Sunday, June 10, 2012

The new bogeyman

I happened to watch two Hollywood blockbusters in the last month, and couldn't help but notice how prominent homophobia is in both The Avengers and Prometheus.

In Prometheus, two men venture out to explore a part of the unknown planet they have just landed on dressed in the standard protective wear. Their supervisor, clearly not thrilled with the situation, advises that they 'try not to bugger each other,' which works as a portent if you're paying attention to the symbolism of what comes next.

The two men explore in the darkness until, suddenly, an off-white, phallic-like organism (and it's hard to overstate how penis-like it is) shoots up from a mysterious ebony puddle to monopolise their attention. One of the men is all smiles and curiosity, stepping forward to kneel down, speaking to the being and eventually trying to touch it with his hand in the spirit of friendly exploration, while the other urges caution as he hangs back. This when the erect member alien life form breaks into action, coiling around the limb of the human, and growing longer, thicker and more monstrous by the second. The victim's arm is broken, and when the onlooker tries to cut the organism it gets him too. Eventually both men meet a grisly end when the organism's head buries itself deep into their mouths (only one of their deaths is shown). So there you have it, folks: death by anal sex, where the oral cavity is the more visually acceptable (and less literal) one to penetrate, but the reference to 'buggery' suggests another.

The Avengers is a lot more tame by comparison, even though you could argue that there is a phallic-style monster to contend with in the New York City battle as well... but mostly I was scratching my head at the witty dialogue, such as:

Steve Rogers: We have orders, we should follow them.
Tony Stark: Following's not really my style.

Steve Rogers: And you're all about style, aren't you?

Tony Stark: Of the people in this room, which one is a) wearing a spangly outfit, and b) not of use?


There is a quest to single out the behaviour which can be perceived to represent the highest degree of 'gayness'. Steve is punished by having no comeback and wearing a miffed expression. It should be noted that both of these heroic characters wear non-neutral, shimmery eyeliner at some point, with Steve in lavender and Tony in pale blue. What this movie offers in innovation of Desirable Male presentation it punishes with self-scrutiny of the homophobic kind.

The 'people in the room' are almost all male, and most aren't given a female love interest. They take a keen, almost invasive interest in each others' activities (especially when they're tearing each other apart, verbally or physically). It is then a fitting climax in Whedon's world that when Tony regains consciousness after exerting great effort to save the world, and finds himself surrounded by men hovering over him, his first words are something like: Please tell me nobody just kissed me.

From an optimistic view, we can call it progress that fear of homosexuality is becoming so topical. When I was growing up, homosexuality wasn't given much thought in the movies I consumed, but times have changed. These days, there are a lot more gay role models, laws have been amended to allow homosexual couples the right to marry or adopt children, and people who would have never considered homosexual attraction a decade or two ago are now doing so quite fearfully.

I'm confident that, in another decade, we will be seeing homosexual themes explored in a more loving and accepting manner. Those of us who already have homosexuality within our comfort zones are given the task of helping out the rest of the world, which will warm to our wisdom, sooner or later.

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