- Colonizing Time and SpaceRace and Romance in Brokeback Mountain
The social theorist Anthony Giddens suggests that romance is about colonizing time, particularly the future.1 Giddens further suggests that romance is realized by women (who are romance "specialists"), who manipulate and attempt to control the trajectory of the love process and project it onto some foreseeable future of happiness and bliss. Giddens argues that this is an instrumentalist strategy that [End Page 97] offers women a measure of autonomy in a world that has otherwise marginalized them. I depart from Giddens's narrow notion and deploy colonization in its original and more expansive imperial connotation—the subjugation of minoritized colored subjects and spaces. This idea of colonization in its broadest sense reigns in my analysis.
In the film, the romance between Ennis and Jack is framed as "private" business between two men. Landscapes of bubbling brooks and majestic vistas emblematize the timelessness of popular romance stories as well as privatized notions of intimacy. Literally and figuratively, Ennis and Jack are away from it all, from the turmoil of everyday life (including women, family, and colored people) and from the messiness of history. This historical and cultural isolation is at the core of the narrative. Ennis and Jack's romance is rendered first as a private, albeit eventually futile, struggle to go about their own business and then reverts to a fairy-tale shunning of worldly time.
The shielding of the story from the bedlam of history is clear when the film marks the beginning of each phase of the lovers' story with calendar years. It starts with the early 1960s and slowly crawls toward the 1970s, bypassing such historical landmarks as the Vietnam War (except for a quick gesture to the draft in Ennis's statement about the army possibly getting him), the civil rights movement, explorations of the moon, and the sexual revolution. Indeed, it is as if Brokeback's geological formations make it possible for Jack and Ennis to wage their private yet bucolic war without regard for the challenges of history and at the expense of difference.
The idea of colonizing time is crucial to the romance narrative because it enables audiences to see these two cowboys as universal figures in love as well as a palatable pair who have no regard for the historical underpinnings of their actions. However, Ennis and Jack are not unique in their situation. I think of other less fortunate lovers located in other sites and times. Consider the fact that men loving men, or at least having sex with each other, who do not identify as gay existed long before and even long after the fabled Stonewall moment that ushered in an era of politicized gay identification.
In the 1980s, during the height of the AIDS pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control, after being influenced by activists and scholars, established a category called MSM, or men who have sex with men: a group that has disentangled practice from identity was seen to be quite anomalous in relation to the prevailing idea of that time. In most cases, these men were from immigrant and communities of color. More recently, a lot of alarming and sensationalized accounts have appeared of African American men, mostly working-class and masculine [End Page 98] or straight-acting men, who engage in sexual relations with each other. They are called DL, or down low. Both groups of men—the MSMs and the DLs—are marginalized men whom the popular media have lumped into a category that portrays them as anachronous beings, subjects out of time and out of synch with the modern world. Often they are seen to be vestiges of tradition, lagging behind in the march toward sexual and gender cosmopolitanism. At best, they are victims of cultural norms in need of education and rescue. At worst, they are internally homophobic, self-hating imposters getting the best of both worlds. Both DLs and MSMs exhibit failed racialized masculinities that are placed in a subordinate and marginal location in the taxonomy of "manhood" and in an early developmental stage in the teleology of modernity.
I would argue that the Brokeback lovers are...