The genre of romantic tragedy depends upon a specific moral framework. So does the genre of romantic comedy. But the sexual revolution has obliterated that moral framework.
The new gay rom-com, Bros, has bombed at the box office. Director Nicholas Stoller and star Billy Eichner, in full Nietzschean ressentiment mode, are in little doubt about why the film flopped: homophobic weirdos refusing to go and see it. The indignation reveals much about our immediate cultural moment. It is typical of political discourse today: Each side ascribes its failure to find popular support to the general population’s ignorance or depravity (or both). That conveniently precludes the need for any soul-searching while reinforcing a sense of moral and intellectual superiority. Hillary Clinton offered a master class in this approach after the 2016 presidential election, and the play is now well established across the political divide.
In the case of movies, one might respond to Stoller and Eichner by saying that entertainers are supposed to provide products that the viewing public wishes to see. It might surprise the team behind the didactic Bros that many of us watch movies to be entertained, not to be preached at, seeing them as brief, trivial moments of escape from the drudge of daily life, not an opportunity to (as the Victorians would have said) “improve” ourselves. But even though it has proved an abject commercial failure, the movie is nonetheless instructive in how our culture is changing. And both its production values and its failure are likely signs not of the LGBTQ movement’s influence stalling, but of its remarkable success.
First, there is the fact that the entire cast of the film identifies as LGBTQ. “Faking it” was once the very essence of acting. It did not matter that Laurence Olivier was not a North African when he played the lead in Othello. Nor was it of concern that Leonard Nimoy, despite not being the offspring of a Vulcan father and human mother, nevertheless played Mr. Spock in the original iteration of Star Trek. Acting was acting, a game of pretend and make-believe. Demands that casting reflect real life—or at least real life as the tastes of identity politics require on any given day—reveals just how obsessed with faculty lounge politics the captains of our culture industry have become. That acting is no longer about “faking it” is patently absurd, a basic contradiction in terms, and yet it is applauded unconditionally by the very people involved in the acting industry. To them it not merely makes sense but is positively virtuous. That indicates how the new politics of identity has colonized minds.