Monday, March 13, 2006

Devine Miss M Strikes Again - Again

UPDATE: The Devine Miss M responds (to an email drawing her attention to this posting):

Thanks Sam. nice read. But I think you have misinterpreted me.

Just because one high-fashion inner-urban gay audience hoots and laughs throughout the movie doesn't mean that is the entire gay take on Brokeback, obviously, as evidenced by my gay friend who loved it and all the other rave reviews.

You know, basically I was just reporting the tidbits I pick up about what people are talking about - and lots of people were talking about the reaction at the Academy Twin. As for the woman the next week - hers was one of about four impassioned emails I have received from the ditched wives of closet gays and I thought her message was a good one - don't pretend to be straight if you are gay because you'll hurt more people in the end.

I think if you had read the columns without knowing who the author was - i.e., without your bigot glasses on - you would have come to a very different conclusion about them. Being conservative doesn't mean being an evil bigot.


What do we think? I replied to this, pointing out that while the moral of "don't pretend to be straight if you are gay because you'll hurt more people in the end" is valid, it's often not so simple - indeed, this was the point of my post.

As I said, this about the standard I expect from Devine. But occasionally there are glimpses of sensitivity and open-mindedness in her that are certainly never evident in Albrechsten, Akerman, Henderson, Bolt etc.

Maybe I'm just getting soft in my old age.


(Following a lovely weekend down at Jervis Bay I seem to have returned with only one ear functional. I've had this problem before and I'm hoping I still have the prescribed antibiotics from the first time that will clear the blockage, but for now if you finding me barking "what? What?!" a lot, please be patient.)

For those of you outside the Sydney bio-dome, Miranda Devine is one of the Token Rights, along with Gerard Henderson, Paul Sheehan and Michael Duffy, that the Herald employs to maintain balance in its commentary. I've blogged about her before. She's not quite as offensive as Tell-Us-About-It Janet or (shudder) Angela Shanahan but she's definitely in the mould of female commentators quick to sell out the sisterhood in order to plug her neo-con agenda.

Usually I laugh her off with references to Picnic at Hanging Rock or Miranda Fair - the depth of my intellectual wit is bottomless - but I can't let this go by. Being the second criticism of Brokeback Mountain in as many weeks I can only assume it's a particularly large bainmarie of her journalistic experience, but it really does read like Miranda at her Blame the Victim worst.

If you can't be bothered to read the columns, the first one basically suggests that gay men are horribly misogynistic because a gay male friend of hers - I'd be fascinated to meet the self-respecting (??) gay man who actually admits to being a friend of Miranda Devine's - said that when he saw BBM at the Academy Twin in Paddo,

"in a gut-wrenching scene (where) the wife stumbles on her husband passionately kissing Jake Gyllenhaal's character and almost collapses...Her anguish provoked the most laughter in that Oxford Street audience, my friend says. "It was 'ha ha, sucked in' laughter, like 'gay men prevail'," says my friend, who was shocked by the callous attitude."

In her second column, Devine quotes at length from "a mother of five who lives in a NSW country town and remembers as if it were yesterday the day her husband told her he was gay" and who "respond(ed) to my column last week about the cynical hooting audience". This woman's story is particularly tragic and gut-wrenching and Miranda is quick to make an Aussie Battler Hero(ine) out of her, although ABH is a pretty good self-promoter of great sacrifice:

"It takes a lot of strength and hidden tears to help your children, firstly to deal with the devastation of trying to work out why Dad would not choose them and to help deal with the sadness, disbelief and hurt left in the wake of their Dad's 'new life'.

You deal with your own grief last, as all mothers do in a crisis."

I don't wish to sound unsympathetic to this woman's ordeal, or indeed venture into the victim-blaming zone against which I'm arguing. But it seems to me Miranda's column would be more productive analysing the reasons why men are forced to stay in the closet and go through the motions of marriage and bearing offspring, particularly in rural Australia. BBM, novella and film, do not for a moment condone the mistreatment of wives and any silly queens who allegedly laughed or cheered at those particular scenes do us a great disservice, but they don't speak for all gay men as Devine would seem to imply.

Likewise, closeted men are only too aware of the pain and grief caused to all family members involved if or when they ever do come out. But let's not forget what they're going through as gay men living outside the capital cities.

None of these choices or decisions are made lightly. Of course there are consequences and of course innocent people suffer. But contrary to what this woman, and Devine by association, might believe, the "gay movement" is not so open and it's still not always an easy thing to be openly gay. We've come a long way from the era in which Jack and Ennis first found love together, yes, but the high rate of rural male suicide and the harsh plight of rural queers are both indicative of how far we still have to go.

National Party MP Adrian Piccoli's words about a deceased gay male friend of his are equally gut-wrenching as Devine's ABH:

"(My friend) ultimately died of a broken heart - he died because he was sorry to be gay...I felt like a complete moron. In all these years of thinking that being gay was odd or unusual, in actual fact I was perpetuating prejudice that was killing young men - and which still kills young men...

And I haven't just killed him. I have killed many. Killed them at the end of a rope in the back shed or at the barrel of their father's gun or next to an empty bottle of grog..."

Perhaps I'm reading too much homophobia into Devine's columns. I certainly agree with her synopsis of BBM as "a movie that transcends gender and sexuality and shows that people, no matter who or how they love, have hearts that break in exactly the same way. And that's no bad thing to remember." In fact, it's this level of sensitivity evident in Devine's writing that occasionally shines through and makes me wonder if she even believes in half the right to far-right propaganda she espouses, or whether she's merely writing efficiently for a niche market and making lots of money in the process.

But these particular columns are misguided at best and unjust at worst. They trivialise key factors and mistakenly portray a one-sided victim. I rarely have high expectations of Miranda but even I would expect better of her.


At 13/3/06 4:32 pm, Blogger comicstriphero said...

Myself and a colleague, having seen the movie at different times, both noted a widespread level of laughing at the Michelle-Williams-busts-Heath-and-Jake-gettingiton scene.

It was also noted over at

I was by no means in a predominantly 'gay' audience so I figured people were just uncomfortable with the intensity of the scene.

But the look on Michelle Williams' face made me want to cry.

At 13/3/06 6:44 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spot on Sam! I was so fired up about Miranda's columns I nearly wrote a letter to the editor for the first time in my life. I didnt regrettably.

I note she accuses the film of misogyny without mentioning that the novel on which it was based was written by a woman and that the two person team who wrote the screenplay also included a woman!

I also agree with comicstriphero - when I saw the film at Bondi Junction Westfield ALL of the audience laughed/gasped at that scene including the straight couple we went with. It was laughter from embarassment and shock for the wife not laughter at her pain.

Miranda's "friend" is probably some self-loathing right-wing old queer. Did anyone see Alan Jones or David Flint in the audience at BBM a few weeks ago by any chance?? CW

At 13/3/06 9:55 pm, Blogger Gay Erasmus said...

I find Devine's seemingly casual claim that she has a gay friend who goes to watch movies in the Academy Twin extremely calculated and manipulative.

I'll never forget Devine's claim several years ago that gay rights had been achieved and that to insist on more would be just selfishness on the part of 'the gays'. Let no one be fooled into thinking that Devine is tolerant and accepting of GLBTI people!

The sad thing, of course, is that Devine canvases a potentially interesting topic -- misogyny -- without, as you point out, Sam, saying anything constructive about it. And I think she confuses 2 issues here: misogyny, which is indeed rampant in the GLBT community, and homophobia, which is rampant in society at large. Devine blurs the two when she conflates the misogynistic laughter of gay men watching a film representation of a sham marriage between closeted gay men and straight women and sham marriages of this sort in real life.

The laugher might be misogynistic, but can the same be said of gay husbands who take up marriage? Ultimately, it's up to the mother of 5 whose e-mail Devine quotes extensively to say what Devine herself won't: that sham marriages between closeted gay men and straight women are a terrible by-product, not simply of misogyny but of institutionalized homophobia.

At 14/3/06 9:35 am, Anonymous swatschy said...

She's a f*cking piece of work, and I think her email to you is both condascending and defensive. If she wants some evidence that she's a bigoted monster, a quick look over ANY op eds from the past two years will provide plenty. Except the ones where she bashes 4WD owners, which I agreed with.

By the way, I was one of the gays that laughed at that scene. I was laughing at how stupid the guys were being, not at michelle Williams, who I thought was the best thing about that movie.

I'd love to meet Miranda's self-loathing fag friends and tell them what wankers they are. F*cking gay Liberals.

At 14/3/06 9:56 am, Blogger Sam said...

Tell us what you really think, swatchy :P

I agree though with what everybody (except for Miranda) has said here, that laughing at that particular scene is in disbelief and pity for Ennis' wife, not laughing at her. I probably should have argued this more clearly in my post.

At 14/3/06 1:52 pm, Blogger M-H said...

Hmm. At the showing I went to (Palace Norton St) there was a collective intake of breath at that scene, followed by a kind of groan. A friend who saw it at the Dendy in Newtown reported laughter, which upset her.I'm not sure what it means.

But I get quite scared when I (very occasionally) realise that I've agreed with anything the Divine Ms M says.

At 14/3/06 2:53 pm, Anonymous Bazza said...

The Devine Ms M is a columnist, she say to herself " Oh! deadline time for my piece, whats contentious and emotive at the moment I can flog". The woman "Abandoned" by her gay husband, when and why did she email Devine? How old are these five kids, where are her extended family, what support has she been given where does she live
(rural or urban).
The whole thing is just a sloppy right wing columnist, pushing her own agenda (on hearsay)and not interested in making a more objective analysis to her "story".

At 14/3/06 5:44 pm, Anonymous Bazza said...

BTW. Is the Devine Ms. M the sister of Frank Devine of The Australian? Just asking!

At 14/3/06 6:19 pm, Blogger Sam said...

His daughter, Bazza.

At 14/3/06 7:36 pm, Blogger JahTeh said...

Would that woman have been just as tragic if the husband had left her for another woman? She has decided to be a victim instead of trying to understand what has been her husband's life.

She doesn't know gays that well, 'bigot glasses' never. Bigot contact lens, yes.

At 14/3/06 9:40 pm, Anonymous cameron said...

How nice of Miranda to remember that 'just because one high-fashion inner-urban gay audience hoots and laughs throughout the movie doesn't mean that is the entire gay take on Brokeback' — pity she conveniently forgot to put that sentiment into her article. Interestingly, I went to see the film for the second time tonight, this time in Wollongong, and I can report that at least half of the entirely straight audience laughed during the same scene.

Still, I don't understand why Miranda would assume anyone would come to a different conclusion if they hadn't known who the author was. A little too akin to saying "Wow, I thought that article on exterminating the Jews was totally reasonable until I realised it was written by Hitler." Sorry Miranda, I don't think you're quite the iconoclast you may believe yourself to be. And aren't you a bit too rabidly anti-postmodernism to be getting all Death of the Author on us?

A fickle lot, these right wingers.

At 15/3/06 10:29 am, Blogger comicstriphero said...

Don't you love it when straight people tell you all about the damage that homphobia can do?

Why thanks! I had no idea!

At 18/3/06 2:25 pm, Blogger John said...

"don't pretend to be straight if you are gay because you'll hurt more people in the end" ... ??

If it weren't for homophobic heterosexuals, there'd be no need to hide your sexuality.

This sounds like the classic blame-the-victim-but-ignore-the-larger-social-problem scenarios.

It's up to Miranda and other heterosexuals to acknowledge the cage in which they imprison so many gay people, but which ultimately hurts us all in the end.

At 18/3/06 2:29 pm, Blogger John said...

comicstriphero said...

"Don't you love it when straight people tell you all about the damage that homphobia can do?"

Yes, but I don't love it when they proceed to use it against us.

For example, Bill Meuhlenberg saying that gay couples shouldn't have kids because the kids will get bullied by their homophobic schoolmates.


At 19/10/06 1:17 am, Blogger John said...

I thought you'd like this quote:

"The left-wing equivalent of Miranda Devine would have been a bisexual revolutionary socialist advocating free ecstacy on Medicare..."

-Guy Rundle, referring to the late 1990s in Australia.

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