Wow, this video is vintage in so many ways. Who on earth would expect to see that kind of performance on mainstream television today? None of us, I’m sure.
So what do you think is going on here? Are Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis making fun of homosexuals? In my opinion, I would say “no”.
(BTW, homophobia in cinema and television is another topic altogether, which I don’t want to address here.)
I’m not positive what year this was, but I am guessing perhaps late 40s or early 50s. In order to understand this clip, I really think we’d have to interpret it through the eyes of people of that time, which of course, we cannot really do (unless you are old enough to have been alive during that period). I surely can’t. However, I can guesstimate what I think is going on here.
It is a safe assumption that both Martin and Lewis were straight, and both knew what a homosexual was, and probably worked with quite a few of them. But did the mainstream audience know what a homosexual was? I’m not so sure. I’ve know the people my parent’s and grandparent’s ages that claim they had no ideas about homosexuality or alternate forms of sexual expression, such as oral sex, when they were younger.
But if that is the case, why was this so funny to the audience? Probably because it was perceived as not normal; simply out of character because it was so unexpected. Men don’t act like that, so it is funny when they do. In a way it has always been funny for a man to act as a woman (and by extension a fem homosexual, as applicable), dress as a woman, or do unmanly things (such as screaming in a high-pitched voice when scared). I get that. I’ve laughed at men dressed as nuns or drag queens in movies, and it does not offend me if it is not meant in a mean-spirited way. (Think Laurel & Hardy, Bugs Bunny, and Bosom Buddies.) But I certainly don’t think that this particular performance was a slight to gays.
This next video shows that this kind of behavior was not uncommon for this comedic duo (and not censored by the producers, either):
But why, in a modern world that is so much more accepting of gay men, has this kind of humor/behavior become verboten? When was the last time anyone has seen these kinds of antics in television or film? If we are so progressive, inclusive, and tolerant of differences in people, then why do producers and actors shy away from male/male displays of affection, even comedic ones?
I cannot be certain of this, of course, but I believe it is quite possibly because prior to the gay liberation movement, general audiences weren’t gay savvy, so antics such as this were not a real threat to men’s personal masculinity or identities as men (and let’s face it, frequently the male perception of a homosexuals is that they are not “real men”), and nothing untoward was implied.
Now take a look at these random, vintage photos I found online:
Would anyone who viewed these photos at the time they were taken have assumed from the get go that these men where homosexual simply because they were expressing affection for one another? Not likely. Sure, some might see it that way, particularly if they were homosexual themselves. And though some of the men in these photos might have been gay, I am convinced that the viewer’s assumption would not have been that these men were romantically or sexually involved. Rather, it would have been seen as just guys doing what guys do. Nobody would have thought twice about it.
But not any more! For the most part, men just don’t act that way in this day and age. Maybe that is not 100% true, but generally speaking, I think it is. Men act as though they must keep an arm’s length between them. Compare these photos to the ones above:
So has an increased awareness and visibility of gay men, and by extension, an increase in homophobia, created in straight men a kind of self-policing behavior meant to constantly reassure others that they are not a fag? In other words, have straight men lost the ability (or will) to express affection for one another out of a fear of being perceived as a homosexual?
If so, why? Are straight men even aware of this kind of self-policing behavior? And whose fault is it, gay men’s or straight men’s? In fact, is it anyone’s fault, and what can be done about it either way? Should anything be done about it?
Can men learn to express affection for one another once again, in an innocent, friendly, and sincere way? If they do, would society at large accept or reject that behavior?
If straight men could learn to be at ease with expressing affection for one another, I strongly feel that it would no only benefit them, but improve the world’s perception of gay men and male camaraderie. It seems to me that rampant homophobia is not only a disservice to gay men, but to straight men as well. It’s time our culture came to accept that non-sexual affection between men should not be frowned upon, and in fact, it should be encouraged.
Having younger brothers, I saw them doing this a lot in adolescence. I've seen other teen/early 20s males act this way too. I don't even necessarily think it is anything homophobic, it's just that humor is a way of dealing with things that make people uneasy.
This is a very thought-provoking post, DG. I don't know that I'd say that straight male/male bonding has been ruined by the higher profile of homosexuality, but it has certainly been changed/constrained/narrowed. I suspect there are a lot of things going on here. I'm pretty sure most guys consciously consider how "gay" things might look before they do them. Simple homophobia is a part of it, but in a way, I think respect for the sensibilities of gays plays a part as well. In other words, I think straight men may feel that male/male PDAs are sort of the province of gays, and overdoing it among heterosexuals is something akin to blackface--used to be funny, but not so much anymore. Or at least, it's a lot less clear how people might react (from anywhere on the spectrum of orientation), so best to play it safe.
I think it's related to the way that straight guys profess their heterosexuality almost apologetically nowadays, like they don't want to offend gays or appear homophobic, but they feel they should be clear about their orientation. It's definitely more of a minefield than it used to be, but I think that's a sign of progress in society. People have clearly had their assumptions challenged, and now they stop to think about it, where before they would have blithely assumed everybody was on the same page.
Another example is the relationship between Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings. When I first read those books in grade school (admittedly too young to really appreciate them), I just saw them as great friends. Now the relationship seems different, especially considering Frodo's conspicuous lack of a girlfriend. Obviously, it's not the books that changed. Peter Jackson's movie treatment called attention to the relationship in an effort to make it clear that it was nonsexual friendship. I think it was handled well in the movie, given our modern sensibilities, but I doubt Tolkein even considered whether anybody would interpret their relationship as anything besides best friends.
We are certainly overly nervous about male/male PDAs, but as long as there are sports pubs and Xbox, male/male bonding will continue. It's a shame that guys are so guarded at the moment, but I think of this as societal growing pains. We'll get over it.
I suspect there are a lot of things going on here. I'm pretty sure most guys consciously consider how "gay" things might look before they do them.
I think respect for the sensibilities of gays plays a part as well. In other words, I think straight men may feel that male/male PDAs are sort of the province of gays, and overdoing it among heterosexuals is something akin to blackface...
I don't see that as a possibility, to be honest. I would like to see how other straight men react to your comment.
...the way that straight guys profess their heterosexuality almost apologetically nowadays...
Do you think feminism has anything to do with that? I know that is a rather broad term that means different things to different people, but I'm just asking...
It's definitely more of a minefield than it used to be, but I think that's a sign of progress in society. People have clearly had their assumptions challenged, and now they stop to think about it, where before they would have blithely assumed everybody was on the same page.
That's a good way to look at it.
Another example is the relationship between Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings.
The innuendos I heard centered around Merry and Pippin.
Rereading my comment, I should clarify that I think respect for the sensibilities of gays enters into the thought processes of some, but by no means all, straight guys when thinking about their male/male bonding behavior. Those who support gay rights are probably so motivated, at least partially. Those who oppose gay rights, well, they're more likely to be governed by homophobia.
I'm not sure how feminism intersects with the semi-apologetic profession of heterosexuality. What did you have in mind with that comment? Just a broader sensitivity to gender politics in general? Could be.
Yeah, Merry and Pippin, too, I suppose, but I mostly see those two as comic relief, albeit with heroic elements, particularly toward the end of the story. The plain fact is that there are only a few women in LotR, and not in central roles. Galadriel, Eowyn, and Arwen are important to the plot, but don't spend a lot of time on stage. The only other woman I can recall is Sam's eventual wife, Rosie. LotR seems predominatnly asexual to me.
Those who support gay rights are probably so motivated, at least partially. Those who oppose gay rights, well, they're more likely to be governed by homophobia.
I'm not sure how feminism intersects with the semi-apologetic profession of heterosexuality. What did you have in mind with that comment?
No, not heterosexuality, but rather masculinity. Though I know you said hetersexuality to begin with, but in my mind I was thinking "masculinity". I think some men complain that feminism has made an effort to demonize their natural masculinity, or something like that.
LotR seems predominatnly asexual to me.
Yes, I guess it does. None of the characters seem to be the slightest bit concerned with their sexuality. It most adventure stories, there is ususally some form of sexual competition or conquest. Oh, wait, wait, wait...Didn't Aaragon fall for the blond daughter of that King? The daughter that dressed as a man to go into battle? That was a love interest.
Yes, Eowyn, but I think it was the other way around--Eowyn fell for Aragorn. In any case, it was all quite chaste. I'm not saying there isn't any heterosexual love in LotR, just that there's not much sexual tension to speak of.
Me and my friends in high school(all not gay I'm married to the love of my life and the my friends each have girlfriends) would walk with arms over each others shoulders and sing queen songs and other great bands all the time. We did this cause we all knew we where'nt gay and there is nothing wrong with friends being friends. We also knew that there was nothing wrong with "gays" either as they were just people. But that said sometimes we would get eyed real hardcore and other times my friends felt too "gay" and would unlock mostly cause people would stare at us.
Homophobia def. has ruined male male bonding and it sucks.
One time i dressed in drag with my bro for halloween we got onto the front page of our local newspaper
when we went trick or treating we got extra candy. Its on my myspace heres some pics.
I'm the one getting kissed.
a touching moment :)
i have nothing to say about this not my proudest night >>
my friends in high school...would walk with arms over each others shoulders and sing queen songs and other great bands all the time.
Nothing at all like my own experiences, but that could be about personality and a lack of outgoingness as well. No pictures, like these above, exist of me in any known universe. So not the way my life unfolded.
Homophobia def. has ruined male male bonding and it sucks.
Yours is the only response to say so with such definitiveness.
I have to disagree with your take that male bonding has been affected. I mean I could cherry pick 10 photos off the net that made it look like people with brown eyes were evil. All I need to do is find 10 photos of 10 brown eyed guys kicking puppies and setting cats on fire then find 10 photos of blue eyes people planting roses and giving each other back rubs.
People always laugh at whats out side the 'norm' because it is unexpected. If it were normal and expected it wouldn't be funny. So I'm willing to bet that in the hay-day of Dean and Jerry that a guy in a dress was no less than hilarious. Even up to the Tootsie era with Dustin Hoffman it was funny. Try that now and it comes out like this . Its old and its been done, shit quits being funny when I have to sit next to people who look just like that at the movies. Show me something I haven't seen, and blow it up make it bigger than life and embellish it, then it becomes funny.
I have to disagree with your take that male bonding has been affected. I mean I could cherry pick 10 photos off the net that made it look like people with brown eyes were evil.
Agreed, and I was aware when I chose those pictures that there was some biased editing going on, as the are certainly pics out there that could demonstrate the opposite. However, these supported my claims, which I think are essentially true. With or without the pics, it certainly seems to me that straight men do self-police their actions these days so as not to appear gay.
I can't watch the video you linked to until after 5 PM, when surf control kicks off, but I will watch it. I agree with your assessment of what is considered funny. The trouble is: When a comedian decides to push the envelope, and go places no one has ever gone before, it changes the framework and rules of engagement. As you implied, after a while it just becomes "old hat". It ceases to be scandalous, funny, new, or engaging.