First it was the increasingly unhinged Jerry Falwell blaming gays for bringing on the Sept. 11 attacks. Then it was the increasingly despotic Vatican blaming gays for its own ugly pedophile scandal. Now we have the onetime Hollywood superagent Mike Ovitz, in a much-reported-on interview in Vanity Fair, blaming gays?"a gay mafia" specifically?for sabotaging his career.
And according to the breathless press coverage of Ovitz's remarks, everyone in Hollywood and the media is absolutely shocked that Ovitz suggested the existence of this cabal and claimed that he was brought down by it. Both the New York Post and Daily Variety quoted Hollywood titan Barry Diller, one of those whom Ovitz includes in the gay mafia, who told Vanity Fair interviewer Bryan Burrough, "I'm stunned. I'm stunned." (He couldn't have been half as stunned as we were when he married Diane von Furstenberg?but that's another story.) Daily Variety termed the interview "a psychotic episode" on Ovitz's part.
The New York Times offered a list of people whom it said Ovitz included in the gay mafia, and then noted that "not all" of them are gay?without telling us which ones are gay and which are not. (Imagine if I offered a list of names and said, "Only some of these people are straight." You better believe they'd have a name for that.)
The Times then gave us this tantalizing detail: "Many of Mr. Ovitz's more outlandish statements about those he considers enemies did not make the final article, Mr. Burrough said. 'There were questions of taste, privacy and sexuality that I just didn't think were appropriate,' he said." Oh, you tease.
The shock and bewilderment among both journalists and Hollywood's liberals is pretty silly?not to mention a bit defensive and a tad dishonest. While Ovitz's statements certainly warranted coverage, they weren't that shocking. We could have done with less of the titillation, professed horror and hand-wringing from journalists and their interview subjects, and with more acknowledgement of the fact that there most certainly is a band of powerful gay men in Hollywood, as well as frank discussion about what they represent?and, more importantly, what they don't. Nikki Finke in LA Weekly got it right last week, noting that Vanity Fair threw the salacious quotes onto the griddle but "didn't bother to challenge any of it." Much of the press coverage of the Vanity Fair story followed suit, floating the irresistible notion of a sinister gay mafia, expressing bewilderment and dismay that someone had pointed to it?and then dropping the ball.
Truth is, many gay men will tell you that there most certainly is a Hollywood/media gay mafia?using that term or its synonym, "the velvet mafia"?whether or not they are members themselves. It's made up of men such as DreamWorks cochair David Geffen and Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, plus many more lesser-known individuals. They are men of a certain generation and status who travel together, throw swanky parties and introduce young beautiful things to one another. In other words, it's no different from the straight male mafia in Hollywood, where the casting couch for actresses is practically an institution.
"It's a social thing," says David Ehrenstein, author of Open Secret: Gay Hollywood 1928-1998 (William Morrow, 1998). "That's really all." Sure, it can help you in your career, just as networking on other social scenes can, particularly if you're an actor who needs a break, or if you're an agent who needs five minutes with a certain producer or whatever.
But the notion that Ovitz seemed to be suggesting, that this gay mafia is consolidating power among its members and cutting out and destroying nonmembers?such as himself?presumably so that it can then maintain a stranglehold and promote only its own kind, is downright laughable. It's not only akin to every conspiracy theory we've heard to date about Jews in Hollywood and beyond; more significantly, Hollywood's gay moguls, often to the chagrin of gay activists, have always had little allegiance to their own kind. Many are closeted, or have been in the past for many years. Like other powerbrokers in Hollywood, they're mostly out for themselves and will help anyone?gay, straight, bi, pansexual, neutered, hermaphrodite, whatever?who can help them to maintain their grip. The fact that some are open about their sexual orientation today and are contributing to the causes of gay rights or AIDS research is often the product of years of criticism and public protests by AIDS activists and gay activists. And still, many have little loyalty to the gay community?let alone are they garnering power on behalf of the rest of us.
Ovitz thus was implicitly ascribing an unlikely conspiracy to Hollywood's gay powerbrokers, attempting to deflect from his own failings, dredging up every last bit of that homophobia for which he's long been known. But for media people to profess shock and horror at the notion of such a powerful social network, and at the thought that someone might finger it?rightly or wrongly?is disingenuous at best, liberal pandering at worst.
Another reason that it shouldn't surprise anyone that Ovitz is blaming gays is the same reason that Falwell and the Vatican have blamed gays: In times of high anxiety, when a lot of straight men feel their masculinity (read: power) threatened, homosexuals become a favorite target. That's particularly true when they are in desperation mode, seeing their reputations sinking fast. Falwell is so nutty these days that even the most rabid among the religious right see him as an embarrassment, and perhaps he knows that. The Catholic Church is imploding, and though I'm not ready to say it's on its last gasp, it's certainly safe to say it's not on an upward trajectory.
Ovitz, recently forced to sell his agency for peanuts, watched his power dwindle to nothing over the years as others around him rose. High anxiety produces odd results indeed. Even the ailing New York Post, the tabloid that loses money by the minute, has gone back to a bizarre 1950s narrative on gays as it frantically attempts to whip up circulation?outdoing even its own homophobic reputation. A few weeks ago an item on "Page Six" mentioned "a swishy source," a retrograde code word for homosexual harkening back to J. Edgar Hoover's day! And last week, in reporting on gay pop star George Michael's controversial new video?in which British Prime Minister Tony Blair is portrayed as George W. Bush's lap dog?the paper called Michael a "washed up pervert."
The only thing washed up, however, is these zany, desperate McCarthy-era smear tactics against gays, whether coming from the Catholic Church, Hollywood or a New York tabloid, while more and more of the public seems inclined to dismiss them. And it would be nice if the rest of the media could actually explain that and more, rather than express shock and disdain while floating the smears further.
Michelangelo Signorile can be reached at [www.signorile.com](http://www.signorile.com).