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July 1994


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"Edward R. O'Neill" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 8 Jul 1994 10:55:00 PDT
text/plain (43 lines)
One fascinating element of Philadelphia is the way homophobia is situated
in relation to male competition:  the two lawyer-competitors must be
turned into non-sexual (of course) friends.  Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's
work (notably in The Epistemology of the Closet) emphasizes exactly
the importance of male homosocial relationships for situating homo-
phobia.  Philadelphia brings out this nexus quite clearly:  male
social bonds (e.g., the law firm) are central, while any sexuali-
z-ation of these male bonds is taboo.
The odd thing about the narrative form of the film is the way the
contemporary Hollywood narrative structure (the little train that
could) must be refurbished to allow the queer to die.  Philadelphia
is a weird cross between Inherit the Wind and Camille:  a trial
movie and a disease movie combined.  By this mechanism the male
bond between the two laywers can be kept safe:  there's no danger
that sexuality will filter into this bond.
All of which is just tosay that the film is not just bad or good,
politically reactionary or progressive, but an interesting text
in which more is probably legible about the dangers of homo-
phobia than meets the eye.
I hope these few remarks put the film in a more interesting light.
Edward R. O'Neill, UCLA
> It seems obvious to me that the representation of AIDS and homosexuality
> in Philadelphia was merely the backdrop upon wich the dominant fictions
> of American culture were rearticulated and reaffirmed (i.e. heterosexual
> ity, the nuclear family, the American dream of life, liberty, etc, etc.)
> Hanks's new role in Forrest Gump, due this week, is being described as
> "an embodiment of all that is good about post World War II America."
> excuse me? (Memories of Hanks's Oscar acceptance speech??). The connecti
> on I want to draw with Philadelphia is: given the ultimate message of
> Philedelphia (that justice in America can prevail), why has his new film
> served to continue these lies? Was social mechanisms are in place that
> could allow an actor to play a gay man who dies of AIDS and then an
> embodiment of all that is good in Post WWii America? Or are both films
> really saying the same thing? Could this new role have been possible
> if it weren't for his previous role in Philadelphia? This man must be
> stopped!!