01/27/2008 10:04 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Heath Ledger Frightens Straight Men

Once news of Heath Ledger's passing spread wide, you knew it was coming, predictably and quite unavoidably. Set your watch, tap your foot, and see the curtain rise.

The queer cowpoke jokes. The sniggers and snorts from presumably straight men who think that Ledger dying at this point in his career cements his fag image for eternity.

Maybe Ledger really died of AIDS. Maybe Jake Gyllenhaal had Ledger killed in a jealous lover's spat. Hooo yeah! Git it? He was a fruit in boots!

I've seen online and heard on sports radio all kinds of "Brokeback Mountain" tie-ins to Ledger's death, most of them incredibly one-dimensional, stupid, and not even approaching funny -- that is, if you insist on some kind of intelligence in your humor. Frankly, I don't know if there is an intelligent, humorous connection between Ledger dying and his stellar performance in Ang Lee's film. But I do know the sound of hetero-fear, that nervous, adolescent chuckling that emerges when the closet door starts to open a little too wide. Were Ledger an actual gay ranch hand, it would be bad enough. But he was an actor who played a character in a fictional story -- you know, pretend. Not real. Yet when "Brokeback Mountain" initially appeared, I couldn't believe the amount queer-phobia thrown at the film, at Gyllenhaal and at Ledger. A lot of it was heard on sports radio, one of the last bastions of white male angst, where attacks on "political correctness" are encouraged, because, like, if black people can call each other the n-word, then why can't white people use the same word? It's just not fair! And now we have movies that show American cowboys fucking each other on the prairie. Where will this PC madness end? And who can stop it?

I grew up with and around a lot of white guys like the ones I've been hearing lately, and I know the type all too well. They're sad, pathetic specimens, hanging on to some fantasy image of male strength and virility (which is, to use their reasoning, kinda "gay" in and of itself). Politically isolated, socially atomized, they look to blame or mock those ostensibly beneath them -- hell, anything but face the stark, political reality that shapes their every movement. Ultimately, the joke's on them. Heath Ledger's final film was not "Brokeback Mountain," but will be "The Dark Knight," in which he plays heavily-armed, psychopathic mass murderer. Somehow, I don't think American white boys are gonna mock Ledger for that portrayal. Hmmm, I wonder why . . .