In a year dominated by the conversation of sexual abuse in Hollywood and the fluid nature of teenage minors in adult roles, the celebration of the movie “Call Me by Your Name” at the 2018 Oscars, by the media and especially LGBT media, is astounding.
The controversy began in September of last year when James Woods commented on the film that it promoted pedophilia. The star of the film, Armie Hammer, shot back, citing Woods’ previous relationship which involved a significant age-gap. The conversation from then on argued that an “age-gap” in a same-sex love story was making people, specifically conservatives, uncomfortable. As is typical, there was far more depth to the concern.
The film is based on a book by the same title published in 2007 and set in the 1980s. Both the book and the film feature the main character, Elio, a 17-year-old, pursuing a college-aged man. The book is far more darkly obsessive and lustful than the film adaptation, which dedicates its time to the intense romantic nature of the relationship. Strangely, it is argued that because the younger boy pursues the older man there is no predatory behavior involved. To continue this line of reasoning, because Elio is described as mature and aggressive, it is argued he fully understands and consents to the relationship.
To start this conversation, we have to recognize a significant ideological perspective difference between the two sides of this argument. The Right tends to view law as recognizing morality whereas the Left views law as defining morality. As described in a surprisingly insightful Slate article titled, “What Should We Make of Call Me by Your Name’s Age-Gap Relationship?,” Hammer, like many others, dismissed criticism about the underage relationship in the film, citing various “age of consent” laws across the country and abroad. The movie is set in Italy which has an age of consent of 14 years old. This, I have been sternly lectured by dozens and dozens of people on Twitter, discredits any efforts to argue that the age difference matters.
The purpose of an age of consent law is to legally define at what point it is legal to engage sexually with a minor. This standard varies wildly between states and countries. The relationship depicted was not illegal within the setting of the film and many supporters feel that should be the end of the conversation. However, the core concern is not one of legality but one of morality and ethics. As stated, within the setting of the film, it is legally acceptable for an adult to engage sexually with a teenager as young as 14. It should be very well understood that in no way is this activity acceptable, moral or ethical.
The objection from the Right has never been about an “age-gap.” This implies that the concern is merely surrounding a separation of years between two consenting adults as being somehow socially unacceptable. However, the concern has nothing to do with a difference of 7 years. The issue is with an adult engaging in sexual activity with a teenage minor. Regardless of legality, it is wrong for an adult to make this choice and the behavior, interest or insistence of the minor is irrelevant. So is “love” in this context.
Sally Kohn demanded in a tweet response to my challenging her on celebration of the film stating, “@RealChalamet’s character was 17 and a few months shy of being able to legally buy a gun. So I’m curious, do you think he’s old enough for violence but too young for love?!”
The Left has found itself in a strange game of semantics between a teenager being a “kid” or “child” when advocating for gun control and “old enough” to pursue adult sexual relationships. The assertion that 16-year-olds should be allowed to vote but not own a firearm until age 21 is also confounding. But in this specific and selected scenario, the objection seems to be that a young gay man should be judged for chasing his romantic desires. In context to his sexuality, it is viewed as a beautiful, brave and exciting coming-of-age journey to finding himself. The romanticized narrative superimposed onto the situation overshadows all relevant concerns.
For LGBT advocates, this narrative is extremely important. The obsession with identity and diversity in all areas of life has created a relentless need in members of liberal identity groups for ever-increasing and publicly praised representation in film and media. A powerful love story between two young men, set in a time when such love is forbidden is irresistible to a sub-culture utterly fixated on reliving the anxiety and sexual fantasy of their youth.
The age of the young man is intentional. Had the author, in 2007 when LGBT acceptance and legal advancement was steadily growing, chosen to make the younger character 18 years old, the story would have been just as powerful without a single concern. But he chose 17 because it represents a major theme in LGBT social architecture. LGBT define themselves by their sense of rejection and isolation from family and society as teenagers and relish the fantasy of setting out on their own, rebelling against society’s limitations. The fact that the younger of the two pursues the relationship, under the nose of his father, in a forbidden way and in a forbidden time is powerful for this very reason. To challenge this as abuse is to significantly dismiss and shatter the fantasy they so deeply cherish.
The visual age-difference between the characters is also intentional. Armie Hammer is 31-years-old but looks much more mature. He is physically imposing and towers over Timothée Chalamet, who is 21 but looks extremely adolescent in the film. As the above Slate article notes, the physical differences and visual age differences are exaggerated throughout the film with Elio seated and Oliver standing tall above him. The promotion photos and stills from the movie that circulated the internet prior to its release closely resemble a visual picture of a very adult man seducing a very adolescent teenager. In many ways this too plays powerfully into the fantasy of an entire generation of gay men who lusted fruitlessly over older, masculine men in an age when they just nearly had the freedom and social option to pursue them. More darkly, as a gay man who has grown up in gay culture since the late 1990’s, the pornographic “father/son” imagery is impossible to ignore.
Most importantly the LGBT Left is desperately enraptured by the sheer level of praise and celebration the entire media and Hollywood industry has bestowed on the film. It has become a validation for them and thusly any criticism is sharply stamped out. Even if they were to recognize the inappropriateness of the relationship, they are too invested in what the movie is meant to represent to the whole of the LGBT community to willingly undermine it now. Sadly, the selective morality we too often witness from this political movement is extremely transparent here.
The movie won awards, has its own verified Twitter account, has dozens upon dozens of gushing headlines and tearful praise from media spanning the genre spectrum. The stars were featured on “Ellen” and there is a massive sub-culture of fans, both LGBT and straight, dedicated to the story in a way rarely seen for what would be otherwise a niche film. Liberal culture has spoken. But conservative culture has an obligation to speak louder.
The MeToo movement exposed a startling level of abuse against women and young men in the entertainment industry and through various gestures, both meaningful and hollow, of support for the victims. The Left, however, has a significant blind spot. When faced with the choice to stand up against the idea of glamorizing an adult-teen sexual relationship and promoting a break-through LGBT love story, they are incapable of making an ethical decision. They are equally incapable of recognizing the consequences.
This film has now entrenched in gay male culture and validated the idea that a teenage minor is not only entitled to his sexual impulses but should be celebrated for pursuing them at all costs. It positions the reluctant older man as demonstrating kindness and compassion to the intense desires of the younger man by giving into and indulging his impulses and manufactures a fantasy of true and powerful love resulting. It tells a generation of men in their 20’s and older that pursing sexual relationships with teenagers is not only beautiful and empowering to the younger partner, but perfectly acceptable as long as it is legal.
Conservatives should continue to call this “abuse.” Despite the very determined ignoring of our demands, we are not alone in our repulsion to this narrative. Jimmy Kimmel was widely prasied and quoted at the Oscars by saying, “We don’t make films like ‘Call Me By Your Name’ to make money. We make them to upset Mike Pence.”
The message is clear. The Left will support and celebrate adults engaging sexually with teenagers if they think it upsets everyday America with a narrative of defiant romanticized rebellion. Everyday America needs to pay attention and make sure they know we not only find it morally unacceptable but dangerously irresponsible and will continue to speak out against it.