Shameless Slashiness

I’m not much of a Robbie Williams fan. ‘Bromance’ leaves me cold. And I hated Brokeback Mountain. But per­haps I’m a big softy really because I rather like this video for Williams’ single ‘Shame’ which brings all these themes together, adds a hairy Gary Barlow, Robbie’s once-reviled Take That col­lab­or­ator, and takes its top off. What was it Dusty said? ‘The best part of break­ing up is when you’re mak­ing up’

Yes, the ‘Toys R Us’ line is a real clanger, a reminder of Robbie’s gurn­ing, annoy­ing­ness, and the song is a little bland. But the video suc­ceeds, just about, in bring­ing it alive. Despite the com­plaints of some gays that the promo ‘mocks’ Brokeback Mountain there’s a real sense of long­ing and intim­acy in the way they look at one another that is almost more con­vin­cing than much of what appeared in the movie it’s ‘spoof­ing’. Or, to be hon­est, in many gay male relationships.

Actually this promo’s not really ‘bromance’ at all, which is almost defined by its snig­ger­ing, para­lys­ing fear of any­thing phys­ical – it’s a know­ingly slashy pop promo video: man­love for the ladies (and the gays). It plays on both the ‘gay­ness’ of Take That, who, des­pite the leather har­nesses, disco and baby oil — and the fantas­ies of many of their fans — were prob­ably all straight (more or less), and the fam­ously pas­sion­ate love-hate and now love-again affair between Barlow and Williams. Though of course, for all the looks and strip­ping off they don’t ‘take the plunge’. Which is a bit of a relief, frankly.  And in its way rather less cow­ardly than ‘gay cow­boy romance’ Brokeback Mountain’s five seconds of darkly-lit tent sex.

But that end­ing to ‘Shame’, in which Robbie and Gary run to the top of a cliff to jump into the water below (but chicken out) seems to ref­er­ence a much older and bet­ter cow­boy romance – the fam­ous scene in Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid where Robert Redford and Paul Newman laugh­ingly jump into the river together to escape a pur­su­ing posse.  Butch Cassidy was a favour­ite of early slash­ers – ‘strange’ ladies who liked to bring out the homo­erotic sub­text of main­stream movies, TV shows and bands, and per­haps of male het­ero­sexu­al­ity itself, and make them the text, some­times with eye-popping illustrations.

Forty years on, the auto-slashiness of the video for ‘Shame’ seems to illus­trate how main­stream and accep­ted slash itself has become in pop culture.

Tip: William Godwin