Seventy-four million viewers elect Ellen Morgan as lesbian of the year, so here's to Ellen, who is basking in the notability of her celebrated role. But I can't help but wonder if she has ever read any of the writings of Oscar Wilde. He was the sodomite (that was the old word for gay) of the 1890's. In his Ballad of Reading Gaol, one is amazed at the distance the culture has come (or the depth to which we've descended) in over a century.
Recently, at the Haymarket Theater in London, I saw a performance of one of Wilde's insane romantic farces. The play was so hetero I was amazed that Wilde was the homosexual of the year back in the gay '90s which were not all that gay. But back then, gay wasn't proud, it was humiliating.
The differences between Oscar and Ellen, of course, are immense. Ellen came out of the closet and Wilde got caught. When Ellen came out of the closet there were lesbian celebrations from coast to coast. When Oscar got caught he was thrown in Reading Gaol. Ellen, raised on situation ethics, never ran into the word sin. Wilde, reared in Victorian piety, felt the sting of British propriety.
But that's how the world turns. What's sin in one generation is civil rights in the next. Our current culture has gone secular and in their own deconstructionist, postmodern, relativistic way of thinking, lesbianism is as natural as ethnicity. In their quaint way of seeing things, Ellen is liberating her corner of her oppressed world as Martin Luther King once liberated his. I am a Martin Luther King fan and I hate to cheapen his incredible role in world history. Still, some these days seem to believe that King equals Ellen if you can get the civil rights squint on gay oppression.
There are lots of other differences between Ellen and Oscar. Oscar, of course, was a great poet and playwright. Ellen seems less talented. But gay pride is historically revisionist. It is working overtime to exonerate Wilde's sodomy and recast him as the homosexual martyr of the 19th century. It is difficult for me to believe that Oscar Wilde would have agreed to this. Wilde exhibits a penitent spirit in the Ballad of Reading Gaol. The piece resounds with the lament that "we kill at last the thing we love most." Oscar Wilde seems to repeat this litany as though he is grieved over the fact that his indulgences had destroyed his reputation and career. I must confess I cannot read the piece without weeping and I celebrate the life of a man whose literary skills were, at last, employed to paint his open repentance with captivating power.
On the other hand there is Ellen. What is to come from her life? The chatty matter of her own sexual caprice makes me wonder if she (or any in our generation) really believe that such things as sin and repentance have ever existed. But it's hard to really look for flaws in your own ego when they're smelting bronze to cast your statue.
The whole issue of gay pride seems to me to be, "Let me be free to indulge my appetites as I feel I was born to do." Whatever the natural state of their sexuality, homosexuality seems based on a kind of hedonism that never speaks of self-denial. Jesus never taught, "fight to establish your preferences and indulgences." Rather, Jesus said, "deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me."
So far, gay pride has not produced a literature of self-denial. Their quarrel is not some gallant human dream, which they can only bring to pass by great self sacrifice. Rather, they are out to claim their right to indulge their own appetites. Self-denial — a lonely virtue in an indulgent world — is a worldview based upon the Bible. Meanwhile, I am hung up on Oscar Wilde, a man whose sensibilities kept in touch with morality, even when he stood accused. There is a deep rift, it seems to me, in the heart of Oscar Wilde. Homosexual or not, his literature was gloriously heterosexual, and his private life, which doomed his reputation in the theater, has clearly enhanced Ellen's reputation. Is it possible that the world has come of age since Wilde? Or, has it only decayed?