We were ready to publish our takedown of Ramin Setoodeh‘s lame response to the backlash against his homophobic article when this piece of news crossed our desk: ‘Glee’ creator Ryan Murphy pushes for ‘Newsweek’ boycott.
Here’s Ryan’s letter, from EW Popwatch:
I would like to join my good friend Kristin Chenoweth on her condemnation of a recent Newsweek article written by Mr. Ramin Setoodeh, in which Setoodeh basically says that out gay actors should go back into the closet and never attempt to play straight characters. This article is as misguided as it is shocking and hurtful. It shocks me because Mr. Setoodeh is himself gay. But what is the most shocking of all is that Newsweek went ahead and published such a blatantly homophobic article in the first place…and has remained silent in the face of ongoing (and justified) criticism. Would the magazine have published an article where the author makes a thesis statement that minority actors should only be allowed and encouraged to play domestics? I think not.
Today, I have asked GLAAD president Jarrett Barrios to stand with me and others and ask for an immediate boycott of Newsweek magazine until an apology is issued to Sean Hayes and other brave out actors who were cruelly singled out in this damaging, needlessly cruel, and mind-blowingly bigoted piece. An apology should also be issued to all gay readers of the magazine…steelworkers, parents, accountants, doctors, etc…proud hardworking Americans who, if this article is to be believed, should only identify themselves as “queeny” people (a word used by Setoodeh in the article) who stand at the back of the bus and embrace an outdated decades old stereotype.
You can read his complete response on Entertainment Weekly.
Also you can watch this cute behind-the-scenes clip of how Jonathan Groff and Lea Michelle went from Spring Awakening to Glee:
And now, onto Seetodeh’s failed response.
Ramin Setoodeh has responded to the backlash incited by his Newsweek article “Straight Jacket,” which stated that gay actors just aren’t believable playing straight. In “Out Of Focus,” Setoodeh pleads, “The Internet is attacking me for my essay on ‘Promises, Promises.’ But can we steer the debate back to where it belongs?”
Before we get to his response, let’s address the “Internet Attack” in case you missed it. When the story first went up, we responded, as did many other gay media sites, like AfterElton and Queerty. The comments on Newsweek ranged from furious to outraged.
But then last week, Kristin Chenoweth’s response to the piece, first reported exclusively on autostraddle.com and tweeted by Kristin Chenoweth to Autostraddle (have we mentioned that we love her yet? ‘Cause we do), really caught mainstream attention. It made a lot of great points, like this one:
… as someone who’s been proudly advocating for equal rights and supporting GLBT causes for as long as I can remember, I know how much it means to young people struggling with their sexuality to see out & proud actors like Sean Hayes, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris and Cynthia Nixon succeeding in their work without having to keep their sexuality a secret. No one needs to see a bigoted, factually inaccurate article that tells people who deviate from heterosexual norms that they can’t be open about who they are and still achieve their dreams.
Kristin’s response “went viral,” catching top stories on CNN, FoxNews, The Huffington Post and The New York Times. As AfterElton reported, out actor Cheyenne Jackson, who plays straight on Broadway all the time, said it was “very veiled self-loathing. Really upsetting.” Michael Urie of Ugly Betty fame called Setoodeh’s piece “unconscionable.”
Understandably, this meant Setoodeh had a very bad weekend. From “Out of Focus”:
Setoodeh: Over the weekend, I became the subject of a lot of vicious attacks. I received e-mails that said I will be fired, anonymous phone calls on my cell phone and a creepy letter at my home. Several blogs posted my picture, along with a link to my Twitter feed. People commented about my haircut, and that was only the beginning. I was compared to Ann Coulter and called an Uncle Tom. Someone described me as a “self-hating Arab” that should be writing about terrorism (I’m an American, born in Texas, of Iranian descent).
OK, clearly the “self-hating Arab” thing is absurd and disgusting and whomever said that should be punched & kicked off the internet and should also keep their racism out of an otherwise productive conversation . That’s a troll, don’t feed the trolls — and don’t give them credit for their hateful words.
Although there are some notable aspects of Setoodeh’s response — he actually uses first person a few times instead of speaking on behalf of society (though there’s plenty of that again, too), and rightly calls out some inappropriate backlash (really guys, who made fun of his hair? Can we steer the debate back to where it belongs?) — 95% of the response misses the mark and only serves to underscore the same problems plaguing his original piece, I mean when Glenda the Good Witch aka Kristin Chenoweth takes the time to express her unhappiness, you know you’re in trouble.
Let’s break down the problems with his response.
Problem #1: Gays Can Be Homophobic.
Setoodeh: “It went viral. Chenoweth wrote a letter to NEWSWEEK calling the article “horrendously homophobic,”, even though she went on to acknowledge that I am openly gay.”
This is confusing, but possibly also really revelatory: if Setoodeh thinks that being a homosexual means he can’t possibly be homophobic, no wonder he feels so free to call gay actors “queeny” and “too fabulous” — terms which we’d never let Sarah Palin get away with. I bet Setoodeh has a lot of gay friends too!
Problem #2: Projecting his opinion onto others, and selectively quoting one review of many as well as selectively quoting the review itself.
Seetodeh: When Sean Hayes, from Will & Grace, made his Broadway debut in Promises, Promises playing a heterosexual man, the New York Times theater review included these lines: “his emotions often seem pale to the point of colorlessness … his relationship with [his costar Kristin] Chenoweth feels more like that of a younger brother than a would-be lover and protector.” This, to me, is code: it’s a way to say that Hayes’s sexual orientation is getting in the way of his acting without saying the word gay.
Although the “to me” is, as aforementioned, encouraging, he immediately follows it up by speaking on behalf of “society” again. And he can’t base an entire “news” article on a personal opinion — or infer that the NY Times writer was speaking in a secret code only Setoodeh could understand.
MSNBC: Some people are saying this just isn’t fair.
Ramin Setoodeh: It was an honest impression… it was something I noticed, I went to see the play, I wanted to enjoy the play. But it was something that I noticed. I was looking around at other people in the audience. When women are watching a play about love and a man says he’s in love with a woman, they usually light up. And in this play I didn’t feel like there was that connection with the audience.
MSNBC: Did people tell you that or were you making an observation by looking at the audience?
Ramin Seetodeh: It was an observation I made… but if you read the New York Times review…
Furthermore, although Setoodeh is unhappy that the Internet takes his words “out of context” (they actually make him look better out of context, IMHO — it’s the whole piece, not individual sentences, that is so damning), he does just that with The New York Times review, one of the only reviews we could find which contained any negativity about the show — ignoring Hayes’ Tony or Drama Desk nominations and the overwhelmingly positive fan response.
Let’s look at another paragraph from that same New York Times review:
Chuck pines, sucks up, drinks up, suffers pangs of conscience and, in the second act, develops a spine, all the while confiding to the audience in ingratiating asides. Mr. Hayes, best known for the sitcom “Will & Grace,” locates a winning physical clownishness within this sad-sack character (originated, believe it or not, by Jerry Orbach).
Taken out of context, one could argue that The Times prefers Hayes’ performance, and the “clownishness” he brought to it, over Orbach’s, although Setoodeh’s initial argument says that Orbach’s was significantly more appropriate because of Orbach’s manly heterosexuality.
Problem #3: The idea that “gay actors can’t play straight” isn’t a new one — and it’s certainly not the right way to start a conversation that claims to want to CHANGE that misconception.
Seetodeh: Instead of hiding behind double entendre and leaving the obvious unstated, I wrote an essay in the May 10 issue of NEWSWEEK called “Straight Jacket” examining why, as a society, it’s often hard for us to accept an openly gay actor playing a straight character. You can disagree with me if you like, but when was the last time you saw a movie starring a gay actor? The point of my essay was not to disparage my own community, but to examine an issue that is being swept under the rug.
Swept under the rug? From where we sit, it feels like wall-to-wall carpeting — but of course, that’s our opinion. Which is why it’s qualified as such. His, unfortunately, is not.
Problem #4: He fails to address the inaccuracies and sloppy examples utilized in his first piece.
The response doesn’t respond to valid criticisms raised in the media response: Why is Jonathan Groff “unbelievable” as straight in Glee, but not in Spring Awakening, which both featured singing & dancing and Lea Michele as his female love interest? Why is Cynthia Nixon‘s success completely ignored in favor of the claim that her career peaked when she was in the closet when she’s starring in one of the biggest movies of the summer? Why are Portia De Rossi and Neil Patrick Harris‘s successful straight performances written off as “broad caricatures” and therefore not valid examples of straight people playing gay when the examples he does consider valid are MUSICALS? Talk about “broad caricatures”! In the MSNBC interview he’s questioned about the NPH/PDR issue and he again defends it, using his original words from the original article.
Problem #5: He’s mixing up “out gay actors” with “gay actors” — and that’s a dangerous mixup to make.
On MSNBC and in his response, Ramin says that his claim is true because,”When was the last time you saw a movie starring a gay actor?”
That should read “OUT” gay actor. Because the last time we saw a movie starring a gay actor was probs last week, when you consider the closeted leading men successfully working in Hollywood. Also, can’t wait to catch Cynthia Nixon in Sex and the City 2 next week!
Problem #6: His newly stated intention was not reflected in his initial article’s thesis — is this backpedaling, ignorance, or just bad writing?
Setoodeh: But what all this scrutiny seemed to miss was my essay’s point: if an actor of the stature of George Clooney came out of the closet today, would we still accept him as a heterosexual leading man? It’s hard to say, because no actor like that exists. I meant to open a debate—why is that? And what does it say about our notions about sexuality? For all the talk about progress in the gay community in Hollywood, has enough really changed? The answer seems obvious to me: no, it has not.
Well, so far the only proven example of a person who found Sean Hayes and Jonathan Groff unconvincing is Setoodeh himself (and his scientific study of the facial expressions of other women in the theater and his projection onto one reviewer’s mixed review of Promises, Promises).
He’s right, though: there are no mainstream films starring out gay actors. And that’s a problem, and a noble topic to bring up. In fact, Setoodeh said so himself in his MSNBC interview, claiming that what he wants is for more gay actors to come out, which is just totally the opposite of what he said and really, just fuck me with a spoon on that one, I’m lost. FAIL.
And here’s how we fix that problem you suddenly care about, my fellow gay (also sidenote, you’re super cute/sexy, which makes me even more annoyed):
1. You speak out against it. You don’t reinforce it. You don’t enable hate, and if your personal feelings are so counter-productive to the cause, maybe you should make sure it’s not JUST YOU before publishing it as fact in NEWSWEEK.
2. If you’re going to insist on half-assed irresponsible journalism with cherry-picked examples, why don’t you focus on the good examples, and not the bad ones? We do it all the time!
3. If anything, the fact that gay actors are getting straight leads in TV and on Broadway is an encouraging sign that times are changing, and perhaps before long we’ll see more out actors in movies. I mean mainstream film has never been a bastion of progressive politics, but change begins on Broadway, then on TV, and then the movies. Also he should go see Billy’s Hollywoood Screen Kiss!
4. Mr. Setoodeh, with all due respect, you have a rare opportunity as an out gay man of color at a mainstream newsweekly to really stand up for people who aren’t spoken for enough. You’re one of a handful with this opportunity. Use it wisely, or don’t be surprised when you’re called out for fucking it up.
You are in the master’s house, you have access to his tools, and when someone offers you a more reasonable method with which to employ them, you should listen and, daresay, perhaps even apologize.
And, especially when it comes to newly-out Sean Hayes and Jonathan Groff, perhaps Setoodeh could take some of Jack McFarland’s advice: “We have to help the new gays. Nurture them, make them beautiful. We have to Gay It Forward. “
[P.S. You know that John Updike story A&P you had to read in your Norton Anthology of Short Fiction in high school? They made it into a short film many years back, which perhaps you also saw in English class. If you can’t make it to NYC to see Promises Promises, look no further for proof of Hayes’ absolute ability to “play straight” — on film, no less.]