Why is Britain’s best-selling, sauciest tabloid so unsure of its sexuality?
by Mark Simpson, the Guardian (August 24, 2007)
The Sun’s TV critic Ally Ross is an unhappy camper. You see, he’s always bitching about TV being ‘too gay’. Which is a rather peculiar thing for a TV critic to complain about. Perhaps his dad wanted him to be a (much less well paid) sports writer.
Last Friday, he proved what a pugilist he is by laying into the recently launched ITV Anthony Cotton daytime chat show, and by attacking all things poovey on telly. He concluded with his 0ver-familiar refrain: ‘TV is way too camp, i.e. gay and rubbish, for its own good’. At the end of a column simply chocka with catty clawings and rubbish campery.
In fact, so keen is big butch Ross (who likes to pose as the Test Card Girl above his byline) to straighten out telly and get rid of gays and gayness, in an unrelated piece about Big Brother on the same page, recounting how one male contestant was lovingly describing women as ‘tits, baps, breasts, erm, womb people’, he interrupts this red-blooded reverie with: ‘cuts to Gerry (the gay Greek contestant) fantasising about the Greek Army.’ Thanks for that straight thought, Ally.
Actually, I agree. TV is too ‘gay’ and camp and rubbish. But so are you, Ally dearie. And so, these days, is the Sun. Though, like its TV critic, it seems rather confused and conflicted.
In the same issue, readers were treated to another gratuitous ‘gay’ fantasy titled ‘Brokeback Putin’ – a spread of shirtless snaps of Russian President Vladimir Putin and (fully clothed) Prince Albert of Monaco on a blokey fishing holiday, complete with ‘camp’ captions that try to portray him as homo (and therefore ridiculous and impotent): ‘Oooh Vlad, I’ve got a tiddler’ ‘Here let me hold it Albert’. Er, calm down will you? They’re just fishing.
The Sun’s breathless, squealing addiction to rubbish, dated campery – and its campaign to convince us all that ‘camp’ is exactly the same thing as ‘gay’ and that of course male homosexuality is a form of emasculation – is literally perverse. Even more than most papers, the Sun is desperate to attract young readers – readers who don’t share that early 1970s worldview, not least because they weren’t even born in the 1970s. Headlines like “Hello Sailor!”, the mocking front page that greeted the Navy’s recent decision to actively recruit gays and lesbians, are limp Dick Emery imitations that no one under forty-five is going to get. In the same pink and fluffy Sun-speak vein, any out gay male celebrity, regardless of their demeanour, is instantly given a new first name – ‘Camp’.
Then there’s Sun gossip columnist Victoria Newton’s creepy endless ‘Gay-O-Meter’ obsession with comedian David Walliams. Every time he’s photographed socialising with a woman the meter reads STRAIGHT (coloured blue). Every time he’s photographed with a bloke it goes into GAY (coloured pink). I thought that the whole point of gossip columnists was that they got out more.
But hang on a minute. Isn’t socialising with women girly and ‘gay’? Isn’t drinking with your male mates (or, for that matter, going fishing) something that a proper bloke is supposed to do? Isn’t the Sun actually queering things rather than straightening them out?
In fact, at the risk of it exploding in your face, that Gay-O-Meter should be turned on the Sun itself – a newspaper that is nowadays just a daily edition of girly gossip rag Heat magazine with some news about especially vain celebrities who happen to play sport at the back. A recent Sun item revealed how Man United were remodelling their player’s changing rooms and lockers to ‘accomodate their manbags’ which apparently are full of ‘more cosmetics than their WAGs’.
There is though a difference between Heat magazine and the Sun: there’s much more queer sex in the Sun. Point the Gay-O-Meter, if you dare, at the Sun’s agony aunt section with its daily ‘lesbian lust’ confessions and ‘am I gay?’ letters (not written, I hasten to add, by their TV critic). Illustrated with photo-porn novel strips of naked women and men with equally desirable, equally undressed bodies getting into messy love triangles and even messier threesomes of every possible permutation. Or all those ‘Footie Studs in Sordid Roasting Vid Scandal!’ (see centre pages for full colour spread) news stories.
The Sun is obsessed with ‘camp’ and ‘gayness’ for the same reason telly is – because popular culture is. The reason it’s so conflicted and confused is partly because of its own very recent past as an out-and-out queerbashing daily, and partly because the expensively educated people who now edit the Sun, most of whom I’m sure have lots of gay friends and even more camp straight friends, are worried about being sussed by the ‘chav’ readers they condescend to (‘chav’ is a favourite Sun word). It doesn’t appear to occur to them that their readers’ attitudes might have changed more than their own.
Then again, perhaps the Sun is so confused because it’s being doing too much spinning around in sequins. I can reveal that according to ‘sources close to the Sun’ they recently all went on a ‘team-building’ weekend in some camp seaside resort. The team-building task? Ballroom dancing.
I wonder if their TV critic’s team won?