(Image is an illustration for a story called 'The "duffer" of St Georges' by Richard Lyne in 'Champion Book for Boys')
When I was a child, we experienced the advent of Event Television. That is, the advent of the (are you quite breathless?)... MINI(!!)SERIES (!!!). The two mini-series that had the most impact on me as a child were Brideshead Revisited and The Jewel in the Crown, both of which had a strong undercurrent of homo-eroticism. I remember watching both Beacons of Event Television with a mix of confusion (stemming from the sense that this was an unrecognisable adult world whose rules were unfamiliar to me) and an illicit thrill (squirming at the thought that someone would recognise the bug-eyed compulsion and over-attentiveness beneath my ill-affected nonchalance). These Beacons of Event Television also gave me the impression that same-sex attaction was inevitably sad or sordid (in the case of Jewel in the Crown, but that is for another day) and always rather, well, complicated. Oh, and then there was Return To Eden which had no gay sub-text that I remember, but I just thought I would mention it because it is so inherently ludicrous that I thought it might get a cheap laugh: Crocodile Attacks! The "glamorous" world of Australian Fashion in the 1980s! The paralysed acting of James Reyne! Camp, but not gay then.
Anyway, we recently went to see the new Brideshead Revisitedfilm. I am not going to weigh in with an opinion of whether or not it comes close to the BBC mini-series of my youth, other than to say that it is a damn sight shorter, which is not necessarily a bad thing. What really affected me in the new film, however, was its portrayal of Sebastian's character (played well, I thought, by Ben Whishaw). That portrayal may not necessarily be faithful to the book. And it contrasted markedly to Anthony Andrews' fondly remembered portrayal of the Old Sebastian as a loveable eccentric...
(What a smash the Old Sebastian was! Teenage girls and their mothers loved him. Hey, Dads probably even found him unthreatening (after all, he was a toff, was a Brit and lived in the past, and we all know that they do things differently there). We all had 5 minutes of wildness for white v-neck jumpers, floppy hair and teddy bears! People changed their name to Aloysius! He was The First Family-Friendly Fruit on Free-to- Air! I do not know what exactly became of Anthony Andrews but I hear that he took the well-worn path of many English Thespians and ended up playing villains in Hollywood movies. Blowing up buses full of innocent people, gloating all the while in a clipped Oxford accent, laughing evilly and that kind of thing...).
...The New Sebastian, however, while less instantly memorable and family-friendly, perhaps, struck more of a chord with gown-up me. And it was nice for me to revisit this character as the world-weary individual that now stands before you. Apart from the fact that my parents never owned a house when we were growing up, let alone a massive country pile, there were some rather uncomfortable parallels with my younger, drunk, unrequitedly-lovin' self. He brought back all those youthful years of one-sided non-existent love affairs. Of alcohol-fuelled fumbling with the wrong guys (that seemed to me then to be grotesque, but which I now think back on and think 'whatever' - better than living a life of repression, I say. I have realized over time that it is nigh impossible for me to 'do' repression. I am just the type of dude who has to get everything out eventually, as those who know me will wearily attest). Of being attracted to men for the chief reason that they appeared the polar opposite to me (ie solid, boring even - anything but a blushing angst-ridden hypersensitive mass of nerves, which was how I viewed myself). Of being attracted to the type of not-undecent men who, even with the best will in the world, would never be able to love me in the same way. It reminded me why I used to drink so much, and made me thankful that those reasons for drinking have evaporated over time (or just become a little more quotidian). Yes, to paraphrase Sinatra (Frank, not Nancy), unrequited love's a bore, and I had it pretty bad.
I feel watchful and concerned, with grandiose notions of being some kind of Catcher in The Rye, when I see the 20-somethings I work with getting themselves into a similar pickle. I want to, and occasionally do, say to them: You have got to be tough. If someone is messing with your head and heart, remove yourself from them. Talk yourself out of it. You can brutally talk yourself out of it. You can re-write the story you tell yourself and others about yourself. I am not sure if that is do-able in every situation, but it is worth a damn good try. I mean, what is the alternative? Living on scraps? That is what I like about the New Sebastian. He starts off as a bit of a self-indulgent mess, but ends up being one of the most self-aware, honest and tough characters in the movie. He removes himself from everything that was messing with him because his love was so overbearing that it left him with no choice. He does not waver. The rest of the characters circle around deluding each other and deluding themselves. It is probably a rather generous slice of artistic licence, but I commend the film for portraying the New Sebastian as tragic, yes, but not pathetic.
I sometimes, in my typically melodramatic fashion, have lamented the fact that I wasted my youth and days of relatively slight girth on the wrong people. But, on the other hand, I learned a lot along the way. I became self-reliant because I figured that this was the pattern I was always going to follow. And, quelle bloody surprise, life has turned out so much better than I could ever have conceived. Ultimately,I would rather get all that gushing, groping and guilt out of my system in my 20s (when pretty much everything I did was clueless anyway) and have a serene, if only slightly less clueless, 30s. (Who knows what the 40s will bring? I could not conceive my 30s, so will not even try to conceive my 40s. Each day as it comes is my rather hackneyed mantra).
Believe it or not, I say all of this not out of an abundance of unbearable smugness (I can almost hear my 20-something self seething at me How dare you? You treacherous worm! You just don't know what it's like... . To which I respond, rather immaturely: Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!). My point is, rather, that if it can happen to an unreconstructed, clapped out Old Sebastian like me, it can happen to anyone. And my other point to these love-lorn 20 somethings is to never, ever give up. I mean, I never, ever saw myself as the person saying this, and I am superstitious about bringing a curse upon my head the moment I utter it, but, here goes. I do now believe that it is possible to love wisely. And to love well.