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.
My friends and I started to say "That is so gay" to describe things that were stylish, chic, cutting edge, or fabulously flawless. In our own little way, we wanted to reclaim the word for our queer comrades.
Yeah, me and my friends started talking like "yay, it's gay!" although I know a lot of gay-friendly people who use it in the "eww it's gay" way just out of habit. Well, words do have different meanings...
I have to say its something I never noticed or thought about. My friends and I have no issues with "male affection". I don't know if its because we have been friends for a long time, but closeness and personal space isn't an issue with us.
In fact I get a lot of male hugs as it were, now if these people are straight or gay I have no idea, nor do I really care. I am quite comfortable in my sexuality and how I feel about myself. I wonder if it might have something to do with being comfortable in your own skin first. My friends are all very comfortable with themselves as they are (faults and everything else), it makes it easy to just be yourself around each other. Practically every group photo is us close in and doing something silly, rude or cute with each other.
I think that's great. But do you think you are the exception or the rule?
I think I kinda addressed that in my 1st line, I don't know, I never noticed before it has never been something I took note of, so i will have to get back to you on that. I was just relating my personal experience and why my friends and I seem to be "comfortable" with each other. I my crowd I guess affection is the norm... but I don't know if we would be considered normal.
What do you mean? Surely you'd know if your friends were gay or straight?
I meant that I received a lot of un-expected male hugs from people, I don't expect to hug me, I always hug back. Sometimes these are acquaintances, sometimes people I just met with other friends and spent an evening talking to.
Why this is, I don't really know, I guess as a person I track as metro-sexual (though to be honest I don't know what that really means). I have been told sometimes that, I am very approachable as a person, I like to listen to what other people have to say. Maybe I just make people feel cuddly, I don't know, but for some reason I am "huggable".
Good to see you back on AN, Nerd. I wondered what happened to you.
I believe the rationale is "if I joke about how gay this looks, then that will dispel suspicion that it actually is gay".
Yes, that is a common tactic, and is used in Hollywood quite a bit. When two male protagonists are the focus of the plot, the idea of a homosexual relationship is broached for the sole purpose of dispelling it as a possibility. You see this quite often.
But also on a personal level, you see that kind of verbal excuse being used before people do or say a lot of things, no matter what it deals with, but especially if they are a little embarassed by it, or feel insecure about it.
In India I was sitting on a beach, and 2 guys walked along the beach holding hands, then stopped to admire the sunset, still holding hands, and then walked back, still holding hands. It was beautiful. The Indian guys I know here won't admit to being affectionate like that while they're in America.
Being friends with Indian women who were very affectionate, it was hard to figure out if the level of affection was normal for them, or if it was flirtation. I know it was the latter for at least one person. It made me think that in some ways homosexuality can hide in plain sight--her mother saw that we were cuddling in bed and thought nothing of it. In a lot of cultures where homosexuality is taboo, same sex affection is very commonplace.