Box Turtle Bulletin

Box Turtle BulletinNews, analysis and fact-checking of anti-gay rhetoric
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Posts for January, 2011

Ramin Setoodeh wrote something again

Timothy Kincaid

January 3rd, 2011

Newsweek’s Ramin Setoodeh has run another article about how openly gay men do not make good actors, or something. Basically its a riff on his last ‘no one wants to watch a gay actor‘ article, this time with a ‘blame the studios and the straight actors’ twist.

It’s been nearly eight months since anyone noticed Setoodeh’s existence, and this was what got him the most attention, so he went with a rewrite. Read Setoodeh’s opinion piece if you like, but it really isn’t worth the two paragraphs I’m giving it. I guess I should be content that at least this time he isn’t defending neo-Nazi murderers of gay children.

Ramin Setoodeh remains a nincompoop

Timothy Kincaid

May 11th, 2010

When Newsweek’s Ramin Setoodeh wrote an asinine article a couple weeks ago in which he lamented that gay actors just aren’t convincing if the audience knows that they are gay, I criticized his logic. And I was certainly not the only one.

Well now Setoodeh has printed a response. Sadly, it is every bit as idiotic as his original assertion.

Basically, he says three things in his defense:

1. I’m not the only one who thinks gay people can’t play straight:

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.

Well, no, that’s not exactly what they said. The full quote is:

Yet except when he’s with Ms. Finneran (more on whom later), who plays a crazy barfly, his emotions often seem pale to the point of colorlessness. It’s easy enough to like Chuck but hard to feel for him. And his relationship with Ms. Chenoweth’s Fran feels more like that of a younger brother than a would-be lover and protector.

But the Times had high praise for a scene between Hayes and Finneran:

Nothing in the languorous first act prepares you for the jolt of energy that begins the second. That’s when Ms. Finneran shows up as a singles-bar stalker named Marge, a molting flamingo of a woman whose pickup line is that she is not a pickup. When Marge homes in on Chuck, the evening’s first sparks are struck, and we are reminded that sexual desperation can be very, very funny.

Doing the freshest variations I’ve seen in years on over-the-top, deluded drunkenness, Ms. Finneran and Mr. Hayes turn their single shared number, “A Fact Can Be a Beautiful Thing,” into a showstopper you wish would never end.

And we can be sure that Setoodeh didn’t make a quick run to the bathroom during that scene and miss all the sparks and sexual desperation, because it is exactly that scene that he described as “unintentional camp” because “the woman is so drunk (and clueless) that she agrees to go home with a guy we all know is gay.”

2. I’m a victim

Immediately, a number of gay blogs picked up my essay and ran excerpts from it out of context, under the headline that I was antigay. 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. It went even more viral. In the meantime, commenters on the Internet piled on the attacks. Many of them said they hadn’t even read the original article (some of them did) but they all seemed to agree on the same point: that I was an idiot.

Sometimes, just sometimes, when all the world agrees that you are an idiot, it should give you pause to stop and consider, “Gee, I wonder if maybe I’m an idiot?” And maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t help to run a follow-up article that only confirms the idea that you are.

And when measuring out who gets martyr status, I think that Jonathan Groff just might be closer to the front of the line. After all, he doesn’t have a prominent news magazine in which to defend himself.

3. You missed my point.

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?

I agree that Hollywood is no where near as gay-accepting as it pretends to be. I live here. And I know that there are gay actors who might not get cast in that macho role, or star in that teen drama, or get a chance to be a leading heartthrob if they were out. I know of the ladies who don’t show up on the red carpet with their other half in tow.

But that is Hollywood’s homophobic (and insulting) assumption that midwestern Americans would never accept gay actors. And that wasn’t Setoodeh’s point.

No, his “point” is that Hollywood is right. That we would not accept an openly gay Clooney playing a heterosexual leading man. (In his ‘rebuttal’, Setoodeh answers his own question with “The answer seems obvious to me: no, it has not [changed].”) He may pretend to lament the homophobia of Hollywood, but in reality he supports it and agrees with it.

And Setoodeh knows that producers and Hollywood executives are right because he, himself, can’t see beyond the sexual orientation of the actor. It’s his “honest impression” that sexual orientation should indeed “limit a gay actor’s choice of roles.” Because, you see, “The fact is, an actor’s background does affect how we see his or her performance.”

Poor Ramin Setoodeh. He’s been called on his own internalized discomfort with his own sexuality, and rather than consider the criticism he’s entrenched his position. Frankly, I’m not sure his sense of self worth – or his intellect – are adequate to the challenge of reporting on gay issues factually and fairly.

If the editorial staff at Newsweek are wise, they’ll let Setoodeh go. Or, at least, rein him back in and reassign him his old role of writing banal interviews of C-list celebrities.

He’s an embarrassment to their reputation.

Chenoweth defends gay actors from Setoodeh

Timothy Kincaid

May 10th, 2010

There are few people who delight me more than Kristen Chenoweth. This talented woman is known to many as a Tony winning star of Broadway (including originating the role of Galinda in Wicked), but those outside of New York have more recently got to know her from her Emmy-winning role as Olive Snook in the very quirky Pushing Daisies, or from her guest role on Glee.

But one of the things that make Chenoweth special is that she is unapologetic about both her Christian faith and her advocacy for the gay community. To Kristen, these go hand in hand.

And when she read the nonsensical Newsweek column by Ramin Setoodeh in which he laments that gay people just aren’t convincing in straight roles, she didn’t smile sweetly and go on. It turns out that Chenoweth has worked with the actors in the roles that Setoodeh just couldn’t believe. She is costarring in Promises, Promises opposite Sean Hayes and guest-starred on a recent Glee episode with Jonathan Groff.

I’d normally keep silent on such matters and write such small-minded viewpoints off as perhaps a blip in common sense. But the offense I take to this article, and your decision to publish it, is not really even related to my profession or my work with Hayes or Jonathan Groff (also singled out in the article as too “queeny” to play “straight.”)

This article offends me because I am a human being, a woman and a Christian.

I am grateful (but not too surprised) that Chenoweth defended her fellow actors. But it is an additional joy to see her do so in terms that stand much anti-gay bigotry on its ear. Kristen’s spiritual devotion may seem irrelevant to many who already agree with us, but her faith gives her a voice to reach many who might otherwise dismiss her as ‘godless Hollywood’.

I believe that the tipping point on gay rights will come when more people see equality not as something that they can support despite their faith, but must support because of it. Kristin is already there.

Click here to read Kristin’s full statement.

Ramin Setoodeh is back with another astonishingly stupid column

Timothy Kincaid

April 27th, 2010

It appears that Newsweek’s Ramin Setoodeh is so insecure in his own sexuality that he is compelled to fall all over himself in his effort to give ammunition to our enemies. Like a dog trained to expect a kick, he never fails in his ability to point out his suspicions about the flaws, failings, and inabilities of gay people.

Setoodeh was the entertainment reporter who went to Oxnard to cover the cold-blooded murder of gay teenager Larry King and instead ran a hit-piece arguing that it was all King’s fault. His murderer, Brandon McInerney, was a sensitive and “smart”, but “troubled”, boy who had been harassed and taunted by King who “flaunted his sexuality and wielded it like a weapon.”

That was, of course, before it was discovered that McInerney had white supremest connections and neo-Nazi beliefs.

In May of last year, Setoodeh predicted that Adam Lambert wouldn’t get into the finals because Christians wouldn’t vote for him. Then in November he wondered whether gay rights were being set back by gay characters on TV such as Kurt on Glee or Marc on Ugly Betty who “stand apart” too much (“if you want to be invited to someone else’s party, sometimes you have to dress the part”)

Well, Setoodeh is back with another column of poorly-contrived speculation presented as thoughtful commentary. And, as usual, while it is dressed up in the pretenses of liberal concern, at heart it’s just an excuse to denigrate gay people.

This time Setoodeh is lamenting the difficulties that gay actors have in getting straight roles, and he’s identified the problem. It’s not that studio execs are leery of hiring them or that straight audiences won’t watch gay actors. No, it’s that gay actors aren’t convincing.

To prove that gay men just can help being big ol’ nelly queens that could never be believable as straight, he brings us two examples. (Gay women are only believable “before” they are gay.)

First, the “real problem” with Promises, Promises is that it stared Sean Hayes, better known as Jack on Will and Grace.

But frankly, it’s weird seeing Hayes play straight. He comes off as wooden and insincere, like he’s trying to hide something, which of course he is. Even the play’s most hilarious scene, when Chuck tries to pick up a drunk woman at a bar, devolves into unintentional camp. Is it funny because of all the ’60s-era one-liners, or because the woman is so drunk (and clueless) that she agrees to go home with a guy we all know is gay?

And having Jonathan Groff playing a straight role in Glee just destroys that show’s gritty reality and believability.

on TV, as the shifty glee captain from another school who steals Rachel’s heart, there’s something about his performance that feels off. In half his scenes, he scowls—is that a substitute for being straight? When he smiles or giggles, he seems more like your average theater queen, a better romantic match for Kurt than Rachel. It doesn’t help that he tried to bed his girlfriend while singing (and writhing to) Madonna’s Like a Virgin.

To Ramin Setoodeh, it’s just a sad, sad, lamentable (but undeniable) fact that gay actors should be relegated to the hairdresser and prison guard roles. And besides, those roles don’t challenge Setoodeh’s own comfort level.

Newsweek’s Hit Piece on Murder Victim Larry King

This article expresses the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the opinion of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin

Timothy Kincaid

July 21st, 2008

There are certain words and phrases that give a reader a sense of the perspective of the writer. And when discussing issues relating to orientation, some words and phrases suggest either a harsh hostility to gay people or a callous ignorance of our lives.

So it was with dismay that I read Ramin Setoodeh’s piece in Newsweek about the circumstances surrounding murder of Lawrence King. Setoodeh, in an effort to tell a “multilayered and complex” story, saw fit to use such language as “inappropriate, sometimes harmful, behavior”, “flaunted his sexuality”, “flamboyance”, and “pushed his rights”. These are all catch phrases that are most often heard from anti-gay activists when seeking to justify bigotry and discrimination.

Setoodeh uses these phrases to present a picture of Larry King, and one that is not complimentary. Unlike his murderer, Brandon McInerney, who “was smart” but “had his share of troubles”, for King the author had little good to say.

To Setoodeh, Larry was the primary source of disturbance on campus. He wore makeup and “thought nothing of chasing the boys around the school in [high heels], teetering as he ran.” He was “a troubled child who flaunted his sexuality and wielded it like a weapon”. “He went to school accessorized to the max” and would “sidle up to the popular boys’ table and say in a high-pitched voice, “Mind if I sit here?””

If there were any residents of Oxnard that didn’t view Larry as a prancing mincing menace intent on wreaking havoc on all around him, Setoodeh didn’t seem to find them. He found instead an attorney with a “gay panic” defense, a litigious adoptive father who resents the gay community for caring about Larry’s murder, and several teachers who objected to his effeminate ways.

In short, there’s very little in the Newsweek article that would not seem more at home on World Net Daily or a press release from the American Family Association.

And other than the briefest of disclaimers there is little to suggest that King was not fully to blame for his own death,. After all, he “sexually harassed” McInerney. He “was pushing as hard as he could, because he liked the attention”.

In addition to Larry King, there’s one other villain in Setoodeh’s tale. No, not the boy who pulled the trigger; he was being “bullied”, you see. The other responsible party is Joy Epstein, “a lesbian vice principal with a political agenda.” In Setoodeh’s words, “Some teachers believe that she was encouraging Larry’s flamboyance, to help further an “agenda,” as some put it.”

It may be that Ramin Setoodeh was limited by the nature of the legal system. While the defense attorney has an interest in pushing a “blame the school, blame the administration, blame the victim, blame anyone but McInerney” spin, the prosecution was not willing to try the case in the papers. And with Larry King’s allegedly abusive adoptive father motivated by his lawsuit against the school, there is no one left to speak for Larry.

Setoodeh may have let inexperience and limited input sway his judgment into writing a hit piece on the victim. He is, after all, an odd choice for an in depth article about social interactions in an elementary school. His prior articles appear to consist primarily of celebrity interviews and entertainment commentary.

But though Setoodeh had not written substantive work for Newsweek before this, it is not the first time that he has shown awkwardness around the subject of homosexuality.

In December of 2005, he phrased a question to Jake Gyllenhaal that makes presumptions about Gyllenhaal’s expertise on gay issues and also wild assumptions about what “people” believe.

“Brokeback Mountain” is a breakthrough movie. Why do you think people oppose gay marriage?

Similarly, his odd questioning of Clay Aiken and whether the Kelly Ripa incident was homophobic cut short his interview with the former American Idol star. In fact, I was surprised at how frequently the term “awkward” appears when googling Mr. Setoodeh. And often when it didn’t, it should have.

I don’t know Ramin Setoodeh’s orientation or his personal tastes or biases. Nor do I know his reasons for writing an article that serves as little more than a press release for the defense on this murder case.

But whatever his motivations, it is clear to me that he was tragically under-qualified for the job and his lack of experience showed in his use of language and in his final product.