July 14, 2007

"He did not want to resemble a refrigerator or Jabba the Hutt, he said, but Sophia Loren with a couple of hundred extra pounds."

John Travolta reenvisions Edna Turnblad:
His Edna, unlike the greasy Gorgon created by Divine in the 1988 John Waters original or the Kabuki hausfrau rendered so memorably by Harvey Fierstein in the 2002 Broadway musical adaptation, has cleavage and a waist and a kind of geologic sex appeal....

“Playing a woman attracted me,” Mr. Travolta said. “Playing a drag queen did not. The vaudeville idea of a man in a dress is a joke that works better onstage than it does on film, and I didn’t want any winking or camping...."...

There was no film precedent for this approach to Edna. Though Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie” and Robin Williams in “Mrs. Doubtfire” did well donning drag, they were playing explicitly male characters who for plot reasons needed to dress as women....

"[H]ow do I convince you I’m a woman doing that and make you want to watch her for an hour and a half?”

Having grown up the youngest of six children in a bohemian working-class family in Englewood, N.J., he modeled his idea of a watchable woman on his “very sexy mother” (Helen Travolta was a high school drama teacher and sometime actress) and on the bombshells in the European movies they enjoyed: Ms. Loren, Anna Magnani, Anita Ekberg. “I’m not as beautiful as any of those people,” he said, “but I’m not unpleasant to look at, and I thought: ‘This is my library. Not grandmas or Aunt Bee from Mayberry, but the kind of person a blue-collar woman would aspire to be if she had money. What if that kind of woman had gone to flesh?’ ”
Impressive. But what of the argument that the those who care about gay rights should boycott "Hairspray"?
In a blog entry posted in May on the Web site of The Washington Blade (washblade.com), a gay newspaper, Kevin Naff, its editor, called for a boycott of “Hairspray” because of Mr. Travolta’s membership in the Church of Scientology, which he described as a cult that “rejects gays and lesbians as members and even operates reparative therapy clinics to ‘cure’ homosexuality.” In a subsequent editorial Mr. Naff added that Mr. Travolta’s appearance in the “iconic gay role” is “even more galling given all the gay rumors that have followed him for years.”
There would be an awful lot of boycotting if we avoided movies starring any actor who belonged to a religion that held a belief we found abhorrent. But maybe a special case should be made if the role is somehow "iconic" for you. Travolta makes the point that Edna is not a gay role. Edna is a heterosexual female, traditionally played by a male. As the article points out, this is like the stage play "Peter Pan," where there is nothing gay about the character, but an actor of the opposite sex is always cast in the role.

Let's look at how Naff put it -- in writing and in this fair-and-balanced fight with Bill O'Reilly:



My thought on watching that was that people should go to the movie if they want to see it, but Naff did a great job of picking an issue that would get him some publicity and he handles his argument well even if he persuades no one.

What are you going to do with the subject of whether religions offer people fraudulent treatments? It's one thing if a psychologist purports to be able to cure homosexuality, but religions purport to solve all sorts of problems, including mortality. I can see why gay rights activists think it makes sense to single out one issue to make a big deal about, but boycotting the work of one religion's adherents seems wrong. Many religions are negative toward gay people. The only thing that makes Scientology stand out is that its approach resembles what therapists do. But it's a religion!

46 comments:

Wade Garrett said...

Why is he opposed to the boycott? Doesn't he usually favor the market determining the success or failure of ideas? He's supported other boycotts in the past.

We all know that O'Reilly is a homophobe, but I would not be surprised if, in private, he was a bottom. A lot of people who have his public attitude have got something to hide. The person who volunteers to lead the witch hunt always has some skeletons of their own in the closet.

ricpic said...

Gay stormtroopers shwing into action. Please, boycott the film. Marginalize yourselves still further. If the film fails it'll fail because it's lousy. And if the film does big box office it will be one more demonstration that you're nothing but a pimple on the asshole of humanity.

Theo Boehm said...

But it's a religion!

Okaaay...

AllenS said...

It's a cult. There is nothing religious about $cientology.

Bissage said...

I agree with Mr. Naff one-hundred percent.

None of us should ever do anything that might benefit someone who might do something that might benefit someone who might think there might be something about us that might be improved somewhat.

Drew W said...

From the NY Daily News Rush & Molloy gossip column, June 15:

John Waters, director of the original "Hairspray" movie, called yesterday to take issue with our story headlined "Travolta in 'Spray' Revolts Gays."

"It should have said 'Revolts Gay,' because it's just one person," Waters told us on the phone from his beach retreat in Provincetown, Mass.
[…]
Waters, an executive producer on the new film, helped corset Travolta into taking the role. "If [Travolta] was homophobic," Waters told us, "dancing in that fat suit with as many gay people as are working on this film, he would have had a heart attack and been dead.

"First of all, he is playing a loving mother, not [the late gay politician] Harvey Milk. I'm all for gay troublemaking, but is this journalist going to police the religion of all actors? Do we boycott Nicole Kidman because she's Catholic?"
[…]
"John Travolta is a loving, kind man who was great to work with on the set.

If there's a picket line, there will be about two people in it."

Ann Althouse said...

"It's a cult. There is nothing religious about $cientology."

The distinction between a religion and a cult is personal preference. So you don't like them, so what? They're still a religion. You think the fact that they collect money from their adherents sets them apart from religions that you absolutely have to call religions?

Paco Wové said...

"Why is he opposed to the boycott? Doesn't he usually favor the market determining the success or failure of ideas? He's supported other boycotts in the past."

So, are you saying that if a person supports any boycott, to be consistent they must support all boycotts?

Maxine Weiss said...

Mental health is a cult, and they drug people and lock them up.

I've not heard of Scientology drugging, or doing lobotomies. Frances Farmer, Jean Tierney, etc....haven't heard of any Scientologists engaging in school shootings either.

Lots of psychiatric/mental health groupies doing psycho-pharmic drugs and engaging in violence.

Maxine Weiss said...

Furthermore, this:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/femail/article.html?in_article_id=468303&in_page_id=1879

David53 said...

The distinction between a religion and a cult is personal preference.

Really. People who show great devotion to a work like a book or your blog are often considered cultists.

Not all cults are religions even though I suppose some might consider you a goddess.

My 10 trillion year old thetan told me to say that. Xenu says hi!

Ann Althouse said...

A cult is just a religion you don't like or don't think is old enough or some such unprincipled thing.

blake said...

You think the fact that they collect money from their adherents sets them apart from religions that you absolutely have to call religions?

Of all the many attacks I've heard, the "they take MONEY!" is among the least comprehensible. All religions need money to survive, and their adherents are typically happy to give it. If you don't feel that it's a worthy cause then don't do it.

Ann Althouse said...

I didn't attack them for taking money. I only said you can't draw a line between "cults" and "religions" based on who takes money.

Freeman Hunt said...

I don't think people take issue with the Church of Scientology simply taking money. I think the problem lies in that you MUST pay them large amounts of money to advance. In Scientology you pay, and you pay big, for "auditing" where you're hooked up to a lie detector type device called an "E-meter" while someone asks you questions. Thats how you progress through their "levels." (Note that none of those are scare quotes; those are the terms they use.)

Most any religion takes money, but few put an actual price tag on religious adherence. It would be akin to a Catholic priest announcing that he will charge $200 to hear a confession.

Christine said...

"It would be akin to a Catholic priest announcing that he will charge $200 to hear a confession."

We Catholics generally frown upon that sort of thing these days. But if it gets me out of purgatory sooner....

george said...

"It would be akin to a Catholic priest announcing that he will charge $200 to hear a confession."

We Catholics generally frown upon that sort of thing these days. But if it gets me out of purgatory sooner....


Maybe these days, but exactly that sort of thing was a major impetus for the Reformation.

XWL said...

Seems begrudging tolerance isn't enough for some, everyone has to be an avid advocate for every orientation, lifestyle, creed and ethnic group.

If John Travolta belongs to a group that has some odd ideas about homosexuality, so what?

He still looks bizarre in that fat suit, and the movie of the musical of the previous movie looks unwatchable for reasons beyond Travolta's religion.

His bigotry (not saying he's a bigot, but let's take the worst case scenario of those that oppose Travolta being in this film) had no bearing on taking the role, shouldn't have bearing on watching the stupid film.

I find extreme intolerance of any sort of intolerance intolerable.

downtownlad said...

This is why I now think it's ok to out people.

And we should make a massive effort to out John Travolta.

Here's my part in this effort. Proof here.

http://blogs.theage.com.au/lifestyle/trashtalk//archives/travolta_kiss.jpg

John Travolta - 100% FAG.

Freeman Hunt said...

Would he refuse to work with somebody who is a vocal opponent of gay rights?

I'm staunchly religious, staunchly capitalist, and I worked on an independent film with several vocal opponents of religion and capitalism. It would never have occurred to me to quit over their mere opinions.

Beth said...

If I boycotted everything that pissed me off, I'd live a frustrated life.

I'm going to see the movie.

Maxine Weiss said...

Wade, how dare you. You broke through the third wall. You pierced the vail of silence surrounding anything to do with Ann's son.

Wade, you know very well that topic is off limits...

...even though the chat boards on AOL have a field day with the Althouse sons.

downtownlad said...

Hairspray is a very gay movie. I would bet that over 50% of the people who have seen the original are gay.

A gay boycott will probably have a substantial impact on profit.

Personally I don't care about the boycott, but why would anyone see this movie when the original was so good.

Eli Blake said...

There does seem to be a difference between Travolta, and that other well-known scientologist who is a major actor (you all know who I'm talking about, so I don't need to name tne name.)

Travolta apparently keeps it mostly to himself. He may have mentioned his religion to someone in an interview or something, and that is why it is out there, but that other guy (who I really can't stand) has made a much bigger deal out of it and gone around pushing it.

Therefore, I would tend to cut Travolta a lot more slack on this, whether he agrees with the doctrines of his church or not, because he isn't purporting to claim that because he is a scientologist, therefore he has the truth and other people don't.

Unlike you-know-who.

downtownlad said...

Scientology tapes all of your confessions.

Thus, John Travolta is trapped. He's not anti-gay, since he IS gay. But he can't come out and say so, or scientology will reveal all of his other secrets.

I feel sorry for him.

By the way, did anyone else notice the new spell check in the blogger comments section. Very cool!!!

Theo Boehm said...

A cult is just a religion you don't like or don't think is old enough or some such unprincipled thing.

That's right.  You all need to get behind some principles here and make a tax-deductible contribution to The Mystic Northern Worshipers of the Sun God.

We believe that all attractive young women between the ages of 24 and 32 who are forced to live in the Underworld north of the 38th parallel should have the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the bright precincts of High Priest Theo in the Temple of Sunshine on Cabrillo St. in Santa Barbara.  It's on the third floor with an ocean view. During the Winter months, the Temple moves to Isabella Ave. in Coronado.  Even more sunshine for young women oppressed by Darkness. Ditto the ocean view.

I don't know about John Travolta being gay and whether a fat suit becomes him.  I just know a religion when I see one.  All major credit cards accepted.

Ann Althouse said...

"why would anyone see this movie when the original was so good."

Yeah, I've never been interested in the Broadway show of this movie that I liked when it came out. I feel the same way about "Grey Gardens." I'm just not into the whole phenomenon of making a musical out of a movie. I think the first example of that I ever encountered was "Nine," a musical based on "8 1/2." For some reason, I saw "Nine" on opening night. It was nice enough. But "8 1/2" is a great movie. Great musicals have been made of plays/movies. I think of "My Fair Lady," but it usually a bad idea -- one thinks of "Carrie."

As for this interest in prying into the private life of John Travolta... it seems a bit evil. Actors are entitled to shield their private lives and to say just think of me in my roles. This article impressed me because it made Travolta sound serious and dedicated. He's an actor. He owes you nothing more. If only all the actors would stay behind the shield and ask only to be judged as actors.

blake said...

Ann,

I didn't suggest that the money thing was your argument, just that it was a common and dumb one. As is "it's all one big blackmail ring".

blake said...

Freeman,

If I said: "You pay for a service, you get the product, and if you're not happy you can even get your money back" that wouldn't strike you as odd.

The real problem is that the product is (to you) non-existent. That's why you brought up "e-meters": You find it absurd. Similarly with Xenu or (to shift gears) transubstantiation, virgin births, transcendence or salvation.

Everyone swears their religious beliefs and prejudices are different, but they're not. The simple truth is that spiritual improvement[1] is worth whatever you pay for it if it exists and if not, it's all a fraud, regardless of the details on how donations are collected.

[1] As pointed out earlier on this site when talking about "...the mind's true liberation" in a post I can't find, dammit.

downtownlad said...

"As for this interest in prying into the private life of John Travolta... it seems a bit evil."

Sexual orientation is part of one's public life, not their private life.

George Bush's sexual orientation is straight.

Is that being "evil" by pointing that out?

reader_iam said...

Would Sophia Loren be Sophia Loren with a couple of hundred extra pounds, anymore than she would be if she was re-imagined as Twiggy, or, better yet, a '90s Kate Moss?

Is that a shallow question?

Freeman Hunt said...

The real problem is that the product is (to you) non-existent. That's why you brought up "e-meters": You find it absurd.

No, you missed my point. I didn't bring them up because they are absurd; I brought them up because auditing is *required* for advancing in Scientology and you must pay a great deal for it. To be an excellent Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, or some other you are not required to pay for exorbitantly expensive religious counseling. In these your wallet has no bearing on your state of faith. Not so in Scientology.

Wade Garrett said...

Why'd you delete my post? It was a perfectly fair question, and it was on-subject.

Ann Althouse said...

dtl: I think the individual is entitled to control private facts about himself. You're right that George Bush presents himself as straight. (Wouldn't it be funny if he wasn't?) So does John Travolta. What difference does it make? He's not anti-gay. There's no reason to be antagonistic toward him or to deprive him of privacy he chooses to maintain. I assume there are sexual things about everyone that we could pry into if we wanted to be jerks but that we can just as well leave alone.

Theo Boehm said...

To be an excellent Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, or some other you are not required to pay for exorbitantly expensive religious counseling.

Ah, Freeman, you may want to consider that ugliness back in 1517.  People were, in fact, under pressure to pay exorbitantly, if not for counseling, at least for a free pass out of Purgatory for themselves and loved ones:

"Wenn das Geld im Kasten klingt, die Seele in den Himmel springt"

"As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul to Heaven springs."

Contributions weren't audited quite so closely as the Scientologists, but what can you expect of a society that only recently invented double-entry bookkeeping?  In any event, there was a sliding scale, and, on an adjusted basis, I don't think a measly $200 would get you out of Purgatory any time soon.

Something just occurred to me.  Has anybody done an economic cost-benefit analysis of religious practices along the lines of sex in this excellent thread?  We've all heard of the wages of sin.  I'm wondering what the marginal product of labor is.

Wade Garrett said...

What if an individual chooses to make their sexual orientation public? Is it then okay to discuss? Is it okay to discuss the sexual orientation of rank-and-file openly gay people, or just the self-styled gay activists?

Freeman Hunt said...

Ah, Freeman, you may want to consider that ugliness back in 1517.

Yes, that fits exactly with what I've written. I would say that that ugliness is comparable to Scientology's auditing, though not quite as egregious as you could still be a good Catholic without buying indulgences, and that ugliness has been roundly condemned as an abuse of religious faith. Scientology should suffer the same criticism.

TMink said...

"Sexual orientation is part of one's public life, not their private life."

Me, I tend to keep the shades down.

Trey

Chip Ahoy said...

Boycott the movie -- ridiculous.

But what of the argument that the [sic] those who care about gay rights should boycott "Hairspray"?

Ignore it.

"Mr. Travolta’s membership in the Church of Scientology, which he described as a cult thatXXXX of “reject gays and lesbians as members"

Fixed.

My friend invited me to look into Scientology I suppose in order to learn what's preventing me from becoming a better person. I asked him if it would make me gay and he said, "Nope. Silly goose."

The thing is I already read Battleship Earth, and it was OK but nothing to start a religion about, whereas Dune, now there was a religion. Couldn't bother with the other L.R. Hubbard book because I'm not diabetic.

blake said...

auditing is *required* for advancing in Scientology and you must pay a great deal for it.

So, it's like college? (Indeed, our entire educational system?)

You're hung up on the price. In one message you used both "a great deal" (meaning a lot, not a bargain) and "exorbitant".

Maybe I've mistaken you for someone else, but I thought you were a champion of free markets. Suddenly, you're offended by those principles applying to religion? How else is a modern religion going to work? Detach services completely from costs?

In these your wallet has no bearing on your state of faith. Not so in Scientology.

I'm not sure what you mean by "state of faith" as it applies to Scientology, nor how money would help.

And I'm not sure how that fits in with being able to go to the library and--without paying a dime--learn how to do it all yourself. As I understand it, it's a process, not an "in" with the divine (as with the Catholic church).

But I guess we're not going to see eye-to-eye on this.

Mr.Murder said...

Gender roles do work on film as well they do on stage...

provided the film is of a stage.

Will Travlota's character dance the pole?

Freeman Hunt said...


You're hung up on the price. In one message you used both "a great deal" (meaning a lot, not a bargain) and "exorbitant".


I think the extremity of the cost is worth mentioning, but again, that is not the point.

I'm not sure what you mean by "state of faith" as it applies to Scientology, nor how money would help.

By "state of faith" in Scientology, I mean their "levels", their measure of how advanced you are. You achieve new levels through auditing, which you must pay for and which gets increasingly expensive as you advance. Costs run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. That is how money would help.

And I'm not sure how that fits in with being able to go to the library and--without paying a dime--learn how to do it all yourself.

It doesn't work like that. There is no do-it-yourself. You must be audited. According to the Church of Scientology, "only auditing provides a precise path by which any individual may walk an exact route to higher states of spiritual awareness." Here is some information on costs (scroll down to the table). More information can be found by searching for scientology auditing cost. Also, their higher level teachings are secret, cannot be read outside their facilities, and are thus not available at any library.

But I guess we're not going to see eye-to-eye on this.

I don't know. By your comments it just seems as though you're unfamiliar with Scientology and are assuming that it is the same as the other religions you are familiar with. I'm not sure that that's such an unbridgeable chasm. I agree with you that criticizing religions simply for taking money is unserious, but I do think it legitimate to criticize particular methods of filling the coffers.

Freeman Hunt said...

Regardless of the Scientology discussion, I think it would be hard to appreciate any art at all if one decided to boycott art on the basis of whether or not one agrees with an artist's religious beliefs.

I also like Travolta's comments because they show how seriously he takes his craft. Must be why he's so good.

downtownlad said...

I assume there are sexual things about everyone that we could pry into if we wanted to be jerks but that we can just as well leave alone.

But sexual orientation has nothing to do with someone's sex life. I have no idea who John Travolta is oinking of boinking, nor the manner in which he does it. But it does appear that he is attracted to guys. That makes him gay. As for his sex life - maybe he is indeed just boinking his wife. But he's still gay, even if he is self-repressed.

And our government thinks it is a very important matter too.

Our military has an official policy to fire everyone who is gay, even if they are 100% celibate and vow to be celibate.

Because they don't just care about one's private life, they care about their PUBLIC life too, and sexual orientation is a critical component of that.

So as long as our military thinks it is important - then I have a critical obligation to out every gay person I can.

ESPECIALLY those in the military. Any closeted gay person in the military that is encountered should be reported to the government IMMEDIATELY.

TMink said...

"But sexual orientation has nothing to do with someone's sex life."

Amazing. Incredulous. Baffling.

Trey

dick said...

dtl,

Nice of you to mention that official policy. What you don't seem to mention is that it is congressionally required by law as signed by Pres Clinton after passing the democratic congress and senate. If you want to change that, talk to your congress critter and your senators.

As to outing somebody, it is not up to you to decide whether someone has to live life as you want them to. It is a personal choice. That is what freedom is all about. We have a personal choice of how much of ourselves to put before the public. Take your outing elsewhere, please. It reminds me of the creeps who wrote for the newspapers that Cheney's daughter was obligated to disown her father because the gay community had done so much for her. St Michael Signorile was the one who wrote that one.