You may not know this about me, but I have a weakness for women.
Just last weekend, I was laid low by one. Her name is Bernadette; she’s from New York, and she’s an actress. Right now Ms. Peters is doing a stint on Broadway as Madame Rose in “Gypsy,” putting everyone who comes to see her under her spell. I was lucky enough to catch her, and I will never forget it. When Rose blows the roof off the joint in the second act, I swear Bernadette could have led that audience into battle. By the curtain call, which she handled with such grace and sincere humility, I would have done anything for her. Well, almost anything.
But then, walking out of the theater, I witnessed an exchange between a well-dressed older couple. When the wife asked her husband what he thought of the show, he replied, “Good — good –” his voice trailing off as he checked his watch. That was all he could muster? After the tour de force we had just witnessed? Clearly he didn’t love women the way I did. For when a woman commands attention with her talent, her intelligence and/or her sexuality, I can’t resist the attraction.
I guess you can say I’m a “diva worshipper,” but that has become such a type — the gay man who goes apoplectic when he hears “MacArthur Park” on the radio — that some think the tendency is insincere, a put-on to call attention to oneself. But I assure you that how I feel about women like Bernadette is not a choice. Sometimes I wish it were; then I could get some schoolwork done instead of incessantly debating the causes of Whitney’s demise with Duke’s Men alums. But no, my friend, the desire is very real.
It doesn’t help that divas are everywhere I turn, not just on the stage and screen. The media has dubbed Martha Stewart a “domestic diva,” and they are indeed onto something. Mary Floyd-Wilson, my sophomore year English 125 professor, is a “scholarly diva” — the definition of composed, from her effortless post-feminist criticism of the “Wife of Bath’s Tale” all the way down to her calf-length leather boots that announced her arrival every morning with a confident clip-clop from out in the hallway. My favorite math teacher in high school was a diva too, though she was not pretty and had no sense of fashion at all. She could, however, cut through a lame excuse with a caustic wit that left the unfortunate soul who dared to cross her reeling, and the classroom in stitches. After, she would stare, lips pursed and eyebrow raised, as if to say, “Little boy, you have no idea what you’re dealing with.”
A few times, my math teacher even said something to that effect, aware that she had become something of an icon. I always thought this a mistake. A true diva, though she is always aware of her status, never heralds her diva-ness. To do so is inelegant and a sign of insecurity. A diva is never insecure. She is gracious — humble, even. You want to hate her, but you can’t because she doesn’t give you the opportunity.
There is a school of thought that believes a diva must have an attitude to be worthy of her mantle. This has led to a crop of “divas” who seem to have nothing but attitude, of whom Jennifer Lopez is a prime example. How she became a popular artist is no mystery — popular music seems to excuse a lack of substance for an over-abundance of style — but that J.Lo is being called a diva is troubling to me because her apotheosis was so swift and calculated. Before anyone knew it, she was demanding white lilies for her dressing room at benefit concerts — as if “Anaconda” was a figment of our imagination.
A true diva remains a real person despite her diva status. Her humanity is part of her allure. We forgive Mariah’s trip to the loony-bin, because it affirms she is more or less like us, she just possesses a supernatural vocal range. Her problems remind us that a diva’s phenomenal talent does make her immune to screwing up. Which is why J.Lo’s dogged insistence that she is “just Jenny from the block” is totally unnecessary. It offers her humanity as a defense of a talent that does not exist. Of course you’re just a normal girl, Jenny. Did you think you had us fooled?
So what’s the allure of a diva? It is most often based on talent, which is why so many singers and actresses are afforded diva status. The allure isn’t usually erotic, though sexuality plays a big part in it. I have a friend, a gay man, who feels so passionately about Britney Spears that he thinks if given the chance he would definitely take her to bed. I imagine some guys think that diva worship is a desperate attempt by homosexuals to get into the heterosexual game — we talk about how hot Britney looked at the VMAs because we want to seem more like straight guys. Straight guys wouldn’t be caught dead worshipping Britney because it’s the gay thing to do.
Diva worship is about the act of worship as much as it is about the diva. I believe that as human beings we respond to talent relatively equally across gender, only we worship according to how we want to be perceived. Go to your typical college guy’s dorm room, and you might find a poster of a bloated Belushi on the wall, but never one of Madonna, nor would you find a glamour shot of David Beckham. A gay man’s room, however, can confidently display all three. In a way we are more free to idolize because we do not fear being misperceived as gay; there is no mystery there. Diva worship is in part the release of tension, a way to signal that, after years of keeping our sexuality under wraps, we are comfortable with who we are.
Could it be the old man checking his watch felt the same way about Bernadette that I did, we just had different ways of expressing it?
Either that, or he was deaf, dumb and blind. Hello, she was fabulous!
Eric Eagan ain’t fooled by the rocks that you got.