I watched my new DVD copy of the controversial movie Cruising with Al Pacino last week. I am not going to get into the past (and perhaps present and future) controversy surrounding this film about serial murders in the New York gay leather/BDSM community of the early '80s. As a friend of mine recently claimed, the movie is not for "white picket fence homosexuals," or, for that matter, anyone with that sensibility (unless he wants to be fucked, flogged, or fisted over said fence, literally).
That said, what struck me the most about the film was the absence of cellphones. Pretty obvious, as they weren't available at that time, but a couple of the scenes really made me aware of how omnipresent these devices have become, and how they are a major part of the sweeping social changes that have occurred since the movie was made.
In one scene, undercover cop Al Pacino (posing as a gay leatherman) is hanging around near a pier (and the supposed serial killer as well cruises his way through the crowd). A crowd of hot leather guys cruising. An enticing, exciting danger about to burst into a overpowering sexual boldness lurks in the stifling summer humidity. Let's fast forward the scene thirty years later to 2011. These guys would be on their phones, texting away. The screens from the phones would glow in the dark. Instant updates to Facebook and Twitter about who he or she saw or what he or she is doing would be occurring. Kind of ruins that ambient danger, don't you think?
Another scene, again sans cellphone, reveals even more the sweeping social changes that have occurred since that time. Al Pacino's new neighbor introduces himself in the stairwell as Pacino, under a fake identity, throws away a stack of Honcho, Blueboy, and Mandate magazines. Magazines? Who reads them anymore, given devices like Kindle? And neighbors? Who knows them anymore, especially in large urban apartment buildings? Fast forward thirty years, and these two would have been texting away on their phones. And even if they did hook up (not sexually), as they do in the movie, their impromptu lunch at the diner for sandwiches and coffee (a good old-fashioned neighborhood diner, not a chain like Starbucks) would have been interrupted by cellphones going off, and at least one of these two would have been texting at some point. I also wonder if the Pacino character would have been able to maintain his alias in a high-tech situation, but then, it's so easy to create identities on the Internet, so perhaps it's a question of changes in how to do so. But then, given our "wired" environment, one might also wonder if the killer (or killers) would have been able to get away with so many murders if cellphones (especially ones with cameras) and other high-tech surveillance devices had been present.
Gays have gained much more power in the social and economic spheres since the time Cruising was made, despite the devastation of the AIDS epidemic (which, some might argue, was the effect of much of the over-confident sexual activity depicted in the movie). In conjunction with this newfound power, gays have been at the forefront of high-tech social networking since the beginnings of the Internet in the late 1980s. Perhaps the lesson, and maybe the lesson of the darkly ambiguous film, is to not put your trust in strangers.
But what's really scary is that the dangerous stranger now is not necessarily a flesh and blood person wielding a knife, but a facebook "friend."