Is the husband of the world’s most famous ‘gay man trapped in a woman’s body’ a homophobe? Or a conflicted homophile? Or both?
Promoting his new book, Madonna’s brother Christopher Ciccone has been claiming that absurdly straight acting Guy Ritchie’s homophobia is one of the reasons why he and his slightly more famous sister are no longer on speaking terms.
You don’t have to buy Ciccone’s memoirs though to unearth evidence that Guy has some ‘issues’. Just watch his homoerotic, homosocial and homophobic gangbanger movies – all the ‘homos’ are here. As luck would have it, there’s another due out shortly, called RocknRolla. I’ve yet to see it, but reportedly, it’s even more ‘homo’ than his previous films – and no less confused.
In the meantime, here’s a diagnosis I penned for the Independent on Sunday eight years ago when Ritchie’s second film Snatch was released. Like Eminem, another gangster/gangsta groupie who came to prominence around the same time as Ritchie in the early Noughties, the homophobia in his work seems like a kind of highly conflicted and highly erotic homophilia.
Actually, it’s more like homomania – literally being unable to stop thinking and talking about bumming and practically drawing pictures for us. Which is probably what I have in common with him – though I’d like to think I’m slightly more self-aware.
In Ritchie’s world – as in Em’s – buggery is the only kind of sex there is. The only ‘snatch’ in Snatch belongs to men.
what sort of a guy’s guy is Guy Ritchie?
Mark Simpson wonders whether Madonna’s husband is a gay man trapped in a straight man’s body
(Independent on Sunday, August 27, 2000)
`Do you have big brave balls,” asks human Rottweiler Vinnie Jones in a stand-off moment in Guy Ritchie’s new movie Snatch, “or mincey faggot balls?”
We don’t entertain any doubts about the circumference of Vinnie’s testicles – and not just because he flashes a gun big enough to make Linda Lovelace gasp. What’s more, with the birth of Guy Ritchie’s son Rocco, the whole world knows that the 31-year-old writer-director of the spectacularly successful Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels has balls big and brave enough to impregnate Madonna.
But is this middle-class gangster-groupie so sure about what kind of balls he himself dangles? On the basis of his curiously sexually ambivalent output, it seems Ritchie – like his vast, appreciative young male audience – is more than a little worried about the possibility that he might have “mincey faggot balls” after all.
Let’s not beat around the bush here: the Lock, Stock and Snatch genre – and the lad magazine culture from which it seems to have sprung – is a kind of gay porn for straight men (or, rather, straight boys). As with his first film, Snatch is obsessed with buggery. Its “mockney geezer” dialogue is thick with references to “‘aving me pants pulled down”, being “bent over”, “full penetration”, and being “f–ked”. This isn’t very surprising since, as in Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and the spin-off TV series he executive-produced, women are conspicuous by their absence – the only snatch in Snatch belongs to other men. Hence the obsession with “hard men” and “pussies”; those who take and those who are taken. The erotics of Ritchie’s cinematic universe seem to be that of the prison showers (or the public school dormitory).
Ritchie is a hot ticket at the moment because, in an age of masculine confusion, he is the pre-eminent example of a rising phenomenon: the homohetero. Exclusively and adamantly heterosexual in the bedroom, the homohetero is nevertheless entranced by masculine images, forever fantasising about a world of homosociality that is just a dropped bar of soap away from homosexuality. Could it be that Guy Ritchie – who lives with the woman famously described as a gay man trapped in a woman’s body – is a gay man trapped in a straight man’s body?
Perhaps this is why Snatch begins with a jokey disavowal of homosexuality. “Turkish”, the central character and narrator (played by the very handsome “man’s man” Jason Statham), introduces himself and “me partner, Tommy”, adding quickly, “I don’t mean `partner’ in the sense of ‘olding ‘ands.” And there’s certainly a lot to disavow. The nearest thing to a sex scene in Lock, Stock was the lovingly shot, soft-focus, all-male pub party where the lads get very drunk, wrestle and light each other’s farts, before falling into a blissful, exhausted post-orgasmic sleep. In the first episode of the TV series, they try to flog some dodgy porn to a fence. “It’s not gay, is it?” he asks, worriedly. “Do we look like a couple of rear-gunners?” the pretty boys retort.
Well, now that you ask, yes. After a fashion. Certainly, as shown in his films, Ritchie’s relationship to masculinity is a bit “gay”. Like Loaded and FHM – lad mags selling a commodified, aestheticised masculinity back to a generation of young men alienated from it in their own lives – it’s the supplicatory, nerdish and slightly masochistic perspective of the wannabe. Take Ritchie’s idolatrous, near-erotic camera-worship of “hard man” Vinnie Jones. The most memorable scene in Lock, Stock features Vinnie repeatedly slamming a car door on a man’s head in slow motion to uplifting music. The power of this religiously intense scene stems from the way that much of it is shot from the point of view of the victim – Ritchie and the audience are looking up admiringly at Vinnie “doing his nut”. It’s a moment which Jean Genet could have directed.
Ritchie can be touchy about his image. Asked a few worshipful questions recently about his taste in clothes by FHM, he became a tad defensive, spraying about the words “fruity”, “queeny”, “f—ing fruit-tree” and “mincey”, and declaring that he would be happiest “in a gladiator outfit” (a leather skirt?).
But then, Ritchie’s disavowal is deep-rooted. Though he now denies claiming anything of the sort, Ritchie is famously said to have reinvented and relocated his past: “I’ve lived in the East End for 30 years,” he was quoted as saying last year. “I’ve been in a load of mess-ups … I’ve been poor all of my life …” It was subsequently revealed that he spent much of his childhood at Loton Park, the 17th- century home of his baronet stepfather. Coming from this background, Ritchie understands that “street” is sexy – and that, conversely, middle-class balls are “mincey faggot balls”. “They’re poofs. Soft as shite … faggots” is the verdict of one of Ritchie’s crims in Lock, Stock on the clownish public-schoolboy ganja growers – who are humiliated and dispensed with early on in the film.
It’s not just the nice middle-class boys, though. In a post-feminist era, most men are wondering what a masculine world might look like. As Brad Pitt puts it in another homo-hetero movie, Fight Club: “We’re a generation of men raised by women. Maybe another woman isn’t what we need.” (Appropriately enough, Pitt makes an appearance in Snatch, reprising his Fight Club role as a bare-knuckle fighter.) No wonder a generation of boys is so interested in seeing “big brave balls” at the cinema.
But this fascination doesn’t come without its own anxieties. And, ironically, it’s the squeamishness of Ritchie in particular – and homoheteros in general – about actual homosexuality that gives the lie to their lowlife fantasies. In Lock, Stock, one of the lads explains the perfect scam: place an ad for “Arse Ticklers Faggot Fan Club anal-intruding dildos” in gay magazines, and wait for the cheques to roll in. Then, send out letters saying that you’re out of stock and enclose a cheque stamped “Arse Ticklers Faggot Fan Club”. “Not a single soul will cash it!” we’re told. (Obviously Ritchie didn’t know many fags when he wrote that.) It could be said that Ritchie and lad culture have been running that scam ever since the appearance of Lock, Stock – selling us a promise of something titillating that never quite arrives.
All in all, it seems both a paradox and entirely apt that big brave ball-fixated Ritchie lives with the ultimate gay icon: a woman whom many men would consider to be the biggest ball-buster in the world; an older partner whose own success and fame easily dwarfs his. But watching Lock, Stock, Snatch et al, maybe Ritchie’s interest in Madonna isn’t so surprising. As he puts it himself: “I like her, because she’s ballsy”.
Copyright Mark Simpson 2008
This essay is collected in Sex Terror: Erotic Misadventures in Pop Culture