinity achieves and what it enables its practitioners, straight or gay, to do.
Unless we figure out how to specify that meaning, we will never understand gay male culture. We will never understand why it still survives, or why so many people, straight and gay, are so overeager to declare its death. And we will never understand the most essential thing about it: how gay culture continues to perform a sly and profound critique of what passes for normal.
In April the NY Times ran a story questioning whether Judy Garland was still a gay icon:
I have this theory that because of the holocaust that was the AIDS epidemic and its annihilation of the previous generation of gay men, the faith of our fathers risks extinction. Today, Judyism, like Yiddish, is little more than a vague cultural memory.
Over at the Village Voice this week, Michael Musto had a converstation with an attractive, young gay actor (of course) who refuted the end of Judyism claim. Musto concluded that the gay generational gap is wider than ever! (Exclamation point his own), though Halperin would argue perhaps it’s just as wide as ever!
And now that I’m on the subject of gay generational divide… even earlier, director Bruce LaBruce and gentleman writer Brenden Shucart pissed on each other’s “Death and Rebirth of Gay Culture” arguments in Vice magazine and the Huffington Post respectively.
Gay culture is dead. I guess the idea of gay culture was always an oxymoron, but lately I find myself declaring to it more definitively, “You’re dead to me,” as you might say to a former lover. Now, the gay movement is a zombie movement. It vaguely looks like its former self, operating remotely like it used to, going through the motions. But there’s no real life to it, no purpose, beyond bland consumerism. The engine of the gay movement used to be an idea of adventurous and extreme sexuality. Gay culture itself was regarded by the status quo as something pornographic and sexually radical. Today, with the emergence of the gay conservatism, pornography appears to be the last bastion of sexual radicalism. That’s why I always express solidarity with gay pornographers. They’re the last glimmer of glamour in the gay movement.
If you think our people are broadly moving in the wrong direction, as I often do, you have a responsibility to not only get out in front of the crowd and tell them they’re going the wrong way, but to show them the right way to go. He could have used those column inches to tout any number of amazingqueer artists, gay historical figures, or places around the world where gay rights are imperiled. Instead he chose to talk about what he ate on his vacation and disparage homos who want to be parents.
It seems that since the 90s, when irony became the ideological Muzak permanently piped into the background of our culture, the youth of today have lost their bearings to such an extent that satirical writing has become almost indecipherable to them. Even though I went to great lengths in the column to indicate that I was merely launching a provocation, and I deliberately ended up obliquely comparing gay culture to luncheon meat (well, that part was pretty accurate), the HuffPo scribe took everything I said with painstaking seriousness. My advice to her, aside from avoiding writing for corporate publications that don’t pay, is to please choose your battles. That I have the temerity to critique gay culture, or even declare it dead, does not make me your enemy. Glee is your enemy.
You’ve basically told the generation of queer artists and activists who have come up behind you to give up and go home. (And since you stopped using “queer” in the ’90s, I’m sure you won’t mind if we wear it for a while).
BOY TOYS TALK BACK: Soooooooo do you think gay culture is dead?
A couple of months ago, Denys and I attended a launch party for Emily Morse‘s new book Hot Sex. Emily is also the star of the new reality show, Miss Advised, which premiered last night on Bravo. Emily’s book launch party was used as footage fodder in the pilot, and although the conversation I had with Denys about kinky heterosexual baby-making positions ended up mostly on the cutting room floor, we did get a quick line.
Oscar: I’ve never done that.
Denys: Her face just literally disappeared into his a******.
Little unknown fact: Denys was voted most likely to appear on reality TV back in high school. We are currently hoping to turn this star-making one-liner into a permanent hosting gig alongside Kelly Ripa.
BOY TOYS TALK BACK: If you could be on any reality TV show, which one would it be? Are you afraid it would be edited in a way that would tarnish your reputation?
GayCities is currently doing two huge, awesome, fun promotions in conjuction with Pride, and I want you guys to participate and get a bunch of cool prizes.
Do you live in San Francisco or plan to visit this June? We’ve selected 49 hotspots all over town that make us proud to live in the gay mecca. Some of my favorites made the list: El Rio, Public Works, Dolores Park, the GLBT History Museum, Good Vibrations, Four Barrel, and SF MOMA.
Check-in to any of these venues to unlock instant prizes like free drinks, dinner certificates, VIP passes to the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the De Young, tickets to Frameline film screenings, free cover at Trannyshack and other cool swag. One lucky winner will win a trip back to San Francisco! All you have to do is fire up your smart phone and check-in using the GayCities mobile app or connect your check-ins via Facebook or Foursquare.
For those of you living elsewhere but getting ready to take part in your hometown Pride, you can be our unofficial photographer by submitting your best pictures. Every Pride photo you submit gives you another chance to win a free trip anywhere in the country. Our friends at JetBlue are hooking us up with free airfare and Kimpton is dishing out a free hotel stay and dinner.
So this Pride season, thanks to GayCities, every mobile check-in and every photo taken during Pride can send you on a gay getaway, (almost) all expenses paid!