Scourge of The Eton Rifles Paul Weller was sending out quite a statement to his die hard Jam fans in this video for his 1983 Style Council single ‘Long Hot Summer’, shot on the River Cam in Cambridge. Acting the big posh pooftah in a punt.
Like almost everyone in the UK in the early 80s the young Modfather had fallen madly in love with the beautifully-shot 1981 ITV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited – much like today’s Downton Abbey, but with believable, interesting aristos, a script, and an actual point.
Oh, and a seductive homoerotic storyline in which two young hetero men fall for one another surrounded by the Baroque splendour of Castle Howard, Yorkshire. Charles Ryder’s long hot summer with the decadent Sebastian Flyte opened up a whole new realm of sensation for a generation emerging from the concrete rubble of 1970s Britain. Even for the son of a taxi driver and a cleaner from Woking like Weller.
I sometimes wonder, considering the bathetic comparison between Brideshead and Downton, and the general, glorious queerness of early 80s pop culture, whether the notion of ‘progress’ is just a illusion we cling to make the diminishing returns of life more bearable. (And by ‘we’ I mean ‘I’ of course.) Though much less technically sophisticated, Weller’s Brideshead tribute video ‘Long Hot Summer’ video knocks LMFAO’s ‘Sexy and I Know It’ into a banana hammock.
Rather wonderfully, wanking seems to be the focus of this promo, along with the attendant narcissism and homoeroticism of Paul’s display of topless, oiled-up self-pleasuring for the camera – lying on his back for most of the video whilst his fully-clothed chum labours behind him. Thirty years on, and after all the slutty, spornographic advertising campaigns of the last decade, Paul’s petulant passivity in this video is still jaw-dropping.
Understandably, Style Council guitarist Mick Talbot is driven to playing with his pole and gnawing passing willow trees in frustration. Fortunately for him relief is at hand — a little later pretty Paul allows himself to be spit-roasted in his punt by the drummer and the guitarist.
Whether lolling on his back, fingers travelling down his flat abdomen, or dancing barefoot, Weller’s whippet thin body reminds us of what British young men looked like before Ronald McDonald and Mens Health redesigned them.
Or maybe I’m just falling prey to the intoxicating nostalgia for a better, more golden time that permeated Brideshead.
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.
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.”
(I’d like to embed here a clip of the fake Top Gun 25th Anniversary audition tape sketch from SNL with Alec Baldwin as Al Pacino and Harvey Fierstein as Hader that HuffPo is high-fiving in the quote above, but Hulu blocks non-US IP addresses.)
Curious how 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 Gun, starring 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 GunHAD 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.
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.
Way back in the last century, before the Interweb swallowed everything, my friend and accomplice in literary crime Steve Zeeland were visiting, as you do, Camp Pendleton, the giant US Marine Corps base in Southern California with some jarhead friends.
We spent the afternoon watching the Marine Rodeo — scores of grinning fit Texan boys in tight Wranglers and high-and-tights bouncing up and down on broncos and slapping each other’s butts. Perhaps you’ll understand why, after having seen this, the Details fashion shoot that was Brokeback Mountain left me cold.
We then headed to the enlisted men’s club for a much-needed and, I’d like to think, well-earned drink. While we were there, some Marines came in from a week’s exercise in the field, still in their combats, camouflage paint still on their young sunburned faces. They were in high spirits, enjoying their first beer of the week, and when the DJ played the opening fanfare of The Village People’s ‘YMCA’, like Pavlovs’ dogs they instantly and instinctively understood what was required of them.
They flocked onto the dance-floor, scrambling to outdo one another in their 1970s disco dance moves, and joyously spelling out the letters of the camp classic extolling the pleasures of getting clean and hanging out with all the bo-oys. ‘Hey buddy,’ one jarhead shouted to me, slapping me on the shoulder and grinning in my face, ‘you having a good time?’
At this point Steve produced his mid 1990s, large, cumbersome and very, very obvious camcorder and started filming the jarhead hi-jinks. ‘Steve,’ I hissed in his ear, palms moistening. ‘Don’t you think this might, er, get us into trouble?’
We escaped unscathed — though we did hear reports a year or two later that the Commandant of Camp Pendleton had ordered, like an angry Old Testament God, that enlisted men’s club be razed to the ground because it was ‘a cesspit of sodomy’.
I needn’t have worried about Steve’s camcording. But the Commandant did have reason to worry — and his Biblical efforts proved in vain. In just a few years time, military boys would be enthusiastically filming themselves acting way ‘gayer’ than dancing to YMCA — and posting it on YouTube for the entire world to see.
You’ve probably already seen the video tribute to Lady Gaga’s ‘Telephone’ made by US soldiers in Afghanistan, which has gone virulently viral. It’s part of a well-established craze by dusty, bored and stressed military boys letting off steam, taking time out from buttoned-down masculine norms and channelling a little glamour instead. Having a scream, in other words. But the fact they are videoing it and putting on YouTube suggests that, like most like most young people in a mediated world, they want to draw attention to themselves.
Way back in the Twenieth Century again I wrote, only slightly tongue in cheek: ‘The problem with straight men is they’re repressed. The problem with gay men is they’re not.’ In the metrosexual 21st Century I think it’s pretty clear that even straight soldiers aren’t that repressed any more. While of course gays are getting married and becoming Tory MPs.
I don’t know about you, but the scene where the soldiers are standing around admiring one another’s home-made House of Gaga outfits will stay with me forever. There’s something about Lady Gaga that seems to make funny, flaming flamboyance — Gagacity - irresistible to men, women, children, civilians and soldiers and small animals. Gay or straight.
Quite rightly, hardly anyone has suggested that these soldiers being hyper and hilariously camp are ‘really gay’. Some might be, of course. But their appearance in a video of this kind doesn’t prove any such thing. Even the gay-banning US Army put out a statement approving the video, or at least trying to exploit its popularity.
Compare this with what happened a few years back when it emerged that some US soldiers had been ‘acting gay’ on video for private consumption rather than YouTube. Gay porn videos made by a company called ActiveDuty. A global scandal errupted and several young soldiers were arrested, courts martialed, fined and dishonourably discharged. A lot of people — particularly gays — seemed convinced that the soldiers ‘must’ all be gay because they appeared in such videos. When in fact many did it like the soldiers in the ‘Telephone’ video — for giggles, for fun, for a dare. And, in this case, also for the not inconsiderable sums money they were paid.
Like the discharged soldier said to the shell-shocked waitress who recognised him from the ActiveDuty website and demanded to know how he could have done such a thing: ‘It was no big deal. And besides, I got paid.’
If you think my comparison far-fetched, consider that the soldiers courts martialed for ‘acting gay’ on video (Certificate 18) were paratroopers in the 82nd Airborne based in Fort Bragg. The same élite unit that the chaps ‘acting gay’ in the ‘Telephone’ video (PG) are from.
The latest YouTube video of soldiers ‘acting gay’ called ‘The Army Goes Gay’ (below) has been curiously claimed by some gay blogs as an example of straight soldiers ‘ridiculing’ Dont’ Ask Don’t Tell. There isn’t really any evidence for this reading however — and in fact it could be more easily read as an endorsement of the ‘Gay Bomb’ fears of the Pentagon. Almost certainly it doesn’t have any message at all.
It’s just soldiers being silly and naughty. And ‘gay’.
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.)
Eminem, aka Marshall Mathers, may have won only a few consolation prizes at the Grammys yesterday , but clearly the white rapper behind “The Marshall Mathers LP” has created the Album of the Year in every other sense. Em is the hottest property not just in the music business, but in pop culture itself, and, like Big Gay Al, aka Elton John, who sang a duet with him on stage, no one — the fans, the press, the critics, the police, the Vice President’s wife — can leave him alone.
Especially, of course, the gay rights activists, two hundred of whom picketed the Staples Center in protest at his “violently homophobic lyrics” (and what they saw as gay Elton’s “betrayal”).
Afterwards, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation solemnly expressed “gratitude” that Em was not awarded Album of the Year, but complained that the three minor Grammys awarded Eminem showed that “Academy members were willing to place their stamp of approval on lyrics that promote hate, prejudice and violence.”
Amen. But the rather important point that the protestors appear to have overlooked is, Sure, Em’s music is violently homophobic. It also happens to be violently homosexual. The two facts are not necessarily in contradiction of each other. Actually, in the world beyond the Care Bear sexuality of GLAAD, they’re inseparable. It might even be the case that the Grammy didn’t go to Em precisely because his lyrics are too queer.
To understand this you just have to pay attention to the music instead of the press releases. Sodomy never sounded so seductive, or seditious. When fellow Detroit rapping duo Insane Clown Posse ‘wittily’ renamed Slim Shady “Slim Anus” on their last album, the squeaky blond bombshell responded quickly and explicitly. “Slim Anus? You damn right Slim Anus / I don’t get fucked in mine like you two little flamin’ faggots,” he retorts on a track on “Marshall Mathers,” the CD that lost the Grammy. But then in the track “Ken Kaniff,” he all-too-enthusiastically impersonates the voices of the ICP frontmen engaging in lip-smacking fellatio complete with very convincing grunts and groans and backed by cheesy porno Muzak: “Fuck yeah! Suck it! That’s good!” (ICP have since placed a downloadable track on their website featuring an Eminem-on-poppers-soundalike getting reamed by his hip-hop producer, Dr. Dre.)
Am I the only one who got aroused by all this “homophobia”? I suspect not. After all, sodomy — and graphic sodomy at that — is really the only sex you’ll find on Em’s record-selling CD, whether in the form of invitations to the listener to “suck my fucking dick, you fucking faggot” or dismissing his critics as bitter queens: “He’s just aggravated because I won’t ejaculate in his ass.” If Em really is the “New Elvis,” it seems that “Jailhouse Rock” is his starting point (which would at least explain his prison punk look). Even when he leaves the violent sodomy alone for a moment and turns to romance, it’s of a rather queer kind, as in the hit single “Stan,” in which a fan sends a series of unrequited love letters to his rap-star hero — the song Eminem chose to duet with Elton John with at the Grammys.
Em himself “comes out” and acknowledges his obsession/passion in another skit on “Marshall Mathers” in which a furious record exec complains that he can’t sell his records because instead of rapping about his wide-screen TV, Eminem is “rapping about homosexuals!” (Of course, the joke here is that Eminem’s records “about homosexuals” could hardly sell better.)
Now, if all this “fuckin’ homo” stuff seems adolescent, that’s probably because it is. It’s meant to be. Adolescence is a time of hormonal anxiety about identity for boys, but nowadays it’s not just a phase, it’s a career. And what is it that boys are supposed to grow into these days? Masculine certainties have vanished, in many cases, along with dad, family and blue-collar jobs. The only certainty left to bastard boys like this is that they are “not a fag.” It’s a negative identity that can’t sustain a sense of self, let alone sustain one in a world which has made boys useless — i.e. faggots — by making mature masculinity redundant.
Rapismo like Eminem’s articulates that frustration, then soothes the anxiety the articulation produces. Eminem’s own story (now the stuff of legend) is instructive. A poor, pretty, blue-eyed white boy growing up in a depressed black area of Detroit without a dad, he left the house the definition of “different.” He claims that he was neglected by his mother, which she vigorously disputes. Perhaps the truth is that, like many sons of single mothers, he was spoilt and fussed over and then ended up hating his mother for turning him into a sissy: “I used to be mommy’s little angel at twelve” he sings in “I’m Back.”
To avoid complete emasculation, he rebelled against his mother and chose to be fathered by pop culture, in the form of hip-hop and the humongous phallus of black street culture. To Eminem (and other “shady” white boys of uncertain paternity from better homes) the world seems like a post-feminist nightmare where Mom is the law — and political correctness is merely “wash your mouth out with soap” writ large. He’s South Park’s Kyle, ten years down the line plus plenty of drugs and disappointment. In this world, homosexuality isn’t only emasculation and weakness, it’s also the ultimate machismo, and the ultimate rebellion against “bitches” — as well as a contradictory solution to the problem of being fatherless, easing as it does the ache for male intimacy. But easing that ache means acknowledging it. And that means weakness. So homosexuality has to be constantly “stabbed in the head,” to use one of Em’s more infamous lines, even as it is constantly being evoked.
Every stab just leads to another target. After all, homos are everywhere nowadays in pop culture. And the blatancy of male passivity in a world where males are sex objects only makes this “stabbing” more imperative — even when you’re not, like Eminem, a pretty bottle-blond boy with “cock-sucking lips” (to quote ICP) and more than a passing interest in having your picture taken. “All I see is sissies in magazines smilin’” groans Eminem. “Staring at my jeans, watching my genitals bulging / (Ooh!) That’s my motherfucking balls, you’d better let go of ‘em / They belong in my scrotum, you’ll never get hold of ‘em.” Look at the pictures of him in his book Angry Blonde (interesting spelling, that), skim past the one of him in blond pigtails to the ones where he is surrounded by a crowd of Shady clones looking at him with shining, hungry eyes. Has pop culture ever looked more disturbingly queer?
Slim Shady is famously a character Em invented to express his “dark thoughts.” But maybe Slim is himself just a screen. This is not to say that Mr. Mathers is “really gay” (just as he clearly isn’t “really straight”), but just “really fucked up.” Perhaps the “real” Em is as neurotic, mother-identified/mother-hating, homeless, vulnerable, narcissistic and passive (aggressive) as the lyrics and the picture of him on his album cover suggest. In other words, all the things that make a great star, from Elvis to Lennon to Cobain.
And, alas, he’s all the things that can make young men these days who will never be stars sad and sullen, and sometimes suicidal. A seventeen-year-old white Eminem fan in Devon, England recently threw himself in front of a train. Apparently he was depressed by the “dissing” he’d experienced from friends after a gay boy said he fancied him at a party. The liberal coroner thought the lad’s anxieties foolish and misplaced: “He appears to have been unusually worried over his sexual orientation which really should not affect people a great deal either way.”
Maybe. But Eminem and the sexually shady, not to say confused, world of white hip-hop show that such a preoccupation is anything but trivial for many boys today. It’s all they have left.