The truth is rarely pure and never simple. So says Algy Moncrieff, Oscar Wilde’s impure instrument of truth in The Importance of Being Earnest. Wilde was as certain about the difficult nature of truth as he was of his own genius and of the need for restraint in home furnishings. He was, as you probably agree, right on all counts …
Wilde would have been pleased with the rustic minimalism in which the middle class now prefers to deck its homes; it seems we finally took his decor advice. Many have failed, however, to understand his explicit advice on the nature of truth.
“It’s so simple,” said Stephen Fry on ABC1 last Sunday. This statement, made by a man sufficiently familiar with Wilde as to play him in a feature film, is a general worry as much as it was a particular concern when it had as its object global homophobia.
As Fry had it on the two-part documentary Out There, the disdain for what he calls “gay” makes as much sense as an objection to “red telephone boxes”. Why, asks Fry, are people struggling to accept how “some of us love”?
The answer is that the truth is difficult. Of course, disdain for homosexual practice or identity is stupid but that doesn’t mean that it is also simple. Just as many struggle to accept how “some of us love” (Fry doesn’t care to mention how some of us have sex — a topic all-but-forbidden in an era where even the Sydney Mardi Gras uses Parental Advisory warnings), Fry struggles to understand how Some of Us Think. Which is not exactly as he, a fairly standard liberal humanist, does.
Fry believes that homophobia, like the gay identity it opposes, is universal — that it comes from the same simple impulse of fear. This is even despite evidence from a Sri Lankan chap he interviews. “There was no law against it until you British enforced it,” he says, and, still Fry is unable to see that the very idea of homosexual identity, first codified and medicalised by European democracy, is one that he continues to export.
Homosexual identity is not the same thing as homosexual practice. Gore Vidal, who never supposed the truth to be simple or pure, said it crisply:
“Actually, there is no such thing as a homosexual person, any more than there is such a thing as a heterosexual person. The words are adjectives describing sexual acts, not people.”
But the real-world “truth” is that homosexual people are an innovation of liberal democracy. Homosexual acts, of course, are just natural and normal, but homosexual people and the laws against them are one of the West’s many unpleasant and dangerous exports.
Fry’s “simple” human rights framework that we should “all just love” is a Western solution to a Western problem. And one that ignores the many reasons for global persecution of people who perform homosexual acts. Currently in Nigeria, for example, embattled President Goodluck Jonathan is strategically opposing homosexuality as a Western value. Post-colonial scholars point out the arrogance of universalised rights for “gays” who never existed with a separate identity in many Islamic nations before the ever-helpful West franchised first a legal system to condemn and then a human rights agenda to liberate.
I do understand that this can be a difficult and confusing argument; I was a queer studies student for years, and I continue to find the separation of homosexual identity and homosexual practice an intellectual challenge. But things to do with the truth are difficult, and Stephen Fry, an intelligent Wildean man, should know this. But he didn’t, or at least, pretends not to, and I found myself so frustrated with his belief that the West is a model for tolerance and not, in fact, the effing starting point for intolerance that has led directly to the persecution of people who do homosexual things in Africa, I turned over to the Grammys.
I was just in time to see the egregious “hip-hop” “artist” Macklemore win a number of awards for genuinely terrible music and perform the hideous anthem to marriage, Same Love.
Macklemore, who has been at previous pains to point out that he is not A Gay …
… did a good job of showing us by means of a terrible oeuvre that he is also not a guy who cares to think of the truth as anything more than pure and simple.
The white Macklemore, who blames hip-hop and, by extension, African-American men for homophobia, is not only purely and simply wrong about the world in Same Love. He is also wrong about it Thrift Shop, where he seems to be blaming African-American men for consumerism. I do not care to provide an exegesis for the song Can’t Hold Us. But I will say that it reminds me of the Christian hip-hop fusion of DC Talk.
As Slate’s Jack Hamilton reminds us, we should not hate Macklemore because he is white. Rather, we should abhor him for the same reasons we do Stephen Fry. That is, for his habit of pointing to the world’s most disenfranchised and, as it happens, darkest people as the source and not as the target of injustice.
If only those Ugandans would do things as we do! If only that Kanye West would think as Macklemore does! Then, the pure and simple truth would RISE and we could all get married to Madonna by Queen Latifah because, after all, we are One World!
But we are not one world. There is not one truth. There are multiple injustices to which a single salve is not just the pure and simple idea, shared by political leaders, well-regarded BBC television stars and hip-hop artists alike, that LOVE is the answer.
Wilde would have despised the liberalism and the hideous anti-Kanye doggerel of Macklemore. He would have questioned, as he did in Earnest, both his earnestness and idea of marriage as a moral solution.
As for the bland humanist decoration of Stephen Fry he might have said, as he reportedly did at his deathbed, either that wallpaper goes or I do.