Why the Hollygarchy *hearts* gay marriage
Hollywood has become a closed set to anyone who is less than effusive about same-sex marriage.
On Wednesday last week, President Barack Obama finally came out of the closet. ‘Yes’, he confessed, ‘I support gay marriage’, or words to that effect. It was perhaps apt, then, that the following day, Obama attended a $40,000-a-plate Democratic fundraiser at the Hollywood home of film star George Clooney. Not because Clooney is gay (he goes out with loads of women), but because if there is one section of society leading the call to gay marital arms, it is America’s celebocracy, its Hollygarchy. For these actors, screenwriters and directors, ‘being pro-gay marriage’ has become the must-have moral status-symbol.
Earlier this year, for instance, Clooney himself, without so much as a tongue in cheek, likened the campaign for gay marriage to the civil-rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. ‘One day’, he told reporters, ‘the marriage-equality fight will look as archaic as George Wallace standing on the University of Alabama steps keeping James Hood from attending college because he was black’.
Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson is equally convinced of the moral and historical importance of gay marriage. If he could be president for 10 minutes and could pass one law, he told reporters recently, he would enact marriage equality. For Hollywood, you see, gay marriage is the cause of the hour, the issue to separate out the goodies from the baddies. In the words of Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, ‘Until the president publicly puts his wheels down on the side of full equality, he must be passionately engaged, confronted and protested for maintaining his prejudiced, hurtful public position’.
So when Obama did finally relent and come out in support of gay marriage, American luvviedom gushed its approval. Actor Alec Baldwin tweeted his sanction: ‘Obama gets it right on gay marriage. Bravo.’ Songstress Alicia Keys declared ‘It’s about time’, while chat-show host Ricki Lake was moved to philosophise: ‘Love is love. Thank you, Mr President Barack Obama.’ Lady Gaga reached similar heights of mind-bending profundity, declaring, ‘Feels like the future, and not the past’, no doubt while wearing something tight and sci-fi-tastic. Even the celeb other celebs love to hate, Kim ‘who she?’ Kardashian, spotted some space on the virtual stage to pose and pout: ‘Thank You, President Obama: no more living in the past.’
The reasons why being pro-gay marriage has become such a central part of Hollywood and celeb identity are clear enough. It is a chance for congenital show-offs to demonstrate their decency, to exhibit their moral rectitude. Like other recent celeb-led causes, be it rescuing refugees from Darfur (Mia Farrow) or battling the melting ice caps (Leonardo DiCaprio), for this weird social caste of TV and movie stars, supporting gay marriage has become a central cultural signifier of their ethical superiority. It is all about why they are better people than the rest of society.
To work as a marker of one’s rightness, of course, being pro-gay marriage requires the existence of the incorrect, people in the wrong, people who need to be converted. As a position, the value of being pro-gay marriage rests on the existence of infidels, heretics, those who aren’t all that keen on gay marriage.
30 Rock star Tracy Morgan discovered this to his cost when he strayed from the gay-loving script during a Nashville comedy gig last summer and did a skit in which he claimed he would shoot his son if he ever came out. Funny or not (and it does seem to be in the latter, Adam Sandler category), his showbiz friends were not amused. ‘The violent imagery of Tracy’s rant was disturbing to me at a time when homophobic hate crimes continue to be a life-threatening issue for the GLBT community’, said 30 Rock co-star Tina Fey. Comedian Chris Rock, a man not averse to rude routines, felt that it was necessary to respond to Tracy as if he’d issued a policy proposal rather than a crap joke: ‘That wasn’t called for and I don’t support it at all.’
Morgan clearly realised that he was at risk of doing a Mel Gibson and becoming a Hollywood pariah, so he quickly issued an apology: ‘While I am an equal opportunity jokester, and my friends know what is in my heart, even in a comedy club this clearly went too far and was not funny in any context.’ That wasn’t enough, however. He had to learn the Hollywood catechism and declare his support for gay marriage. And so he did: ‘I believe everyone deserves the right to be happy and marry who they want to; gay, white, black, male or female.’ Yet even this wasn’t sufficient to prove that he was ‘one of us’, so he promptly held a press conference in Nashville with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. ‘At this point in my life’, Morgan told the watching journalists, ‘it’s an opportunity to make a difference; I don’t really see gay or straight, I just see human beings.’
All of which sounds embarrassingly disingenuous. Yet so powerful is the consensus in Hollywood that being pro-gay marriage marks you out as ‘our sort of person’ that being a bit anti-gay looks like the showbiz equivalent of apostasy. Morgan had to recant, or risk being excommunicated.
But it was in its opposition to Proposition 8 that the celebrity Hollygarchy was truly able to fight the good fight against dumb and dumber Americans. Proposition 8 was an amendment to the California state constitution voted on during the November 2008 state elections. It said that ‘only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognised in California’. Members of the Hollygarchy were not happy. So, for about four years, prominent Hollywood figures such as Rob Reiner and Bruce Cohen led a campaign to have the California Supreme Court rule the amendment unconstitutional, and to hell with the voters - which is eventually what happened in February this year. For those unfamiliar with this tale of undemocratic derring-do, it has been made into a play, 8, starring, among others, Martin Sheen, George Clooney and Brad Pitt.
Yet while the eagerness of celebs to front up the cause of gay marriage, and do battle with the hicks and homophobes in their midst, can be ascribed at least in part to vanity, that they occupy this role as the vanguard of elite sentiment is not entirely their fault. As politicians, Obama included, struggle to find popular purchase, the professional popularity of people like Clooney has appeared as a solution, as a form of proxy legitimacy; it has been ripe for political exploitation. The effect is startling: professional success has been turned into something akin to political authority. Little wonder, then, that the celeb tweets and statements become missive-like statements, as if issued from on high, being repeated ad nauseam in the media.
It seems that if there is one thing worse than film stars in want of a cause, it is politicians in search of a point.
Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.