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Tips for getting over 'Brokeback' hump

- Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle Pop Culture Critic
Sunday, February 5, 2006

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You're a progressive Bay Area guy. You support same-sex marriage, you invite your gay co-workers to parties and you think that English dude who played Magneto in "X-Men" is a hell of a good actor. Hey, you might even own a Morrissey album or two.

So why haven't you seen "Brokeback Mountain" yet? The "Brokeback Mountain" phenomenon has become as unavoidable as a military recruiter at a continuation school. You can't turn on the television without seeing a gay cowboy, every theater seems to be playing the picture and each day seems to bring a new shopping cart full of awards for the movie -- including eight Oscar nominations this week. It's hard to find a straight man who has seen the movie and regrets it.

And yet if you listen to talk radio, the guys at the office or the typical men's league softball team, there's one key demographic -- straight men ages 18 to 54 -- who can't seem to get over their insecurities and take those last few steps to see this landmark film.

It's a strange phobia, considering that "Brokeback Mountain" may be the best date movie to come along in years. You have the potential to look so sensitive that you can probably get her to pay for the movie and a trip to Red Lobster. Add a few tears near the ending (just think about that scene in "Rudy" where underdog Rudy leads the Notre Dame Irish on the field), and you might be surprised where the evening takes you. Think make-up sex is great? Try some you-just-took-me-to-"Brokeback Mountain" sex.

What makes fear of "Brokeback" even more odd are the misconceptions that have developed among those who haven't seen the film. On top of being the favorite movie of the year of many critics, Ang Lee's film has mistakenly received a reputation as some kind of nonstop guy-on-guy sex romp.

In fact, there is more man-on-woman sex in "Brokeback Mountain," including not-one-but-two hot female celebrities appearing topless. At an oppressive time in cinema when you're lucky to see one naked celebrity's breasts in a movie (Katie Holmes in "The Gift" and Amy Smart in "Road Trip" are two spectacular recent examples), "Brokeback Mountain" provides you with Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway.

The movie also has National Lampoon's "Vacation" scene-stealer Randy Quaid. What straight guy doesn't love Randy Quaid? And there are almost enough fights in the movie to merit comparisons to "Road House." (To be honest, the feather-mulleted glistening-with-sweat Patrick Swayze looked a lot more effeminate in that film than "Brokeback Mountain" protagonists Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist -- whether you're straight or gay, both characters seem like pretty cool guys to grab a beer and watch a Sharks game with.)

I've been surprised by "Brokeback" phobia, which I've heard from straight male friends, relatives, this nation's president, guys in my pickup basketball game and even two dudes sitting behind me during a screening of "BloodRayne" -- a movie approximately 350 times harder to watch than "Brokeback Mountain." I recently heard a prominent local meteorologist sharing "Brokeback" hesitation with members of the "KNBR Morning Show," who have since committed themselves on air to see the movie together.

I don't think any of these people are homophobic -- I just think there's some kind of weird latent childhood peer-pressure thing going on with this movie. It's almost as if you're under a spell, reinforced by years of conflicting televised gay stereotypes and manly cowboy imagery.

The fact that "Brokeback Mountain" may be the best movie you'll see all year should be reason enough to go. But for those who need an extra push, the world (George Bush included) is sorely in need of the "Brokeback Mountain" Survival Guide for Heterosexual Men™.

Brought to you by the same people who created the Ultimate Fighting Championships Primer for Gay Men™ and the ABCs of "The Lord of the Rings" for Hot Chicks™, we've developed a step-by-step program to guarantee that even the most shallow man can enjoy the event movie of the season.

Think of "Brokeback Mountain" as a challenge -- like lowering your golf handicap, or getting a phone number from a stripper. Just five easy steps toward a more civilized future:

Step 1: Accept your shortcomings. Considering that most of us were brought up in an era of intolerance, fear-mongering and David Lee Roth videos, it's miraculous that guys aren't even more screwed up in the head. Your skittishness over this movie has a lot to do with the degree to which society has failed you. But there is still some good in your heart.

Step 2: There's safety in numbers. Think of it this way -- if you go to the movie with all your friends, co-workers and the guys from the barbershop, then you won't have to stress about an acquaintance seeing you in the ticket line. Just as packs of women went to see "The Vagina Monologues" and packs of Christian conservatives went to see "The Passion of the Christ," the best way for straight men to see this movie is by the busload.

Step 3: Don't sit next to each other. If you went to "Brokeback" skittish in the first place, and if you're starting to feel aware of how much your friend looks like Jake Gyllenhaal, the seating arrangement may be crucial. Sit in every other seat -- or every three seats if the theater is big enough. If you've followed Step 2, you and your friends should have created sort of a checkerboard effect in the theater, with no two men able to touch each other without getting out of their seats.

Step 4: Follow the tent rule. "Brokeback Mountain" is top-quality filmmaking, and you should enjoy it in its entirety. But if you start to feel panicky -- as if you might hop to another theater and watch "Glory Road" -- simply follow the Heath Ledger Tent Rule. Every time Ledger's character, Ennis, crawls into a tent, take a trip to the restroom or refreshment stand, and make sure you're gone for at least three minutes. If you do that, then "Brokeback Mountain" is pretty much like watching an episode of "Will & Grace."

Step 5: Watch gay porn. OK, stay with me on this one. How do great athletes such as Jerry Rice and Oscar de la Hoya make themselves stronger for game day? They train on hills at high altitudes, so a level playing field seems like nothing by comparison. Doesn't it follow that if you're planning to see "Brokeback Mountain" on a Saturday, you should watch some hardcore guy-on-guy porn the night before? Perhaps something in the Western gay porn genre ("Heatstroke" is a nice place to start).

Above all, when you're done, don't be afraid to discuss the film with friends and colleagues. Seeing the movie and coming to terms with the fact that you enjoyed it doesn't do anybody any good if you go back to the gym and start acting like a scared goof again.

All this time you thought you were part of the problem. Who knew that seeing a movie about two gay men could make you feel like an even bigger man?

E-mail Peter Hartlaub at

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