HotDocs: OUTRAGE Review
Love it or hate it, the culture war in the United States has been raging at a fever pitch for a decade, in the media, on the political stage and certainly in the back-rooms of policy making. Kirby Dick's latest documentary lobs a shrapnel grenade right into the centre of things with the question: "Why are many gay politicians, who choose to 'live in the closet' (presumably out of concern for losing their public office - but it is likely not that simple) some of the toughest anti-gay policy makers?" Of course to ask this question, Dick and company are essentially outing several governors, senators and mayors on screen which will lead, more likely than not, to a slander law-suit or three. The film on the surface is destined to be written off by hard-core Republicans (who will, I'm guessing, not bother seeing the film before writing it off) as a scarlet-letter gossip piece. Which it kind-of sort-of is. Except that, in its sensational way, it is asking the right questions. So thus it also tangentially asks if the ends justify the means for these sort of situations where "people who are not subject to the law will of course make harsh law." Which in itself is a highly symbolic threat to the practice of democracy as kings and kingmakers sidestep their own nature in a 'thou dost protest too much' sort of way to deal with their own psychological hang-ups, either in their political arenas, their attempt to hang on to their own wealth and influence, or simply the upbringing of many of these folks in a time when homosexuality was treated like a brain-disorder. Perhaps Dick's film is a demonstration of capitalism (and 'me-ism') at its finest: When a member of a certain group sells out that group for personal and selfish gain. Many may see the worst politicians as 'self-promoting assholes,' but here we have several gents willing to have a moral compromise against their own identity. One apt comment is the comparison to the job of the politician and the dance of staying in the closet. Both require crafty language, spin, and a delicate balancing of a great number of needs and obligations.
Outrage is extraordinarily made in the sense that it builds a narrative with its segments and examples, and its naming of names. From the history of homosexual culture (or rather the cultures reaction to homosexuality) in the United States to media double standards on hetero affairs vs. homosexual affairs in American celebrities and politicians (and implicit in this is the biases of several cable news networks), to gay issues (from Aids to joint tax filing), to even the own gossipy nature of the films existence: "Everyone loves a good outing." And the collection of commentators from radio personalities, to bloggers to several politicians who have been outed in the past, or have outed themselves. Perhaps the most interesting personal aspect of the film is time spent on the women who marry the men and are either aware or not fully aware of their husbands sexual orientation and are, in some way, a front for garnering more votes. And the anti-gay hatred often pushed (through the voting record, and through stump speeches) is a hotter button for many gay folks than simply a hetero politician doing the same thing. It is clear that several of the 'outraged' folks have a special place in hell for those who not only deny their nature and set the movement for equality back, but are actively pushing back out of fear for themselves and their rung on the ladder. 'Traitor' is probably the strongest word for this.
Whatever the side of the cultural divide your sensibilities may rest, there is an interesting human question being posed here. One that has been mulled over in many different context with no solution other than to keep fighting the fight. And Kirby Dick's film may be written of as a Michael Moore style screed by those in opposition to it, but the target is not one person, but rather a way of thinking. A way of thinking that should be changed (hopefully) as the next generation or two moves on from the fear and ignorance of the 20th century into new fears and ignorance of the 21st century. One last thing I'd be remiss in skipping, the text and titles design of the film is so bloody handsome and elegant that politics aside, I'd expect several documentary or fictional filmmakers to be borrowing it in productions to come.