The Oscar buzz this year is, in large part, about the prospects of Brokeback Mountain, the “gay Western” that has already won four Golden Globe awards and been nominated for eight Academy Awards.  A month ago, Brokeback Mountain had all the momentum, but that is now slowing as some have acknowledged that the film is, after all, rather tedious and doesn’t live up to its hype.  There has also been some blowback of irreverent remarks about “Brokebutt Mountain” and “Homo on the Range” and all that sort of thing.  People can be just vicious and cruel and even downright unaccepting in our diverse community.

But how could there be any resentment or bitching when the omnipresence of self-announced homosexuals has been so broadly sanctioned by the academic community, the religious community, the corporate world, and the media, which have provided so many articles and celebrations of diversity and op-ed pieces and new shows and channels on the telly and now a “gay Western”?  And how could there possibly be any negative feelings about a Western, because, after all, nothing is more American than a Western, even though, come to think of it, Westerns are dead because they are not sensitive to the concerns of the Native American community or of the feminist community or of the gun-control bureaucrat community.

Then we come to the question of whether Brokeback Mountain is really a Western, and the answer is that it kind of is and kind of isn’t.  Annie Proulx, author of the award-winning story on which the film was based, set it in Wyoming because she is a Wyoming writer.  (The story was published in the New Yorker, which, as we know, has been a mother lode of Western tales over the decades.)  But Annie has stated that she wanted “to awaken an empathy for diversity” and spoken of “the idea of tolerance,” and there aren’t any Western images or references in such language.

On the other hand, the movie shows us many pictures of the West and of cowboys wearing cowboy gear, reminding us that one of the Village People was a cowboy and that the Marlboro Man was an image not only of machismo but of lung cancer and perverse desire.  So the film is a contemporary Western, and I do think that it was a convenience or even a glamorization to remove the image of sodomy from the toilet stalls of SoHo to the cinematic slopes of Wyoming.  And we must admit that there is a tradition of associating homosexuality with Westerns because, as we have acceded to the camp sensibility, anything having to do with males must be interpreted that way.  And then there are all those stories about the iconic Randolph Scott.

Even so, Brokeback Mountain isn’t a Western in any way but the most superficial.  It is rather a lugubrious romance and has more in common with Back Street and Imitation of Life and Brief Encounter than it does with High Noon or Shane or The Searchers.  And I think that the words pastoral and romance are highly suggestive, as far as two cowboys herding sheep are concerned.  Vergil’s Corydon lent his name to a defense of homosexuality by André Gide, for the shepherds on the rocks did get around.  And we must add that there is a homosexual association related to the crystallization of romance in the 12th century, as it related to the gnostic heresies of the Bogomils (whence bugger) and the Albigensians and Provencal love poetry—the mixture that gave us the association of romantic love with impossible obstacles (whence Tristan and Isolde, and Romeo and Juliet).  Passion drifted from a religious meaning to a romantic one, and now we don’t even notice as the object of desire has drifted just a wee little bit, as well.

So much for culture.  The important thing is diversity, and just as “multiculturalism” says one thing and means another (monoculturalism), so, too, “diversity” means a poverty, not a richness, of alternatives.  What the male weepie disguised in jeans and Stetsons and cowboy boots suggests about our future is enough to make you reach for your bandana, for there will soon be more to shed tears about than the fictional and affected sufferings of two comely studs.