The Problem of a “Gay” Babadook

Recently, due to an error on Netflix’s part, the 2014 Australian horror film, The Babadook, was listed under LGBT films. The film, about a single mother and her struggles as they involve an evil monster (the eponymous Babadook) bent on destroying her child, is anything but an LGBT-themed film. However, when a photo of Netflix’s mistake was posted on Tumblr, it went viral and the Babadook has become an icon of the LGBT community. How embarrassing it must be for Pride Month 2017 for members of the LGBT community to rally around a 2014 horror film about a monster who kills children as an icon. The Babadook, while a good film in its own way, is not an icon of the LGBT community because the image of that mistake was a joke, the film deals with films contrary and antagonistic to LGBT interests, and the defense of this character as an icon is based upon flimsy interpretations of the film and stereotypes.

The initial posting on Tumblr in January 2017.

The Babadook is a psychological film dealing heavily with themes of motherhood and the stresses of being a single parent and is a strong feminist statement. In the film, a single mother is raising her young son in a small town in rural Australia. She faces ridicule from her peers for seemingly not having enough time for her son, the lack of a male role model in the boy’s life, and the increasing stresses of working and parenting without any moment to relax for herself. The Babadook is a monster, introduced into their lives through a mysterious pop-up children’s book that threatens to steal away (murder) the child. The monster can be seen as symbolic of the mother’s own mental state as she struggles with the stress of her position; it’s tempting to have her child taken away so she can have her own freedom. After weighing the love for her child against the tempting prospects of individuality and personal freedom, she decides to defend her son from the monster. In the end, the Babadook resides in their basement as a secret, with the mother feeding him. This can be interpreted as the mother coming to terms with the darker side of her own psychology, understanding that the stress and temptation to abandon her child for her own freedom will always be with her.

While the film can easily be viewed as a simple monster movie, the feminist themes present in The Babadook have been noted by other critics. Anthony Lane, writing for the New Yorker, argues that the Babadook may represent “a mother drained of sleep—almost the will to live—by that child’s unceasing demands,” and further elaborates its feminist message by stating, “No male director would have put so much as a toe inside this trouble zone” (Lane 10). Roger Clarke, writing for Sight and Sound argues that many scenes of the movie are relatable to women because they show the everyday struggle for mothers (Clarke 1). The director, Jennifer Kent, has emphasized these feminist themes of motherhood in interviews, saying, “Now, I’m not saying we all want to go mad and kill our kids, but a lot of women struggle. And it is a very taboo subject, to say that motherhood is anything but a perfect experience for women” (Lamble 8) Of the character of a realistically flawed mother, Kent has said, “I wanted to create a woman who was really just struggling, while also pointing out that this monster [exists] within everyone” (Alter 7). The Babadook is, undeniably, a feminist statement, specifically dealing with women and motherhood, and has certainly shown the power of female directors in the horror genre.

Jennifer Kent, director of The Babadook. Photo from Den of Geek (www.denofgeek.com).

While this is a film written and directed by a woman and dealing with experiences of single mothers, recent discussion has wrongly placed the film and its title character as an icon of LGBT representation. The commentary surrounding a joke about Netflix’s error quickly became a serious debate about the sexuality of a fictional character. Joking statements such as “The B in LGBT stands for Babadook. Everyone knows this,” are satirical comments about the meme. Of course the B stands for Bisexual, and to actually believe that it stands for Babadook discredits the experiences of a large portion of the LGBT community—replacing bisexuals with a cinematic boogeyman (an erasure that is also noted by Kyle Fitzpatrick at Popsugar). Broadly inaccurate statements such as, “the Babadook was a man who fearlessly and proudly loved other men in spite of a society telling him that his love was wrong—like actually watch the movie,” are based on nothing that is actually represented in the film and are taken as actual fact about the film by other readers. This passion grows as another commenter establishes, “We’re dead fucking serious we don’t tolerate ambiguity in the babadiscourse [sic] get yourself right before you come on here again.” As the memes regarding the “gay Babadook” spread beyond Tumblr to twitter people began to comment about not getting the joke, only to be told “It’s not a joke. He’s gay and we support him.”

While there is nothing wrong with the LGBT community (or any community) appreciating a film and finding particular things in it that resonate with them personally, co-opting a film to represent something that it was never intended to speak about does a disservice to the creator of that character and the audience she aimed to speak towards. While feminist and LGBT movements intersect quite frequently, they are not completely the same thing. To say that a feminist film is a representation of gay men, is a dangerous misinterpretation of the film that ignores its feminist message and even the role of women in society. One could even go as far as to take away the message towards women and focus on the interpretation of gay men puts one gender at a disadvantage, with the buzz around this meme arguing that the representation of men is somehow greater than the voices of women. While one internet citizen comments “it’s just a movie,” they are met with the no-longer-joking discourse of “it may be ‘just a movie’ to you but to the LGBT community the Babadook is a symbol of our journey,” thus stealing the intended feminist message of the film from women to now represent gay men without any of the film to support such thievery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While it is not uncommon for members of any community to rally around a character they feel represents their views, the Babadook is a dangerous character to use as an icon for the LGBT community. The Babadook is a bogeyman, a monster that preys upon children. Making such a character an image for the LGBT community only supports the statements of people like Michelle Bachman who so infamously once said that the aims of LGBT activists were to “freely prey upon little children sexually” (Ashtari 1). The LGBT community has long fought against the ignorant stigma associating them with child abuse. In 1977, singer Anita Bryant said “I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children” (Boucai 1). With the ideas that homosexuals wanted to target children, Anita Bryant successfully led the “Save our Children” movement in Dade County Florida to remove legislation which protected homosexuals from discrimination. From public schools, to private organizations such as the Boy Scouts, and to the Catholic church attempts to cover the abuse of young males, antigay activists have consistently asserted that gay people are child molesters.  The false ideas equating homosexuals with child predators has long been used and continues to be used as a means to deprive homosexuals of civil rights (Hreck 1). For a group that has long fought against being depicted as bogeymen that prey on children, to make their icon an actual bogeyman that preys on children is foolish and ignorant. It completely neglects the history of real people who have been wrongly accused of child molestation because of their sexuality, it completely ignores the struggle that homosexuals have experienced as they fight against dangerous ideas that take away their civil rights. There are actual role-models and martyrs in the history of the LGBT community that have fought for civil rights, whose actions have made an impact in how society accepts homosexuals; idolizing a fictional monster that preys on children ignores the sacrifices of those who should be remembered during a month of LGBT advocacy.

Despite the fact that the Babadook is a monster and child predator, those who’ve defended the character as an LGBT icon do so through using the same ignorant stereotypes used to vilify the LGBT community. An article in the Los Angeles Times, defending the inclusion of the Babadook as a gay icon, quotes Karen Torgenson, an associate professor of gender studies at the University of Southern California: “He lives in a basement, he’s weird and flamboyant, he’s living adjacently to a single mother in this kind of queer kinship structure” (Roy 7). Such statements do not accurately reflect any of the LGBT community. The ideas that homosexuals are “weird and flamboyant” are built upon stereotypes. An article for The Daily Beast which promises scene-by-scene examples of how the Babdook is gay, includes statements such as “that grey-blue wall color is just too tasteful for a straight monster” (Teeman 15), which also play upon the stereotypes that paint homosexuals as fashion-obsessed and somehow more tasteful than heterosexuals. In fact, the same article describes the Babadook’s actions as “it just wants its house back. It wants the dreary, nutty heteros out of there” (Teeman 20), dangerously using an imagined antagonism between hetero and homosexual communities. A highlighted quote in Buzzfeed’s article defending the Babadook states: “I’m a terrifying monster that destroys families that try to suppress me” (Vellner 1), thus equating the idolization of the character with the destruction of heterosexuality. In one sense, the child in the film could represent the reproductive cycle of heteronormativity and that the Babadook’s goal to destroy him is seen as a struggle to normalize homosexual lifestyles. Of course, this depends on an antagonistic destruction of others.

Other aspects of the character of the Babadook that are noted as being similar to the shared experiences of the LGBT community include living in secret, a basement as opposed to the proverbial ‘closet’ of homosexual culture, living in a half-acknowledged and feared existence and, as stated by Jessica Roy of Los Angeles Times, “The family is afraid of what he is, but finds a way to accept him over time” which is an experience that Roy supports through the same USC gender studies professor, Tongson (Roy 1). Yes, for many LGBT people there is the feeling of being an outsider. That outsider status, according to Darren Elliot-Smith, author of “Queer Horror Film and Television: Sexuality and Masculinity at the Margins,” leads to a history of “queer pleasure-taking in dressing up as a villain… Identifying with a horror icon offers great pleasures for the queer viewer who sees themselves as marginalized by ‘normalized society’” (Fitzpatrick 1). This would account for the idolization of such villainous characters as Cruella DeVille (101 Dalmations), Ursula (The Little Mermaid), and Frank N. Furter (The Rocky Horror Picture Show). The key difference to point out is that the Babadook is not a kind of misunderstood human living on the fringes of society which the viewer is led to sympathize with. The Babadook is a literal monster whose goal is the murder of a child. Such a bogeyman is justifiably ostracized from society for their antisocial actions. In the context of the film, this monster is used as symbolism for the mother’s own grief and overwhelming stress. The acceptance of the creature’s existence at the film’s conclusion is not an attempt to normalize its evil presence, but to acknowledge that this fear and evil will always be a part of us. While homosexuality may be something worth bringing to the forefront of society and not burying in a basement (or closet), the evil that the Babadook represents, the inhuman creature that seeks to murder a child, is definitely something that should be suppressed.

Creating a gay icon out of a child predator lends credibility to centuries arguments that homosexuals are child predators. Idolizing a child predator as a gay icon ignores the hundreds and thousands of homosexuals that have faced violence and persecution as a result of being accused child molesters. The reasoning which elevates an evil character such as the Babadook to iconic status for the LGBT community is based upon dangerous antagonism towards others and inaccurate stereotypes of a population. Arguing that the B in LGBT stands for Babadeook removes the experiences of bisexuals in the community. In fact, opting for a fictional monster as a gay icon completely erases the experiences of real people who have fought and suffered in a struggle for civil rights. To take a feminist film and present it as an icon for gay males silences the experiences of women the film was intended to represent. In short, the Babadook is NOT and should NOT be seen as a gay hero. The character is an child-murdering bogeyman, a type of character which should be feared, not celebrated.

Works Cited

Alter, Ethan. “Parental descent: Jennifer Kent’s ‘The Babadook’ is a spooky tale of a mother in crisis.” Film Journal International 21 November 2014. Web http://www.filmjournal.com/node/10171

Ashtari, Shadee. “Michelle Bachmann: gays pushing laws allowing adults ‘to freely prey on little children sexually.” The Huffington Post 25 July 2014. Web http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/25/michele-bachmann-gay-marriage_n_5621344.html

Boucai, Michael “Gay Rights and Moral Panic: The Origins of America’s Debate on Homosexuality (Book review)”. Journal of Social History. 22 December 2010. Web https://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-248907019.html

Clarke, Roger. “The Babadook” Sight and Sound. 2014.

Fitzpatrick, Kyle. “Is Babadook’s sudden gay-icon status something to celebrate? Or kinda problematic?” PopSugar. 11 June 2017.

Lane, Anthony. “Keeping Secrets: ‘The Intimidation Game’ and ‘The Babadook.’” The New Yorker 1 December 2014. Web http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/12/01/keeping-secrets-2

Lamble, Ryan. “Jennifer Kent interview: directing ‘The Babadook.’” Den of Geek. 13 October 2014. Web http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/the-babadook/32451/jennifer-kent-interview-directing-the-babadook

Hreck, Gregory “Facts about Homosexuality and Child Molestation” UC Davis Dept of Psychology. 2012. Web http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/rainbow/html/facts_molestation.html

Roy, Jessica. “The Babadook as an LGBT icon makes sense. No really.” Los Angeles Times. 9 June 2017. Web http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-babadook-gay-icon-lgbt-history-20170609-story.html

Teeman, Tim. “Scene by scene, this is what makes the Babadook such an LGBT icon.’ The Daily Beast. 8 June 2017. Web http://www.thedailybeast.com/scene-by-scene-this-is-what-makes-the-babadook-such-an-lgbt-icon

Vellner, Tom. “The internet has made the Babadook our new queer icon and just, yes.” Buzzfeed News. 7 June 2017. Web https://www.buzzfeed.com/tomvellner/i-am-babashook?utm_term=.pnnxy8jZN#.fu6exo8kD

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