I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gay Ex Machina

Deus ex machina is a literary term which refers to a story that cannot be resolved without external influence. Literally translated, it means "god out of the machine." For the Ancient Greeks during the golden age of drama, deus ex machina meant that a god was wheeled onto stage using a precursor to the modern crane.

In the '90s and the early '00s, it was common to encounter what I call celebrity ex machina. If you've ever seen I Heart Huckabees (2004), Zombieland (2009), Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle (2004) or Mallrats (1995), you might know what I'm talking about. A particular favorite of mine is when actor Will Smith appears to Ben Affleck's character in Jersey Girl (2004) to give us a new take on the Fresh Prince lyric, "Parents just don't understand."

While we can still see celebrity ex machina popping up here and there, I see a new variation on this theme gaining strength. I call this gay ex machina. Let's take the 2009 film He's Just Not That Into You as an example. Conor (Kevin Connolly), despite the title of the film, is clearly into Anna (Scarlett Johannson), but he's incapable of seeing that he's been friendzoned until a pair of gay men divinely educate him on the subtle art of eye contact. Similarly, it's made very clear that Drew Barrymore's character Mary is incapable of making any life decision without the consultation of her gay entourage of co-workers.

Why have gay people become humanity's cinematic guiding light? The answer should be clear. Your ordinary average film is going to center around the romantic relationship between a heterosexual male and a heterosexual female. They become so bogged down in their desire for one another that they can no longer move forward. It takes individuals on the outside to bring order to the chaos of heterosexual feelings, and this is where gay people come in. Gay-straight is thus emerging as a more important paradigm than celebrity-ordinary or immortal-mortal.

What are the implications of this cinematic move? Gay populations, though marginalized and seen as the most significant "other" to the norm, are now understood as valuable to every human life. Though this reduces gay people to relationship aids and plot aids, this paradigm shift remains significant. Perhaps this is hope speaking, perhaps it's an honest-to-God prophecy, but I think that this trend signifies a strong possibility that equal rights are forthcoming for people of all sexual preferences.

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