Monday, July 1, 2013

DARK SHADOWS and this generation's civil rights movement

Last week, the Supreme Court struck down a 1996 law blocking federal recognition of gay marriage, as well as allowing gay marriage to resume in California by declining to decide a related case.
It's not an issue I'd planned to discuss here. Mostly, I'm a little worried about presenting myself as the Ambassador of Heterosexuality to the gay community, which saw a modest rise in its property values following last week's Supreme Court ruling. It's not that I don't want to show my support; I just don't want to look like a jackass and undermine everyone's efforts.

To put it another way: I don't want to look like the QUENTIN TARANTINO of homosexuality. "Hey everyone! Look how open minded I am! I even wore my David Bowie t-shirt! That's a gay thing, right?" It's better to remain quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

Just because he's a great filmmaker doesn't mean he's not a douche. See also: Alfred Hitchcock.
Last week's Supreme Court ruling was a moment certainly worth celebrating, but it hardly marks the end of the battle for acceptance in America. When my hometown of Columbia, S.C., can muster support for a spontaneous gay rights parade, it's evidence that the country is headed in the right direction. But we also need to keep in mind that you can still be legally fired for being gay in most U.S. states.

Pragmatism was also a factor in my early decision not to address the DOMA ruling. This is an entertainment site, after all. Why drag politics into it? The answer to that question is at the very Roughly 1/4 of them were gay ... and none of them lived long enough to see last week's SCOTUS ruling. For them, this wasn't "politics." It was their lives.

And that's not counting the actors absent from the photo, or who joined the cast in the years after the image was taken. Trying to keep track of which actors were gay or straight (or, in Grayson's Hall's case, straight but very nearly typecast as gay) is a fool's errand. And remember, those actors weren't only obliged to keep parts of their personality secret; many of them had to outright lie about it. Even LOUIS EDMONDS, a man so flamboyant that there wasn't a closet big enough to hide his sexuality, was expected to keep his personal life segregated from his career.

Some of us like to keep home and work separated, but that choice has rarely been available to gay men and women. This kind of pressure has been known to devastate relationships. Nobody wants to be a part of someone's life that has to be shrouded in lies. If you doubt this, ask your significant other how they'd feel if you started to deny that they exist.

I'm not going to turn this into a KENNETH ANGER gossip piece. If you want to know who was gay in DARK SHADOWS, Google will help you. Keep in mind that not all of those answers will be true. And besides, who gives a shit? I've got no more interest in who Louis Edmonds was sleeping with than I do about who was bunking with that stuntman who played the werewolf. A television show is not a cooperative that you buy into, and the people involved owe you nothing. They're not even obliged to be nice to you when you bump into them at the deli.

We also ask that you not combine your Google search with the words "Claus," "von" or "Bülow." ZING!
The politics behind "coming out" are tangled and nebulous, and not something I've had to devote a lot of time thinking about. Which is selfish, I admit, but the world is riddled with problems and I'm equipped to deal with hardly any of them. I certainly understand why people choose to stay in the closet. When you're out, your sexuality has a way of eclipsing all other aspects of your life. For many people, the word "gay" is a ledge they haven't quite figured out how to climb. And it's not even a very tall ledge, as far as differences go. It's not like you have to learn a new language or anything.

Although "McKellen" is the native language of ComicCon.
This is the reason so many artists are hesitant to discuss their sexuality. A gay actor is gay first, and an actor second. Audiences will readily accept that Zachary Quinto, a human being from Pittsburgh, as a half-alien science officer serving on a spaceship that routinely breaks the laws of physics. But, as a heterosexual man in a romantic comedy? That's just too far fetched. I mean, everyone knows he's got the gay ... how can we believe he's attracted to Jessica Alba or whoever?

So yeah, being gay is socially complicated and requires you to be patient with stupid people (some of who are also gay.)  I can't claim to know where many of these lines are drawn, which is why I tread carefully. But that's not the same thing as backing away from a fight. THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY is an entertainment site, but I refuse to keep my mouth shut about social inequities just because it makes my life easier.

This doesn't take heroism on my part, because I've been given a choice that so many others have been denied.

- Wallace McBride

(NOTE: Minutes after this column went live, I got my first nasty response: "I am getting tired of this junk being shoved down our throats." Naturally, this bit of wisdom was shared by someone posting anonymously. If you've got something to say, man up and identify yourself. If it's not important enough to sign, it's not important enough to share.)


jtbwriter said...

Thank you. While CHS is an entertainment site celebrating the world of Dark Shadows and all its incarnations, one cannot remain silent when intolerance and discrimination exist. And considering all the "secrets" the inhabitants of Collinswood and Collinsport had, ones sexuality was the LEAST of their worries! Thanks for all the fun photos and memories of our favorite show!

Anonymous said...

Never cared who was or wasn't or is or isn't Gay. I just don't care. It should be up to the individual living the life to decide if they want to declare themselves or not. But personally, everybody should have the freedom to love and marry who they want. Unless it's your parent or a sibling, it shouldn't matter.

Melissa said...

Dark Shadows did a lot to show us that the Scary Other is more like everyone else than some might thnik. The vampire wants to hold his family together. The werewolf wants to be with the people he loves without hurting them. The witch will always have an Achilles heel for the man who got away. The shut-in in the creepy house on the hill is the best aunt a troubled kid could hope for. The Frankensteinian monster just wants his parents to understand him and take care of him, and doesn't care how ugly the swaeter the cure girl gave him is.

brookeperrin said...

Very pleased you chose to speak up. If only everyone in our fandom would do the same.

Anonymous said...

At Collinswood, everyone had secrets. And everyone seemed to fear their secret could jeopardize their place in the family or estrange them from the family. Secrets led to vulnerabilities - and usually, sympathies. I was nine when DS premiered. Ive always found it interesting how many big fans of the show grew up to be gay men born between about 1956 and 1961.

Ben said...

As one of DARK SHADOWS many gay fans, who sees my experiences and emotional life beautifully represented on the show in many ways, I thank you.

Anonymous said...

I've always loved this fantastic, amusing, insightful and wildly imaginative website. And I've never loved it more than I do today. Thanks so much for this timely, courageous and compassionate post.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your comments, but I suspect that your POV is specific to the generation that was old enough to watch DS when it originally aired. As someone of that generation, I find it absolutely amazing that to young people today (a group whose definition drastically expands for me with every passing year) the issue of marriage equality and whether someone is gay and whether they are openly so, is no issue whatsoever. They simply do not understand why anyone cares. Equality is a foregone conclusion with them. I think there is no greater example of this change in attitude than the fact that there was no attention paid to the fact that a very openly and publicly gay man was starring in a children's film (Neil Patrick Harris in Smurfs). Nobody even noticed. The world has indeed changed vastly and wonderously.

Unknown said...

I'm about the same age as Neil Patrick Harris, actually. And while I'll concede that the world has changed a lot during the last decade, the world (and this country) still has a very long way to go. I anticipate state legislatures will put up a hell of a fight before same-sex marriages will be permitted in all 50 states, which is a sign that bigotry is alive and well.

Even though it's hardly a day old, this blog post is one of the best-read on this site all year. But a random photo of Jonathan Frid gets more "likes" on Facebook than the link to this post received. People are absolutely reading this column ... but most of them don't want their friends to know about it.

Unknown said...

Wallace, that was a great post, and an important one, too. I've loved DS since I was 5 years old (I'm 51 now) and it's only in my adulthood that I've appreciated its subtext and why it was so fascinating to little gay boys watching it on TV in the late 60s and early 70s. Everyone -- yes, everyone -- at Collinwood had secrets, secrets that were too shameful or dangerous to share! Hearing Frid describe his approach to the character of Barnanbas was especially insightful. I went to my first DS Fest in 1999 and when I walked in it was like WHOA -- there were so many gay guys about my age there that I just started to laugh and immediately felt at home. (I had a similar experience going to a screening of "The Poseidon Adventure" on the Queen Mary the next year, but that's another story!) Anyway, I appreciate your support. Like some other commenters, I marvel at how far we have come in this country in the last 20 years. I know there is a long struggle ahead. But I'm confident in the basic fairness of the American people, and have no doubt that full quality will be achieved. Thanks.

dollsandmagic said...

Hey, this isn't gay, but I've been to Columbia, SC! I stayed at Mary Chesnut's old house that she lived in during The Civil War. And, if You want to read something Really Good, her Diary from Dixie is as good as it gets. Nice home town!OK... HA! I never would have guessed Louis was gay! LOVE him! The Supreme Court is just as rigged as Everything else now, too. It's a good time to move to Belgium. And, just to conclude with a laugh, since You mentioned Kenneth Anger... I had this neighbor who thought she was Marilyn Monroe. She told me that Hollywood Babylon was, "the best book ever written". So, I ordered it, mostly because I liked the Misfit's song of the same name. When it came in I had to roll around on the floor and laugh some. It's a freakin' picture book! But, like W. said, books are great and have good pictures. (It does have some really good pictures.)

Anonymous said...

All I can say is: "Well written"!!

BT said...

Loved Louis! What? There were gay actors on DS? SCANDAL!
What a great day!
We toasted BYE to DOMA. Now we are finally really married, not just in our state.

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