No, this one isn’t the work of The Onion. Not only would the large cast of suited and booted fraternity boys with solemn faces and clasped hands standing behind the comedy attorney who can’t stop saying ‘butt chugging’ break their production budget, it’s just far too chugging crazy. If this uniquely American spectacle had been presented as surreal satire no one would buy it.
Look out for the two frat bros who emerge hastily from the bushes at 4.47 and sheepishly join their serious-looking brothers at the back. ‘Butt’ if you think they might have been engaging in a quick spot of that absolutely ree-puls-ive practise of butt-chugging, then SHAME. ON. YOU.
This clip by Irish comedy outfit Dead Cat Bounce called ‘Rugby’ has to be my favourite video of 2011. Even if it strongly suggests that, in Ireland at least, my work here is done and it’s well past time to retire to the touch-lines.
There’s much to admire here: the lightness of touch, the hilarious blend of the accurate and the absurd; the joshing, bantering, boyish affection — both for rugby and manlove. I even like the tune. But I find myself especially mesmerised by the lead singer’s vast, match-winning gob. He could swallow that giant, muddy testicle he’s pretending to lick without it so much as touching the sides.
It seems I’m not the only one who rated this manlove ballad. Originally broadcast on their state TV station RTE, it’s the fifth most popular YouTube clip in Ireland this year. Oh, and you can download the song from iTunes too.
Below the YouTube clip are scores of comments by self-identified straight rugby players and fans, most of whom seem to love it as much as this old homo does:
‘im a rugby player. i play lock.. which makes me the guy who sticks his head between the guys’ thighs. i still think this is fucking hilarious.’
It’s difficult to imagine a similar skit about soccer getting the same good-humoured response. But then, as several rugby fans have pointed out, soccer is for poofs.
Mark Simpson wants to be be soundly smacked with a paddle
(Out magazine, 2006)
When I joined my local rugby team, I was made to do terrible, awful things. Even now, all these years later, I feel distressed and choked up recounting what happened. I had to stand on a chair as a full pint of beer was shoved in my groin, soaking it. I then had to drink a yard of ale (three pints in a yard-long horn-shaped glass) with a bucket in front of me. Later, several of us had to run around the rugby pitch stark naked. In January.
I was traumatized. I may never recover. This wasn’t what I had signed up for! I want to complain! I’m going to sue! Someone’s gotta pay!
You see, it was a terrible, awful, unforgettable, wounding disappointment.
It was just all so… restrained. I had been hoping that we would be performing some of the other bonding and initiation rites that I’d heard about, such as the one where one naked team-mate bends over and a pint is poured over his ass, down his crack, and over his sack while another sits underneath him with head back and mouth open. Or the soggy biscuit game: a circle jerk over a cream cracker where the last one to come has to eat it. Or perhaps the carrot game, where a root vegetable is shoved up the rookie’s ass and a pink ribbon tied around his erect penis (something to do with the carrot I suppose), which he has to keep on for two weeks, to be checked at each training session.
Frankly, I would have even been happy with the relatively vanilla hazing that all new recruits to a crack U.K. Army regiment have to participate in: According to a straight soldier pal of mine, the “old-timers” rub their asses and genitals over the faces of the new recruits or “crows”, as they’re called. Sounds like an excellent icebreaker to me. It is just a shame it has to happen only once—why can’t you join every day?
But, alas, none of the really juicy stuff for me at my rugby club—just a wet crotch on my jeans and a frost-shriveled penis. Judging by the excited media reports, things would have been very different if I’d been a college freshman in the United States and joined the football team or one of those kinky fraternities with those Greek names.
At the University of Vermont the “elephant walk” is, or was, rather popular: Pledges drink warm beer and walk naked in a line, holding the genitals of the lucky lad in front of them. At Tiffin University in Ohio the soccer team has been known to strip their freshmen players to their underwear, handcuff them together, scrawl vulgarities on their bodies, and make them lick one another’s nipples. Sometimes the fun isn’t just reserved for members of the team. At a Utah high school two wrestlers stripped a male cheerleader in the school locker room and “attempted to shave his pubic hair” with an electric clipper. Attempted? Does that mean they didn’t succeed? That’s some cheerleader.
truth be told, even in the United States, hazing isn’t what it used to be. This ancient rite is under attack from all sides: the media, feminists, mothers, educational authorities, legislators, police—and also many gays. Hazing is being shamed up and stamped out. The only reason we know about the sordid goings-on in frat houses across the nation is because the authorities were involved, litigation was initiated, criminal charges brought, and the media involved. A big stink, in other words. Most respectable people seem to agree hazing is wrong, sexist, and homophobic and must be stopped.
Now, perhaps it’s because I’m not terribly respectable, or maybe because I enjoy championing lost causes, but I think hazing can be a valuable, venerable masculine institution that is worth defending, particularly by men who are interested in other men. Hazing is the last rite of passage left for boys in a world that doesn’t seem to want boys to grow into men anymore, a very physical form of male bonding in a society that wants us to remain as disconnected as possible, an antidote to individualism, which in this atomized day and age tends to just mean alienated consumerism.
Yes, I realize that hazing can be dangerous. It can turn into abuse and bullying or outright sadism, as in those widely reported instances of boys being sodomized with mop handles and pinecones. Boys, like men, can be plain dumb and dangerous and occasionally fatal. Jocks can be obnoxious, arrogant little shits, especially to male cheerleaders. But my point would be that this is all we ever hear about. Hazing has been tarred with one self-righteous puritanical brush.
Scandalized media reports and a proliferation of antihazing Web sites such as BadJocks.com and StopHazing.org have helped to decisively turn public opinion against hazing (though in some cases with an admixture of voyeurism for the very thing that they are campaigning against). Hazing is now the subject of a full-fledged moral panic about “our children”. This September sees the First National Conference on High School Hazing—and you can be sure they’re not teaching delegates how to conduct a successful elephant walk. Most states now have antihazing laws, and most universities have draconian antihazing policies.
Here’s the University of Vermont’s all-embracing definition of what hazing is and thus what is verboten:
“any act, whether physical, mental, emotional, or psychological, which subjects another person, voluntarily or involuntarily, to anything that may abuse, mistreat, degrade, humiliate, harass, or intimidate him/her, or which may in any fashion compromise his/her inherent dignity as a person”.
Which sounds to me like a recipe for a very dull Saturday night indeed.
Don’t we all want our “inherent dignity as a person” to be compromised sometimes - especially at university? And why on earth would you join a fraternity, or an ice-hockey team, or in fact any all-male group if you were so concerned about your inherent dignity as a person? Wouldn’t it be wiser just to stay at home knitting? Hazing is used by these groups for precisely that purpose: to put off those who aren’t really serious about putting the group or the team above their own damn preciousness or good sense.
Note how hazing is defined as “voluntarily or involuntarily”: Consent is irrelevant to the powers that be in their zeal to stamp out hazing (just as it used to be with homosexuality). They know best. Nor is it merely extreme cases such as sodomizing with pinecones that the antihazing zealots are against but “any act, whether physical, mental, emotional, or psychological” that might be kind of naughty, kind of dirty, kind of fun. In itself a rather convincing argument for hazing, at least for young people. Mom and the cops and the college dean don’t like it? Great! Bring on the handcuffs, warm beer, and Jell-O!
Which brings me onto the aspect of hazing that, as you may possibly have guessed, I have a fond fascination for, and is a central part of my desire to defend the practice—and probably why my defense will probably succeed in finally killing it off: the homoerotic dimension, the “gayness” of what these mostly straight guys like to do to one another and their private parts.
Granted, a lot of hazing, especially with the crackdown going on today, has little or nothing to do with homoerotics. It may be just Jackass-style craziness involving oncoming traffic, gallons of water, and jumping out of trees. Mind, hazing does, like me, keep returning to men’s butts and penises and testicles (anyone for “tea-bagging”?) even when it tries not to. Obviously, I think this is entirely understandable and requires no explanation whatsoever, let alone pathologizing it and criminalizing it. But clearly plenty of people think otherwise.
So why is hazing so homo? Perhaps because all-male groups, according to Freud, are bound together by barely sublimated homoerotic feelings. It’s what inspires them to such heartwarming loyalty, such passionate self-sacrifice and heroic endeavor—Eros can wrestle the instinct for self-preservation to the ground. The hazing rituals with their simulated homo sex could be seen as a symbolic group fuck that gets the “sex” over with yet turns all the members of the team or fraternity into a band of lovers. Of course, I would prefer that they followed the exemplar of the Theban Band, or the Spartans of ancient Greece, the warrior-lovers who didn’t stop at simulated homo sex (and were widely regarded as invincible). But you can’t have everything.
There are also putatively Darwinian explanations for the homoerotics of male groups. In our prehistoric past the bonding of hunters and warriors was vital to the survival of the tribe. Those tribes that survived and thrived and passed on their genes were those in which men were willing to sacrifice breeding opportunities and comforts of life with the chicks back at camp for weeks and months of intimacy with men and a willingness to serve and take orders. Prehistoric man, in other words, was a bit of a leather queen. This is probably the reason why hypermasculinity is sometimes difficult to separate from homosexuality, especially during Hell Week.
Alas, many gays see hazing as necessarily homophobic and appear to buy into the simplistic feminist analysis of power and domination. In an online article Cyd Zeigler Jr. of Outsports.com recognizes that hazing is often deeply homoerotic (and lists some of the same scandals I have), but sees it as essentially homophobic: “Whether it’s sodomizing them or making them wear women’s panties, the notion of forcing younger players to submit to team veterans comes right out of the handbook of anti-gay stereotypes.” Clinching the matter, homoerotic hazing apparently “emasculates the victim”.
Leaving aside that the out-and-proud gay world isn’t exactly free of power, domination, and humiliation, or for that matter antigay stereotypes, this assertion about the emasculation of the victim doesn’t always hold true. While I have some sympathy with this approach, in its attachment to victimhood it seems to be rather more rigidly homophobic than hazing is.
The curious paradox of hazing is that while it may well regard “fagginess” and “softness” as undesirable, it actually makes the homoerotic central to membership of the group. Besides, rather than emasculating the new members of group, the veterans wish to masculinize them, and they use homoerotics to that end. Hazing itself is not an act of hostility but of affection: tough love. While hazing can be homoerotic and homophobic, this is not—and it’s difficult for us self-centered homos to realize this—its point.
The famous Sambia tribe of New Guinea (famous because anthropologists won’t leave them alone) don’t simulate homosexuality in their own hazing rituals: they practice it. Adolescent boys are taken from their mothers by the older youths and required to repeatedly give oral sex to them—they are told that the semen will masculinize them. In today’s universities, of course, the semen is replaced by warm Budweiser and protein shakes. From a Sambian point of view, the dominance of the antihazing lobby today would probably represent an insufferable victory of the protected domestic world of Mom, who deep down doesn’t want her cherished baby boy to ever be exposed to anything extreme or distasteful or dangerous or… male.
But then, it sometimes seems that our contemporary culture has less and less use for, or appreciation of, masculinity that isn’t merely decorative or good at DIY. Paradoxically, as the toleration and visibility of newfangled gays and gayness in our culture has risen, intolerance of oldfangled homoerotic masculine rituals has also increased. Very often, society’s preoccupation with hazing is, like mine, a preoccupation with its “gayness.” But in reverse.
When a private video of drunken off-duty U.K. Royal Marines running around naked together in some godforsaken place was sold to the tabloids in 2005, it caused an outcry. Officially, it was because one of the Marines was shown being kicked in the head by a drunken officer, and this was evidence of bullying. But as the repeated printing of the naked pictures showed, it was mostly about the fact that they were fit young marines, naked together, being gay.
The (extremely hot) victim, 23-year-old Ray Simmons, came forward to say he didn’t hold the officer (who was now the subject of a military police investigation) responsible, and it was just a bit of fun that got out of hand. However, the host of reader letters that the stories prompted showed the real preoccupation was not the bullying but the gayness. A typically hissy example from one male reader: “I am utterly disgusted by the behavior of our so-called Marines…. This kind of thing would be better suited to a gay 18–30 holiday on a remote island somewhere. Our enemies across the globe must be laughing at us.”
So society apparently still expects Marines to go and kill and be killed anywhere in the world at the drop of a daisy-cutter to defend our enervated suburban—and voyeuristic—lifestyle but ridicules and condemns them for doing what men have to do and have always done to bond and let off steam. Fortunately, the Marines aren’t taking any notice: “People think a load of men getting naked together is a bit gay,” said Simmons, “but we don’t care what others think. It’s just Marine humor.”
Well said that man. Don’t let the square civvies—or the envious homos like me—try to shame you into being as joyless, lonely, and bereft of real camaraderie and human contact as the rest of us. It’s a sign of our isolated times that most people today could never say the words “we don’t care what people think” because:
(a) they don’t belong to a group, or in fact to anything except a supermarket loyalty scheme; and
(b) they care about what people will think rather more than they do about their buddies.
The homoerotics of hazing are not, in fact, necessarily homophobic or gay. They’re just guy.
And I don’t know about you, but I’m all in favor of guys.
The skipper of the nuclear-powered carrier and Star Trek namesake the USS Enterprise seems to be in danger of being keelhauled for ‘raunchy’ on-board videos he made to entertain the crew back in 2007 when he was second in command. The videos included male-male and female-female pairs pretending to soap one another up in the showers. I’ll admit I haven’t been able to watch all the video, which is full of in-jokes and far too much Capt. Honors and not enough shocking footage for my liking, but according to the Virginian Pilot:
‘In other skits, sailors parade in drag, use anti-gay slurs, and simulate masturbation and a rectal exam. Another scene implies that an officer is having sex in his stateroom with a donkey.’
Sailors and Marines behaving like sailors and Marines! Whoever would have thunk? As someone else once put it:
“The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps!”
No, that wasn’t my friend ‘military-chaser’ Steve Zeeland, but First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
I don’t rate Capt. Kirk’s — I mean, Owen Honors — chances of surviving this scandal since it catches him between the Scylla of American political correctness and the Charybdis of American Puritanism. ‘Inappropriate conduct’ being the magical phrase used to bring these two crushing forces together. These are straits from which few mariners return. Never mind that the videos were apparently very popular on board the USS Enterprise – and were never intended to be seen by anyone on land. This was another, relatively more benign kind of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell — but one that seems in this day and age just as doomed as the other.
As the sailor who made the videos for Capt. Honors put it:
’”In his defense, I’ll say that sometimes, when you’ve been out to sea for a while, cut off from everything, you start to think things that you would never normally do are actually a good idea,” he said. “You do stupid stuff to stay sane.“‘
Or as the old Navy saying has it: It’s never queer unless you’re tied to the pier. But these days, you’re always tied to the bloody pier.
‘…electronic communication with the rest of the world while at sea can be difficult; it was nearly impossible to e-mail or upload videos from the carrier in 2006 and 2007.
“He probably figured they’d never get off the ship.“‘
What happens in Fight Club doesn’t stay in Fight Club any more.
I originally viewed the video in the tiny format of the box on the Norfolk Pilot website. Seeing it on YouTube in larger resolution I now realise that all three characters you see sitting in Capt. Honor’s stateroom at the beginning of the vid are in fact Capt. Honors. That the second in command of the USS Enterprise saw fit to split his personality into a nerdy ‘gay’ SWO and a macho, cool air jock is ‘fascinating’, as Spock would put it. Or would be if I fancied Honors more.
A column of mine on Out.com, ‘Men At Play in Afgrabistan’, gallantly defends the freedom of the derided (and now dismissed) security guards at the US embassy to get naked with one another and eat potato chips from each other’s butts in their spare time — even if they’re out of shape. I also point out how everyday and ‘normal’ homoerotics is for many if not most men — but we don’t want to see it, and when we can’t ignore it because it’s thrust in our face by digital cameras and the Interweb we pathologize or criminalize it:
…the furor is another reminder that we live in a culture where female bi-curiousness is routinely regarded as natural and almost universal while male bi-curiousness is seen as non-existent — or else it is just “sexually confused” (i.e. they’re really gay, but laughably repressed), or it is “deviant hazing” conducted by “sexual predators” that needs to be eradicated.
In reality, to anyone who opens their eyes on a Saturday night on either side of the Atlantic, there’s scads of evidence that plenty of “normal” young men who aren’t particularly “sexually confused” — especially the most, er, physical types — have a healthy appetite for highly homoerotic behavior after a keg or two. It’s what beer seems to have been invented for. In the Middle Ages they thought the cause of sodomy was drunkenness — they weren’t wrong. By contrast, I’ve hardly ever seen such homoerotic horseplay amongst straight women, even despite the invention of alcopops (though admittedly I perhaps wasn’t looking as closely.)
Some people have a more violently negative response to the everyday evidence of male homoerotics, literally trying to stamp it out. In the UK a straight female Canadian martial arts expert attacked and knocked out a couple of drunken British soldiers at a disco for kissing and ‘pretending to be gay’, screaming ‘THISSHOULDNOTBEALLOWEDINTHEBRITISHARMY!!’.
Living in a garrison town I’ve seen plenty of similary steamy behaviour from drunken squaddies in pubs and on dance-floors, snogging and humping and groping one another, so I can understand her frustration — I’ve wanted to get physical too, but not in quite the same way she did.
Sometimes the response is more genteel, but just as vehement. During the last Rugby World Cup a couple of years ago I was invited on Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio Four to talk about homoerotics and rugby. I thought it a bit odd that Woman’s Hour wanted to cover this subject, but the producer enthused: ‘The presenter Jane is really keen to talk about it’. It turned out that neither the presenter, a former female sports journalist, or her guest, another female sports journalist, wanted to talk about it at all.
Both of them refused point blank to countenance the possibility that a game that involves men with large thighs wrestling in the mud over odd-shaped balls, or taking communal baths, or kinky nude drinking games that would shock the guards at the American Embassy in Afghanistan, could be in any way homoerotic. Only a homo would say such a thing.
‘Of course you would say that Mark,’ she said at one point, ‘because you’re gay.’
I paused. Several things occured to me to say to that. I could have said that droves of gay men were probably rushing at that very moment to dissociate themselves from what I was saying (they usually do). Or I could have said, ‘Well, of course you would say that Jane, as an uptight middle class woman’ (and I wished I had).
Instead I said, ‘It seems that some people have a problem with the word “homoerotic”. They think that it means something ‘for gays’. Perhaps some people would be happier with the word “male bonding”.’
‘Yes!’ they chorused, ‘it’s male bonding!’
‘But,’ I continued, ‘it’s male bonding with an erotic component so we’re back where we came in.’
They didn’t like that.
And this just a few weeks after this show had gone out on national UKTV, in which a team of northern rugby players had been filmed getting drunk and naked with one another, snogging, licking each other’s nipples - and playing with their captain’s ‘donkey dick’. Of course, I couldn’t even mention it, as on radio — especially Radio Four — you’re not allowed to acknowledge that TV exists.
Again, being radio, and posh radio at that, a nice voice whispered in my headphone just before we went on air. ‘Remember Mark, this is a family show so please try not to be too rude!.’ This did hamper my case somewhat, as rugby homoerotics are meant to be rude. Though it didn’t stop me from leaving something tantalising hanging in the air: ”The soggy biscuit game, for example, isn’t entirely a myth.…’.
‘I think we’d better move on,’ said Jane rather quickly. Apparently the Radio Four switchboard was jammed with retired lady callers demanding to know what the soggy biscuit game was.
(This feature of mine from a couple of years back, ‘Assume the position’, offers a more in-depth investigation of the culture’s crackdown on hazing and male horseplay in general.)