Friday, February 08, 2008

More thoughts on Milking It with Gus Van Sant

It seems that everyone from current politicians to friends and lovers of Harvey Milk is clambering to serve as a spokesperson for the new Milk movie.

State Assemblyman Mark Leno (who represents San Francisco) claims he was inspired by the filming of the movie to propose the creation of an official state holiday in honor of Harvey Milk -- maybe it can be called Milking It Day.

Cleve Jones, one of the founders of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the founder of the NAMES Project (which oversees the AIDS Memorial Quilt), now serves as a consultant for the Van Sant film. Presumably he is one of the few Milk movie boosters on the Van Sant payroll, which allows him to create such preposterous quotes as "Just moments before the cameras went on, the clouds parted, the sun shone through and an enormous rainbow peered through above us." Or, even better, describing a re-creation of the candlelight march after Milk's murder, "We made history on the streets and we're gonna do it again tonight."

Visitors to San Francisco can perhaps be excused for seeing throngs of people marching down Market Street in the middle of the night as an upsurge in local activism. But remaking historical moments from pain-and-glory days of the past is hardly the same thing as making history in the present.

San Francisco in 2008 is no longer the city it was in the 1970s, when queers fled abusive and horrifying and stifling families and places of origin to move to San Francisco in the thousands and join dissident subcultures of splendor and defiance. Of course, queers still flee those abusive and horrifying and stifling families and places of origin, it's just that the hyper-gentrified San Francisco of 2008 barely offers the space to breathe, let alone dream.

But there is even more violence in the excitement around reenactment over critical engagement. After all, it's the smiling gay men who came to San Francisco in the 1970s who have consistently fought misogynist, racist, classist, ageist battles -- from carding policies to policing practices to zoning battles -- to ensure that their neighborhood (Harvey Milk's Castro) remain a home only for the rich, white, and male (or at least those who assimilate to white, middle-class norms). This is the tragedy that will surely not be explored in the Gus Van Sant "biopic." In fact, with all of the rhetoric around "revitalizing the neighborhood" and bringing more tourists -- throngs of straight people with cameras and real estate speculators -- it's quite possible that these smiling gays will become active participants in their own cultural erasure.

After Dan White, who’d confessed to the murder of Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk, was convicted of manslaughter instead of murder, rioting queers torched police cars, battled cops, and smashed the windows of City Hall. One wonders how this will be covered in the movie, but, more importantly, there's plenty to protest about today. Got housing? Got health care? Got citizenship? Nope, but we've got Milk: the movie.

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