Grumblings of confusion Sunday night after the Golden Globes woke up Monday to a flurry of criticism, as Jodie Foster, once again, failed to "come out of the closet" in a way that satisfies mainstream expectation. Their arguments for critique? It's 2013. Times have changed. The implication in this reasoning is that Foster would have come out sooner if it was safe and that she is being cowardly. Wake up folks. If Foster teaches us one thing, it's that we need to complicate the tired 1970s logic that the ONLY reason someone does not publically come out of the closet (in a way that pleases you) is due to fear.
I find great pleasure in Foster's refusal to come out in a manner that is PR tested and Oprah approved. She violates the lukewarm, vanilla, normative decorum that permeates the televised award show. You know, those pandering moments of tearful testaments of spousal love, Meryl Streep's ritualized humility and the perpetuated illusion that Jennifer Aniston and you would be "such great friends" if only you had the chance to hang out. Look at Anne Hathaway. Young, charming and each moment she navigates is on the mark, screen-tested and publicly endorsed. Her tribute to Sally Field was beautiful. America swooned because, once again, she does everything right. However, this has never been Foster's gig.
Sunday night, Foster exposed and disrupted a ritualized performance that has become expected, predictable and, perhaps, mandated in mainstream media: the coming out speech. We have seen it over and over to the point that we expect it and are frustrated when it is not followed. The speech expresses childhood pain, marks how family saved them, subtly pleads for audience acceptance and in return there is a promise to be a must see TV shining model of marriage and procreation in a manner that will not offend conservative sensibilities. Most importantly, there needs to be that performative moment, the declaration of "I am gay" where the identity label is claimed and asserted in a manner that helps everyone at home feel like the world is a little more ordered now that we know which category we can place Jodie Foster (over on that side, next to Jane Lynch).
Foster didn't give that. In fact, she refused it, once again, denying the audience at home the opportunity to experience this coming out ritual. By refusing this expectation, she exposed how people don't know how to respond in the absence of predictable scripts. She didn't cue in the audience to have a feel good Anne Hathaway moment. Adding to the confusion, she bantered with Robert Downey Jr. in a way that felt inside and personal, and held tight to her highly controversial friend Mel Gibson, front and center. Hollywood and the media have not gone through their predictable ritual wherein Gibson stages a comeback following a performance of penance and redemption, but Foster has never wavered in her support of her friend. This pisses America off because it refuses to let people comfortably follow their paint-by-numbers way of audiencing -- here's who you like, here's who you detest, here's how you should feel, here's how you come out.
Perhaps the reality show culture Foster indicted is not merely about coming out speeches, but a culture of idiocy where the complexities of lives, relations, illness, sexuality, gender, family, and age are carved up into tiny digestable news clips (indict Mel, come out this way, praise Sally Field).
In a world where gay celebrities line up in the coming out rituals, especially now that careers seem less at risk, I'm thankful to have some anchor to a different approach to being one's self. Unlike so many celebrities who create the illusionary connection and relation with mainstream audiences, Foster has always insisted that the audience does not know her. She is not everyone's would-be gal pal Jennifer Aniston. She is an actress, and now she is being attacked, once again, because she refuses to play the predictable role America has grown comfortable watching in coming out reruns. I feel that audiences should be a little more patient with her choices, allow a more complicated plot of sexuality to unfold and thank her for not serving up the same canned coming out performance we are trained to expect, if not crave.
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