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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Grammer Nazi

I'm gonna go ahead and just Godwin this thing now. Casting Kelsey Grammer in 'La Cage aux Folles' is like casting one of the kids of Prussian Blue in a revival of 'The Diary of Anne Frank.'

A few months back producers of the revival of 'La Cage' announced Kelsey Grammer--co-star of the right-wing satire "An American Carol," in which a non-activist judge shoots ACLU zombies with a shot-gun--would be starring as Georges, the gay partner of drag-queen Albin. 'La Cage,' btw, is the source material for the Robin Williams/Nathan Lane movie 'The Birdcage,' so if you need some reference, Grammer will be playing the Williams part.

This 2010 Broadway revival has a pretty great pedigree which I won't dwell on because if you're a theatre fan you're already familiar with the pedigree and if you're not a theatre fan you don't give two shits, and the point of this post isn't theatrics, but politics.

So. Having said that, I'll now explain the importance, real or imagined, of 'La Cage aux Folles' as briefly as possible.

Originally staged in 1983, during the first years of the AIDS crisis, when homophobia was not only considered acceptable but necessary, 'La Cage' told the story of an aging same-sex couple meeting their (straight) son's fiance's conservative parents. Right? You've seen 'The Birdcage' so there's no need to explain the plot. The Act I closing number, 'I Am What I Am,' (<---John Barrowman link alert!) became an anthem in the gay community, a defiant song about self-acceptance and a demand for respect--remember, in 1983, gay men were dying by the truck-load from AIDS; most Americans blamed homosexuality for the 'gay plague' and Ronald Reagan didn't even acknowledge the disease until 1986 or so, long after millions of Americans had died from it. Tough time to be gay. (And, you know, if Reagan's government had bothered to acknowledge the disease earlier, perhaps the disease would not have gotten so out of control. But overdone with gone, as they say.)

'I Am What I Am' is a song about power, and it inspired power in those who saw George Hearn, the original Albin, perform it. The song, and the show, provided straight audiences with a primer to understand the misunderstood gay culture. The show won a Tony, and helped introduce homosexuality into the mainstream when the government seemed content to let homosexuals whither and die.

Or something. Anyway, it's one of those shows which seems more innocuous than it actually is. If you're looking for the mythical gay agenda, you must start with 'La Cage aux Folles.' Free toaster with every cast album's proof of purchase.

Sidenote (click for a personal anecdote about the 2006 revival.)

Kelsey Grammer clearly isn't homophobic. His two co-stars on 'Frasier,' for instance, were both gay, and he seemed delighted to be working with them for 900 years. To my (vague) knowledge, he's never said anything to indicate he's against gay rights. When I heard he'd been cast to play Georges, I winced but decided maybe he'd outgrown his reactionary politics. Then today, I read an article about how Grammer, Comcast Cable, and the teabaggers are teaming up to do a new network called The Right. Here's Grammer's intro:


I'm not interested in Grammer's politics, which are his own, and as long as he's entertaining, who cares. He cashed his residual checks all through the Bush administration--I guess that kept him too busy to say anything about the Patriot Act, the domestic spying, Gitmo, Enron, and lies getting us into a war.

What I AM interested in is his being cast as Georges in the new revival of 'La Cage,' and how the right--his right--demonized the gay lifestyle for decades. Millions of gay Americans died in the 1980s because the right wing refused to encourage action on the disease (yes yes, the left as well, but the left has made up for their sins, while the right is still being all Catholic-papacy about it). The right uses homosexuality as a wedge issue to terrify its base into voting, and the gay marriage issue is the new AIDS. Think AIDS was scary in the 1980s? Just imagine what it'll be like in America when the super-gays who didn't die of AIDS get together and produce families.

I was looking forward to seeing the revival. It's not my favorite show, but I'm fond of it all the same. Even last night, I was defending Grammer's casting in it, saying just because he's a conservative doesn't mean he's a homophobe. I was wrong. He's a right-wing enabler, and the right-wing is still homophobic. Anyone who enables the right wing is an enemy, frankly; they're no better than the Catholics looking the other way as the Pope tries to justify child molestation.

I won't be going to the show. Not because I'm making a political statement, but because I know I won't enjoy it, because I'd be buying a too-expensive ticket to help pay the salary of a delusional man who only complains about government when his paycheck loses a few zeroes.

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