Friday, February 01, 2008

Don't Forget Dan

I'm prone to panic this week. It's like Day of the Locust around here. The mise-en-scene is in place for Milk It promises to be a splashy splay of revisionist history circa 1978.
Encroaching crowds of costumed Castro clones are milling around like nervous dress-extras. The stage is set for a paint-by-numbers Gus Van Zant project. Starring Sean Penn as the canonized camera store clerk, the film has been cast with Hollywood's hottest heartthrobs. The former stepson of Barbra Streisand, Josh Brolin is appropriately cast as the troubled Twinkie boy, Dan White.
The former supervisor assassinated both Milk and Mayor George Moscone on a late November day in 1978. White's lawyers were able to negotiate a double manslaughter rap. Allegedly, he pleaded temporary insanity due to irregular blood sugar levels from eating too many Twinkies. He served 6 years.

The gays demanded vigilante justice. Violent riots swept through the city in monumental proportions. Dan White was portrayed as the devil and Milk as the saintly equivalent

Thirty years later, the plot gets thicker. According to the San Francisco Weekly rumors are swirling that the boyish, baby faced Irish Catholic favorite son was grappling with his own sexuality.

In summary, he killed two people, served 6 years and ultimately committed suicide in his car. His widow still lives in the house they shared in the Sunset district.
If I understand it correctly, the gays wanted an eye-for an-eye justice model to vindicate the assassintations and resented what was perceived as an easy out for White gained from a nepotistical old guard boy's network.
It seems they had the wrong idea.
I don't expect the issues to flesh out in the film because Milk will be fictionalized.

There is no way one man should be scapegoated for the sins of a culture.

Ray Sloan's story in the SF Weekly article was the first account I had heard that referred to Dan White as a human being instead of a monster of epic darkness. The producers of the film did not consult him as a reference for historical accuracy.

Dan White was not a murdering monster. He was just troubled.

Dan White was survived by his parents, several siblings and a wife and daughter. He had an Irish temper, a Vietnam record and was allegedly a closet case. He was under a lot of pressure. His horizons were dwindling. He was shafted. Harvey may have come off as smug.

It wasn't an ideal situation. Dan needed help that he was not able to receive. He didn't get off easy. His memory should not be vilified. And nobody deserved any of it.


11 comments:

Bob said...

I always thought that Dan White got off easy, but never understood the riot either. A mob is not the best way to achieve justice. Maybe compassion is more achievable than justice 30 years after the fact.

Moscone was a decent human being and a good mayor. He didn't deserve to be killed and neither did Harvey.

Anonymous said...

I'm too young to remember, but it doesn't sound like MILK was a hero. He was a victim, and victims (historically) become martyrs.

Jesus Christ, anyone?

Anonymous said...

Mayor Milk was ,, to my knowledge,, the first openly gay mayor to win,,,,,, this is part of our culture,,, be proud that he was elected!

Anonymous said...

Ummm, Harvey Milk was not the mayor. He was a city supervisor. George Moscone was the mayor.

Jim Provenzano said...

The fact that so few gay people today know the basic facts about the Harvey Milk-George Moscone assassinations is saddening, but makes the film even more important.

SF Weekly, which regularly churns out un-edited, unsubstantiated overwrought features, consistently takes a contrarian view in its cover features, to be deliberately "controversial."

To suppose that White wasn't antigay (Moscone wasn't gay), just crazy, has merit.

To suppose that White was a closet case could make sense, but SF Weekly's coverage is speculative, unsubstantiated and loosely sourced.

jackb said...

The story is much deeper than people give it credit for.

White was not anti-gay at all. At least that wasn't the reason he murdered the Mayor and Milk. He was just a product of his environment. He wasn't gay either, but did have "issues" with overt sexuality, both hetero and homo.

White was just someone who was in over his head. He's more a pathetic figure than an evil one. Here's a guy who was not capable of seeing what was right in front of him, yet felt he deserved respect. When that respect was not accorded, he felt powerless and weak. The only way to "get back the power he lost," in White's mind, was to shoot and kill two innocent people.

He was someone who always had a few screws loose, if you catch my meaning.

He never claimed to have murdered anyone because of twinkies, sweets or anything else. His argument was that he suffered from depression. His eating of sugary foods was a sign of depression (given that he typically ate well), according to his lawyers, not the cause of it.

It would the same if someone said that they were depressed and began to dress in rags rather than wearing the fine clothing they were accustomed to. The twinkies didn't cause the depression anymore than the rags did, it was just evidence that things weren't right with him.

But overall you make a very good point. I really hope they don't turn White into some one-dimensional figure. He was much more complex than that.

Anonymous said...

"There is no way one man should be scapegoated for the sins of a culture"

Was that statement in regard to White or Milk?

Gaining access to City Hall via a window with a loaded gun and extra bullets in your pockets makes you a premeditated murderer... PERIOD.

Most monsters ARE troubled... that's why they are monsters. What else is new?

otoniel said...

You seem to be more concerned with Dan White's accurate portrayal in Milk more so than Harvey Milk's. Keep in mind that the movie is called MILK...it is NOT called WHITE. Don't expect this movie to tell all of Dan White's tale, or else you most likely will be let down. I'm hoping this movie captures the life and spirit of Harvey and doesn't focus so much on the murder...maybe if only to ponder what would have been had it not happened.
You seem to feel that Dan White got vilified by the gay community. I somewhat agree. I'm not sold on the fact that Dan White was a homophobe...however I'm not going to agree with you and say he wasn't a monster. As someone already mentioned...people can be troubled and still not be murderers...he was more than troubled...whatever you want to call it. I think the reason gay people were so angry with Dan White then and now is because he ended a life that seemed so promising and makes you wonder how far Harvey would have gone in his political career had it not been cut short. When I saw the Life & Times of Harvey Milk documentary I saw reflections of Martin Luther King in a way...he was so positive...and so optimistic...and the speech that appears at the end of that documentary had me crying...tears of joy and tears of sadness. So i'm sorry if you don't agree, but I will NEVER see Dan White in a good light...he ended the life of someone truly special, and who I think could have elevated this country in terms of its acceptance of those who are different from the majority. Long Live Harvey Milk's spirit.

Anonymous said...

ummmm. the fact that you call a murdering nut job like dan white "troubled" makes me think that you are very very troubled and probably just as "troubled" as dan white. it matters not what motivated this pyscho to shoot dead two people in broad daylight. what matters is that harvey milk was and always will be a hero and an inspiration to gay everywhere. you are young and probably don't understand these things but harvey milk was a gay pioneer. the less homophobic and accepting world that younger gay men live in now is largely due to the courage of people like harvey milk and many others. diminishing his murder and his murderer is just ignorant and sad.

Anonymous said...

Jesus Fucking Christ on a Stick, man. You got so many things wrong, I don't know where to begin.

Brolin is NOT Streisand's former stepson. He's her present stepson.

Milk was a city supervisor, not the mayor.

And I really don't get all this sympathy for Dan White. Has women's studies and postmodern criticism destroyed your brain? When people murder, that makes them evil. It's a given that they are troubled. It's a given that they are human. It sounds like you are making excuses.

As for the commenter who doesn't remember Milk, try reading about him before you comment further.

Jesse Archer said...

Hi All--

FYI, this post was not written by me. It was written by my friend Tom who posted from San Francisco. His opinions are not necessarily mine. Well, at least when it comes to not vilifying murderers..