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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Guest Post: Gay Imagery

Another thought-provoking essay by my truckbuddy Tim in Spain:

GAY IMAGERY – Eye candy or bad for our health?

Well, it’s nice to be back after a long vacation. Russ was hoping I would have some more Universal Truths for you when I returned, but in 4 weeks I didn’t think about them once! What I did do when I got home was to check out my favourite blogs and cruise the imagery, and you know what? I was disappointed, and actually somewhat irritated with the pictures I found, like those below, for example. I'll explain what I mean as we go along.

The Salacious Look. This sort of ‘knowing’ look from the model is becoming very popular at the moment, but at who’s expense? The guy, like most models, well at least 9 out of 10, is probably straight, but he knows who his audience is. Look at his eyes–he’s saying, “Look at me, I’m your fantasy, but you can’t have me. If I lick my pit like this it will turn you on, but you still can’t have me.” It’s us, the viewers, who are being manipulated here: the image is a manufactured tease, and there are plenty more like it.

The Chocolate Box Fantasy. Another popular style, the fantasy couple, photo shopped and air-brushed to the point of making a sterile image that is devoid of any real feeling or affection–“Chocolate Box” looks that are not even chocolate, just 100% sugar. I’m not sure what this picture is meant to portray, the bonds of love perhaps? But that’s not reflected in their expressions. Images like this rot your mind, just like sugar rots your teeth–it’s just pap!

Artsy Fartsy. The classical look, like black & white, has long been used to justify images of naked men as “art.” But his image just doesn’t cut the mustard. The guy is far too stocky and muscular to be considered “classically” proportioned. He’s cute, but our brawny friend is built more like a brick outhouse than Michelangelo’s’ David or a classical Greek youth. He’s got a great body, but the context is all wrong. In real life you just know he wouldn’t be seen dead in 10 yards of red voile! This isn’t art, although it pretends to be. He is prostituting himself for the sake of gay imagery, and we, as the intended market, have to accept some responsibility for that.

And it’s not just the fantasy image that can be bad for us. Let’s consider something to do with real life, images of the Gay Family. Here’s Ricky Martin, Carlos, and the kids:

This is a great image; the love and affection shine out. But images of gay families can be fraught with problems; it works here because they are all almost unbelievably cute. Put out an image of a less attractive or older couple with children, and it could look like something sinister. I know we can’t all look like Ricky, but you know what I mean; people who are not sympathetic to gay imagery will readily jump to the wrong conclusion. We don’t want to look like someone out grooming! So well done to Amtrak, whose image of a gay family in a recent ad campaign got it just about right in my view. A sensible spread of ages, and not too cute to be unbelievable.

And talking of adverts, just look at this one. I should say it’s French, so it’s quirky, but not hilariously so!

I really don’t know what to make of this ad. Superficially it’s amusing, but the human partner is a stereotypical advertising gay hunk (we all wish), and a cat with chiselled pecs and a six-pack! What are we meant to think of that (and if anyone says “turned on” that’s the WRONG answer!) Even for the quirky French this ad was deemed too much, and it was pulled shortly after release, as being “too polemic” which after I looked it up, seemed very apposite. Remember guys, these ads are being aimed at us. This is what the ad men think we gay men like!

Now let’s get on to the thorny problem of how we portray ourselves in public, specifically our image at Gay Pride marches:

This image is about as far as I suspect Russ will allow me to go, although last week’s “Waitin’ for the Weekend” was pretty racy! There are plenty more Pride images out there, more explicit, and not “blurred”! OK, the guys are happy, they are expressing their sexuality to the utmost, so far so good, but naked? NO, not in public!

Pride marches demonstrate lots of positive things about our community, and have served us well as a wake-up call to those who are too passive, or uninformed. They also provide a point of contact with the straight community, whose help and support we also continue to need. The downside is that it also provides those who do not share our views, or who may be ambivalent to our cause, with ammunition with which to demonstrate how depraved, debauched, etc., etc., gays are. Why provide the ammunition ourselves? Why let our team down with such ill considered imagery? Come on guys: march with some pride, present an image that will win support, not lose it. Have fun, dress up, dress down, but at the end of the day if you’re marching in public, keep it in your pants. It’s not big, and it’s not clever!

Finally let’s have a look at self-image. How do you want to look, and how can that be affected by gay imagery? So this bit’s about me, sorry!

This photo was taken on my 60th, it’s a raw image, not doctored (my partner is many things, but “professional photographer” is not one of them). That’s me on the left, no, the other left, concentrate! You know how you have a mental image of your self, how, in your mind you are a certain age? Well, in my mind I have been aged somewhere between 40 and 50 for many years. Many of my friends are younger than me, and you can delude yourself into thinking you are just like them, so my own self-image has not lagged far behind. Looking at all the young, virile, gay imagery in the blogosphere only served to reinforce my mind’s eye view, that I too, was similarly young and relatively handsome. The images from my birthday therefore came as a rude awakening. There I was, with crow’s feet, big nose, bags under the eyes, suddenly confronted with the reality of my age. Although I’m laughing, hale and hearty, if you look closer it’s easy to trace the tracks of my tears. Russ will confirm from our correspondence at the time that I had a period of melancholy shortly after my birthday, and these photos (there are more, worse!) were a contributory factor to my blues. Well, post-vacation I was laid up sick, flat on my back for a week, during which time I didn’t shave and so grew a beard. Here we are with a self-portrait.

And you know what? I think it’s great! My self-image has readjusted and I’m learning to accept I’m as old as I am. Plus I’m beginning to understand the whole gay “bear” thing at last. It gives my round “Charlie Brown” face more length, and so makes my ears and nose proportionally smaller. It also helps hide some of the additional chins, and IMHO gives me a more mature look that can cope with crow’s feet and bags! Even better, this version is almost completely white, previous beards having ranged from ginger to salt and pepper, so now it matches my chest hair, win-win! Image and self-esteem restored. So you see, your own image can say a lot more about you than just what you see in the photo, it can help your mind’s eye view as well, and that’s good for your health. BTW, does anyone want to hook up with a “Polar” “bear”?

That just about completes this ramble. I’m not advocating censorship or codes of practice, God forbid, and I appreciate that fantasy images can be source of relaxation and exercise for the imagination, but as we speak the Gay movement in the USA and Europe is maturing from adolescence to manhood. I believe that now is the time when we need to take more ownership of our communities’ imagery and to show more responsibility in our use of gay imagery, particularly when dealing with the straight community. And if you’re anti-assimilation sorry, you’re WRONG. We have campaigned to be accepted as normal, not to be treated as a special case! Remember, with gay imagery, just like candy, too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Hey whad’ya know, there was a Universal Truth in there after all!


Davis said...

Tim, that's a great piece - as a man of a certain age I can emphasize! Thanks.

Tim said...

Davis - Glad it struck a chord, it's not always easy coming to terms with the ageing process is it? Tim

Davis said...

It's a constant challenge, but a challenge well met.

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