Monday, June 06, 2011

Albee's

been saying this sort of thing for decades, but I do find it interesting that people aren't exactly putting up with it this time (although Bilerico calls it the "most boring controversy ever"). It is a bit rich to accept an award as a pioneering gay writer with a speech that denounces the recognition as ghettoizing, but Albee does, and always has had, a point with this. It's just a complicated one, and it seems more outmoded with every new insistence he makes.

He's exactly right that gay writers do get pigeonholed in ways that straight authors don't, but there's also something problematic about policing your subject matter to appease those who would pigeonhole you. He says something to the effect that he doesn't want to limit his reach as a playwright by writing exclusively about gay subject matter, but that presumes that straight audiences are automatically alienated by gay themes, something that seems less of a concern as time goes on.

But then I don't really think he's talking about audiences. I think Albee has plenty of faith in theater audiences, or else he wouldn't have been so challenging for all these years. I think he's talking about critics (and by extension the press), who, like it or not, work to define and identify trends for audiences.

All these years later Albee still brings up that Stanley Kauffmann article from 1966, "Homosexual Drama and its Disguises." It was a critic with a limited understanding of Albee's work and his intentions that attempted to reduce him to a type, even as he avoided writing directly about gay characters and gay subject matter. He had good reason to be irritated about this, and I'm sure it was a battle he fought constantly.

(And of course this still happens; just look back to the Ramin Setoodeh article in Newsweek from last year for a related example.)

For those who don't know about the Kauffmann article, the gist of it is that Kauffmann argued that gay playwrights were writing gay characters masquerading as straight in plays like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, plays which, he more or less argued, portrayed a toxic portrait of marriage and humanity. The funny thing is he actually suggests gay writers come out with their material so they can show themselves honestly, but of course his main purpose for asserting this was far more conservative -- he wanted the gays to stop messing around in the straights' territory.

And that's where Albee's main point of contention lies. He says it in that LAMBDA speech: "A writer who happens to be gay or lesbian must be able to transcend the self." Of course this is true, but I'd remove a bunch of that text and just say "A writer must be able to transcend the self." Period. Albee would still agree with that. He even elaborated on it in the NPR interview I heard this morning, rightly asserting that authors shouldn't be expected to only write about their own race, sexuality, gender, etc. So he's spent his career refusing to be pigeonholed. I don't blame him for that.

More on this in a bit.

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