Dear Michael Douglas

Here’s what I haven’t seen — your portrayal of Liberace in HBO’s “Behind the Candelabra.”  By all accounts, you were fantastic.  Mazel tov.

Here’s what I have seen — your speeches at three major awards shows, accepting the trophies you’ve been given by your industry to honor your performance.  As I mentioned, from what I understand they were well-deserved.  It’s not your wins that niggle.

No, what really has burrowed its way firmly under my skin is that you seem to think making reference to gay stereotypes or using gay sex as a punchline is a winning, witty strategy when you take the stage.  Perhaps you thought your question to Matt Damon at the Emmys about, if you were to share your statuette, which of you would get the bottom and which the top was subtle and droll.  I thought it was in poor taste, but didn’t get too bent out of shape about it.

Then there were the Golden Globes.  At that appearance you made reference to Steven Soderbergh asking you during the filming of “Traffic” if you’d ever considered playing Liberace, which apparently made you worry that you were “mincing.”  Maybe you were referring to your performance?  I dunno, but I didn’t love hearing you express fear that you were coming across as seeming too gay.  Also, a lot of us don’t mince.  However, if ever there was a mincing gay man, it was Liberace, so let’s all say you only had him in mind.

Which brings us to last night’s SAG Awards.  Another win for you!  Congrats.  And another har-de-har-har moment in which you crack wise with Damon about which of you was the bottom or the top, and having to go “head to head” with him.  Totes hilar, bro.  If there’s one thing a joke in questionable taste about a group of people to which you do not actually belong bears, it’s repetition.  I only regret that we’ve tapped out all the major TV awards, so we won’t get to hear further iterations of your trenchant play on words.

Here’s the thing — I’m guessing you think playing a gay man, and doing so with (from everything I’ve read) skill and dignity, somehow makes you “in.”  No doubt if it were put to you, you’d espouse all the right beliefs and recoil from anything that smacks of overt homophobia.  I’m granting all the daylight between you and Rick Santorum you’d care to mention.  But just because you’re not calling us fags doesn’t mean you get to use us as a punchline.

I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I have a hard time imagining an openly gay man winning an award for playing a gay character busying himself with jokes about anal sex during the time before the orchestra signals he needs to wrap up.  (I have to resort to conjecture, of course, because for the life of me I can’t recall a single instance where an openly gay person has actually won under such circumstances.)  Not that we don’t think such jokes are funny, per se, but we probably wouldn’t be telling them about ourselves to that particular audience.  I suspect, if any reference were made to being gay at all, it would be about being proud to represent the LBGT community, and not about how funny our sex lives must seem from the outside.

Because we’ve all been to junior high, you see.  We all heard the crass jokes that boys make when trying to impress other little boys with their tough guy bona fides.  Lord knows I did, and because I was no fool I laughed right along.  But maybe we can try to act like grown-ups now.  We all know you got to have sex with one of the most gorgeous (female) movie stars of the past twenty years, so you’d don’t need to get a case of the giggles when talking about the gay guy you played.  We know it’s not the kind of sex you’re into.

So enjoy your trophies.  And take satisfaction in the quality performance you delivered.  It’s a fitting reward for all the laughter you must have had to stifle while you were filming.

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15 thoughts on “Dear Michael Douglas

  1. I agree that Douglas could tone it down a bit, but so far as I can tell Douglas thinks all kinds of sex acts are a bit ridiculous, and I wouldn’t say he’s wrong. (He’s referred publicly to his own sexual misadventures in the past, if I’m not mistaken.)

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  2. This is really just about Michael Douglas being too old (or too dumb) to know better. NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast (which I adore and recommend to everyone, especially the good doctor for his long runs) covered this same topic on Friday. One thing they pointed out was the silliness of Douglas calling Damon ‘brave’ for taking that role. Tom Hanks was brave for doing Philadelphia. Playing a gay man in 2013? Not so much.

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    • I dunno, man. I’ve seen stills from that movie, and putting on that sequined thong looked pretty brave to me. (Yes, there is a sequined thong.)

      I guess maybe Michael needed a get-a-grip friend. Or a publicist with a spine. Someone to gently pull him aside and say “So Mike. Those cracks you’re making in which you jokingly stampede as far as you possibly can from the idea of gay sex in real life? Those? Stop with those. Because the gay men who actually probably watched your performance playing one of them are not taking it well.”

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      • I just wonder if Douglas cares, since he has done this at every awards show so far. One wonders what he would do at the Oscars when the press has already pointed this out to him for several weeks. I can’t remember though, whay category would this fall under with the Oscars? I don’t think it counts as a motion picture or miniseries. Would he be up against Matthew McConaughey? He seems to have the momentum behind him right now.

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      • This movie is not eligible for any Oscars, since it was originally aired on television. It won a bunch of Emmys, however. But it’s done winning any awards. (The Golden Globes and SAG Awards are a little bit weird, in that they happen after the season’s prestige award ceremony for television [the Emmys] but before the prestige award ceremony [the Oscars] for film.)

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  3. Michael Douglas’ performance as Liberace was amazing. I’m saddened by the jokes you mention. Frankly, as an old fogy baby boomer, I am dismayed by our culture’s obsession with sex and the compulsion to mention and joke about any sex, gay or straight, and the fact that television contains material that I didn’t see even in movies years ago. That said, especially given the sensitivity and compassion of his portrayal as Liberace, I doubt that Douglas meant any offense, even though his remarks were cloddish.

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      • Another difference is that there is not a common perception and smear about straight sex being disgusting the way that there is for gay sex. On an instinctual level, I sort of feel that a gay man making negative comments or jokes about straight sex is talking about himself as much as he is talking about straight sex. Because of the history around talking about gay sex, though, I am simply less likely to accord a straight man talking or joking about how disgusting gay sex is in quite the same manner. If this is a “double standard” it’s one that (a) can’t be avoided and (b) has a lot of history justifying it.

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  4. All jokes can be done well, and done poorly.
    But bullying is never a joke.

    Having not seen the awards ceremony,
    I am vaguely amusing myself by thinking
    “how do i actually make this funny?”

    [… vagina dentata?]

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