When I read that a real life Wyoming cowboy was reported as saying “There ain’t no queer in cowboy and I don’t care for anyone suggesting there is” in regards to Ang Lee’s 2005 Brokeback Mountain, I was shocked; his words were remarkably close to a line that Heath Ledger’s character Ennis utters on the Wyoming mountainside after his and Jack’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) first late night sexual encounter: “I ain’t no queer.” I was surprised, mostly, because there was no sense of irony in his statement. Nor was there any irony in the more professional movie reviews of the film that diluted the film’s queerness and tackling of violent rural homophobia, all while likening the film’s protagonists to the universal, heterosexual couple in Romeo and Juliet. Brenda Cooper and Edward C. Pease make an excellent point in “Framing Brokeback Mountain: How the Popular Press Corralled the ‘Gay Cowboy Movie'” that comparing Ennis and Jack’s relationship to iconic heterosexual couples only works to situated the potential viewer’s feelings towards the movie within a comfortable, heterosexual framework. Yet I find the comparison so laughably ironic considering Shakespeare’s classic play is more than just a love story between two teenagers — it’s a cautionary tale about warring households whose rivalry leads to tragedy. Not that I want to necessarily compare Romeo and Juliet and Brokeback Mountain — as I agree with the authors that doing so only works to un-queer (de-queer?) the movie for straight audiences — but if I were, one could see where the tragic endings in both these works indicate that the movie had more to say than just showing the audience two people happily in love. There is a reason that Jack is dead, and a reason I’d argue Ennis is a little dead, too. The universality forced upon Brokeback Mountain by critics not only diluted its queerness, but its political discourse on what the short story’s author Annie Proulx’s describes as “destructive, rural homophobia” (Cooper and Pease 251).
On a final note, I would be curious to see if a similar study could be conducted on last year’s Carol, considering it’s a tragic (arguably bittersweet? hopeful?) look at the destruction wrought not by rural but urban homophobia of the 1950s — a decade before the setting of Brokeback. I wonder if critics have similarly situated the discourse on homophobia, passing, and the closet as an issue of the past, or urged straight readers that they too would identify with the queer protagonists because it was such a powerful love story?