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Short Bamboo Reviews: The Times of Harvey Milk

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, December 22, 2008 1:39 EDT
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On the recommendations of many readers, I checked out “The Times of Harvey Milk“. Obviously, it covers a lot of the same ground as Gus Van Sant’s new biopic “Milk” (please drag your on-the-fence friends to see it so they get closer to getting it), but I think because of the constraints of a documentary it covers some political ground that’s hard to really cram into the biopic. A couple of observations:

*It’s interesting that both the pro- and anti-gay sides claim to be speaking for the kids. But only one side actually is, and of course that’s the pro-gay side. They’re speaking of real kids—kids who are gay, and living in a society where they may not know much, but they know that they’re not welcome. Even though Van Sant spends some time with one kid that Milk saved from suicide, I think that the reality is that he and the gay pride movement around them saved more than we can possibly comprehend. As a kid whose main oppressions were just stifling conformity and a heavy dose of sexism, I often despaired. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to grow up gay, where you are absolutely unwelcome, at least in many families and communities. It’s kind of miraculous how many people come out on the other side, even today. But in the 70s, it must have been something else to have Harvey Milk to cling to.

*I was 100% convinced that Dan White’s slap on the wrist was a travesty before, but I’m 110% convinced now, reading the reactions of people who, in all honesty, are mostly trying to be fair, because they’re good liberals. I think it’s very easy for straight white men to downplay how very little other people feel protected by our justice system. But it’s something you know to your bones that you count 75%, 50%, 25% as much as straight, white men (depending on who you are). The people who candidly say that if it had been anyone else but Mr. America, the jury wouldn’t have been so sympathetic, well, they’re far from hysterical PC babies. They’re just speaking common sense. Especially in the 70s.

*You really get a good sense of how someone like Dan White “snaps”. He wasn’t, in my opinion, any different than the men who “snap” every day around the globe. Men who rape, beat their wives, throw acid on someone’s face, beast some dude up for looking at them. That’s not “snapping”. That’s regular ol’ everyday enforcement of the social order. Now, not every man who “snaps” has a perfect measure of what victims are prominent enough to garner attention, and that was Dan White’s mistake. Most of our “snappers” beat their own wives, seek out prostitutes, or cruise around looking for men who look gay to beat up. And sadly, they still manage to get away with it, albeit less often all the time.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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