I can't really do it justice, but the side-eye Tony shoots at Meadow after that revelation is hilarious. Anyway, Finn says he read that researchers found gay cave drawings in Africa. Alex is all, "Really?" and Finn is all, "Um, no," and everyone laughs, but Carmela doesn't see the humor and bitches about how "this stuff" is "pervading" education, movies, TV, blah blah. Oh, boy. Shut up, Carm. Naturally, even a hint of prejudice in front of a college sophomore is like blood in the water, and Meadow pounces on it with a pointed, "What stuff?" "This gay nonsense they're teaching," Carmela says stridently. "I am sorry, but Billy Budd is not a homosexual book." Meadow, wearing the patiently patronizing smile I employed to torture my own parents on matters pretentiously academic hundreds of times in the early nineties, is literally laughing at Carmela's ignorance: "Actually, it is, Mother." Shut up, Meadow. Carmela, just as patronizingly: "I saw the movie, Meadow, with Terence Stamp." Ha! Meadow smirks some more as Colin tries to get things back on track with a mention of Terence Stamp's performance in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; Carmela doesn't know about that, but she does know that "Billy Budd is the story of an innocent sailor, being picked on by an evil boss." Any homophobia on Carmela's part aside, it's pretty telling that that's her take on it. Even more telling is the quick shot of Tony that follows, in which he's eating nonchalantly. Meadow tries to explain the queer reading of the text, which sounds valid to me, even if I don't love the condescending tone -- again, I've never read the book -- but Carmela responds with a shrill "oh, please." It's Alex's turn to try to talk sense to Carm, and she mentions a passage where Melville compares Billy Budd to a nude statue of Adam. AJ is grossed out: "Really?" Tony to AJ, dryly: "I thought you read it." Aaaaand AJ is busted. Heh. Carmela explains that away as a "Biblical reference -- does that make it gay?" at which point Tony finally interrupts to ask what's the difference, but Carmela can't admit that maybe she's wrong, shrilling that she thinks "it's ridiculous how everything is being sold as homosexual nowadays."
Tony breaks the tension momentarily by cracking wise about how Billy Budd is the ship's florist. The smart money drops the subject at this point, but Meadow, in the proud tradition of twenty-year-olds since time immemorial, has to show her mother how much more than Carmela she knows. In a voice dripping with condescension, she tells Carm that Leslie Fiedler has written a great deal on gay themes in literature over the last forty years, and on Billy Budd in particular. I think Meadow used Fiedler deliberately to set a trap for Carmela, and here's why. 1) Carm reads bestsellers, not lit crit; she probably wouldn't have heard of any cultural critic Meadow had chosen to name, and Meadow knows that. 2) Meadow also probably knows that Carm is likely to think a Leslie is a woman, which will allow Meadow to show up her mother's ignorance that much more dramatically. 3) A twenty-year-old Sars used to land-mine conversations with her mother exactly the same way at Meadow's age. Sars proceeded to take heavy artillery fire from her mother's honors English degree and wound up with an ass full of shrapnel, but it's an obnoxious debate tactic even when it doesn't work. Predictably, Carm falls into the trap, squalling that "she doesn't know what she's talking about," and Meadow is thrilled to tell Carm in a tone usually reserved for fractious toddlers that "she is a he, mother, and he's lectured at Columbia, as a matter of fact." Shut up, Meadow. "Well, maybe he's gay, you ever thought of that?" Carmela snaps. Um yeah. Sorry, but -- shut up, Carm. Meadow pulls a face. AJ, Colin, and Alex stare at their plates. Carmela sips her wine angrily. Tony, unconcerned, wipes his face.