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I think that instead of having the typical angel-and-devil duo on our shoulders to represent conscience and temptation, we would benefit more by having a burlesque Constance Towers offer moral guidance.  Added bonus:  her feather boa doubles as a cottony ear swab.

After college, I worked for a year as an intern at the Washington Blade, in Washington, D.C., but I just wasn’t much of a journalist.  I certainly didn’t have the gumption to get myself committed to a mental institution as Johnny Barrett does in Shock Corridor.  And if I were attacked by a group of female nymphomaniacs… let’s just say that the Internet makes it seem much more pleasant than Samuel Fuller does.

The Blade, sadly, no longer exists, having fallen recently in the great gay print journalism implosion of 2009.  The parent company of the Blade, Windows Media, also folded five other regional publications.  The mighty news magazine, The Advocate, became an insert in Out, which, for all its strengths, is more a lifestyle magazine — it features, after all, a “nipple count” for each issue.  News you can use, people.

Couple this with the closing of gay bookstores around the country, and it almost seems to augur the end of “gay” as a discrete community, if, indeed, it ever was one.  But consider that this is happening to African-American magazines.  And when was the last time you remember seeing a feminist bookstore — or better yet — bought something from a feminist bookstore?  These are still businesses, and businesses collapse all the time.  The failure of a business doesn’t necessarily equal the failure of a community.  (Though if a community fails to support its businesses, bemoaning it during the liquidation sale is somewhat short-sighted.)

So no last rites for gay journalism just yet.  The Philadelphia Gay News seems to be going strong, and back in Denver, Outfront Colorado still pumps off the presses regularly.  While I was an intern for the Blade, one of my jobs was to read through gay newspapers from around the country and photocopy interesting stories for the managing editor.  The gay newspapers had a sharing mechanism; if the Blade saw a story from, say, an Atlanta paper that they wanted to publish, they’d call up the editor and pay a licensing fee.

One of my stories, for instance, was re-published in the Houston Voice (obviously, this was long before Windows Media owned both the Voice and the Blade).  I had followed the members of the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians in the annual Roe vs. Wade protest march.  It was like finding a nest of ivory-billed woodpeckers.  During the march, a pro-life (or anti-choice — pick your preferred terminology) woman looked at the group’s sign, rainbows and pink triangles and all, and said, seemingly without irony, “You should have been aborted.”

“Do you get a lot of that?” I asked the group’s leader.

“Yes,” the leader said.  “But it’s usually more vitriolic when it’s the gays criticizing us.”

There’s a famous character in Shock Corridor, an African-American patient who believes himself to be a white supremacist.  His identity can’t hold up against the double whammy of a violently racist society at large and the black community’s expectations of him.  I wonder how pro-life gays handle being minorities several times over.

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One of the reasons I like watching movies with Matthew at home is that he’s one of the few people I know who reacts viscerally to what he watches.  Case-in-point:  at certain moments during The Silence of the Lambs, Matthew spoke directly to the screen.  “Don’t go in there!  Look behind you!”  At other times, he turned to me with a murderous look in his eyes:  I can’t believe you’re making me watch this.

But this is also the guy who talks back to voice mails, so I’m not sure what to make of that.

The person who first alerted me to Silence of the Lambs was my sister, who saw it on the big screen when it came out.  “How was it?” I asked.

“Great!” she said.  “The best part is where she’s stumbling around in the dark while the killer watches her through night vision goggles.  You can see her gun shaking and everything!”

My sister has never held back the ending of a movie just in case I wanted to see it myself.

After Silence of the Lambs won the Academy Award for Best Picture, that meant it was perfectly acceptable for me to watch it.  For goodness’ sake, my parents made me sit through Gandhi and Out of Africa, so Silence of the Lambs was, in a sense, a reward.  And even though I knew that scene was coming, and even though I had steeled myself for it, I remember still freaking out uncontrollably.  Only silently, to myself.

The reason the scene is so effective, I think, is because of how it plays on horror movie tropes.  Everyone’s familiar with the “killer cam” — scenes filmed from the killer’s point of view, ogling nubile teens from the bushes or peering into dusty windows.  (Carol Clover points out how those shots are the moments when the audience identifies with the male tormentor.)  It’s become such a cliché that you have to wonder if it’s even effective as a technique anymore.  It’s dramatic irony on the cheap.

But in Jonathan Demme’s hands, an overused movie trope becomes potent once again.  When Buffalo Bill turns on his green seeing-eye glasses, and the audience sees Clarice Starling stumbling in the dark (yes, her gun shakes), Demme taps into the deep well of feeling the audience has built up for Starling, the soundtrack silent except for her panicked breaths.  Everyone, I imagine, has had a moment when they’ve been disoriented by darkness — crawling, perhaps, on their hands and knees, discovering solid walls where before there had been none, knocking their shins on sharp corners.  In that scenes, our own memories of getting lost in the pitch black fire the synapses, and we’re all tense, straining for a stray sound, a whisper of light, and we’re all a girl with a gun, trembling in the dark.  Matthew’s the only one with the sense to yell out, “Shoot your gun!  Shoot him!”

Tonight, I read from my work-in-progress, a novel, as part of the University of Delaware English Department Reader’s Series, which is a bit of a cheat, since I’ve taught at the University of Delaware for nearly four years now.  It’s a cheat that goes both ways, however, since this reading counts as my requirement for a “public exhibition” of my work for my Delaware Division of the Arts Grant, on top of a modest honorarium.  A cross-promotional free-for-all.

None of my students showed up, not even the students in my fiction workshop, which was somewhat of a letdown.  I remember, as an undergrad at Johns Hopkins, attending at least one or two graduate student readings, and Johns  Hopkins was pretty well known for its Writing Seminar graduate program.  One male grad student read a story about surfing, with intimate details of board care with accompanying hand gestures, like Mr. Miyagi, if he had lived in Venice Beach.  The grad student looked like a surfer too:  sandy-blond hair, walnut-brown tan, even if his body shape struck me as slightly more plump than a surfer should be.  But I still have yet to read (or hear) a surfing-related story that has made me want to take up the sport, or even to take an interest in it beyond looking at trim boys in wetsuits.

Actually, that’s probably sufficient.

In any case, The Lady Vanishes proves to be relevant to my reading.  The main character of the section I read was British; and the characters in the film are quintessential British types.  My main character is gay; and if the two cricket-obsessed, comic relief bachelors, Caldicott and Charters, are not gay, then they’re at least proto-gay.  Or ultra-British, which is essentially equivalent to gay.  For heaven’s sake, they slept in the same bed together, Charters wearing only a pajama top, Caldicott wearing only pajama bottoms.

Hitchcock finds the good balance in The Lady Vanishes, with the first third of the film playing It Happened One Night-style slapstick (but with a strangling), and the rest of the film bringing the suspense (where is that little old lady?) and the thrills (shoot-out!).  After my reading, one attendee mentioned my (brief) use of humor in my piece.  Sure, I told her, I had to.   Otherwise things would get too dire and readers would slash their wrists.

But, overall, finding this balance still befuddles me.  Mass death and destruction don’t really lend themselves to the lulz.  But I think I may have discovered my solution.  I introduce a surfing scene.  Never mind that the novel takes place in northwestern India in a salt marsh.  They get typhoons, they get waves.  Someone lovingly strokes and waxes his board.  Salt water imagery, seagulls, kelp, the end.

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