Friday, September 12, 2008

"Of course the night only got better when the married straight girl quoted Morrissey to me. Morrissey. To me. From a straight girl."

Someone's Tweet tonight reminded me of that quote. It was from a friend of mine late one night at the late and lamented (by some*), Chapel Hill bar, Henry's. He had just ditched a party full of lesbians and one straight girl and was suitably vaincu.

Of course, it being Chapel Hill, odds were she was probably bi, at least that night, but quoting Moz to a gay Chapel Hill indie kid like Christopher really was bearing coals to Newcastle. He claimed he had repaired to Henry's for round two of the night's stab at amour, but I suspected he remembered I was going to be there and felt I would be a consoling audience. No idea where he got /that/ from, but it turned out to be a moot point in the end**.

It was about this time of year, I think, sort of the last hurrah of summer. We were drinking gin and tonics -- and, come to think of it, just merry enough to insist on calling them ginantonix in honour of Douglas Adams, who had died in the not too distant past -- because we figured it would be one of the last nights of the year to warrant them.

I think we moved indoors about half past twelve or one o'clock, when the first wave of our friends left the christmas-tree-lit ficus trees and patio table we were at. We switched to vodka 'round about the time we realised that Neil, the local heart-throb cum bartender cum bassist, was tending bar.

We were talking Shelley. Mary, not Percy, and I was trying to make Valperga seem a great deal more interesting than it is. He was trying to convince me to read her mother's Letters from Norway, and wouldn't be convinced I had, even when I quoted the last paragraph from Letter VIII:

What a long time it requires to know ourselves; and yet almost every one has more of this knowledge than he is willing to own, even to himself. I cannot immediately determine whether I ought to rejoice at having turned over in this solitude a new page in the history of my own heart, though I may venture to assure you that a further acquaintance with mankind only tends to increase my respect for your judgment and esteem for your character.

I had used it as the introduction to a production of Williams' The Glass Menagerie; I still thinks it works for that.

You know, this post was supposed to wend itself around and come to a posting of the lyrics of the Rosebud's "El Camino", but I think I'll save that for next time.

*Eric, of course, who lives there now, is one. I'm sure we're not the only two.

**I think I went home with Chris when we both realized neither of us would be escorting Neil home.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Paging the Pious Infant Henry Clump

I'm not a religious type, nor a fervent patriot. Well, not in the traditional American sense that involves swilling cheap lager beer, lots of shouting and not a lot of thinking, not that I think the Founding Fathers ever anticipated that. Well, they /did/, but never thought the folks that do that would actually take part in government, let alone lead it. During a national crisis.*

So I never say things like "God Bless America". We did a reasonably good job of not including him in the government -- Yes, we did: go read the Constitution -- and I see no reason to drag him in these days.

Especially after 9/11. As I see it, it's people invoking the name of god, and of his special interest in their political affairs, that got us into that mess. In between the death and destruction of that day, and all the wars and invasions and suiciding bombings it's been the cause for, you'd think the people of this country might just stop to think about chucking out the odd "God Bless the USA".

But no. They must reckon /their/ god is better than other people's god, and that our country is better than theirs.

Ahhh. That sort of thinking just ensures nothing like 9/11 will ever happen again, right?

[The title is a reference to Gorey's The Pious Infant, wherein the titular tot goes through books "removing frivolous references to the deity."]

*Oh, all right. John Adams and George W.: nihil novum sub sole, even if Adams didn't get a second term...

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.