I’m stretched out in my easy chair getting ready to watch the Oscars this evening, when this horrid ‘news’ profile about Brokeback Mountain and middle America comes on. I found it offensive: they seem to have sought out the most narrow-minded representatives of this part of the country—your stereotypical Christian bigot, a clutch of white-haired geezers—who hadn’t seen the movie, who rejected it out of hand, who claimed Hollywood didn’t understand farmers, who thought a good movie was that treacly crap, The Sound of Music. If there is anyone who doesn’t understand this part of the world, it’s the patronizing yahoos at CNN who went out of their way to find people who fit their stereotypes.
I live in the rural midwest, in a town that sounds a bit like Lebanon, Kansas: one theater with one screen, a thin and graying population of farmers, most of us without a lot of money; we aren’t quite as dried up and dead, though. Middle America does contain liberals and college professors and people who think and are willing to see a movie before passing judgement on it. All of the movies nominated for best picture were shown here in town, except for Munich (I’m hoping it comes soon.) I’ve seen Syriana, Crash, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck (which is playing here right now), and Brokeback Mountain. In fact, Brokeback Mountain had the biggest crowd I’ve seen for any movie here—it was wonderfully well-received, and it wasn’t just the university clique attending.
I went in to Brokeback Mountain with some reservations. I wasn’t at all bothered by the gay themes, but I expected just a mushy love story, a kind of chick-flick with no leading lady. What surprised me, though, is that contra the uninformed opinion on that CNN spot, the movie did a fine job of capturing that hard ranch life.
When I was a young fellow, I would regularly visit my rancher aunt and uncle and my cousins in Eastern Washington state. When I saw Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist in the opening scenes, what struck me is how accurately they portrayed that life: the patience, the general competence, that laconic drawl, the lean dry leathery look (I admit, I always felt a bit damp and squidgy when I visited). I thought the movie did a first-rate job of respectfully portraying that difficult life, where people compensate for poverty with a stolid work ethic and proud independence. There are also lazy and destructive and dishonest and bigoted people in these communities, of course, but the movie was almost wholly sympathetic to the working people of small town America.
I do wish these news people would realize that the middle of America isn’t populated exclusively with hicks and fundamentalists. I am out here, I’m about as far from that cliche as you can get, and I’m not alone.
(And yeah, I’m hoping Brokeback Mountain wins best picture—it’s the best of the ones I’ve seen. It was an affecting tragedy, beautiful to watch.)