Proliferations of the Closet in the Culture War Over Brokeback Mountain
In Epistemology of the Closet Eve Sedgwick describes the image of the closet as “the defining structure for gay oppression” since the beginning of the twentieth century. Hence, it is not surprising that what some critics have called “the culture war over Brokeback Mountain” swirls around two interrelated questions, both of which are grounded in the structural dynamics of the closet: Is this a gay film/gay love story? Are these gay cowboys? In her theorization of the closet Sedgwick delineates a collection of constituting and constituted binarisms, which she identifies as the most essential sites of contested meaning in the twentieth century. According to Sedgwick, all of these binarisms are permanently marked by the instability of homosexual/heterosexual definition. Focusing on several of the most important binarisms identified in Sedgwick’s theorization of the closet (knowledge/ignorance, public/private, secrecy/disclosure, cognition/paranoia, and natural/unnatural), this paper analyzes the proliferation of closets in and around Brokeback Mountain. In addition to examining the structuring dynamics of the closet within Ang Lee’s film, the analysis addresses the proliferating closets created by film reviewers and Universal Pictures’ marketing strategies.
Keywords: Masculinity, Homosexual Closet, Brokeback Mountain, Queer Studies
Dr. Tammis Thomas
Associate Professor of English, Department of English, University of Houston-Downntown