Monday, June 22, 2009

Guess what I saw?

Pop Star on Ice: The Johnny Weir Story.
Yes the good side to this lousy weather that happened to come while I was on vacation in P-town (but thankfully a day after the bike ride here) is that it's a great opportunity to go to the movies. It was also really good for the Provincetown International Film Festival.
So when the weather took its gusty turn yesterday I headed to the program guide and was psyched to see the Weir documentary--which I had never heard of previously--on the schedule for the last day of the festival. And I also thought, "Pat Griffin would want me to see this movie." So I went. I thought it would be a big draw here in P-town among some of the gay boys but it was not sold out and the crowd was mixed in terms of gender, sexuality, and age.
And after seeing the documentary, I have a better understanding of why.
The filmmakers establish early on--in case you didn't already know--that Johnny Weir is a little bit different; that he knows what people say about him and his skating and what he chooses to pay attention to and what he simply puts aside. They do this using a timeline to frame the stories presented and move forward and backward along the timeline that is marked mostly with competitions. I thought the timeline as a frame was a little hackneyed but it was easy to ignore it because the footage was so compelling from Johnny's training sessions on and off the ice, to interviews with his coach and mother, to more candid moments with Johnny and his best bud Paris. There were the "infamous moments" when Weir makes metaphors comparing programs to drinking vodka and snorting cocaine. I never thought these comments were really that bad and when you see them in context they seem even less egregious. But then we see the fallout and how Weir has to deal with it.
Christine Brennan appears in the film and I believe it was Brennan who asked Weir the question that produced the best response by Weir. When asked about being a role model and if he thinks about how his behavior and comments are seen by kids he said that he was a role model to some kids and that no one could be or should be a role model for everyone.
And that is why I like Johnny Weir. Because he gets it. He is who he is and he speaks his mind--and note that nothing he says is that crazy, really. [I mean why doesn't he have a right to say that he thinks the free program is too regulated these days and contain too many spins?]
And he's right. He is likely a role model to some children. And he needs to be there. And that is why attempts to shame Weir into being more masculine or to kow-tow to the skating establishment are so misguided. Yes, figure skating has certain legitimacy problems but silencing Johnny Weir is only going to make them worse.
So in addition to these things that appeared in the film, I made two observations about what I am calling the Johnny Weir Effect. Butch men don't like him. Straight men like skater Evan Lysacek, who is undoubtedly Weir's biggest American rival and who comes off pretty badly in the film, go to great lengths to separate themselves from Weir. And gay men are not huge fans either. Brian Boitano tries to seem supportive but he is clearly uncomfortable with him. Brian Orser, who is part of Canadian figure skating governance, clearly has a problem with Weir's critique's of skating's rules. And of course there was the infamous discussion by gay commentator Mark Lund about Weir's flamboyance.
So men--even some gay men--find him a little disconcerting. But the women love him. And this was fascinating to me. Johnny's Angels is his fan group and it seems to be comprised of middle-class, middle-aged (or older) white women. So all these apparently normative women are in love with this very queer (regardless of his sexuality which he does not label) young man. What's up with that? Do they too wish they could be as outgoing as Weir--could speak their minds and dress how they want and challenge the establishment? Maybe. There's something here that I find so intriguing. And I think the world--the skating world and beyond--need Johnny Weir.

No comments: