From the Closet to the Corral:
Neo-stereotyping in In & Out
Shirley R. Steinberg
Weekly manicures, style consciousness, limp wrists, Judy Garland albums, Rogers and Hammerstein overtures, neatness, swishing, and a love of poetry do a queer make. As we end a century of filmmaking, Hollywood writers create signifiers that define queerness to viewers. These signifiers serve to create and reinscribe a pedagogy that includes stereotyping, homophobia, and the desexualization of homosexuality. When viewers use critical media literacy they become informed and are able to discriminate between films that serve to liberate queerness as opposed to those films that reinscribe heterosexism. As we incorporate a pedagogical look at the curriculum that cinema presents, disturbing patterns emerge in films that appear to be queer friendly on the first read.
Gay filmmaker Paul Rudnick (Jeffrey, In & Out, Addams Family Values), for example, is keenly aware that he is writing scripts for a public that is traditionally homophobic. His intent is to introduce mainstream audiences to gayness as an alternative lifestyle that in no way can harm their comfortable, heterosexual lives—to make gayness palatable and “not so bad.” Using his own gayness as capital, Rudnick's film In & Out claims a legitimacy and self-consciousness that is intended to disarm even the most disapproving viewer. Instead of declaring “We're here, we're queer, get over it, ” as Rudnick did more comfortably in Jeffrey, the script quietly whispers the message: “We're here, we're queer, and we are endearing enough to overlook our one flaw—we're queer.” I contend that many films designed to soften the blow (pun intended) of homosexuality serve to recover homophobic stereotypes and actually harm Hollywood attempts to normalize queerness and create tolerance. Rudnick's intent, while noble, turns into more fodder that straight viewers must sludge through in order