The Gayness of Top Gun: Feel The Need

Frankly, we could watch a few more hours of Baldwin chewing the scenery as Pacino and Hader flabbergasted that the producers don’t understand how “gay” their script is: “I say, ‘Ice Man’s on my tail, he’s coming hard.’ I literally said that to a bathroom attendant last night.”

Curious how, twenty five years on from its release, the ‘gayness’ of Top Gun is now part of conventional wisdom and a shared joke. It certainly wasn’t at the time.

Hard to believe, but in the 80s Top Gunstarring the young, tarty Tom Cruise (the Cristiano Ronaldo of his day), with its topless volleyball scenes (to the strains of ‘Playing With the Boys’), lingering locker-room scenes, boy-on-boy central love-story (Iceman and Maverick’s aerial sex scenes are much hotter than anything going on with Kelly McGillis, who has since come out as lesbian) – and awash with enough baby oil and hair gel to sink an aircraft carrier – was generally seen as the epitome of heterosexual virility.

And even nearly a decade later in 1994, when I devoted a whole chapter in my first book Male Impersonators to explaining the homoerotics of that outrageous movie, plenty of people still wouldn’t have Top Gun‘s heterosexuality impugned.

Later the same year Quentin Tarantino made a cameo appearance in the movie Sleep With Me, essentially making the same argument, Toby Young, then editor of The Modern Review and Tarantino fanboy, was moved to write a long essay in the The Sunday Times defending his favourite movie’s heterosexuality from Simpson and Tarantino’s filthy calumnies.

Mr Young’s clinching argument? Top Gun HAD to be straight because he’d watched it twenty times – and he’s straight.

But now that everyone and his mother thinks Top Gun – and Tom Cruise – gay, I’m no longer quite so sure….

In fact, what I told Mr Young in 1994 when he rang me for a quote for his piece was this: “Of course Top Gun isn’t a ‘gay movie’ – but it’s clearly, flagrantly not a straight one either.” I think I’ll stick with that.

Perhaps we’re all more knowing now. Perhaps more people are clued-up about homoerotics. Perhaps it’s down to the Interweb making all the ‘incriminating’ clips always available. Perhaps it’s all my fault. Though I suspect it’s more a case of the past being a foreign country – so ‘gayness’ can be safely projected onto something in the past, even if it was once what hundreds of millions of straight young men saw as the very epitome of aspirational heterosexuality.

I’d better end there as I’m off to the movies – to see Warrior.

Tip: DAKrolak

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2 thoughts on “The Gayness of Top Gun: Feel The Need

  1. Good points. Yes, it’s all of those things too. I go into tedious detail about that in my chapter about it in ‘Male Impersonators’.

    But I argue that the traditional war-movie narrative of stoicism, self-sacrifice and ‘brotherly love’ is subverted by the narcissism and in-your-face homoerotics of TG. The script says one thing and the images say quite another (Tony Scott made ads and pop promos before TG).

    What TG succeeds in doing is making the then new, consumerist male narcissism of the 1980s appear traditional and patriotic – Tom Cruise is the Active-Passive Hero. It also, but I think to a lesser degree, makes traditional, patriotic, militaristic masculinity seem modern and hot. Which is why the Pentagon loaned Tony an aircraft carrier. Just as they loaned The Village People a destroyer six years earlier for ‘In The Navy’.

  2. It’s funny because when I first saw the movie when I was a child, I thought the F-14 Tomcat was the star….

    Later on when I saw it, I thought it was a shameless promotion for the military….

    For all it’s “gayness” I thought it was about enforcing some kind of code of stoic masculinity….

    Maverick and Goose get to go to Top Gun because the top notch pilot gets spooked in the first scene with the enemy encounter. He is worried about his wife and kid.

    Maverick always has his father’s death as a backdrop. Did he die because he was a reckless screw-up or was he a hero…

    Maverick states that Goose is his family. Goose dies. Kelly McGillis’s character uses shaming language when he is about to quit. Seems like she thinks that the military is more important than Maverick or his feelings about Goose. He is a warrior after all and country must come first. Goose’s wife tells Maverick that Goose would’ve flown w/o Maverick had the situation been reversed. He would’ve hated it but he still would’ve done it. Strangely, I don’t think that’s what a grieving wife would say in real life.

    Maverick is told his dad died saving other pilots, he could’ve gotten out but didn’t. Maverick then goes onto battle where he emerges a hero. The movie seems more about unquestioned devotion to your nation and the willingness to die for your “brothers.”

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