Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: April 2018

Tuesday

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April 2018

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Renly Baratheon: Queer Icon

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

Power is a dangerous thing to assign motive toward. Its allure is so strong that it tends to skirt the good/bad spectrum in weird ways, as the seemingly noble can turn out to be completely full of it. People, just or evil, often find themselves drawn to power for the very same reasons.

As someone who’s championed the #StandWithStannis movement from the moment D&D committed character assassination against the One True King, I’m never been a huge fan of Renly Baratheon. He’s a terrible brother. He’s the kind of guy you might have fun with at a rave, but you probably wouldn’t count on him to show up to help you move apartments. Donal Noye’s observation that, “Renly, that one, he’s copper, bright and shiny, pretty to look at but not worth all that much at the end of the day” (ACOK: Jon 1) pretty much tells you all you need to know about the man.

Except one big detail. Renly is gay. I could say that fact doesn’t matter, or affect any of his decisions, but of course it does. LGBT people don’t live in a world where that fact doesn’t affect the macro order of things, especially one’s employment.

Renly challenged the status quo, not as the rightful claimant, but as the most desirable one. He was not the grumpy choice, the sadistic child option, or one that would split apart the Seven Kingdoms. He didn’t have a great claim, but he had a big army.  Under the old way of thinking, that wouldn’t have been enough, but gay people are used to encountering that kind of mindset that tries to keep a hold on the future. Renly wasn’t about to let the dated patriarchal structure dictate his ambitions.

Those who deny the existence of privilege often do so by pointing to a lack perceived “added bonus” for being white or male, ignoring the institutional benefits that stem from a system controlled in perpetuity by the patriarchy, a concept that occasionally manifests itself through the term, “boy’s club.” That concept has altered my approach to career opportunities since I came out, giving the stakes a heightened sense of importance each time one comes around. I am aware that there are plenty people out there who will never give me serious consideration strictly on the basis of my gender identity. Plenty of politicians want to make it so companies can legally discriminate against LGBT people. The playing field has never been fair.

The Westerosi power dynamic shares a similar fondness for nepotism. Kings are born, not chosen. Robert’s Rebellion changed that to some extent, but it wasn’t really until the legitimacy of his offspring came into question that the subject of the line of secession became a point that could be debated. Suddenly an opportunity presented itself.

Enter Renly.

Stannis & Joffrey claimed the Iron Throne by right of birth. Robb & Balon took a more isolationist, regional approach based off theory that King’s Landing was too much of a mess to properly govern over their regions. As for Renly, well, he just kind of wanted it. He said some stuff about how he’d be the best king and all, which probably wasn’t true, but that’s not really that important. What matters is that someone, namely House Tyrell, gave Renly a chance. LGBT people don’t get that many chances.

Can we fault Renly for seizing the greatest opportunity of his life? Some might point to the mess he made, costing Stannis the throne, or how he probably wouldn’t have made a very good king. The fact that Stannis was more qualified to rule Westeros is not that important when you consider that the throne is not decided on merit. The sole consistent qualifier is that the person should be the eldest male heir. Once that certainty was tossed out the window, there really weren’t any merits from which that question should be decided. That’s why war started.

People point to Renly as selfish, ignoring that being king is selfish. Selfish people rule Westeros just as they rule every institution of power. By comparison, queer people don’t rule over all that much. Renly tried to change to that.

There is a counterargument in the sense that as Lord of Storm’s End, Renly was already in a position of power, but this is not particularly relevant. Complacency is the enemy of activism. Few in the LGBT community are interested in settling for the victory of Obergefell v. Hodges when there’s so much progress left to be made. We don’t want to be told to be satisfied. Renly didn’t either.

Renly would not be my choice to rule Westeros, but I admire his drive. He saw something he wanted, went for it, and likely would have succeeded if he hadn’t been executed by a shadow baby. As a fellow member of the LGBT community, I admire his drive. It’s tough to throw yourself out there, knowing some people will laugh and think of you as a fool just because of who you are.

I don’t love Renly, but I’m glad Westeros’ most prominent gay character made a play for the Iron Throne. Life is about opportunities, including the ones you create on your own. Renly knew a thing or two about taking what he wanted, even he’d rather play at tournament than lead men into battle. At least that was his choice to make.

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Thursday

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April 2018

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Best F(r)iends Solidifies Tommy Wiseau’s Status as an American Icon

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

Tommy Wiseau does not get enough credit for his genius. The key fault of both The Disaster Artist and its subsequent film adaptation is that they foster the illusion that The Room was an accidental success. That notion makes a lot of sense when you consider how beloved the film is for its comedic value despite being conceived as a drama. Wiseau himself deserves credit not just for unintentionally creating a masterpiece, but for singlehandedly fostering the environment through which The Room was able to engrain itself into American culture. Through Wiseau’s constant marketing, and the mystique of his persona, the film broke through the barriers that separate cult from mainstream. Wiseau achieved his dream and became an American icon.

Best F(r)iends is essentially a victory lap celebrating that feat. Part of why The Room continues to captivate the public’s interest fifteen years later is that there’s so much more to the story than just the film itself. Chris-R’s backstory isn’t just a mystery, Tommy’s is as well. The movie’s success on the midnight circuit, the adaptations of the story, and Tommy’s own often bizarre interviews fuel this ethos, giving fans something to chew on long after Denny’s tears over his deceased friend have dried up.

Wiseau’s acting has a remarkable sense of timing, possessing the uncanny ability to deliver both hilarious comedy and riveting drama within the same scene. His character Harvey is layered in mystery in a way that bears far more of a resemblance to the real-life Wiseau than The Room’s Johnny. He’s comfortable in the character, delivering lines with a kind of confidence that often eluded his earlier performance.

Best F(r)iends is a bizarre film. It has more of a streamlined plot than The Room, but there are plenty of non-sequiturs, including an impromptu wake honoring a deceased acquaintance through the consumption of Chinese food. The cast is far smaller than The Room, which makes sense when you consider what anchors the entire story of Tommy Wiseau: his genuine friendship with Greg Sestero.

The relationship between Wiseau and “Sestosterone” has served as a lasting point of intrigue since The Room’s initial release, which certainly makes sense given that it’s also the main plot driver for The Room, The Disaster Artist, and Best F(r)iends. Not since Martin Scorsese teamed up with Robert DeNiro has Hollywood encountered a more important partnership than Wiseau and Sestero. The film serves as a fitting tribute to the power of this friendship, bringing out the best in both of them while delivering plenty of unforgettable moments for the audience to enjoy.

Like its predecessor Best F(r)iends skirts the standard good/bad binary through which we usually judge art. This is not the kind of movie Stanley Kubrick would create, or likely anyone who studied film in a professional setting for longer than half an hour. It is the product of a force that understands a world outside expectation.

The Room is a singular force in American culture. There is a reason Tommy Wiseau possesses such a loyal following, who return to his work time and time again with a passion that most in filmmaking can only dream of. He gives his audience something they cannot find anywhere else: true escapism. When you go to a midnight showing of The Room, you experience a phenomenon you cannot find anywhere else. That sense of individuality is the essence of the American dream.

Best F(r)iends delivered on the only expectation fans could reasonably possess. It offers plenty of unforgettable moments between two actors with genuine affection for each other. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s a whole second volume coming in June. The story of The Room would have lived on in American culture if it had been limited to that one movie. I’m not sure that would have been enough to accurately portray the sheer force of nature that is Tommy Wiseau. Thankfully, both for contemporary society and future historians, there’s plenty of story left to tell.

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