Thursday, February 28, 2013

Quote of the Day

Whatever one's thoughts about Pope Benedict and the man Joseph Ratzinger behind the Petrine Office, the sight of his final leave taking from the Vatican today was a deeply moving experience. His beloved secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, was in tears and no doubt the relationship between them is a tender one. I don't begrudge Benedict the comfort of this personal, intimate friend in his declining years. What I object to is the glaring contradiction of a deeply repressed gay man in an evident homoerotic relationship with a younger companion who has expended so much energy attacking gays within and without the Church. In the past the couple has been the object of campy gay jokes, quite understandable in light of the fact Benedict exhibits many of the characteristics of a gay man in profound denial. However, now is not the time for derision or sarcasm, the situation is simply too sad for words. Instead the departure scene today struck me as the final unfolding of a tragedy, both a personal one for the man behind the office and a universal one for the church as a whole. How did we get this far and what will happen now, we wonder, as we wait for the next turn of events. One feels an unbearable sadness for the never ending cycle of denial and self deception that seem to mark the Vatican culture surrounding the office of the Papacy. One accepts this situation in a spirit of faith, that the Spirit knows what she is about in purifying the church through one contradictory trial after another. Yet we long for respite and for some sign of hope for the institution that carries the Catholic Christian mystical tradition. . . .

– Jayden Cameron
"In Sede Vacante"
Gay Mystics
February 28, 2013


Related Off-site Links:
As Pope Departs, Discord Remains at Vatican – Rachel Donadio (New York Times, February 28, 2013).
The Complex Legacy of Benedict XVI – John L. Allen Jr. (National Catholic Reporter, February 28, 2013).
Now Gathering in Rome, a Conclave of Fallible Cardinals – Laurie Goodstein (New York Times, February 26, 2013).
A Vatican Spring? – Hans Küng (New York Times via The Progressive Catholic Voice, February 28, 2013).
Heart Burn and Hope Lead to Zero TV – Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, March 2, 2013).
Two Popes, One Secretary – Andrew Sullivan (The Dish, February 27, 2013).
Is Pope Benedict Gay? – Terence Weldon (Queering the Church, March 23, 2012).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Benedict and Georg
Benedict and Georg Redux
Gay Men in the Vatican Are Giving the Rest of Us a Bad Name
Quote of the Day – February 11, 2013
Homosexuality and the Priesthood


Photo of the Day



See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Waiting in Repose . . .

Image: Michael Bayly.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Breaking News: Marriage Equality Bill Unveiled at Minnesota State Capitol

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For details, click here.


See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
"It'll Be Legal August 1st"
In the Struggle for Marriage Equality, MN Catholics are Making a Difference by Changing Hearts and Minds
The Minneapolis (and Online) Premiere of Catholics for Marriage Equality


Thoughts on Celibacy (Part IV)

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Andrew Brown of the British newspaper The Guardian has written an insightful op-ed on the recent resignation of Cardinal Keith O'Brien amid claims of "inappropriate acts" towards fellow priests. Much of Brown's op-ed focuses on the Roman Catholic Church's "damaging strictures of celibacy" for its priests. Following is an excerpt.


Celibacy is difficult and sometimes lonely for anyone. The traditional remedy for loneliness, in Scots and Irish Catholicism, involved medication with whiskey and manly bonding. If your inclination is in any case towards men this is not going to be very helpful. Getting drunk in an atmosphere of sentimental affection with the object of desire is a tough test in self-control. We should not be surprised if some men sometimes fail it.

. . . Of course, the real problem is that the Roman Catholic church expects an entirely unrealistic standard of continence from its priesthood. Some priests can manage celibacy. The evidence from all around the world is that most can't. They certainly can't always. In the developing world the problem is largely one of priests having unofficial heterosexual families, as Cardinal Tagle of the Philippines – an outside candidate for the papacy – pointed out last week. In countries where that isn't an available alternative, the priesthood becomes a refuge for gay men – especially in societies where homophobia is the public norm.

This fact adds irony to O'Brien's denunciations of gay marriage. You can't really expect better from a church that still hasn't come to terms properly with heterosexual marriage, as its position on artificial contraception shows. There are many great Catholic feminists, some of them nuns. But you would never guess this from the official doctrine, which still proceeds as if marriage were something in which a man took the initiative, rather than a partnership of equals. And a church that can't treat women as equals is certainly not going to be realistic about marriage between two men.

All Christians are called to be perfect, and in that sense all Christian moral doctrine is unrealistic. But there are some forms of perfection that are damaging to try for. The demand that all Catholic clergy should live as if sex were something that only ever happened to other people is one of those. It has outlived its usefulness and is now an engine of cruelty and hypocrisy. It's a very great shame that O'Brien's fall will be used by the Vatican's enemies of progress to discredit his brave and sensible suggestion last week that the celibacy of the priesthood be reconsidered.


To read Andrew Brown's commentary in its entirety, click here.


Related Off-site Links:
Cardinal Keith O'Brien Resigns Amid Claims of Inappropriate Behaviour – Severin Carrell and Sam Jones (The Guardian, February 25, 2013).
Cardinal O’Brien’s Resignation Highlights Increasing Problems for Anti-LGBT Hierarchy – Bob Shine (Bondings 2.0, February 26, 2013).
Conservatives Circle the Wagons Now That Another of Their Champions Has Fallen on His Crozier – Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, February 25, 2013).
What Lies Behind Religious Homophobia – Mark Dowd (The Guardian, February 25, 2013).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:

Thoughts on Celibacy (Part 1)
Thoughts on Celibacy (Part 2)
Thoughts on Celibacy (Part 3)
Celibacy and the Roman Catholic Priesthood
Now We Know
It Is Not Good to Be Alone
Diarmuid Ó Murchú on Celibacy and Androgyny
Gay Men in the Vatican Are Giving the Rest of Us a Bad Name


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Quote of the Day

. . . [This year's Oscars] belonged to Shirley Bassey – to Adele, too, and, at a lesser volume, to Barbra Streisand – but mainly to Dame Shirley. These women know how to catch an audience, hold it tight, hit their marks, storm their high notes, and put on a damn fine show.

. . . Goldfinger, whose title track [Bassey] delivered last night, came out in 1964, a date recalled by Emmanuelle Riva, Alan Arkin, William Shatner, Quvenzhané Wallis’s grandparents, and nobody else. Short of importing Mary Poppins, or the Audrey Hepburn of My Fair Lady, there could be no swifter way of spiriting us back to that candy-colorful year. Here was the Bond song, all a-glitter, not merely repeated but refreshed for our delight. And our lady, at the gilded age of seventy-six, was no less fair. The spider-like pause, on “It’s the kiss of death,” was left to hang far longer, and more luxuriously, than it was in the original recording; the climactic growl on “only gold” would have sent Richard Parker packing; and, as for the knowing, hands-on-hips mini-shimmer at the words “pretty girls,” even the girlish Jennifer Lawrence must have been left pondering what it yet might take, in the long haul of stardom, to own the town. The assembled throng rose before Bassey had even signed off; these folk know royalty when they see it. Whatever you think about Quentin Tarantino, the man loves the pantheon, and he was up on his hind paws and clapping like a kid who didn’t realize that Santa Claus could show up in the middle of Lent. For an instant, we could all party like it was 1964. . . .

– Anthony Lane
"The Oscars: Pleasant Shocks"
The New Yorker
February 25, 2013



To watch Shirley Bassey's performance at the 2013 Oscars,



See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Oscar Highlights

For more of Shirley Bassey at The Wild Reed, see:
Time of the Tigress
The Rhythm Divine
The Living Tree
History Repeating

Recommended Off-site Links:
Shirley Bassey Leads Oscars 50th Birthday Tribute to James Bond – Piya Sinha-Roy and Tim Reid (Reuters, February 25, 2013).
Shirley Bassey Makes Splash at Oscars 2013 with 'Goldfinger' Theme – Associated Press (February 26, 2013).
Oscars 2013: Shirley Bassey Wins Rave Reviews for James Bond Tribute Song – Ann Lee (Metro, February 25, 2013).
Oscars 2013: Adele, Shirley Bassey Save the Oscars – Todd Martens (Los Angeles Times, February 24, 2013).
The Best of Shirley BasseyThe Daily Beast (February 25, 2013).


Monday, February 25, 2013

Oscar Highlights



Well, the Oscars have come and gone for another year.

Overall, I thought last night's telecast of the 85th Academy Awards a decidedly mixed-bag. For one thing, the Family Guy humor of Seth MacFarlene wasn't a good match for the occasion (and some are saying for any occasion), although I thought his "Flying Nun" skit with Sally Field was quite funny.

Anyway, here are my five highlights from last night's Oscars show . . .



5. Hugh Jackman

Yes, just Hugh's presence is, in my book, a highlight! And it's not just because his incredibly good-looking and a fellow Australian. No, it's also because he always comes across as a very down-to-earth, sincere, and friendly guy. International stardom appears not to have gone to Hugh Jackman's head, and I think that says something about the integrity of the man.

Jackman, accompanied to last night Oscars by his beautiful wife Deborra-Lee Furness, was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his work in Les Misérables. He lost out to Daniel Day-Lewis for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln.



According to JustJared.com, when Jackman appeared on the Red Carpet he was wearing "a Tom Ford tuxedo with a shawl lapel, plisse front cocktail shirt, satin bowtie, silk pocket square, onyx studs and cufflinks and lace up evening shoes." So there!







4. The performance by the Les Misérables cast



This year's Oscars honored music in film. Wikipedia notes that "the show paid tribute to musicals such as Chicago, Dreamgirls, Les Misérables and [made] references to The Sound of Music and Beauty and the Beast. In addition, numerous film scores from various motion pictures were played intermittently throughout the ceremony; most notable was John Williams' theme music from Jaws, which was used to goad winners off the stage if their acceptance speeches were overly long."

At one point, the cast of Les Misérables, led by Hugh Jackman, performed a stirring medley of songs from the Best Picture-nominated film. Here's how Metro's Ann Lee described the performance:

Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway stunned the audience at last night’s Oscars with a Les Misérables medley.

The trio were joined by their co-stars Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Aaron Tveit, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen during the segment.

Jackman, who was nominated for Best Actor for his role as Jean Valjean in the film, took to the stage to sing "Suddenly" before Hathaway launched into "One Day More" and "I Dreamed A Dream."

The pair were then joined by Eddie, Amanda, Samantha, Aaron, Russell, Helena and Sacha for a rousing rendition of "One Day More."

Hathaway took home the award for Best Supporting Actress last night for her moving performance as tragic prostitute Fantine.

She thanked her husband Adam Shulman in her speech saying: ‘By far and away, the greatest moment of my life is the one when you walked into it. I love you so much.

‘And thank you for this. Here’s hoping that someday in the not too distant future the misfortunes of Fantine will only be found in stories and never in real life.’

Les Misérables also won awards for Best Sound Mixing and Best Make-Up and Hairstyling last night.

The performance was part of a section paying tribute to movie musicals, with Jennifer Hudson performing a song from Dreamgirls while Catherine Zeta-Jones sung "All That Jazz" from Chicago.




I think it's unfortunate that Samantha Barks, who plays Éponine in Les Misérables, wasn't nominated for Best Supporting Actress. And just think: If she had been, we might have been treated to a performance of her beautiful rendition of "On My Own."








3. Michelle Obama's surprise appearance . . . via satellite


The First Lady of the United States looked stunning when she was beamed in live from the White House to announce Argo the winner of the 2013 Academy Award for Best Picture.

In her surprise appearance, Michelle Obama praised the films nominated by the Academy, saying, that they were movies that "took us back in time and all around the world." She went on to say that:

They made us laugh. They made us weep and made us grip our armrests just a little tighter. They taught us that love can endure against all odds and transform our minds in the most surprising ways. And they reminded us that we can overcome any obstacle if we dig deep enough and fight hard enough and find the courage to believe in ourselves. These lessons apply to all of us, no matter who we are, or what we look like, or where we come from, or who we love.




2. Ang Lee winning Best Director for Life of Pi

Life of Pi was one of the films I was hoping to win Best Picture. Although it lost to Argo, it did end up winning the most awards for the evening – four. They included Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, Best Original Score, and Best Director for Ang Lee.

Writes Chris Lee of the Los Angeles Times:

Riding high on a late-inning surge of Oscar goodwill, Life of Pi director Ang Lee supplied one of Sunday night's most surprising outcomes: besting Steven Spielberg for director.

Until just a few weeks ago — and with Argo director Ben Affleck effectively shut out of the category — Spielberg was presumed to all but have locked up the golden statuette for directing Lincoln.

"Thank you, movie god!" Lee quietly exclaimed from the awards podium, looking skyward.

The outcome mirrored the last time Lee and Spielberg faced off at the Oscars in 2006. Likewise, that year Spielberg went home empty-handed after Munich lost out to Lee's celebrated win for the controversial cowboy romance Brokeback Mountain.


Above: Ang Lee with Suraj Sharman,
who made his acting debut with the title role in Life of Pi.




1. Dame Shirley Bassey!

During last night's telecast, the Oscars paid tribute to fifty years of James Bond movies. Without doubt, the highlight of this tribute was the appearance of Dame Shirley Bassey, singer of three classic James Bond themes (including "Diamonds Are Forever" and "Moonraker"). At the Oscars she belted out in true Bassey style the first Bond theme of her career, 1964's "Goldfinger."

To say Bassey brought the house down would be an understatement! But, hey, don't take my word for it. Judge for yourself by watching her performance here.

Following is how Tim Marten of The Los Angeles Times describes Dame Shirley's memorable Oscar night performance:

If British spy James Bond can't be called upon to save the mishandling of pop music by the 2013 Oscars, producers did at least book the next best thing: Shirley Bassey. The vocalist, now in her 70s, has defined what has now become a genre, Bond music.




A Bond song must feel royal in its presentation, but also have a hint that something is amiss. Sometimes the booming orchestra can act as a moody foil for its vocalist, and other times the singer can become the antithesis of the Bond-girl seductress. Usually this is achieved by singing with a no-frills coldness. Bassey's Bond songs had all of the above, and her best known, "Goldfinger," as evidenced Sunday night, is at once over-the-top as well as a study in restraint. Its slowly menacing pace is also able to make a cinematic symphony seem fit for a nightclub.

Lyrically, "Goldfinger," as are most Bond songs, can at times be silly, but you wouldn't know there was any funny business happening with Bassey at the helm of the tune. She clasped her stomach, clutched her chest and stood stoically calm in her gold, glittery dress.



Her voice has lost a little sharpness, but it has still aged into a rather forceful presence, as Bassey spread her arms, and twisted "Goldfinger" into "goldfingahhh," it was as if she believed at this very moment that the money-obsessed villain of "Goldfinger" was a real-life threat. As the orchestra swelled, Bassey's voice remained largely level. She didn't go to the melody, the melody went to her.


For more on Bassey's performance, click here.



Above: The Diva Trifecta: Barbra Streisand, Adele, and Dame Shirley Bassey
at the post-Oscars Governor's Ball, February 24, 2013.
At last night's Oscars, Adele's "Skyfall" became the first James Bond theme to win

the Oscar for Best Original Song. The ceremony's annual "In Memoriam" segment
featured Streisand singing "The Way We Were" in tribute to the song's
musical composer, the late Marvin Hamlisch.
(Photo: Getty Images)


Related Off-site Links:
Five Oscar Nominees You Actually Need to See – Thelma Young (WagingNonviolence.org, February 24, 2013).
Seth MacFarlene and the Oscars' Hostile, Ugly, Sexist Night – Amy Davidson (The New Yorker, February 25, 2013).
The Banality of Seth MacFarlane's Sexism and Racism at the Oscars – Spencer Kornhaber (The Atlantic, February 25, 2013).
Why Seth MacFarlene's Misogyny Matters – Margaret Lyons (Vulture.com, February 25, 2013).
Heavens Above! Sally Field Locks Lips with Oscars Host Seth McFarlane in Hilarious Flying Nun Sketch – Cassie Carpenter (The Daily Mail, February 24, 2013).
Top 5 Best 2013 Oscars Speeches – Jackie Willis (Entertainment News, February 25, 2013).
Michelle Obama Makes a Star Turn at the Oscars (via Satellite) – Jennifer Steinhauer (New York Times, February 25, 2013).
Michelle Obama's Surprise Oscars Appearance: How It Happened – Justin Ravitz (US Weekly, February 25, 2013).
Oscars 2013: Hugh Jackman Leads Dazzling Les Miserables Medley – Ann Lee (Metro, February 25, 2013).
Crowe-ing LIVE! Russell and Hugh Jackman Prove Their Vocal Talents as They Lead Les Misérables Cast in Stunning Oscars Medley – Sarah Bull (The Daily Mail, February 25, 2013).
Oscars 2013: Ang Lee Pulls Off Major Upset, Beating Steven Spielberg for Best Director – Pamela McClintock (Hollywood Reporter, February 24, 2013).
Shirley Bassey Leads Oscars 50th Birthday Tribute to James Bond – Piya Sinha-Roy and Tim Reid (Reuters, February 25, 2013).
Oscars 2013: Adele, Shirley Bassey Save the Oscars – Todd Martens (Los Angeles Times, February 24, 2013).
The Best of Shirley BasseyThe Daily Beast (February 25, 2013).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Five Oscar Highlights (2008)
Oscar Observations (2009)
Oscar Observations (2010)
Pre-Oscar Night Reflections (2013)
Beatrice Marovich on Divinity and Animality in Life of Pi
Colin Covert on Biutiful: "A Work of Extraordinary Vitality"
Where Milk Gets It Wrong
Pan’s Labyrinth: Critiquing the Cult of Unquestioning Obedience
Reflections on the Overlooked Children of Men
Reflections on Babel and the "Borders Within"
Christian Draz's Critique of Brokeback Mountain
Frank D. Myers' Long Hard Look at Brokeback Mountain


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Pre-Oscar Night Reflections

I'm looking forward to watching the Oscars tonight with my friends Rick and Brian. In the past I've shared "Oscar reflections" after the awards telecast. This year I thought I'd mix things up a bit and share some thoughts before the winners' envelopes are opened!

I should say from the get-go that I have not seen all of the films nominated for Best Picture. In fact, I've only seen three of them: Lincoln, Life of Pi, and Les Misérables. From what I've read, the two main contenders for the 2013 Best Picture Oscar are Lincoln and Argo. I'm sure one of them will win, but I'm actually rooting for two other films, hoping one of them will be announced Best Picture.

The first of these is Ang Lee's Life of Pi . . .





I've noticed that many reviewers are dismissive of Life of Pi's spiritual themes. More often than not, these themes are maligned as trite or "new agey." One reviewer even attacked the film for reducing belief in God to adherence to the religion that tells the best story. I think part of what's going on is that these reviewers are unaware that, like the book upon which it is based, Life of Pi the film seeks to highlight not only the narratives and myths (in the best sense of the word) of numerous religious traditions, but also an awareness of the one great mystery toward which all of these stories attempt to direct us.


The theological and spiritual themes of Life of Pi are not the catechetical kind. There are no quick and ready answers, no lingering on the surface of things. In a key scene in the film, Pi observes Richard Parker, the tiger with whom he is sharing a lifeboat, gazing down into the still, starlit ocean. "What are you looking at?" Pi asks the tiger in all sincerity. Richard Parker looks briefly at Pi before returning his gaze to the mysterious depths. Pi follows his example and is transported beyond, experiencing in the journey a profound expansion of awareness and sense of connection with the universe. Such a journey is incapable of being facilitated by dogma or doctrine. No, we're in the realm of spirituality as understood and grappled with by folks like Rabbi Alan Lurie, Karen Armstrong, Jeanette Blonigen Clancy, Rosanne Cash, Joan Timmerman, Michael Morwood, Daniel Helminiak, and Zainab Salbi; a spirituality distinct from religion in ways succinctly articulated by Joan Chittister:

Spirituality is about the hunger in the human heart. It seeks not only a way to exist, but a reason to exist that is beyond the biological or the institutional or even the traditional. It lifts religion up from the level of the theoretical or the mechanical to the personal. It seeks to make real the things of the spirit. It transcends rules and rituals to a concentration on meaning. It pursues in depth the mystical dimension of life that religion purports to promote.



I have come across some reviews of Life of Pi that recognize and acknowledge the film's efforts to "make real the things of the spirit," or what others have called the depth dimension of life. For instance, here's part of Tim Martin's review . . .


Everything about Life of Pi combines to make it a wondrous experience, not only a visually spellbinding spectacle but also a thought-provoking and emotional piece of storytelling.

Life of Pi is based on the allegedly unfilmable novel written by Yann Martel about a young Indian man who undergoes a sweeping journey of spiritual and personal discovery while lost at sea in a lifeboat with a bad-tempered Bengal tiger.

As easy as it is to reduce the plot to a single sentence like that, that same reductionism does a huge disservice to this detailed, philosophically rich story.

And the film's ill-considered trailer (which says nothing of the story while focusing on the special effects showpieces, set to a smug, incongruous soundtrack by Coldplay and Sigur Ros) gives the impression of a fairly shallow technical showpiece, rather than the deep, textured meditation that it really is.


And then there's this insightful review I found at Amazon.com, part of which reads . . .

The scenes with Pi telling his story in flashback, of his quest for religious unity in a world where gods and deities abound and haunt his imagination, his conversations with books late into the night, along with altercations and loving interludes with his close and inseparable family is contrasted with the uncompromising self-reliant individualism that Pi is subjected to in that fateful journey across the seas. The long migration to Canada initially seems like a fool's quest but the deeper emotional notes in Pi's odyssey across the seas have an empowering tragic sense of life that has no equal this year at the movies.

Ang Lee stretches his own range of interests in his quest for a deeper emotional connection with religious themes in Martel's novels. Pi's lone quest in a raft, struggling to come to terms with his demons, in the open sea, also opens up a range of interpretations. . . . The sheer beauty and detail of the digital imagery that unfolds on screen, the breathtaking vision of young Pi lost in the ocean is, in and of itself, only spectacle. But these visuals, become a beautiful, even consoling, vision of a human being absorbed in his infinite struggles and longings. The brilliant decorative pieces on the cinematic canvas become vast signifiers of life's deepest meanings. And none of this gets ponderous, or pretentious.

This is a tale told simply, furiously, of Pi's resolve, of his sadness, love, loss, and protests. Pi's scream in a crucial moment, when he is numbed by thirst, hunger, and exhaustion . . . is the best single scene at the movies this year. His protest transcends the infinite stretches of the skies and the ocean above and below him. Lee's attention to Pi's anguish, this moral epicenter of this grand visual spectacle, is a moment on screen that reminded me, again, of the aesthetic power of cinema. Great directors do this constantly and Ang Lee manages to bring these moments to the screen this year more than any other film I have seen. A young man striving to remain true to his calling – as a son, an orphan, and finally a representative human being striving beyond his native strength – is a great moment of cinema, [one] where tragedy and triumph meet without separation.


Finally, here's an excerpt from Moses Ma's Psychology Today article about the film, an article that very deliberately seeks to explore "Meaning, Faith and the Life of Pi."


To understand the jewel of wisdom buried deep within the story – which is pronounced to be “a story that will make you believe in God” – we need to understand that the story is actually about wrestling not with a physical tiger, but a metaphoric one . . . with questions of meaning and faith. This story is a gedanken experiment for the worst case scenario, a modern day story of Job, all about how you can find spirituality and the meaning of life in the throes of all that is horrible and terrible in the world today. It is by surviving and making sense of all that goes wrong in the world, that the meaning of [our humanity] is uncovered.


Okay, the second film that I wouldn't mind seeing 'upset,' as they say, this evening's awards ceremony by taking home the Oscar for Best Picture, is Tom Hooper's Les Misérables . . .





I plan on writing in more depth about this beautiful and epic film in a future post. But what I will do here and now is share some thoughtful observations by author and Baylor University professor Greg Garrett. He notes, for instance, that many of the 2013 Oscar Best Films "tell stories of great loss and heartbreak redeemed by grace and hope." Both Life of Pi and Les Misérables certainly fit this bill.

Here's what Garrett has to say specifically about Les Misérables:


[L]ove is at the heart of Les Misérables, which concludes that "to love another person is to see the face of God." The Christian love of the Bishop (Colm Wilkinson) for vagabond thief Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) allows Valjean to renew his hope and reshape his life to become one that ultimately saves many besides himself. Valjean's own compassion for Fantine (Anne Hathaway) leads him to rescue her daughter and raise her as his own (and later, to rescue the one she loves and carry him away from the barricade to safety). Love is the one thing that the pursuing constable, Javert (Russell Crowe) never truly understands. He and Valjean each face a dark night of the soul – with identical music! – but he cannot see what Valjean does, that love is the necessary flip-side of justice. In his pivotal moment, Valjean embraces hope; Javert leaps to his death, broken inside and out.


Above: Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert
and Hugh Jackman as Valjean in Les Misérables.



Recommended Off-site Links:

Nobody Said 'Racial Equality' in 1865: The Anachronistic English of Lincoln – Benjamin Schmidt (The Atlantic, January 10, 2013).
Steven Spielberg's Lincoln and the Historical Drama of the Civil War – Tom Mackaman (World Socialist Web Site, November 12, 2012).
What Argo Gets Wrong: People – Spencer Kornhaber (The Atlantic, October 12, 2012).
Former Canadian Ambassador Renews Criticism of Argo – Ian Austen (New York Times, February 22, 2013).
Torture in Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty – Jane Mayer (The New Yorker, December 14, 2012).
The Intellectually Bankrupt Defenders of Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty – Davis Walsh (World Socialist Web Site, February 22, 2013).
Ten Things You Should Know About Slavery and Won't Learn at Django – Amara Jones (Colorlines.com, January 9, 2013).
The Impossible: A Narrow View of a Major Disaster – George Marlowe (World Socialist Web Site, January 31, 2013).
Life of Pi: In a Lifeboat Alone With a Tiger – David Walsh (World Socialist Web Site, December 15, 2012).
Life of Pi – A Review – Philip French (The Observer, December 22, 2012).
Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables: Social Misery, With a Vengeance – Hiram Lee (World Socialist Web Site, January 21, 2013).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Five Oscar Highlights (2008)
Oscar Observations (2009)
Oscar Observations (2010)
Beatrice Marovich on Divinity and Animality in Life of Pi
Colin Covert on Biutiful: "A Work of Extraordinary Vitality"
Where Milk Gets It Wrong
Pan’s Labyrinth: Critiquing the Cult of Unquestioning Obedience
Reflections on the Overlooked Children of Men
Reflections on Babel and the "Borders Within"
Christian Draz's Critique of Brokeback Mountain
Frank D. Myers' Long Hard Look at Brokeback Mountain


Friday, February 22, 2013

Gay Men in the Vatican Are Giving the Rest of Us a Bad Name


The Roman Catholic priesthood has long been a haven for a certain type of gay man – one who, for whatever reason, does not experience, or care to seek to experience in the wider world, validation for who they are sexually.

Before the rise in the West of the gay liberation movement of the late 60s-early 70s, the priesthood was one of a very few environments where homosexual men could gather and live together without arousing undue suspicion. More importantly, it was perhaps the only environment where they could gain power and experience respect and deference.

Consequently, I think it's fair to say that the priesthood has historically attracted a disproportionate number of homosexual men. For many of these men, the price paid for a life of power and prestige involves the maintaining of a secretive sexual life. It is secretive due to the fact that compulsory celibacy is currently a requirement of the priesthood. Another price that we know has been paid by many men – both gay and straight – is that of a stunted psycho-sexual development. One sad consequence of this can be seen in the clergy sex abuse scandal. I would argue that it's a minority of abuse cases that involve actual pedophiles, i.e., adults sexually attracted to prepubescent children. Instead, many, if not most of the caes, involve grown men attempting to act-out or come to terms with their sexuality with non-consenting teenagers and/or young adults with whom they share a similar level of psycho-sexual development.

Having said that, it's important to remember the analysis of Richard Sipe:

[The] John Jay [Study] concluded that 81 percent of the alleged victims were boys. Some people assumed, as a result, that sexual abuse is a homosexual problem.

Not so. First of all, there have been no studies in the general population that have even suggested gays are any more likely than heterosexuals to be pedophiles.

Plus, there are other, more likely explanations for why the majority of abused children were boys.

Studies of the priesthood have indicated that 66 percent of priests are psycho-sexually underdeveloped or maldeveloped. Part of the reason is that clerical culture encourages the idealization of adolescents (for their purity and passion), as well as encouraging dependency and conformity in its priests.

When adults – gay or heterosexual – function on a level that is equal to most adolescents, it’s not surprising that the people they’re sexually attracted to are adolescents. And in general, the adolescents whom priests spent time with were boys – mainly altar boys.


Yet even if the majority of priests who engage in sexual activity with adolescents are homosexual, it still does not mean that it's the homosexual orientation that's the problem. The vast majority of homosexual people live healthily-integrated lives in the world beyond the clerical culture of the priesthood, the "real" world, in other words. This is because they have "come out" to the reality of their sexuality, accepted this reality, and realized that they are able to choose how to express and live it. Just as with heterosexuals, the vast majority of homosexuals can and do choose to live lives marked by ongoing psycho-sexual growth, loving relationships, and sexual integrity and health. We see the benefits of this choice all around us in the lives and relationships of the gay individuals, couples, and families we know and love.

Where we're not seeing it is in the Roman Catholic priesthood.

This is because the clerical culture of the church, unlike wider society, continues to denigrate and malign homosexuality and its expression. And yet we know that this same culture is heavily populated by homosexual men – not the type "on the outside" that accept and celebrate the gift of their sexuality, but rather the type that is self-loathing, secretive, and often psycho-sexually stunted. Yet they are also men with very real sexual needs. Celibacy is a beautiful gift – and a very rare one. It does not come automatically for most men once they enter the priesthood. A celibate life can be fostered and maintained, but only if sexuality – in all its beauty and complexity – is acknowledged and respected, something that's not happening in the priesthood. Gay men in the priesthood are forced to live secret, isolated, and often sexually furtive lives.

No good can come from such a state of affairs, as we're painfully witnessing almost on a daily basis. The latest revelation suggests that Pope Benedict's recently announced plan to abdicate at the end of the month was prompted, at least in part, by internal reports that detail findings of blackmail, corruption, and, as one newspaper puts it, "gay sex at the Vatican." Following is The Guardian's report on this latest development.

A potentially explosive report has linked the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI to the discovery of a network of gay prelates in the Vatican, some of whom – the report said – were being blackmailed by outsiders.

The pope's spokesman declined to confirm or deny the report, which was carried by the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica.

The paper said the pope had taken the decision on 17 December that he was going to resign – the day he received a dossier compiled by three cardinals delegated to look into the so-called "Vatileaks" affair.

Last May Pope Benedict's butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested and charged with having stolen and leaked papal correspondence that depicted the Vatican as a seething hotbed of intrigue and infighting.

According to La Repubblica, the dossier comprising "two volumes of almost 300 pages – bound in red" had been consigned to a safe in the papal apartments and would be delivered to the pope's successor upon his election.

The newspaper said the cardinals described a number of factions, including one whose members were "united by sexual orientation".

In an apparent quotation from the report, La Repubblica said some Vatican officials had been subject to "external influence" from laymen with whom they had links of a "worldly nature". The paper said this was a clear reference to blackmail.

It quoted a source "very close to those who wrote [the cardinal's report]" as saying: "Everything revolves around the non-observance of the sixth and seventh commandments."

The seventh enjoins against theft. The sixth forbids adultery, but is linked in Catholic doctrine to the proscribing of homosexual acts.

. . . Pope Benedict has said he will stand down at the end of this month; the first pope to resign voluntarily since Celestine V more than seven centuries ago. Since announcing his departure he has twice apparently referred to machinations inside the Vatican, saying that divisions "mar the face of the church", and warned against "the temptations of power".

La Repubblica's report was the latest in a string of claims that a gay network exists in the Vatican. In 2007 a senior official was suspended from the congregation, or department, for the priesthood, after he was filmed in a "sting" organised by an Italian television programme while apparently making sexual overtures to a younger man.

In 2010 a chorister was dismissed for allegedly procuring male prostitutes for a papal gentleman-in-waiting. A few months later a weekly news magazine used hidden cameras to record priests visiting gay clubs and bars and having sex.

The Vatican does not condemn homosexuals. But it teaches that gay sex is "intrinsically disordered". Pope Benedict has barred sexually active gay men from studying for the priesthood.


Part of me pities these individuals whose actions have set them up for blackmail. But then I think of the great harm they are doing to themselves, to others, and to the Church. It's unnecessary harm, as gay people have the opportunities in this day and age to live, as never before, lives of wholeness and integrity.

What's stopping the many gay priests and bishops from stepping out of their closets of secrecy? Is it the lure of the rich trappings of power and prestige also housed in these closets? Is it fear of losing this power and prestige? Is it more practical – the fear of simply losing their position and thus their source of income? Do some really believe what the clerical leadership teaches about homosexuality? Are they simply incapable of realizing that the way they're drawn to reach out and touch and be touched by another is capable of being lovingly and healthily experienced? Perhaps for many it's a painful and uncomfortable mixture of all these reasons.

One thing I do know for sure is that our gay brothers within the feudal world of the Vatican are giving gay men everywhere a bad name. I must admit that as a gay Catholic man I resent this. So many of us have made the difficult journey to a place of self-realization and integration, and discerned that it's the truly enlightened and authentically spiritual path to tread. And yet our so-called spiritual leaders refuse to recognize it, let alone embark on the journey themselves. I don't want our church to be led by such hypocrites and cowards.

Yet, undoubtedly, things are only going to get worse unless Catholics, as 'the Church,' demand a fundamental change in the way our leaders think and talk about sexuality – in all its wondrous diversity. For that to happen, however, the whole leadership system must be reformed. We can no longer depend upon a "good" pope, i.e., one who thinks like us, to come in and make everything better. A benevolent autocrat is still an autocrat. It's time we acknowledged that the church took a terribly wrong turn when, around 1600 years ago, it assumed the trappings of empire during the time of Constantine. No more overlords, autocrats, emperor-like popes. We have to return to the radical egalitarianism of Jesus. Only then will God's spirit of compassion and justice be manifested in and through the Church, i.e., the community of those committed to following Jesus.

And I like to think that in emulating Jesus' example of embodying God's spirit, we're liberated from all kinds of entrapped ways of living that give us or others any type of "bad name."


Related Off-site Links:
The La Repubblica Report on the Vatican "Gay Cabal" – Original Text – Terence Weldon (Queering the Church, February 23, 2013).
Papal Abdication Linked to Inquiry Into 'Vatican Gay Officials,' Says Paper – John Hooper (The Guardian, February 21, 2013).
Reports: Pope Resigned After Findings of Blackmail, Corruption, Gay Sex at Vatican – Doug Stanglin (USA Today via Detroit Free Press, February 2, 2013).
Did Gays in the Vatican Drive Benedict Out? – David Gibson (Religion News Service, February 22, 2013).
Thoughts on the Vatican's 'Gay Lobby' – John L. Allen Jr. (National Catholic Reporter, February 22, 2013).
Did The Cardinals Inquisition Result In Pope Benedict's Resignation? – Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, February 21, 2013).
Let’s Not Kid Anyone, Ratzinger XVI Resigned Due to Sexual, Financial Scandal – Luis Miranda (The Real Agenda, February 22, 2013).
Vatican Slams Media Reports of Gay Scandal – Paul Brandeis Raushenbush (The Huffington Post, February 23, 2013)
A Gay Priest "Makes It Known" – Terence Weldon (Queering the Church, February 22, 2013).
"Perfect" Priests and Their "Sacrificial Lambs" – John C Seitz (National Catholic Reporter via The Progressive Catholic Voice, December 5, 2012).
Homosexual Relationships: Another Look – Bill Hunt (The Progressive Catholic Voice, September 8, 2012).
A Dangerous Closet – Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea (The Boston Globe, March 11, 2007).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Homosexuality and the Priesthood
Officially Homophobic, Intensely Homoerotic
A Fact That Should Be Neither Surprising Nor Derogatory
Let's Face It: The Catholic Church is a Gay Institution . . . and That's a Good Thing!
The Pope's "Scandalous" Stance on Homosexuality
Vatican Stance on Gay Priests Signals Urgent Need for Renewal and Reform
Report: Homosexuality No Factor in Abusive Priests
Weakland, the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal, and Homophobia
Keeping All the Queens Under One Roof
Oh, Give It a Rest, Papa!
Catholic Church Can Overcome Fear of Gay People
The Many Manifestations of God's Loving Embrace
What Is It That Ails You?
What the Vatican Can Learn from the X-Men

Image: Jason Greenberg.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Benedict and Georg Redux

Above: Pope Benedict and Monsignor Georg Gaenswein.
(Photograph: AGF/Rex Features)


The Associated Press is reporting that "[t]he Vatican has confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI's trusted private secretary will remain as his secretary and live with Benedict in his retirement home in the Vatican gardens – in addition to being prefect of the new pope's household."

According to the AP, "the dual role of Monsignor Georg Gäenswein would seem to bolster concerns expressed privately by some cardinals that Benedict – by living inside the Vatican and having his aide also working for his successor – would continue to exert at least some influence."

Hmmm . . . besides the whole conflict of interest issue that this story highlights, I thought so-called "particular friendships" were discouraged in the Roman Catholic priesthood. Regardless, I'm glad Benedict won't be living alone in his retirement.

To read the entire story, click here.


See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Benedict and Georg


Related Off-site Links:
Pope Will Have Security, Immunity by Remaining in the Vatican – Philip Pullella (Reuters, February 15, 2013).
A Rogue Power: Vatican May Shield Pope from Growing Prosecution Efforts – Abby Zimet (CommonDreams.org, February 19, 2013).
Benedict's Painful Legacy – Elizabeth Drescher (Religion Dispatches, February 11, 2013).
Benedict’s Embattled Legacy on LGBT Issues – Bob Shine (Bondings 2.0, February 13, 2013).
The Disastrous Influence of Pope Benedict XVI – John Cassidy (The New Yorker, February 12, 2013).
Pope Benedict's Most Powerful Gift to the Church – Joan Chittister, OSB (The Huffington Post, February 15, 2013).
Pope Benedict XVI’s Leaked Documents Show Fractured Vatican Full of Rivalries – Jason Horowitz (The Washington Post, February 16, 2013).
An Open Letter to Josef Ratzinger – Leonard Swidler (The Progressive Catholic Voice, February 18, 2013).
Particular FriendshipsRenegade Trads (July 1, 2011).


Monday, February 18, 2013

"It'll Be Legal August 1st"


Four years ago MN State Sen. John Marty addressed the 2009 annual community meeting of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities and told those in attendance that "we can make it happen." He was referring to marriage equality for all Minnesotan citizens, regardless of sexual orientation.

Last Thursday, February 14, was St. Valentine's Day – a perfect day for the annual Freedom to Marry Day rally at the MN State Capitol. This year's rally, organized by Minnesotans United for All Families, saw over 2,000 people gather in the rotunda of the Capitol to show their support for civil marriage rights for same-sex couples. One of the definite highlights of the rally for me was when we unfurled the Catholics for Marriage Equality MN banner from one of the top balconies of the rotunda. I heard a thunderous wave of applause rise up from below, and thought to myself that the first of the rally's speakers must have stepped up to the podium. Looking down I made the wonderful discovery that it wasn't the appearance of a speaker that the crowd was so enthusiastically responding to, but rather the appearance of our banner!

Another highlight was my brief conversation with Sen. John Marty. Upon seeing me, he was quick to tell me that the award CPCSM presented him at our June 2009 annual community meeting (left) was still on his office wall. It clearly meant a lot to him, and, as executive coordinator of CPCSM/Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, I was honored and happy to be reminded of this.

At one point during our conversation last Thursday, John put his hand on my shoulder and said with utter conviction: "It'll be legal August 1st." He was, of course, talking about marriage equality – a justice issue he has been passionate about for as long as I can remember, and which makes him such a worthy recipient of CPCSM's Bishop Gumbleton Peace and Justice Award. And I'm thinking that if anyone knows the inside scoop on the behind-the-scenes political maneuvering and deal-making that is no doubt going on at the State Capitol around this issue, it would be John Marty. Marriage equality legislation is in the works, and, according to Sen. Scott Dibble, another friend and supporter of CPCSM, a bill to legalize same-sex marriage will likely appear this week.

Until then, here's an inspiring commentary that Sen. John Marty recently penned for the newsletter of The Apple Pie Alliance.



The Time for Marriage Equality is Here

by Senator John Marty
February 15, 2013

A massive Valentine's Day rally at the Minnesota State Capitol, which included over a hundred clergy and religious leaders calling for the state to allow same-sex couples to marry, is no longer surprising.

Times have changed. In 1997, when the Minnesota legislature passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), to "defend" marriage against same-sex couples, only a handful of legislators voted against it, and even fewer were willing to speak against it. Back then we received stacks of letters, many filled with hateful comments, condemning us for supporting the right of all people to marry the person they love.

Over time, there has been growing recognition that LGBT families deserve fair treatment. Even the strongest proponents of the constitutional amendment have changed their strategy and rhetoric in response to shifting public opinion. Ten years ago, Michelle Bachmann's legislation would have amended the constitution to ban not only marriages, but also civil unions. Now, less than a decade later, the amendment's authors declined to put a civil union ban in their proposal, knowing how unpopular that would be.

Shortly before the election, a gay TV reporter asked the spokeswoman for Minnesota for Marriage, the pro-amendment group, "How is my relationship less valid than others?" She responded, "[It is] certainly not less valid. . . . We understand that same-sex couples can love each other and commit to each other." This from the spokeswoman leading the fight against marriage equality! That's a huge change.

Opponents of marriage equality often speak of religious “truths” to make their case. My religious faith teaches that we are to treat others the way we would want to be treated. My church, like many others, promotes making a sacred, lifelong bond between couples who love each other. It is because of our faith, not in spite of it, that we promote marriage and work to strengthen families of same-sex couples just as with heterosexual ones. For us, the countless scripture passages on love and commitment, on honesty and fidelity, on compassion and understanding, and on the importance of parents caring for each other and their children are more compelling than the handful of verses that have been used by others to argue against homosexuality.

The religious leaders who came to the Capitol on Valentine's Day asking for marriage equality aren't asking others to share their religious beliefs; they respect the beliefs of those who disagree. They don't want the state to interfere with the religious beliefs of any of its people. Just as a church or religious denomination that objects to same-sex marriage has the right to refuse to solemnize those marriages, a church or religious denomination that believes in the value of same-sex marriage should have the right to solemnize those marriages.

The current law banning marriage doesn't stop same-sex couples from falling in love, from making commitments to each other, from sharing their lives together, from raising children, or from growing old together. Their love and commitment is a wonderful thing and healthy for society. There is no rational reason for denying their families the same rights and responsibilities that other married people have, including the right to pension and Social Security survivor's benefits, the right to family and medical leave, and numerous other benefits and obligations.

Many of these couples have been partners for more than the three decades that my wife Connie and I have been married, yet they still do not receive the same legal protections and rights that we have. They have been waiting for a long time.

I am confident that we will pass marriage equality legislation this session. Some would rather that we postpone the issue for a few years, but justice requires that we provide equality for LGBT families, and that we do so now.

Human rights for any minority should never be subject to popular opinion. Even so, the legislators who believed it should be determined by a statewide vote, got their way. And they lost.

We will pass legislation allowing all Minnesotans to marry the person they love – not because the majority rejected the amendment last fall – but because it is the right thing to do. The point here is that the opponents can no longer claim to have strong backing from the public.

The conversation about marriage equality that began last year in communities around the state helped build understanding of the value of all families. Passing legislation to allow marriage for all couples will not stop this conversation. Year after year, Minnesotans will continue gaining understanding and respect for those who are different from us.

Now, we can act. This year, we will finally give all Minnesotans the freedom to marry the person they love. And that's a beautiful thing.







Related Off-site Links:
MN Gay Marriage Bill Likely This Week, Politicians Differ on Whether Votes are There – Andy Birkey (TheColu.mn, February 18, 2013).
GOP Minnesota Legislator Preparing to Co-sponsor Gay Marriage Bill – Baird Helgeson and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger (Star Tribune, February 19, 2013).
Minnesota Gay Marriage Opponents Weighing New 'Counter' Strategy – Cyndy Brucato (MinnPost.com, February 19, 2013).
Same-sex Marriage Debate Moves to the Capitol – Sasha Aslanian (Minnesota Public Radio, January 8, 2013).
When Will Gay Marriage Be Legal in Minnesota? – Andy Mannix (City Pages, January 2, 2013).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Sen. John Marty: "We Can Make It Happen"
Sen. John Marty Recipient of CPCSM's 2009 Bishop Gumbleton Peace and Justice Award
In the Struggle for Marriage Equality, MN Catholics are Making a Difference by Changing Hearts and Minds
The Minneapolis (and Online) Premiere of Catholics for Marriage Equality
Marriage: "Part of What is Best in Human Nature"
A Head and Heart Response to the Catholic Hierarchy's Opposition to Marriage Equality
In Minnesota, Catholics Sing Their Support for Marriage Equality
Lisa Cressman's Concise, Reasonable Answers to Marriage Equality Questions
Both 'Marriage Amendment' AND 'Voter Photo ID Amendment' Rejected by Minnesota Voters


Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Thomas Affair



Although I'm by no means an avid watcher of the popular Downton Abbey TV series, I did make a point of watching last week's episode which focused in large part on the show's homosexual character, Thomas Barrow.

Last April, when I made a brief return to Australia, I watched the entire first season of Downton Abbey on the in-flight entertainment system. (Hey, it is a thirteen-hour flight!) It's certainly a well-made show, and I got involved enough to decide that my two favorite characters are the modern and liberal Mrs. Crawley and the firm but kind Mrs. Hughes, housekeeper of Downton Abbey. Season One also introduced me to the handsome but not-very-likable footman Thomas, who, along with the equally unlikable Miss O'Brien, was forever scheming to undermine his fellow staff members, most notably Mr. Bates, the new valet to Lord Grantham, master of Downton Abbey.

Anyway, after this first introduction to Downton Abbey, I never really bothered to revisit the show. To be honest, I found many of the plot lines just too far-fetched – chief among them the whole storyline involving the hot young Ottoman attaché dying during lovemaking with Lady Mary. The cover-up of the incident by Mary's mother Lady Cora and the housemaid Anna, along with efforts of Cora and the Dowager Countess of Grantham to prevent a public scandal that would ruin Mary's marriage prospects, dominate much of Season One.

I was curious, though, to revisit the show after hearing about last week's Season 3 episode involving Thomas. Here's the gist of it: Since Season One, Thomas and O'Brien have had a falling out, the details of which I'm unaware. What I do know is that O'Brien is determined to ruin Thomas, and, knowing that he's homosexual, she encourages him to put the moves on the new footman, the young and handsome Jimmy. Jimmy, however, isn't homosexual, and O'Brien knows it. But she tells all kinds of lies to Thomas to make him think that Jimmy fancies him as much as he fancies Jimmy. You can see where this is going, can't you?

Sure enough, Thomas makes a move, Jimmy freaks out, O'Brien pushes Jimmy to go to the police, and Thomas' whole future looks extremely dire indeed. Remember, homosexuality was illegal in Britain in the 1920s, and punishable by a harsh prison term.

Yet Thomas doesn't end up in prison. Many of the staff come to his defense, as does even Lord Grantham, in his own way. Such a turn of events managed to upset all kinds of viewers. Liberal folks thought in totally implausible that so many of Thomas' colleagues would have been so forgiving and accepting. Accordingly, the show failed to depict the terrible reality faced by homosexual people of that era. Others thought the show was serving as a propaganda piece for the so-called 'homosexual agenda,' just another example of the pro-gay media "ramming it down our throats" – an expression which, giving the topic, always makes me chuckle!

And so I watched last week's episode online a few days after its broadcast on PBS, and, yes, I found it all rather implausible – including the way Thomas makes his move on Jimmy. I must say, though, I really felt for poor Thomas after he realizes his mistake. I think he has genuine feelings for Jimmy – as evidenced by the way he had earlier engaged him in conversation at the kitchen table. Also, if Thomas simply wanted to get his rocks off, and if he believed Jimmy felt the same, then I think Jimmy would have woken up with Thomas' lips on an entirely different part of his anatomy than his mouth. That Thomas chose to kiss Jimmy tenderly on the mouth says something, I believe, of Thomas' desire for sexual intimacy, not just sexual activity. It tells us that Thomas saw Jimmy as a subject with whom he wanted to be relationship, and not simply as an object to exploit.

I haven't been the only one pondering last week's storyline involving Thomas. Here's a sampling of what others are saying, including Rob James-Collier, the actor who plays Thomas:



Why did Thomas think it was a good idea to put the moves on Jimmy in the middle of the night? As a gay man forced to live in metaphorical shadows, Thomas presumably felt that the only time he could act on his feelings was under the cover of darkness. But even if Jimmy had reciprocated Thomas’s affections – and for the record, I think maybe, deep down, he does – he still would have been creeped out by such an unanticipated mouth invasion. Bad choice, Mr. Barrow. Still, all credit to Thomas for being honest about what happened and defending himself against Carson’s slurs: “I’m not foul, Mr. Carson.” Thomas was never foul because of his sexual orientation. And for once, he’s not even foul for any other reason.

Vulture.com
February 11, 2013



One of the great things about Thomas is that, despite being such a delectable, over-the-top villain, he does have a vulnerable side, one that’s actually quite convincing.

He’s a gay man living at a time when living an honest life required breaking the law, and when someone like Carson could say, “You have been twisted by nature into something foul” and mean it sympathetically. He’s also a working-class lad with higher aspirations that will never be realized, thanks to a ludicrously unfair economic system. Yes, he channels his frustrations in unproductive ways, but Thomas’ motives are often more understandable than those of his peers.

His late-night high jinks immediately send shockwaves through the house. Carson, desperately afraid of scandal, allows Thomas to resign and promises him a good letter of recommendation, but when O’Brien pulls one of her Jedi mind tricks on Jimmy, Thomas is pretty much doomed. Bates, sensitive to unjust persecution . . . decides to intervene . . .

– Meredith Blake
"'Twisted by Nature Into Something Foul'"
Los Angeles Times
February 11, 2013



[Rob James-Collier], who has become an instantly recognizable face both in the UK and abroad through his sensitive portrayal of the complex [Thomas], has enjoyed bringing out Thomas’ more vulnerable side in the most recent series.

Of the celebrated kissing scene, he described his character as "going through a whole mill of emotions, essentially destroyed by the manipulation of O'Brien."

"I got a lot of response," he said. "People were feeling sorry for Thomas and that's never happened. He's been undone by love. People identify with being heartbroken. We've all been heartbroken, haven't we? I've been dumped, and it feels horrible.

“He’s not evil, he’s misunderstood,” he [says], and gave an impassioned defense of his character, both because Thomas was gay during a closeted Edwardian age, and because of his behavior during the First World War as depicted in Series 2.

The Huffington Post
January 11, 2013



O'Brien's scheme accomplished zero, except to cause lots of pain and to shove Thomas' sexuality into the spotlight. What did you think of the way various characters reacted? Lord Grantham seemed to deem it no biggie. Mrs. Hughes was all understanding and good wishes. And while Carson made it clear he found Thomas "foul" and "revolting" and due to be "horsewhipped," he also noted that he thinks being gay is bestowed by nature and not something one chooses.

Slate
February 10, 2013



For the time and place, homosexuality was treated as a crime, which is why both Jimmy and Alfred wanted to report [Thomas] to the authorities. The more religiously conservative members of the household also felt that Thomas brought his repugnant sin into the house. "I cannot hide that I find your situation revolting," Mr. Carson told him. "You have been twisted by nature into something foul."

– Hanh Nguyen
"Was Thomas' Downfall Deserved?"
TV Guide
February 10, 2013



I was surprised by how moved I was by Thomas' plight – proud of him, even. He didn't deny his gayness, and he stood up for himself when he told Mr. Carson, "I'm not the same as you, but I'm not foul." And I loved Lord Grantham's admission that "If I screamed blue murder every time someone tried to kiss me at Eton, I'd have gone hoarse in a month."

I think [Downton Abbey creator] Julian Fellowes did a good job of finding credible reasons for the servants to stand up for Thomas: Mrs. Hughes didn't want to see a man who'd been wounded serving king and country ruined by a vain, flirtatious young whippersnapper like Jimmy. Bates thought Jimmy was being a "big girl's blouse" (a phrase that seemed anachronistic since I knew it as the catchphrase of the great Northern comic Hylda Baker); and the rest of the downstairs crew were appalled at the thought of one of their number being dismissed without a reference.

At the same time, Thomas seems doomed to a life of loneliness at Downton. I suspect that . . . he'd be happier in a place where no one knows his story.

Slate
February 10, 2013



Actor Rob James-Collier did a great job of conveying Thomas’ struggle. After years of loneliness and contempt, love seemed to be calling from across the hall. He knew the risks – a beating, dismissal, jail – but he gave in to his romantic side and kissed the man he had been told was mooning over him. There was no suggestion of Thomas forcing himself on Jimmy, who is physically strong and an independent thinker; he was simply making the first move.

– June Thomas



Rob James-Collier stole the episode with his confusion and angst, surprising Thomas doubters into unexpected compassion as he pointed out to a befuddled Mr Carson, "It's not against the law to hope, is it?"

– Caroline Frost
"Doubting Thomas Steals the Show with Kissing Confusion
The Huffington Post
October 28, 2012




Related Off-site Links:
Downton Abbey Official Site (UK)
Downtown Abbey Official Site (US)
Guys Are Down with Downton Abbey – Cynthia Mccormick (Cape Cod Times, February 16, 2013).
Downton Abbey: What Does the Cast Really Look Like?Yahoo TV (February 2013).
Dan Stevens: Why I Left Downton Abbey – Sarah Crompton (The Telegraph, December 26, 2012).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Don Gorton on the Significance of Maurice (Part 1)
Don Gorton on the Significance of Maurice (Part 2)
E. M. Forster's "Elusive Ideal"
At Swim, Two Boys: A Beautiful Novel
Something to Think About – February 14, 2013