Monday, July 17, 2006
I Guess Gay Doesn't Mean Happy
The incredibly tedious Opening Ceremonies to this year's Gay Games should serve as a stern warning about the terrible price of mainstreaming. For four excruciating hours on Saturday evening, my butt sweated on a hard plastic chair in Soldier Field in 90-plus degree heat as I watched what can only be described as the most miserable high school assembly I have ever had to attend. And the worst part is, I actually paid to be there.
Not so much money as the participants, who should be howling that the best part of the show happened long after they left the stadium, which they had to do if they were competing in the next day's 6am triathalon. Not so much as the suckers who coughed up 100 or 150 bucks a seat. I bought my tickets Friday afternoon, shelling out 35 per plus handling fees for two mediocre seats above the timber line of the stadium. That night, I watched in horror as fistfuls of free tickets were given away at the bars in my neighborhood, apparently because saner people than I had just said no to the 35-dollar base ticket price.
I should have known this was a bad sign, but I consoled myself with having donated money to a "good" cause. And drank another double pint of Harp.
Next day, with enough free tickets in our hands to gain separate entrance for each one of all our various limbs, should we choose to play twister among the stadium seats, my friends and I climbed the ramps to the top of Soldier Field. At 8pm, the start of the festivities, the seats were still fairly empty, though that changed in the next hour to about half full.
The sun was sinking behind the Greek pillars at the top of the old part of the stadium, and it was a beautiful, if sultry, evening. I admit I had my fears when I looked at the organization of the program: five parts to the ceremonies, each with its own theme. First, a "Prologue," with speeches of welcome and the procession of athletes from all over the world. Megan Mullally was supposed to say something.
Second, "Exclusion" would feature a dance of some kind, Kate Clinton, a song by Andy Bell of Erasure, and four legends of women's music--Holly Near, Barbara Higbie, Nedra Johnson, and Teresa Trull. Hmmm. A little slow, but I guess there has to be some solemnity, right?
Then I saw that the third part of the program was called "Oppression."
Oh, no, I thought. This is going to suck.
"Oppression" looked like it would go on forever. Scheduled were speeches by James Hormel, and George Takei, another Andy Bell song, a tribute to Tom Waddell, an award in his name, more speeches, a Jody Watley song,a "rainbow run" against HIV and cancer, and something with the AIDS quilt.
Then would come "Expression." This would feature more dancing, a song by Heather Small, a song by Andy Bell, some marching bands, and Margaret Cho. Are you counting? Are we done yet? Hey, Margaret Cho will be there! How bad could it be?
Oh, then there would be "Ignition" and the lighting of the torch. Cool! I love giant torches!
So the program starts. The athletes march in, and it's really nice to see so many people from so far away. China, for instance. A huge bunch from The Netherlands. Bulgaria. One lone guy from Uganda with a handwritten sign who got a huge ovation. More people from California than from all the other countries combined. Until Chicago showed up. Twenty-one hundred people from Chicago.
The lights go off and all the athletes are holding variously-colored glowsticks, to form a giant rainbow flag on the filed. Cool! How did they get the bands of color so nicely organized? You can see a fuzzy approximation of the colors in the tiny picture above that I took with my cell phone.
Megan Mullally was in a hot little black and white dress and spike heels so high she looked like she was on point. Her voice was rich and warm, and she was relaxed as she slammed the Rupublicans for the politics of exclusion. She was great. We loved her.
Unfortunately, things went downhill from there. I'll summarize by saying we sat though interminable sad and angry speeches. Even Kate Clinton wasn't funny--she just spoke very slowly about how hard it had been to be a female athlete when she was young. OK Kate, but can you tell a story? You were a high school English teacher once, for crying out loud! Can ya give us an illustrative example? It's 92 degrees out here and the only thing to drink is Miller and Bud Light! Pleeeese!
At some point an actor read a gay boy's suicide note. An angry woman raged about the Bush administration. Someone started a speech and I heard, faintly, a man's voice in the stands screaming "We Know!"
Unfortunately, nobody heard him, and the speeches droned on. Andy Bell kept appearing with listless disco anthems. Everyone was wilting. The four women's music ladies belted out an extremely depressing a capella "We are a gentle angry people, and we are singing, singing for our lives," putting the "eee!" in "cliche."
The dance numbers were, well, odd. They featured people in strangely caped costumes and one lone guy in a t-shirt that looked like an International Male take on the wifebeater, and this guy kept flexing his arms beseechingly at the heavens. Maybe he was imploring the Goddess to end it all with a hailstorm. At one point Greg Louganis gave out an award, but I couldn't hear anything because my head had melted and collapsed like a candle.
"Good luck with this," some cute boys said, gesturing at the field as they left the row next to us. By the time the gay marching bands, drill teams, and flag twirlers came on, it was past 11pm, and lots of people had fled the stadium in disgust. The bands were great but my ass was permanently stuck to my seat, and a thin plastic veil of heat grime covered my face and neck. How had we fallen so far? Where was the irony? Where were the drag queens, for heaven's sake? Gays were the people responsible for the best entertainment and cultural production of the twentieth century, and THIS was the best we could do?
The whole thing reminded me of that dreadful queer tv show from the early 90s, the one that took itself so seriously and tried so hard to be politically meaningful and socially non-offensive that it was unwatchable. What was it called? Ugh.
The marching band was terrific. Where had they been for these long three hours? Just as they began making formations, a streaker ran across the field. Everyone perked up immediately.
The streaker surrendered quietly to security guards at the other end of the field, and I blessed him in my heart for having remembered how to be entertaining.
Margaret Cho commented on the streaker, noting that when she saw his balls whizzing by her face, she knew she was at the Gay Games. Everyone laughed, probably because that was the first they had heard of it. Gay? Up until then, a Promise Keepers rally would have been more exciting.
A cool acrobatic troup in tighty whities rolled hamster wheels around the stadium, then somebody lit the torch, and eventually some real pretty fireworks went off, but by then everyone was cross. The worst moment was being one of five people left in the entire stadium to applaud the last song, a terrific number by the Gay Games Mixed Chorus, who sat there all night in long-sleeved white clothing only to have ABSOLUTELY NOBODY left to hear them perform.
Which brings me to my question.
Why does every gay event have to look like every other gay event? Is an athletic event the same as a Pride March which is like a protest which becomes Take Back the Night?
Why Exclusion AND Oppression? Is it worth being pious if you make everyone so angry and bored that they associate politics with torture? Should people pay to be tortured like this?
Okay, those are lots of questions. But seriously. The "real" Olympics pays tribute to the courage of athletes without making us watch two hours of clips about Bosnia and footage of the Olympic hostages. The "real" Olympics has a sense of the balance between respect and celebration, politics and triumph, tragedy and hope. Where were the gay and lesbian athletes that felt not only the agony of defeat, but the thrill of victory? Billie, Martina, Greg, Brian?
Most important of all, where were the drag queens? Drag emcees? Baton twirlers? tumblers? Female impersonators?
Even Janet Jackson flashed some booby at the Superbowl.