He makes his living as a film critic in which his job is to offer his critique of all elements of a movie, including character development. But now his take on the character of "Jack" in "Brokeback Mountain" has got him labeled a homphobe and the folks at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) not so, well, gay (as used in its traditional sense in the world before, say, 1982).
Here is the critique offered by Mr. Shalit:
The sheep do nothing special as they bleet around the bush, but Jack and Ennis do do something special. They have sex. Jack, who strikes me as a sexual predator, tracks Ennis down and coaxes himHere is GLAAD's reaction:
into sporadic trysts. But sporadic isn’t frequent enough for Jack. He wants Ennis full time. He whines, he pleads, he shouts that when they’re apart, he’s desolated. Jack can’t absorb Ennis’ implied response: better desolate than never.
In the piece, Shalit refers to Jake Gyllenhaal's character, Jack, as a "sexual predator" who "tracks Ennis down and coaxes him
into sporadic trysts." Shalit's bizarre characterization of Jack
as a "predator" and Ennis (Heath Ledger) as a victim reflects a fundamental lack of understanding about the central relationship in the film and about gay relationships in general. It seems highly doubtful that Shalit would similarly claim that Titanic's Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) was a "sexual predator" because he was pursuing a romantic relationship with Rose (Kate Winslet).
Well, a critical difference with Rose and Jack is that Rose wanted to pursue a romantic relationship with Jack, right down to the water line.
And is GLAAD saying that "gay relationships" mandate pursuit even when the target person says "no" - is that the "understanding" that Gene Shalit lacks?
Shalit has every right as a film critic to criticize Brokeback Mountain. But his baseless branding of Jack as a "sexual predator" merely because he is romantically interested in someone of the same sex is defamatory, ignorant and irresponsible. And it is equally irresponsible for NBC News to have given Shalit a platform for his gratuitously offensive comments.
That's why I wanted to find a transcript of Shalit's comments. I don't read Shalit as saying Jack is a sexual predator simply because the person he desires is of the same sex. He is saying that Jack "strikes him as a sexual predator" (you know, as in "seems to be", "appears as" - which is different than "is", but then, I guess that depends on what your definition of is is) because he pursues Ennis to coax him to leave his wife and children and join him in an exclusive relationship, even after Ennis signals that he doesn't want to do so. I can tell you, behavior like that will get you a restraining order (I know, I've gotten them for clients because of such conduct).
I think what GLAAD's real complaint is, is that they do not want any critic to see a gay character as anything but romantic and heroic, since anything but to them is a wholesale condemnation of homosexual people. This is not that - it is one film critic's opinion about a character in a movie. The villains of a story can be straight, gay, ugly, good-looking, white, black, Catholic, Jewish, whatever . . . just as can be the heroes. Just as in reality.