by Matthew Alla
Since the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, the American political system has been rooted in the exaggerated differences between American nationalism and others, for example, the British Monarchy. The initial integration of hate of the British Crown in American society has allowed for Americans to accept and promote their hatred towards other classes, races, and groups of people since the fundamental principles on which the United States of America was founded include revolution and separation from those who are different. As a consequence, hatred and discrimination continue to be very prevalent in American society. Although the Monarchy has graduated from being the victim of prejudice, equity-seeking groups, including the LGBTQ+ community, are the new victims of the American political system as they advocate and attempt to eradicate and outlaw the unconstitutional discrimination they face.
The film Love, Simon (2018), directed by Greg Berlanti, is an adaptation of the novel Simon vs. the Homo sapiens Agenda (2015) by Becky Albertalli. Love, Simon invites its viewers on a journey through the perspective of a closeted gay teenager. It also accurately illustrates the influence the American political society—which is founded on the basis of hatred and difference—has on Simon as he faces the uncertainty of acceptance for his sexuality. However, as expected, the process of coming out is not without its troubles and external “catalysis.”
Thus, the film Love, Simon effectively depicts how one’s quest for societal acceptance in American society—inaugurated based on difference—contributes to the immense psychological trauma encompassed in the lives of closeted LGBTQ+ youth in an attempt to destigmatize homosexuality. Firstly, the inclusion of traditional American culture through the use of props, sound, and sets allows for the American audience to recognize that the observable differences between heterosexual Americans and LGBTQ+ Americans are indeed fabricated and exploited in an attempt to silence and oppress the latter. Secondly, the depiction of situations where the goals outlined by the Declaration of Independence are not practiced nor granted due to discrimination allows for the awareness of LGBTQ+ inequalities in American society and how this prejudice stalls the progression of the American political system. Finally, the nature of the political content and political intent—as defined by Projecting Politics: Political Messages in American Films—within the film has a direct influence on the film’s ability to initiate change within the American society, thus, creating awareness for the quest of acceptance of LGBTQ+ youth.
2. Prevalence of Homosexuality in Existing American Culture
In the film Love, Simon uses props and symbols of American culture to its advantage. The film illustrates how common symbols of American pride are celebrated by all types of Americans, regardless of their differences. For example, the Ferris Wheel is one of the most influential and instantly recognizable symbols of the advancement of American society. As Ho stated, “The wheel embodied the significant characteristics of nineteenth-century technology and democracy… signified the future of the United States.” (Ho, 1), in reference to the Ferris Wheel’s debut at the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. At the World’s Fair—and many other similar events—the developing American culture, the revolutionary promotion of difference from others, was celebrated and promoted. This structure, the world-renowned symbol of new America is also the antithesis of developing American society. The film demonstrated the fact that homosexuality is not a recent discovery. Instead, it has been silenced for centuries within America due to the natural fear of disapproval and isolation from those whom one loves. The director of the film demonstrates how LGBTQ+ individuals also have the ability to make memories on the Ferris wheel similar to heterosexual Americans. It is almost certain that each member of the audience has a memory associated with the Ferris wheel. Whether it is a memory about attending a fair as a child as a family, or bringing one’s children on a Ferris wheel, each American understands how the Ferris wheel has impacted their lives. Simon and Bram have created their own memory on the wheel. They celebrated the advancement of American society and the newfound tolerance for homosexuality through the seal of a kiss, representing the love that they are now able to practice. The ability for both the LGBTQ+ community and heterosexuals to unite at a symbol of American democracy and advancement proves that they can coexist in the American society without prejudice and hate for each other. Thus, the demonstration of coexistence in Love, Simon acts as a stimulant to the destigmatization of homosexuality in American society.
3. Irony of the Declaration of Independence and unpracticed Rights of LBGTQ+ Youth
When the Declaration of Independence of the United States was first proclaimed in 1776, the goal of the newly formed United States of America was to acknowledge “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (A.1. S.1). The original thirteen states of America united to grant more opportunities to the future generations of Americans, even if that goal required initial sacrifice. However, the film, Love, Simon demonstrates that the goal of equality of the founding fathers of the United States is not evident in the current American society. During the introductory scenes of the film, Simon gives the audience a brief, but significant overview of himself. He starts his monologue with the following four powerful words: “I’m just like you” (Love, Simon, 00:00:45). These words, although often overlooked, demonstrate Simon’s longing to be accepted. Simon, as well as all the LGBTQ+ youth he represents, deserve to be accepted without requiring to validate themselves. The founding fathers of the United States did not intend for only some men to be equal. Undeniably, Simon and LGBTQ+ youth are the victims of the validation crisis integrated into the American society. The act of convincing others that you are not as different as it may seem conflicts with the intentions and values associated with the building of the new nation. This issue of prejudice and validation, however, is not new. In other works, such as Milk (2008), the concept and understanding that “people who are suspected of being gay…are subjected to discrimination” (Lyness 298). The depiction of inequality and prejudice towards LGBTQ+ characters in films are not unexpected. These films, including Love, Simon, focus on the irony associated with American society. Much of the rights granted to Americans are issued by legal documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, however, these same proclamations are ironically the cause of prejudice in American society. Once again, the United States of America is a country that was formed on the basis of variability between two groups of people. Now, the socially acceptable basis of difference has replicated indefinitely to any situation. Overall, Love, Simon does a phenomenal job of demonstrating the human qualities of LGBTQ+ youth. They are no different from heterosexual Americans, yet they have to validate why they should not be discriminated against.
4. Effectiveness of Political Content and Intent within Love, Simon
Per the Projecting Politics: Political Messages in American Films political content and intent compass, “Films that avoid both overt political messages and reference to explicitly political events…are labeled “socially reflective” films” (10). Love, Simon undoubtedly conforms to this categorization. To start, Love, Simon is a film with low political content. Although the plot and story are indeed political, the magnitude to which the political attributes of the plot and story interfere with the film is minimal. It is an indisputable fact that Simon represents the quest for the societal acceptance of LBGTQ+ individuals, however, the film yields a greater focus on the development of Simon as an average American teenager. The film also focuses on his relationships with his friends and how his sexuality does not interfere with his friendships. Thus, the director’s careful selection of the amount and concentration of political content within Love, Simon allows the film to have a profound influence on American society.
Similarly, to the low amount of political content within Love, Simon, the director also chose to incorporate a limited amount of political intent into his film. The choice to create a film with low political intent, however, is very strategic and allows for the film to better influence American society, when compared to a film with high political intent. It is unlikely that this film was intended to change the opinions of far-right, conservative Americans, as conservative media is unlikely to change the opinions of far-left, liberal Americans. However, this film strives to influence moderate and hesitant audiences who already have an understanding of the importance of tolerance for the LGBTQ+ community. By depicting how acceptance can have a profound influence on the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals and the similarities between heterosexual and LGBTQ+ Americans, Berlanti used the low political intent of the film to gradually catalyze the necessary change in American society. He was aware that the best way to get into the minds of Americans is to get into their hearts through the portrayal of an ordinary American who is hesitant of change, similar to the center-right Americans this film aimed to inspire. Ultimately, the combination of low political content and low political intent allows for the gradual transformation of American society in an attempt to destigmatize homosexuality.
The film Love, Simon succeeds at destigmatizing homosexuality in the United States of America through the use of Simon, a closeted gay American teenager, and the fictional—yet realistic—story of his quest for acceptance within the American society. Through the careful use of American symbolism, such as the Ferris wheel, Love, Simon demonstrates how homosexuality is not a new idea, however, it is an aspect of life that has been unfairly silenced. The traditional American symbolism also demonstrates that Americans, of whatever magnitude of difference, have the potential to unite and celebrate their American culture together. Love, Simon also referenced the quest for acceptance by using blunt speech that directly opposes the expectations of the founding fathers for their new nation. The concept of validation is detrimental to the wellbeing of LGBTQ+ youth and through the use of similarities between heterosexual and LGBTQ+ Americans, Love, Simon demonstrates the importance of acceptance per the principles on which the United States of America was founded upon. Lastly, the director of Love, Simon strategically used a combination of low political content and low political intent to eliminate the potential to overwhelm the politically center-right audiences. This allows the film to spread awareness about the importance of acceptance of LGBTQ+ youth with minimal political backlash. Although the film has not initiated the revolutionary amount of change required to allow LGBTQ+ American youth to not fear social disapproval, Love, Simon does not fail to create discussion about the stigmas and discrimination towards LGBTQ+ individuals by the American society.
Haas, Elizabeth, et al. Projecting Politics: Political Messages in American Films, Taylor & Francis Group, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib. ryerson.ca/lib/ryerson/detail.action?docID=2011203.
Ho, Violette HP. “The Ferris Wheel, the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, and the Display of American Superiority.” Inquiries Journal/Student Pulse 8.04 (2016). <http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/a?id=1391>
Love, Simon. Berlanti, Greg, Elizabeth Berger, Isaac Aptaker, Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen, Pouya Shahbazian, Isaac Klausner, Chris McEwen, Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Josh Duhamel, Logan Miller, Jorge Lendeborg, Tony Hale, Natasha Rothwell, Jennifer Garner, John Guleserian, Harry Jierjian, Rob Simonsen, and Becky Albertalli.Twentieth Century Fox, 2018.
Lyness, Kevin P. “Milk: directed by Gus Van Sant, with a screenplay by Dustin Lance Black. Universal City, CA: Focus Features, 2008.” (2009): 296-298.