Guest Post By @How_Upsetting The Gay 90s* Revisited
What an utterly bizarre article. It’s all over the place. There’s no coherent argument and it grasps around blindly trying to create one.
Why does it suddenly narrow its focus from ‘rock and pop’ to a very particular brand of mainstream rock to ‘prove’ its argument that gay culture is no longer important? Why ignore the omnipresent cross-pollination in the charts which makes such distinctions increasingly irrelevant? Why ignore a massive band like Coldplay, ‘gay-friendly’ in everything from their interviews to the dance-influences on their latest album (not to mention their duet with Rihanna)? Why ignore a band like Foo Fighters making homoerotic videos and playing protest gigs against the Westboro Baptist Church? Why ignore frontmen like Adam Levine and Alex Turner actively courting a pin-up status which goes well beyond a heterosexual audience? Even on points quite fundamental to its ‘point’, such as the rise and influence of Britpop, it is completely hopeless. It’s easy to argue that a particular brand of masculinity took hold if you focus on Oasis and their ilk. It’s not so straightforward (pun intended) if you look at peers such as Pulp, Suede and Blur – or Manic Street Preachers, who are useful to the argument in the pre-Britpop period but somehow disappear from it when they were at their commercial peak and Nicky Wire was playing stadiums wearing dresses.
The article doesn’t even seem to have any coherent sense of what it means by ‘gay culture’, leading it to take the patronising (and undoubtedly offensive, to some) viewpoint that any influence exerted by anyone gay or anything outwith a narrow notion of masculinity falls under its umbrella. I’m guessing people like Simon Fowler of Ocean Colour Scene aren’t the right kind of ‘gay’, because it’s made pretty clear that ‘gay culture’ and ‘prosaic’ rock cannot be one and the same. Even in its glib dismissal of Gaga and co as irrelevant to its point it is pushing a particular idea of ‘rock’ and a particular brand of ‘heterosexuality’, creating a space so narrow that it’s impossible to attempt any wider inferences from it (though this doesn’t stop the author trying).
The treatment of homosexuality is a quintessentially trite liberal one – it is accorded the value of being inherently good and constrasted with a backwards heterosexuality. It strikes me that many of the positive qualities attributed to ‘gay culture’ relate to the hollow nostalgia for a ‘gay community’ which I wrote about a few weeks ago. The idea that gay = exciting, underground, pioneering, fearless etc is not something that anyone would possibly advance if they looked at Britain today, where a gay person is just as likely to be sitting in watching ‘Borgen’ with their partner on a Saturday night as anybody else (and anyone who thinks homosexuality and conservatism can’t coexist needs to get out more). Instead, the article treats ‘gay’ as an exciting flirtation, a ‘bit of rough’ to make the banality of the ‘normal’ more interesting. The writer comes across as Edina in ‘Absolutely Fabulous’, coaxing rock music to ‘please be gay, there must be something interesting about you!’
Then, to top off the sense of quite idiotic tokenism, we’re invited towards the end to consider that rock is currently ‘prosaic’ because of “the decline in tolerance of homosexuality among teenagers.” To say that this is stretching is quite an understatement. The article hasn’t shown that rock is particularly more ‘prosaic’. It also makes no effort to show that teenagers are more homophobic beyond some vague reference to a survey finding that kids hear homophobic insults. Does that happen more or less than it did 20 years ago? We have no idea. We have no idea who paid for the survey (I’m guessing it was Stonewall) or how it was conducted. We have no idea of what definitions were used. It’s difficult to even understand what point is being made. Is the suggestion that a perceived lack of ‘gayness’ in rock is making kids homophobic or is it that homophobic kids are driving on a ‘straight’ rock market? I doubt even the author knows, because the whole thing is a complete mess. It’s taken for granted that we’ll accept that things are worse for gays now than they were before and that we’ll think bands like Oasis are responsible in part.
Aside from its troubling and absurdly reductive (hooray!) treatment of sexuality and masculinity, this last point and aforementioned dismissal of Gaga illustrates another strong undercurrent to the article – the ‘inverted snobbery’ which is increasingly aimed at particular kinds of guitar bands and ‘traditional’ acts. Oasis and co are pretty much labelled as homophobic and oppressive for no apparent reason other than not embracing an ostentatious, flamboyant aesthetic. The separation of pop from this brand of rock pushes the line beloved of many pop fans – pop = progressive and radical, guitar music = conservative and regressive. It’s easy to see how this relates to my earlier point re: ‘gay is good’. The article supposes that, as a gay man, I would gravitate towards Gaga over Oasis. I imagine the author couldn’t begin to comprehend that many gay people have problems with the neat branding of their identity which his take relies on, just as he couldn’t comprehend that gay people can and do like Oasis. Because, you know, being gay doesn’t automatically take over your critical faculties and suddenly make you obsessed with only listening to ‘high-camp’ pop which assures you that it’s down with the gays. Yet the article is clearly aimed at a straight audience, implicitly assuming that gay people won’t really care cos they’ll all be off listening to something else anyway. A gay audience is entirely absent from an article about gay pop.
Good going, Guardian!