"Everyone loves a good outing," wrote Kevin Naff, editor of the Washington Blade. These words, facetiously spoken midway through documentarian Kirby Dick's new film Outrage, encapsulate a societal predilection toward prying into the private affairs of public personalities, be they movie stars, musicians or politicians. Our tabloid culture loves to know who's doing who and where. But is this exposure--often made at the expense of one's privacy--a social imperative? In the case of closeted homosexual politicians who vote against gay issues, Dick would say yes.
Outrage focuses largely on three politicians whose sexuality has recently been under public scrutiny: former New Jersey governor James McGreevey, current Florida governor Charlie Crist and Idaho's own infamous toe-tapper Larry Craig. Using interviews with influential journalists such as The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan and radio host Michelangelo Signorile as well as gay politicians from both sides of the aisle such as Rep. Barney Frank, Rep. Tammy Baldwin and former Tempe, Ariz., mayor Neil Giuliano, the film seeks to expose the hypocrisy of policy-makers whose voting records seem in conflict with the lifestyle they secretly live. But the problem lies not just with those who actually cast the votes that ban gay marriage, AIDS funding and employment non-discrimination. Much of Washington, the film asserts, is part of a "brilliantly orchestrated conspiracy" that protects closeted lawmakers, political staffers and news personnel from scrutiny and exposure. While most of the allegations leveled during the film's 89-minute running time have already had significant media attention--belying the film's aim of outing duplicitous public figures--other speculative names arise that haven't been as dissected. In particular, Fox News anchor Shepherd Smith's sexuality is questioned, although without much evidence other than hearsay (while CNN's notoriously private Anderson Cooper goes unmentioned).
The outing of public figures has been used as a political and social tool for discreditation and vengeance for centuries but, as in the early 20th century Eulenburg affair court-martials, it has been used to affect lawmaking and change political climate with the assumption that the exposure of prominent figures will lead to a change in voting patterns and normalize our societal view of the gay community. While some of those interviewed, such as former Log Cabin Republican field director Dan Gurley, express discomfort at the involuntary revelation of one's secret life, blogger Michael Rogers and several others celebrate this invasion, actively asking for incriminating information against hypocritical policy makers.
The explosive and controversial nature of Outrage has left many media outlets divided on how it should be discussed. Some news groups, such as CNN and NPR, have censored their reviews of the film, omitting many of the names brought forward, while many in the gay community are conflicted on the topic of outing as well. Although at its core, Outrage is concerned with gay rights, in many ways, the film pits two other very important rights against one another: the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy and the right of free speech. And it doesn't particularly resolve this issue. While marketing itself as a documentary, Kirby offers neither enough facts--ironically protecting the identities of some interviewees with backlighting and showing only portions of voting records--to support the concept nor fully discusses the ethics of exposure. Outrage has the appearance of a documentary, but in reality, it would better be categorized as an activist work. What the film does well is express both the shame and seeming necessity of living a hidden life and the freedom that comes from being open about who you are. We cannot progress as a species or a society if we live a lie. We grow as a political and social system through the exchange of ideas and diversity. At the same time, privacy is a valid necessity that should not be denied. While director Dick seems to have decided that one right supersedes the other, not every audience will concur that truth should and will always (win) out.