Wednesday, September 10, 2008

We Americans have, over the years, done a reasonably good job of working through gender and racial stereotypes. Which is pretty impressive considering the northern half of the country was settled by some of the most bigoted people history ever produced. It's saying something that they found Protectorate England so very liberal and permissive that they left it in a fit of pique that would do Victorians novel heroines proud. What's really impressive is that their children managed to construct a mythology where their fathers were virtuous heroes, escaping cruel persecutions that have remained vague and uncertain (and virtually unsupported by fact) at the hands of evil royalists.

One of the up-shots of this is that American entertainment was severely retarded at birth. For instance, we never seemed to go in for one of the most cherished of British comedy standards that pre-dates the colonisation of America by centuries and is still very much at the heart of British comedy. We don't think men in drag are all that funny.

So maybe we started out on a good foot. We did soon develop the Yankee trader figure that appears in the first American play, The Contrast but that's largely faded away. Virtually nobody remembers the 3-or-less limbed Civil War veteran, usually named Snarky or Scumpy, who delivered messages and such in melodramas for the span of five or six decades after The Late Unpleasantness.

Almost completely faded away too have the minstrel shows -- although their ghosts still popped up in cartoons even when I was little, but even those get edited these days -- an black-face as a performance techniques finally keeled over in the last century.

Which isn't to say we don't have our own modern-day stereotypes, but I'd wager to say most of them aren't quite as hurtful or just plain stupid as they were in the not too distant past.

So I'm totally baffled about the entertainment industry and teh Gays. Nobody in their right mind would cast a white man as a woman or a black man and expect him to black up. Nor would they break out the shoe polish when an Arab is called for.

But it's perfectly fine for a straight man to play a gay role.

I just don't get it. Do the people responsible for making TV and film honestly think we think that can't find enough legitimately gay actors? Please.

All of which is a more or less massively round-about way of setting up for the commercial above. I can't quite decide who it's for or just quite what it's trying to say.

First of all, just who is it /for/? All the young men in it seem to be under 30. Okay: young people, then. But I literally do not know one single gay male who doesn't know how to use the Internet to find somebody to fuck. It's far easier, far cheaper and you can get a good lock at the prospective penis. And maybe even the human attached to it, but people looking for that are largely mythical.

Okay then, so it's for older gentlemen who never quite made the leap to the 'net. Then that really changes what those younger men are doing in the ad. It's not the sort of audience identification that you'd might expect (and that gets paid lip service in the copy): it's a presentation of goods: "Gramps, get your chickens here and none of that interweb, computer-y jargon!"

That might explain the gross use of stereotype in what they guy is looking for: gyms, clubs and sex. Very 1978: you'd almost expect to see sleeveless flannel shirts, cut-off jeans and jerky dancing, maybe even a foreign accent and over-developed muscles.

...and you'd be right.

What holds this ads together though is the bizarre subtext. Notice in this ad, the guys aren't dancing together. I mean, I suppose that makes sense if it were a phone sex ad, but this alleges itself to be a way to meet up with people. Oughtn't they to... I don't know, meet?

In both ads, you do get a brief shot two men at the same table, but in both cases, they're literally as far apart as they can be from each other. And making very little actual contact. To me at least, it screams "Yes, we all know I'm straight, but look! I'm touching another man to show I'm supposed to be a gay!" It looks and feels phony to an almost deliberate degree. I wouldn't want to meet somebody who'd look that uncomfortable just talking to me.

Maybe it's my own sense of stereotype working overtime, but it seems like these ads are for closet cases, or maybe old, old school fags, either of which retain a deep-set sort of shame about who they are and what they want, and that hang on to these (hopefully) outmoded stereotypes. I don't think the ads project a healthy attitude, somehow, and that's the sort of resonance they're looking for.

I mean, I don't disapprove of random hook-ups or casual sex. At all. I'm not sure that it does any favours to normalize homosexuals to hetero culture and to valourize monogamy. One of the downsides of doing that is to make all casual sex sleazy, even when it's done respectfully and maturely. Something about these ads, for some reason, manages to make them seem just that sleazy. I think that thing is the weird stereotypes they use and weird subtext the straight actors give them.

Anyway. The guy in the first ad isn't really my type (too much hint of corn-fed goodness and that I'd have to sit down and watch some sporting event with him on TV) but it does seem sad that he's going to grow up to be one of those guys in the second ad.

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