Without Mist or Veil: On Dorian Gray and Bury-Your-Gays

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Hi, friends!  Golly howdy, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on here.  I blame the play I was in for sucking up all my free time.  Anyway, I swear I’ll finish Northanger Abbey and post the second half of my livetweet soon, but in the meantime, I’m here to talk about Dorian Gray.

If you follow me on… well, just about any social media outlet, you’ve probably seen me relentlessly talking up this video:

This is the trailer for a modern-day webseries adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray, created and masterminded by my pal RJ Lackie through his production company Cycle 66.  You may recall that I livetweeted the book back in 2014 (the posts are here and here).  That livetweet also ended up indirectly inspiring this very video, which kind of makes me the weird fairy godmother of this series, but that’s a whole other story.

The trailer is part of Cycle 66’s campaign to secure funding from the Independent Production Fund (a Canadian organization responsible for financing a lot of webseries content) for a full season’s worth of Dorian Gray.  In line with that, I tweeted the following at the IPF about why they should fund Dorian Gray:

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And I was thinking I’d write a blog post at some point this month elaborating on/emphasizing these points.

Then this happened, and talking about this show became less of a labor of love for me, and more of a moral imperative.

For those of you who have somehow been living under a rock for the past week, or who simply don’t know jack about The 100, let me briefly recap what went down:  the lesbian character (Lexa, this time) died, in a horrible and yet easily avoidable way, again.  What’s worse, the scene in question is suspiciously similar to that scene from Buffy in which Tara dies.  That scene aired in 2002.  It’s 2016.

To be clear:  I don’t watch The 100, and for multiple reasons including but by no means limited to this latest furor, I don’t plan to.  But I’m still pissed that Lexa was killed off.  I’m even more pissed that a showrunner who was supposedly so enlightened as to the importance of racial and sexual diversity would turn around and do this.  I’m royally pissed that in 20-freakin-16, the Bury Your Gays trope, and its prominent subtype the Dead Lesbian trope, is still alive and well.  (Forgive the ironic figure of speech.)

I may have spun in my chair while livetweeting The Picture of Dorian Gray, squealing about how gay everything was, but the draft Wilde submitted to Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine was even gayer.  Wilde, indeed, had no choice regarding the initial round of censorship by the Lippincott’s editor J.M. Stoddart (sources:  here, here, and here), and frankly, I’m not sure he would have done any subsequent edits for the novelized version if the magazine version hadn’t courted such controversy.  Wilde was to speak several years later, during his (in)famous trial, of “the love that dare not speak its name,” but he tried to speak of it in The Picture of Dorian Gray.  He tried to speak of it, and he was all but silenced.  The closest he came, in the novel, was Basil’s confession to Dorian, which I’ll reproduce in part below:

“…Dorian, from the moment I met you, your personality had the most extraordinary influence over me. I was dominated, soul, brain, and power, by you.[*] You became to me the visible incarnation of that unseen ideal whose memory haunts us artists like an exquisite dream. I worshipped you. I grew jealous of every one to whom you spoke. I wanted to have you all to myself. I was only happy when I was with you. When you were away from me, you were still present in my art…. Of course, I never let you know anything about this. It would have been impossible. You would not have understood it. I hardly understood it myself. I only knew that I had seen perfection face to face, and that the world had become wonderful to my eyes—too wonderful, perhaps, for in such mad worships there is peril, the peril of losing them, no less than the peril of keeping them…. Weeks and weeks went on, and I grew more and more absorbed in you. Then came a new development. I had drawn you as Paris in dainty armour, and as Adonis with huntsman’s cloak and polished boar-spear. Crowned with heavy lotus-blossoms you had sat on the prow of Adrian’s barge, gazing across the green turbid Nile. You had leaned over the still pool of some Greek woodland and seen in the water’s silent silver the marvel of your own face. And it had all been what art should be—unconscious, ideal, and remote. One day, a fatal day I sometimes think, I determined to paint a wonderful portrait of you as you actually are, not in the costume of dead ages, but in your own dress and in your own time. Whether it was the realism of the method, or the mere wonder of your own personality, thus directly presented to me without mist or veil, I cannot tell. But I know that as I worked at it, every flake and film of colour seemed to me to reveal my secret. I grew afraid that others would know of my idolatry. I felt, Dorian, that I had told too much, that I had put too much of myself into it. …”

…”My dear Basil,” said Dorian, “what have you told me? Simply that you felt that you admired me too much. That is not even a compliment.”

“It was not intended as a compliment. It was a confession. …”

– Chapter 9, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Wilde also said once that “Basil Hallward is what I think I am:  Lord Henry what the world thinks me:  Dorian what I would like to be–in other ages, perhaps.”  It’s especially heartbreaking, then, that Dorian murders Basil.**  In a way, Wilde subjected himself to Bury Your Gays.  It’s like real-life foreshadowing.

But hey, Toto, we’re not in virulently-homophobic-1890s-England anymore!  In much of the modern world–still not enough of the world, but a lot of it–Oscar’s queerness wouldn’t land him anywhere close to the courtroom or the prison!  He’d be allowed to smooch Bosie as much as he darn well pleases, and he wouldn’t lose a ton of fans for writing gay stuff!  Quite the opposite, in fact!

So why does it seem like queer representation in media really hasn’t made much progress?

Oscar Wilde has been fodder for the LIW (Literary-Inspired Webseries) community a few times before.  Severe Chill Studios adapted The Importance of Being Earnest, and Betwixt Productions brought a modern-day version of Wilde himself to the screen in The Writing Majors (fun fact, I actually went to high school with the Betwixt people!).  There’s also Words from Wilde, which I unfortunately haven’t had time to watch yet.  But somehow, the story that is arguably Wilde’s most important work, one that is horribly ironic in light of his eventual fate, hasn’t been adapted as an LIW until now.  And what’s more, from what my Googling has turned up, this looks to be the single gayest Dorian Gray adaptation thus far***.  That makes it a fitting standard-bearer, a wonderful way to truly carry Oscar Wilde’s work and legacy into the 21st century.

So yes, IPF, please fund my kooky gay godbaby of a webseries.  I say this partly because I’ve been freaking out about this thing ever since I accidentally inspired it, and I’ll be beside myself with joy if the series comes to fruition.  But I’m also saying this because even in this day and age–especially in this day and age–stories and media need to move beyond the limitations Wilde faced, both in his writing and in his life, and you have a prime opportunity to help out with that.  Not just by supporting Dorian Gray, either, but also by supporting Women Are From Mars and Come Again and whatever other queer stories are vying for your attention this year (if I’ve forgotten any, somebody please let me know).  The webseries landscape has already been pretty great in terms of queer rep, especially when compared to mainstream movies and TV.  There’s Carmilla, there’s March Family Letters, there’s Lovely Little Losers and The Soliloquies of Santiago and Couple-ish and A4O and probably quite a few others I’m not thinking of at the moment.

Let’s keep changing the story.  Let’s make more happily-ever-afters.

~~~

*Wow, Basil, that line would do Mr. Darcy proud.

**I briefly emerged from my own personal Ball Pit of Denial to write that sentence, and now I’m back to cavorting around in there–fantasizing about Dorian getting his head out of the sand, telling Henry to stuff it, and getting with Basil.  Whee.

***The 2009 movie may have given the world that Dorian/Basil smooch over which my shipper heart is still squealing, but overall it’s just… bad.

~~~

((If you want to support the Dorian Gray webseries, social stats are everything!  Watch the video, share it with your social networks, and/or like and comment on YouTube.  You can also tweet your excitement for the show to @theIPF.))