Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A loosely tied string of not-too-Christmasy thoughts

I will probably delete this particular post at some point in the future, as I fear several portions of it may be incriminating in various ways, but for now, I've got nothing else, so here goes.

I'm feeling in a funk this week that I can attribute to a few possible sources (or a combination thereof). I don't want to be the stereotypical spinster singleton who gets all depressed because it's Christmastime and she's alone with her cat (I don't even have a cat, and I actually think Christmas is one of the better times of the year to be alone... no squabbling with each other's families about where to go when; I just do my own thing and have only my own family to contend with...). Regardless, between the damn office holiday party that I complained about for weeks and the ruthless diamond shilling commercials on the radio (reminding me that no one's feeling suckered into buying me something very special in a burgundy box), I'm really not in a particularly warm and festive mood.

An office holiday party is a pretty simple event that really shouldn't shift my emotional state in any way, but to explain why it did would mean explaining things I really don't want to go into here, like my lingering feelings about a relationship that I fear I'll never fully get over and my ambivalence about staying at the same company since college, when nearly everyone else I know has moved on to something new at least three or four times in that same span of years.

On Saturday night, however, I tried to put all of that aside and just focus on getting through a few uneventful hours of small talk with my co-workers. This was made more difficult, unfortunately, by the fact that I unintentionally seated myself at what was apparently the Young Republicans table.

I don't talk politics with my co-workers very often. There's the occasional banter between my boss and me prior to any major election, and my desk neighbor (Churchy McBushfan) and I have been known to find ourselves in a friendly debate from time to time, but other than that, I don't pipe up too much at work. So I was caught a little off guard when a co-worker with whom I have never discussed politics asked if he could sit across from me, and then proceeded to direct his wife to sit on his opposite side, so as not to engage in conversation with me. Apparently I might, in his words, "Try to fill her head with [my] liberal ideas."

I repeat: I have never discussed politics with this person. I have never forwarded him an email message from NARAL or the Sierra Club. I have never passed along a "W. is a moron" link of any sort. But I do have one of these on my rear car window, so it's not like I have no idea where he got his opinion of me.

Politics is not a particularly popular or suitable conversation topic for a company holiday party, so really all of this should have been a non-issue. Movies should be a safe topic, right? Er, yeah...

First someone brought up Narnia. Conversation immediately turned to the books and to the religious story behind the story. I had nothing to add, having not seen the movie and not read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe since grade school, so I held my tongue. Then I decided to have a little fun. Just to rile him up a bit, I asked Churchy McBushfan if he's planning to see Brokeback Mountain. I thought surely he would know about "the gay cowboy movie" everyone's talking about, but surprisingly, he wasn't familiar with it. The wife who was not allowed to sit by me explained: "It's about these two guys who get married and have normal lives, except once a year, they go off into the mountains together on these secret fishing trips..."

The air quotes around "fishing trips" made no secret of her opinion. It's a reaction I was expecting, and therefore my own fault for bringing it up, so I'm really not complaining about this. What did surprise me, however, was what came next.

Also at our table was the cute, young, hip co-worker who's mildly ditzy but nothing but sweet. I know this particular young woman is fairly religious, but given her age, I somehow assumed she might be a bit more open minded about certain things that I know Mr. McBushfan is not. Clearly I was mistaken.

Upon hearing the description of Brokeback Mountain, this young woman said, "Ugh. I walked out of Rent, so I know I couldn't sit through that one."

Now, I had mixed feelings about Rent myself. I loved the musical, so I wanted to love the movie, but, like many other people* who've written about their reactions to it, I sort of feel I've outgrown Rent's impact. I loved that they used almost all of the original cast members, since those are the people who worked directly with Jonathan Larson and who made that show what it was. But those actors are all my age or older now. They've outgrown the story as well (or, I hope they have). At 23, being a broke, brooding artist in New York without a proper job or home makes you romantic and charming and adventurous. At 32, it makes you a loser. I don't want to think of Roger or Mark as losers. I want to remember them as interesting guys who were braver than I, not afraid to forgo the traditional "college to job to contributing member of society" plan in favor of chasing their dreams. But now? Now I have to agree that "You know you're old when you suddenly realize that Benny has some valid points."**

I also had mixed feeling about the musical to movie transition. As a general rule (films like The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz being exceptions, of course), I'm not a big fan of the musical on screen. Somehow, in live performances, I can handle the absurdity of characters going from straight dialogue to suddenly breaking into song. On film, for some reason, I have a significantly harder time with suspension of disbelief. It's the reason I can't get behind West Side Story, no matter how legendary that film's supposed to be. In Rent, this problem was even more pronounced, because they kept a lot of the original dialogue, which, on stage, was sung. Not set to music, however, poor Taye Diggs was speaking in rhyme, which was just awkward and absurd.

But I digress. None of these were the reason my young co-worker walked out of Rent. The reason she walked out? In her words, she "just can't stand to see two guys kissing or making out."

People who know me know that I'm not often rendered speechless, but at that comment, I really had no idea what to say. It wasn't even that I was holding my tongue, trying to keep from chastising her intolerance or starting a debate in the middle of what was supposed to be an innocent and uncontroversial social event. No, at that point, I was honestly just trying to think of what in the movie Rent would be so objectionable as to make a young, modern woman living in a major metropolitan area walk out. Yes, of course there are gay characters in the movie, but the physical contact between them is actually pretty minimal. I can think of only one scene where Collins and Angel kiss, and at that point, Angel is in drag and could almost pass for a woman anyway. But regardless, I still can't get past that comment. She walked out because she can't stand to see two guys kissing. Is it really still OK, in 2005, to feel that and to say it out loud?

Obviously it is, in far too many circles. And I'm probably being too hard on her, as I'm certainly not advocating a mandatory censorship of all thoughts and comments that don't match politically correct or popular points of view. Everyone is entitled to her own opinion, however misguided I think it may be, right? So I don't really know why this bothers me so much. But what I keep thinking, ever since Saturday night, is that I hope in my lifetime that particular comment will become unquestionably unacceptable. I hope that one day it will be just as universally inappropriate as saying "I just can't stand to see those black people walking around free" or "I just can't handle women thinking they have some right to vote."

I guess I live most of my life surrounded by the safe cushion of my liberal, open-minded friends, and I forget that we're not quite there yet.

Happy holidays.


* I didn't want to link right to this in the paragraph above, as this post is scattered enough as it is and I didn't want to disrupt the flow even further, but here are two posts that do a good job, I think, of explaining some of the reasons those of us who loved Rent nine years ago have a bit of a problem loving the movie version now.

**This comes from Red's post, here. (Plagiarism is surely not my intent.)


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