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.
I think like most cultural trends now a-days, it's difficult to talk about what is going on "In America". As far as cultural progress goes, the United States contains people who are mentally stuck in the Iron Age as well as people who's lives are totally freed of bigotry. In the aggregate though, I think that homophobia definitely has increased in proportion to "gay savyness". I for one make gay innuendo's among my friends all the time "although only in groups of three or more". Also, whenever the two of us share a tender moment (heart to heart, doing a big favor, etc) the intimacy is usually interrupted by a phrase like "now cut it out before our dicks touch" as though male bonding makes dicks magnetic.
More importantly though, being openly affectionate is considered unmanly and I think that is the biggest factor of all. Even a guy who is openly affectionate or flirtatious with women in a "bouncy" kind of way can be subject to a referendum on his manhood.
I can understand the man-crush thing on an actor... I have a thing for Steve McQueen, a lot of men I know have a thing for Clint Eastwood. Heck a whole male generation had a thing for Kirk Douglas. Who can forget Spartacus, talk about man love on screen or what. If you made that movie today Kirk and Tony Curtis would have been slapping each other in the face instead of that wonderful subtext that existed between the two of them.
Great response. Thanks. A lot of straight men do feel flattered when a gay man compliments them on their looks. I've never had a straight man I complimented react negatively, but then again, that has mostly been online. I'm more reserved and isolated in real life. I also knew one straight man who was kind of insulted a little when a gay man told him he was not attractive. I didn't agree with the gay guy's opinion, as I thought he was a total hottie.
Re: Man crushes. My little brother has always had a man crush on Trent Reznor. He's like: "Trent is the only man I'd ever give a blow job to." And Val Kilmer ain't bad, btw. He's a good one to have a man crush on. Did you see him in The Doors?
I do think connecting with people who are similar in some way - gender, lifestyle, location, thoughts, ideology, whatever - is imporant for all of us. And I think it's much more critical to happiness to have good friends than to have one lover (however excellent he or she might be).
Regarding Jerry Lewis though - it was part of his bit to be too close, to be socially awkward, and to stand out. I'm not old enough to remember those movies coming out, but I did grow up watching Dean Martin et al with my grandmother as a kid. I think "Some Like it Hot" was the first drag-queen movie I ever saw, and even in that film, the cross-dressing characters were both heterosexual (and trying to hook up with Marilyn).
I think the tide may be coming in from this social trend though. Men got very distant maybe a decade ago, but with the metrosexual movement, man-dating, and other things being talked about again, I think it's as if society is giving straight men permission to be close to one another again. I'm fairly certain that by the time my toddler is a teenager, he'll be able to hug one of his guy buddies just as easily as one of his female ones.
"Some Like it Hot" was the first drag-queen movie I ever saw...
I had forgotten about that movie. But you know, part of what made that so funny was the fact that they were so unconvincing as women, and yet no one but the viewer saw it. They were unconvincing to us, but not to the other characters in the movie. I hadn't thought of it up until now, but a lot of drag humor is based on men who aren't convincing as women at all, and not based on men who could "pass as a woman". Hmm...
I'm fairly certain that by the time my toddler is a teenager, he'll be able to hug one of his guy buddies just as easily as one of his female ones.
That would be cool. I think straight men should be able to be affectionate without the stigma.