American Cinema and the Compulsion to Breed

I've been noticing lately how rampantly contemporary American cinema reinforces the "norm" of heterosexuality. So many of the films I've watched recently have incorporated into their plots some kind of inane romance, affair, or love story involving heterosexual couples. This was never as unfortunate as it was in the recent Land of the Dead, where, among the walking corpses, two plucky heteros—one a freedom fighter, the other a virtuous whore—come together.

In a decade where homosexuality is becoming more and more visible—and criminal—it can't seem a coincidence that films are working harder to make breeders out of us all. Or maybe I'm just more sensitive to it these days. The pressure to heterosexualize seems most evident and most damaging in films with a PG-13 rating—those aimed at impressionable teens and tweens. I think most of us recognize that films aimed at this demographic tend to feature the kind of humor that idolizes the terms "boner" and "gazoombas" as fresh-faced kids learn about the wonders of heterosexual sex and their own bodies.

I might sound overly conspiracy theorist here, but is this a form of propaganda? Are films teaching us and our children to follow one path while dehumanizing another?

I nearly shit my pants right then and there when, in the middle of Freddy Vs Jason (a horror flick for teens), Destiny's Child's Kelly Rowland screams, "Freddy, you faggot!" I couldn't believe in this day and age a film would use that term as a slur against someone who was reputedly not gay, but a heterosexual child molester.

And any film that even suggests homosexual desire among teens is guaranteed an R rating, unless the teen straightens out or dies by the end of the film. Even The Man Without a Face, Mel Gibson's scarred teacher flick, created an uproar when conservatives suggested that Mel's disfigured hero seemed a little too interested in his young male pupil. I think now that Mel's put Jesus up on the silver screen, he's in the clear with those folks.

One thing that encourages me, though, is that television is taking up the slack where films fear to tread. The can't-ever-die teen soap Degrassi Junior High, still breathing on cable network The N!, prominently features gay story lines that don't kill or maim characters. In fact, the gay kids get to be kids, make stupid decisions, and don't seem better or worse off than their breeding counterparts.


  1. I know you mean well, Charlie, but breeders is an ugly term. My own heterosexual lifestyle has nothing to do with procreation, and everything to do with my being in love with one particular man. Let's not dehumanize each another.

    Otherwise, I couldn't agree more that the American culture industry is socially irresponsible.

  2. I was interested in Joan of Arc when it first came out last year, because of Grace, an obviously gay and intelligent and rather fierce girl. Later on in the series, Grace 'comes out' as heterosexual, and begins a romance with Joan's nerdy brother. At one point they even squeeze her into a dress. It made me really sad. I stopped watching. It really felt like the writers caved in to me.

  3. Breeder probably is, unfortunately, contextually, the right term--all hyper-nationalistic societies try to control sexuality, to make responsibility for procreation one of the duties of citizenship. If I had to guess (and I haven't seen a movie other than "Madagascar", which is decidedly not a heterosexual narrative, since "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"), I'd say the strain of that movement in our country is probably the driving psychic impetus. Behind the backlash against homosexuality in the 'real world' as well as in cinema.

  4. Ginger, I apologize if I offended you; I understand what you mean. I think in terms of cinema, though, heterosexual identity is beginning to suffer from the same limitations that have been imposed on homosexual identity: behavior conquers all. In that sense, real-life heterosexuals aren't necessarily "breeders," but cinema positions reproduction as the pinnacle of heterosexual relationships.

  5. Man, I wish you'd been in my P-town workshop last week. We were talking about movies ALL the time and your thoughts here would have fit right in.


  6. Of course, well, many homos are breeders--ahem, having children-- now, too...Keith and David's big storyline so far on Six Feet Under has been adoption v. inseminating a, um, breeder, and I am glad to see they are adopting OLDER CHILDREN IN NEED as opposed to flying to Russia or China for brand-new babies.

    I would separate the Freddy v. Jason remark from other examples. That stuff totally still goes on in schools, at work, even: I don't know how many people have said "That's so gay" or "What a faggot" before blushing and apologizing to me (which is kind of more uncomfortable than if they didn't apologize). It's obnoxious. I think the words are so deep into people's vocabs that they don't even really associate them with gays any more. I didn't see F v J, but did the chick really think Freddy was gay? "Faggot" is used as an insult like "asshole"--all-purpose, but, of course, it isn't. It hurts people. Particularly gay kids and teens. It's a lot harder to take "asshole" personally.

    Re: TV--Television, w/ Sex & the City and all the things that are trying to be Sex & the City, seems to be shifting towards representing more heterosexuals who choose NOT to parent. (As it has slowly become more acceptable for them to choose not to).

    Degrassi deserves props not just for having out gay characters, but for having not overly-pretty gay characters (or straigh characters). They're cute, but they look like read kids, for the most part. And I did think Jack was handled pretty well on Dawson's Creek back in the day. One essay I've always wanted to write was how they juxtaposed Jack's coming out queer with Ty's (Ty was not a longterm character; he dated Jen briefly) "coming out" Christian.

    I'm planning/hoping to get pregnant eventually, and "breeders" doesn't offend me in the slightest (though it does my straight friend Michael, and did even before she, ahem, ended up making 4 babies aged 5 and under). I thought it was a kick-ass band name...

  7. Hey--Emily's Comment ate my comment!

    I too was wondering what you thought about the David/Kieth storyline in Six Feet Under.

    I hate PG-13 movies for thier stupid humor and eyeball violence, etc., esp. the movies aimed at teens, which make everything seem so simple. I guess, with two young sons, I am a breeder, and B. and I are always worried about the sort of thing you mention. We worry about our sons growing up, and we want them to see all sorts of sexuality represented in a fair and realistic way--in TV and in movies, and in real life--the neighborhood, the grocery store, everywhere.

  8. 'Propaganda' makes it sound like the studios are anxious to manipulate their audience's sexuality. Movies may reinforce the idea of a heterosexual norm - but I suspect they do it because they want to maintain the broadest possible appeal for their product. If they thought that gay characters/themes/whatever were the best way to sell tickets, your local multiplex would soon be gayer than Sydney at Mardi Gras.

    Are they right in assuming that a straight love-interest will help draw in audiences? Who knows. But I think it's driven by good old-fashioned capitalism, rather than conspiracy.

  9. WHen you were talking breeder movies, I assumed you were referring to the renouned "Ready to drop" franchise.

    Disappointed again.

    And Kim Deal is hot.

  10. I think Harry's onto the key point here. Hollywood movies generally cater to the lowest common denominator (mostly teenagers). The lowest common denominator doesn't want depth or nuance of character, and the biggest bloc of ticket buyers isn't especially comfortable with the idea of a gay intimate relationship, and even if they basically accept it, the movie-watching paradigm is such that a movie about it won't do well. There's a niche, obviously, but we're not even on the cusp of mainstream entertainment portraying gay people as just people. In addition to your Trendy Victim and Lunatic categories, I think I'd add these: the Comic Relief (exaggerated effeminate qualities, e.g. Nathan Lane in The Birdcage or what's his face on Will & Grace) and The Asexual (someone who is ostensibly gay and relatively well-adjusted but never seems to have an actual relationship or sex as part of it). Of course, you can break down heterosexual roles in pretty much the same sorts of ways. It's a matter of it being a rare movie that gets character right at all, homosexual or otherwise.

  11. hi Charles,

    I saw Land of the Dead (typed Lawn of the Dead, then corrected) last weekend also. My view of it is much more benign as far as its queer aspects. First of all it's a genre movie and those tend to rely on stereotypes. So you sorta give it that coming in. I don't recall any out gay characters in George Romero movies but you might want to check out his Martin, a vampire movie that's definitely queer. Romero cast black leading men when it was not the thing to do, especially in a horror flick. The lead in Night of the Living Dead is black. And Land of the Dead is by no means all white.

    These days we almost take for granted the butchy femme carrying a big gun in the action movie but it was not always so. Romero included action women in his Dawn and Day zombie movies while standard Hollywood femmes tended to the fainting. Anyway, can't you give some queer cred to a movie with a chick who programs the missile launcher being called "Pretty Boy"?

    Plus I disagree that the cute male lead (worked for me!) hooks up with the gun-wielding prostitute. They never kiss. They never even embrace. They don't even exchange charged looks. The most significant looks between her and another male character, I'd say, are between her and Riley's buddy when she's sussing out their relationship. "I make myself useful," he says. And Riley says later, "He's good with a gun." You might say Slack (the prostitute) adopts their language when flirting with Riley when she later says she too is "trying to make myself useful." Is she sexualizing an innocent remark or is something else going on? Yes, if there's a sexual component to the boys' buddyship it's totally covert but monsters and handicaps in horror movies have often been codes for queer sex -- and Riley's retard (fag?) buddy is physically damaged (horror movie code for the inner life). In this day & age we deserve somebody out & taken for granted. But I don't agree that the lead boy & girl "come together" in the breeder sense.

  12. I'd agree with my bro. It didn't occur to me that Riley(?) and Slack had hooked up. Given the lack of subtlety in the rest of the movie I'm pretty sure that if they'd hooked up there would have been some face sucking.

    Genre movies have always had a tendency to include pointless (hetero) romantic subplots. I doubt that there are any more of them now than there were in the past. I certainly remember being annoyed as a kid by pointless romantic subplots getting in the way of the death and destruction in the monster movies I was watching. If anything (in horror movies at least) if "they" were trying to reinforce the hetero ideal there'd be more queer characters getting killed and more final couples instead of final girls.

    I don't remember any significant queer characters in other Romero movies that I've seen. Queer subtext in Martin would have gone over my head. I'm mostly too clueless. Possibly in Knight Riders. It seems like there was both a lesbian couple and a gay couple but I can't remember clearly. And while I liked Knight Riders when I was twenty I thought it was mostly just silly when I saw it again a couple of years ago. But then, I seem to be becoming a cranky old man.