BrokeBack Pyramid

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The Advocate, January 30, 2006
Brokeback pyramid
By Bruce Vilanch

People keep telling me there’s never been anything like Brokeback Mountain. But they’ve never been inside the Step Pyramid in the necropolis of Saqqâra, not far outside Cairo. Let me explain.

In Brokeback Mountain two men living otherwise heterosexual lives reunite periodically to renew their homosexual relationship, which is the only true love they have ever known. Call it Same Time, Next Rear if you’re someone looking for a fabulous cheap pun that you can’t use on the Oscar broadcast (that would be me, your honor). This tender and beautifully rendered tale has caused all the predictable controversy. My favorite cannon lobs from the right wing have included the notion that the film besmirches the fine and noble tradition of the Western movie. I guess that would be the tradition of slaughtering white guys painted up as Indians while stealing their land for eventual regifting with a gambling license. My other favorite is the idea that the movie is part of a long-simmering plot to forward that ol’ devil gay agenda, as opposed to agenda-free little items like The Passion of the Christ, which has been seen by more people than ever will see Brokeback Mountain.

I think Brokeback Mountain will survive all of this and live forever as one of the most profound works of art ever to tackle the issue of what happens when a person represses his true self. But we shouldn’t confuse the movie with real life. In real life there are gay cowboys and much more exotic characters besides.

The day after I saw Brokeback Mountain at a multiplex in Hollywood, I opened The New York Times and got a glimpse of what was going on at the necropolis near Cairo. The Egyptians have resisted the urge to tear down the pyramids and build a nice mall and have instead encouraged scientists to keep coming over to figure out what’s stuffed away in the ruins. One find is still mysterious. Carved in stone on a tomb wall are two similar-looking men locked in an embrace, possibly even a nose kiss, which was the preferred way of getting your groove on in the fifth dynasty of the Old Kingdom (roughly 2380–2330 B.C.). Though not of the nobility, it turns out they are two fellows who served as, brace yourself, manicurists to the king.

Conventional wisdom had it that the men were twins, which would account for their devotion to each other. Later scientists said that their earlier colleagues were merely being polite and that the nail-trimmers were actually lovers. The very latest scholar to chime in offered another theory: They were pictured together not because they were close but because they were literally inseparable—conjoined twins. An archaeological long shot, but it created enough stir to get the manicurists back into the Times. And it got me to thinking—suppose they were boyfriends? Were they a scandal? Evidently not. Otherwise why would they be buried together in a tomb of honor, surrounded by riches? Did the Egyptian right wing claim that they had besmirched the great tradition of royal manicurists? Doubtful. Did the honors bestowed upon them recruit new homosexuals, or, more to the point, did they threaten heterosexual marriage in the Old Kingdom? We probably would have heard. Will the foolishness of the right wing last as long as the pyramids? Don’t bet on it, pardner.