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.
the occasional feminazis bitching about how men suck, and the cloud of "I'd better not piss off that feminazi; she's such a bitch that I really don't want to deal with her." that fogs up a lot of others' rear-view mirrors, and the culture in which I currently stew is one in which men are implicitly deemed unclean in the way someone with O.C.D. finds any thing that they deem unclean and which, after touching, they must wash their hands ritualistically.
I might just start a whole new thread on this topic. I believe that you have articulated something that is a much deeper problem in our culture, and not just in regards to issues of gender. It seems as though there are two kinds of reactionaries in the political spectrum, but only one of them gets acknowledged at a time. The traditionalist elements of our society would love to return to the past of an oppressive patriarchy that we are better off without.
While the other reactionaries such as Sarah Hoagland and other "Womyn" try to ruin everything as well but from another direction. Feminism has morphed into a ridiculous parody of it's self that would be frightening if it weren't so hilarious.
More on this later.............................Read Fight Club..................................Protect your Nuts
I'm quite certain the awareness of homosexuality has a lot to do with it, but physical distance between men (and people in general) is much more noticeable in anglo cultures than in other places. In Southern European countries men kiss and embrace more easily, and nobody interprets it as a sign of anything. I still remember my strong impression when I saw in the U.S. a father and a son shaking hands! In Spain or Italy that would have been construed as proof of enmity and coldness between the two.
I absolutely agree with your last paragraph: expressing affection is very important and homophobia, like machismo, harms everyone, not just gay people and women.
Thanks for your comment Joaquin. I have noticed that in foreign films, documentaries, or news stories. In many countries outside of the West, male affection is more easily accepted. One coworker is from South America (perhaps Columbia), and I see him make a motion sometimes to touch other guys in a friendly way, and then catch himself, perhaps afraid it might be unwelcomed or misinterpreted. He did that to me a lot when he got here, but I've tried to indicated it doesn't bother me. I've touched him in a friendly way in return.
I think we should blame those Anglo-Saxon Puritans who destroyed physical affection in N. America. Combine that with the stand-offish Teutonic types and you pretty much have my parents' ancestries. With my Dad, the only touching that we have every done has been a brief handshake. With my Mom, someone taught her about hugging when I was into middle age myself. Then it was very uncomfortable for me, I never got used to it.
I greatly envy cultures were people are more physical, but it makes me very uncomfortable at the same time. I don't think it's homophobia, I think it's touchphobia.
I went through a bunch of pictures I have of my friends and we look much more like the black and white photos you have, rather then the colored pics. My friends and I are closer, I think, then many just because of the time we've been able to stay together. Because of college, and people moving long distances to go to work in their chosen field I think people in general have less 'close' friends in their teens and twenties when in the 40s and 50s most people stayed in the town they lived in and continued relationships they had since they were children.
I don't think it has much to do with homophobia. I have friends that you can routinely see me with my arm around for pics, and others that I don't. I think it takes a long time to build that bond. In times of great emotional stress such as war, you might find it takes a lot less time for this level of bonding to occur due to the minds desire to find something solid to hold onto, and the instant feeling of camaraderie being on the same side.
That's a good way to look at it. When I was a child we moved all the time, and I was in and out of different schools. I never built up lasting, long-term friendships, and still don't do a very good job of creating those even to this day.
I don't think it has much to do with homophobia.
Well, as your examples show, probably not in all cases. But don't you think that when the element of homophobia exists, that it could ultimately inhibit public displays of platonic affection between straight men?
If you have time, go through the comments here. There are a lot of different views, and some good insight.
So many theories, so few facts. Our culture can't handle the truth...I think they avoid asking the questions so that they will never have to face the answers.
I think the premise of this thread is one of those questions, posed as a statement. I almost began by asking a slew of questions, but couldn't bring an end to the unsupported possibilities contained in them.
Psychology is not far enough along to make such unsupported claims. Some examples may be:
Can men still maintain those physical masculine friendships without being hit on by other men?Are there men who act more gay than necessary in order to have male-male companionship?
Are all people actually "bi" but simply don't admit it (even to themselves)?
Franklin, I'm not quite sure how to interpet your comments. Are you criticizing the discussion thread as perhaps useless or unnecessary?
The questions seems pretty clear to me -- and it is posed as a question, and not a statement. Everyone is free to give their opinions on that issue.
Facts are useful, but not always beneficial or necessary. Anecdotal evidence, experience, understanding, and intuition are also important to helping us understand the world around us.
For example, I can tell when a straight man is being passively aggressive with me because I am gay, based on signals, understanding, and intuition, even if I have not solid facts to support that understanding.
Can you please elaborate and clarify what you are trying to say? I'm not sure that I understand you.