Tuesday 27 July 2010

Gay jokes and carry-on commentating...

Before the left gets too precious about David Davis' reported comments on the 'brokeback coalition', we should give our sluggish short-term memories something of a workout. Erudite and edifying though schoolyard slurs of this kind may be, they are neither new nor exclusive to the right.
Remember Harriet Harman's cheeky suggestion, in her first speech as leader of the opposition, that “while the happy couple are enjoying the thrill of the rose garden, the in-laws are saying that they are just not right for each other”? Remember all those headlines about ‘a very civil partnership’ and ‘a man-date to govern’? Playground gay jokes have been employed across the political spectrum to cast aspersions on the new government from day one.
It’s a troubling trend, and not just because of the obvious problems with equating male homosexuality, even in jest, with something the press and politicians find unnatural, suspicious and uncomfortable. The conceit is dazzling in its banality, substituting genuine political analysis for sniggering dick-jokes: it’s carry-on commentating, and it manages to belittle all parties involved whilst failing to enlighten us one iota about the reasons for the fractures already emerging in the new government.
The discomfort underlying all the ‘Eton fag’ and ‘brokeback partnership’ catcalls is multiferous, but it’s hard not to get the impression that a coalition government is somehow not daddy enough for us: that political partnerships and electoral reform are somehow not manly enough for the tough, thrusting, winner-takes-all tradition of British politics. And as any thirteen-year-old boy can tell you, anything with the slightest hint of hetero-abnormality is gay, and gay is, like, completely rubbish. Obviously.
There is substantial historical precedent for homosexual inference as a form of satire: from Tacitus to the Earl of Rochester the suggestion has implied decadence, depravity and dodgy politics. In 1791, at the height of the French revolution, an anonymous French writer circulated the scandalous "Memoirs of Antonina: Displying the Private intrigues and Uncommon Passions...of Great Persons," a burlesque intended to mock the court of Louis XVI by implying that Marie Antoinette was an Indigo-Girls-listening, sandal-wearing, alfalfa-sprout-eating lesbian, or 'tribade' in the language of the day. 'Antonina' was genuinely subversive in a way that contemporary ‘brokeback coalition’ jokes are not, because at the time popular derision of the monarchy was a serious and dangerous undertaking. Nonetheless, it has always been easier to chuckle about the gays than to actually engage with the shortfalls of any particular government.
There is much to criticise about this coalition, not least the fact that ultimately, it’s the vulnerable, the difficult and the poor whom our new leaders are busy screwing, not each other. In this context, knob jokes are both offensive and unhelpful – although the particular notion of a ‘brokeback coalition’ is more apt that David Davis or John Redwood might realise.
The film ‘Brokeback Mountain’ is not, as has been intimated, the simple tale of a cosy gay relationship, but the story of a love affair between two men from deeply conservative backgrounds, plagued by insecurity and doubt and frightened of retribution from their communities. The movie ends in violence, disappointment and betrayal. Many members of the press and political class seem to be fostering a hope that this government will end the same way – but for those of us who happen to prefer gay sex to slashing the welfare state, the prospect of another four years of schoolyard homophobia is a grim one.


  1. I agree that using 'gay' as an insult or as shorthand for anything short of the supposed masculine norm is damaging. A lot of the time people don't notice they've done it but 13-year-old me noticed every time. It doesn't affect me now but it did then, not so much by hurting my feelings, but by gradually cementing the impression that to find boys attractive was wrong and other.

    That said, I had no problem at all with the 'happy couple in the rose garden' stuff. I thought it was a response to the presentation being so cosy and faux-idyllic. I never thought that the subtext was anything more sinister.

    The Brokeback coalition comment is a bit different... though frankly I suspect the phrase is used more for the suggestion of the coalition being broken than anything more subtle.

  2. No comments? How can this be?

    I wanted to ask what you thought about the suggestion that these gay 'jokes' are not so much indicative of homophobia per se (though they are that as well), but about the use of sexualisation to undermine their credibility. As is so often done to women.

  3. I hate to say it, but I laughed at the 'brokeback coalition' joke. Yeah, there were a lot of comments about 'civil partnerships' and all that, but there were also jokes about Mr & Mrs, them being a nice couple, and marriage in general - all very straight. Me thinks the reason the 'gay-joke' thing became prominent is that Messers Cameron and Clegg look, dress and sound very much alike. If there had been a Labour-LibDem coalition, I don't think there would have been any similar jokes about Brown & Clegg (although there might've been along father-and-child lines).

    Anyways, not sure what my point is, other than to admit I couldn't help but laugh at the David Davis line (although I do loathe him).

  4. Ooooo! Get her the swish bish! Scratch 'er eyes out why don't you? Behave yourself, Duckie.

  5. Dandelion - I like that point you made. I think that's a distinct possibility.

    Of course, going by playground rules, it's a prerequisite for insults that everything must be couched in terms of gayness or womanliness. Heterosexual maleness is only used as an insult against women, because it's such a crime to step out of your 1950's gender roles.

    Politicians and talking heads are pretty disgusting to me whenever they get into fights with each other because they *always* revert back to playground rules for their insults. All they end up doing is reinforcing gender roles, insulting the LGBT community, and making it look like our countries are run by the same 13 year olds that troll the WoW forums and 4chan. No wait, those kids are more sophisticated.

    Penny - I doubt anyone else will get this, but you inadvertently made a (harmless) gay joke yourself in that last sentence. Slashing refers to (sexually) pairing up two male characters in fan-fiction. ;)

  6. I'm worried that political satire will be nothing more than a string of gay jokes, which apart from anything else will detract from real reasons to take the piss out of the government. A bit like when Bush was president and the best anyone could come up with was "he's not very good at public speaking."

  7. @Z.E. Accordino- one of the imageboards actually has a whole thread about slashing politicians. In the fanfic sense.

    ... the writers on that particular board display a remarkable sense of political awareness, and at the same time a relentless quest to show us gay sex scenes in at least six major seats of government across the world. You get detailed arguments about the benefits and problems of welfare reform, before Clegg and Cameron then degenerate into hatesex.

    It seems a much healthier way to get the obsession with homosexuality out and dealt with than constantly seeing snide remarks in newspapers and poor jokes on Have I Got News For You.

  8. @Anonymous - Oh my god, I hate Real Person Slash but that sounds so absolutely hilarious! Like crack!fic on crack.

    Actually I think that might be a fantastic deterrent against politicians making gay jokes. All the fanfic writers out there should ban together and write atrocious slash fic of all the politicians and media creeps any time they make a nasty gay slur, then publicize the hell out of their stories. That reminds me of the horrible song I inspired my friend to record about Jack Chick and Fred Phelps banging each other. :3

  9. Honestly this coalition could be better described as "The Odd Couple" with Cameron as Walther Matheu and Jack Lemmon as the other chap Clegg.The fact that Davis used an openly, but at the same time in the closet, gay example to describe this partnership marks him out as a homophobic fuckwit.

  10. Queen Bitchy Moonglow Unrepentent Horn2 August 2010 at 08:15

    What's wrong with cracking a joke or two about homosexuals? They don't call us "gay" for nothing you know!

  11. I prefer the gay jokes when they come from the gays themselves really. More graphic.



  12. Excellent article. The flipside of this that heteronormative masculine discourse has throughout history been used to exalt and legitimate authoritarian government - ie analogies between government and fatherhood.

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