03 August 2010

My Bestest Bum-Chum Nick and His Soft, Soft Mouth

Ok, so I don't want to hammer this "feminists/gays/Muslims/[insert put-upon minority group] don't get jokes" meme, but I have to take issue with Laurie Pennie's latest-but-one. It's not so much a case of humourlessness, or not getting jokes, nor is it at all limited to any of those groups, but a very general failure by most people who analyse the politics of jokes to actually get to their message, or to separate the message from whether it's actually funny.

Anyway, Laurie takes issue with the nudges, winks and titters over the Con-Dem coalition, specifically the implication of David Cameron tenderly pushing his engorged penis up Nick Clegg's gently dilating anal opening. She largely sees the assorted innuendos as homophobic, saying:
Playground gay jokes have been employed across the political spectrum to cast aspersions on the new government from day one.
[...]
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 while 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 multifarious, 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. As any 13-year-old boy can tell you, anything with the slightest hint of hetero-abnormality is gay, and gay is, like, completely rubbish. Obviously.
The thing is, the theme of effeminacy doesn't seem to have come up much. The butt of this joke is not that they're gay, or a gay couple, it's that they're rather a mismatched gay couple. They're also really, really similar in appearance, background and demeanour, so the idea of them snogging another version of themselves is quite funny, especially since I'm pretty sure Dave would if he got the chance. Also, does anyone actually need enlightening about how a Tory/Lib-Dem coalition sank like a fucking rock?

There is a reason that the joke has to single out gays, and that's that it can only work because we know it not to be true. A heterosexual man and a woman as coalition partners wouldn't attract the same jokes because the jokes could quite feasibly be serious speculation, and therefore not jokes. Two heterosexual men probably aren't going to get together. Most importantly, the joke doesn't hinge on the idea that gayerism isn't normal, but on the idea that it is. Sure, it's nowhere near as normal as normal sex, but it's a normal thing that normally happens in normal life, just not necessarily between fully normal people leading fully normal lives. Fact is, we have got used to them being here and queer, even if that makes some of us even angrier.

Modern gay jokes are weird, anyway. Male characters copulating seems to be the punchline in an awful lot of Family Guy gags, and I'm not sure if Drawn Together even has any other plot devices. But just pointing at man-sex and tittering has just lost its punch. What both programmes have in common is that one, if not both, eager participants are clearly straight. The deviation we're meant to laugh at isn't from the societal norm of heterosexuality, but from the character's personal norm of heterosexuality and the societal norm of picking one or the other and sticking to it.

We're now at the point where homoeroticism is a - fuck it - the standard pisstake explanation for masculine closeness. Bush and Blair, Tim and Mike, Bert and Ernie (even though lovers tend not to sleep in separate beds), Sam and Frodo (even though it's clearly the reclusive old queen Bilbo and his "favourite nephew"). Any friendly relationship that gets too close to be normal gets upgraded to a sexual one, where that kind of closeness can be normal. What we shy away from is not two men loving each other and fucking, but two men loving each other and not fucking. Normalisation does take place, and I'm still confused as to why we're so threatened by fully-clothed masculine closeness, but homosexuality (or maybe just sexuality in general) seems more like a tool here than a threat.

Red hot Cameron-on-Clegg action isn't funny because poofs are funny, or a dismissal of their actual political relationship. It's funny because irresistible sexual desire is actually a far more plausible explanation than any political one for why either would go near the other, let alone form a government. It's also great gross-out humour, not because two men together is gross, but because these two men together is completely fucking rank. Polished, rubbery, pristine-haired, used-car salesman RANK.

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