This is a beautiful short film, amazingly written by a 17-year-old. I don’t want to spoil it. So I’ll put my comments out of sight. Don’t read them until you watch.
I really like this short film, “The Language of Love,” for so many reasons. Obviously, there are issues that one would expect to resonate for me. Certainly as a closeted gay teen I had my share of times falling for friends, and was terrified to tell them.
I find it interesting that this video started being shared a week after Steve Grand’s music video, All-American Boy, and how very different they are. What I liked about Grand’s video was that it was power ballad that just happened to be gay. If the pronouns are changed it could have been a power ballad from Bon Jovi and no one would have batted an eye.
The similarities between “All-American Boy” and “The Language of Love” is that they’re both about desire and love and longing in an environment when you’re afraid of rejection not just from the object of your affections, but from your entire social structure if you are discovered.
I’ve read a lot of criticism of the music video about how the viewpoint character comes off as predatory. I think that’s more than a bit of projection. And it says a lot about how we still view gender roles. If the exact same music video had been shot with a girl being the object of the singer’s affection, that perception would have been very different.
Where the screwed up bit of our society’s gender issues come in is that, if we swapped genders in the video, after all the touching, falling asleep with her head on his shoulder, inviting him to go skinny dipping with her, and then she rebuffed him, a lot of the youtube comments would have been about what a tease she was, using all sort of nasty insults. But when it’s a guy who engages in behavior that could be interpreted as inviting more intimate attention, all the nasty comments are directed at the other guy who reacts to that behavior.
I’ve also seen criticism that’s a bit more meta. People are upset that other gay people were sharing links and calling it a great song, except at the end of the closeted guy is both rejected and left longing. As one put it, “I guess we’re supposed to celebrate the fact that he doesn’t get gay bashed at the end?”
To which I say, “Well, yes.” Look at the history of the gay-panic defense. People have gotten away with not just killing a guy in “the heat of the moment,” because the guy came on to them, but they’ve gotten away with conspiring with a group of friends, planning for weeks how they would abduct, torture for days, and finally kill the guy who came on to them (just two years ago in a state in the midwest). They get away by claiming they were so revolted that the thought of this guy lusting after them, and any reasonable person might react by murdering the guy. In a world where that defense still sometimes works, I don’t mind a story where it’s clear that the buddy not only isn’t going bash him, but he seems to want to still be friends. I think that’s progress.
In a song, particularly in one of the pop-like genres, one can’t be as nuanced as a monologue. You have to follow conventions of verses and repeated choruses that constrict your tale. The song is really just about the longing. It’s the video that tells the tale of acting on it.
In “The Language of Love,” Charlie gets to tell us how he was surprised to find himself falling in love with his best friend. He gets to explain how he knows that acting on his feelings might be a betrayal, that maybe he’s some how taking advantage of Sam’s vulnerability because of his family problems. He can give us the details of how Sam has opened up to him, signals that could be interpreted as Sam either possibly feeling the same way, or maybe he knows how Charlie feels and he’s okay with it, he just doesn’t return the feelings.
The thing is, when you are falling for someone or are otherwise attracted to them, there comes a point where you have to take a chance. You can’t know before you say whether they’re going to be offended simply because you asked, right?
It’s scary and risky, and it doesn’t matter what gender anyone is, there’s risk and uncertainty. But nothing worth having is risk free. Especially love.