I wear a locket around my neck nearly every day. Inside it are pictures of my two idols, Oscar Wilde and Cher. No one who sees my locket has any trouble getting behind my appreciation of Wilde. A famous writer, wit, and gay martyr, Oscar Wilde is seen as perfectly acceptable locket material, while Cher’s picture merely elicits laughs.
But why isn’t Cher deserving of idol status? She’s one of the most talented entertainers of the twentieth century, yet she always seems to get the short end of the critical stick. Despite having a Top Ten hit in each of the last four decades, she’s not a respected musician, and though she’s won an Oscar, an Emmy, and three Golden Globes, she’s not a respected actress. It even took me a while to learn to appreciate her.
I didn’t always love Cher. Before I was enlightened, I, too, saw her as just a typical pop star with a taste for tacky clothing and over-produced music. I watched her in Mask, in which she played Rusty Dennis, the hard-as-nails biker chick mother of a severely disfigured teenager, and was pleasantly surprised. On a whim, I bought her 1989 album Heart of Stone. Despite sounding like a Bonnie Tyler/Bon Jovi collaboration, it warmed my cynical indie rock heart and quickly became one of the most listened-to albums in my iTunes library. Finally, I watched Moonstruck, one of the crown jewels of Cher’s oeuvre, and the film for which she won an Academy Award. In it, she plays 37-year-old Brooklyn accountant Loretta Castorini, who is swept up in a whirlwind romance with her fiancé’s younger brother, a pre-hair-disaster Nicolas Cage. As Moonstruck’s credits began to roll, I knew that the course of my life had been forever been altered. I had undergone a conversion; I now worshipped at the Church of Cherilyn Sarkisian.
For me, this was the love that dared not speak its name. I was too ashamed to let the world know how I felt. When listening to Heart of Stone on my iPod, I’d quickly switch over to the Pixies if someone I knew approached. I bought the DVD of her Farewell tour and hid it behind the works of Truman Capote on my bookshelf. I was a secret Cher fanatic, forever feeding my new obsession and terrified of being caught. While I openly embraced Oscar Wilde, not even my closest friends knew about Cher.
But are the two really that different? Both are hugely quotable and flashy dressers. And while Wilde is now one of the most cherished writers of the nineteenth century, his masterpiece The Picture of Dorian Gray received a terrible critical response when it was published. During his lifetime, Oscar Wilde was famed for being a flamboyant character, not a great artist. Were he and Cher contemporaries, they’d probably be picking out BFF bracelets as we speak.
My firm belief that history will remember Cher as it does Oscar Wilde gave me the courage to make my love for her public. I started by telling my closest friends. I suggested her 1990 film Mermaids for a movie night. I began to publicly count her among my favorite music divas: Dolly Parton, Cyndi Lauper, and Cher. I came out of the closet in baby steps, until I was ready to tell the world. “I Got You Babe” is my favorite song. I’ve seen Moonstruck fourteen times. I’ve already bought my ticket to see Burlesque when I go home for the break. Perhaps you mock me now, but I have no doubt that in 100 years you will find Oscar Wilde and Cher on equal footing.