Wednesday, 24 June 2009

I Dish, Therefore I Am

Jake Gyllenhaal - Pink Elephant In The Room
On March 10, 2005, gossip columnist Ted Casablanca ran an item online under the heading "One Adorable Blind Vice".

The story was similar to numerous blind items Casablanca has run since bringing his column, "The Awful Truth," to E! Online in 1996. He relates a potentially scandalous story, usually with the kinds of revelations a major media gossip columnist would avoid, but disguises the object of his gossip behind a fanciful name like Morgan Mayhem, Furrowed Frank or Toothy Tile.

The ongoing saga of Toothy Tile says a good deal about Internet gossip, its place within the gay community and its function as a moral compass. It also points to some interesting intersections of gossip and gendered performance.

Hollywood gossip, of course, was around long before the Internet. Usually dated from the start of Louella Parsons' syndicated column in 1925, the field has traditionally been female-dominated, with Parsons and her chief rival, Hedda Hopper, engaged in an often-uneasy power struggle with the movie industry. The film studios used them to promote their films and personalities but also dreaded the effect of a personal attack or untimely revelation. One unwritten rule, however, was that the most damaging items — criminal arrests, long-term affairs and homosexuality — were not for publication in any but the least reputable venues. Parsons, Hopper and most of Hollywood may have known that Ramon Novarro was gay, but they weren't about to publish the fact. And if a writer broke the rules — as Bill Robinson did when he wrote about Spencer Tracy's drinking problems and his relationship with Katharine Hepburn in a 1962 issue of Look — the offender was cut off from industry sources.

Even with the decline of the studio system, some restrictions still hold. Unless a star's drug use is impossible for the media to ignore, it's kept out of the gossip columns. And "outing" is still considered off-limits, at least to columnists working in the major media.

For the gay on-line community, gossip serves a variety of purposes. If nothing else, it provides its readers with a sense of titillation as they vicariously enjoy celebrities' lives, even when the object of interest is masked behind the veil of the blind item. Like many on-line discussion boards, gay gossip sites provide their geographically dispersed users with a sense of community.

One element unifying gossip communities is a shared sense of morality. Gay gossip unites the gay and lesbian community by establishing behavioral norms for that community, creating insiders aware of those norms and outsiders unaware of or opposed to them.

In the case of Toothy Tile, the nature of those norms depends on whether one is inside or outside the gay community. Within the world of heteronormativity, Toothy Tile is at fault both for being gay and, more important, for wishing to make a public proclamation of that fact.

Despite the social changes of the past 50 years, the entertainment industry appears to be dealing with sexual orientation by the same standards in operation when Universal Pictures forced Rock Hudson to take a wife to forestall suspicions of homosexuality. The current attitude is described quite simply in one publicity-shy, or rather gay-publicity shy actor's legal complaint against a porn star who had claimed a relationship with him: "While plaintiff believes in the rights of others to follow their own sexual preference, vast numbers of the public throughout the world do not share his view and, believing that he had a homosexual affair and did so during his marriage, they will be less inclined to patronize [his] films, particularly since he tends to play parts calling for heterosexual romance and action adventure. " No doubt, these are the same audiences who would expect the actor to know how to pilot a jet fighter in real life.

Who, then, is thought to be the perpetually closeted Toothy Tile? Consensus gives the honor to Jake Gyllenhaal.

So, what team is Jake playing for? How many beards do you see in this picture? And...well, do I really have to say anything.

Source: I Dish, Therefore I Am: Performing Toothy Tile and Ted Casablanca by Frank Miller, Georgia State University