Friday, August 5, 2011

Queerness in Pre-Code Hollywood

I am still coming down from my summer course-trying to process everything I absorbed in an intense month-long class.

One thing I’ve become very interested in recently is Queer Theory. I don’t remember learning much about it in my undergraduate classes- but maybe that’s b/c that was at least six years ago and I was struggling with other theories at the time (reading Derrida for the first time almost killed me.) It didn’t come up a whole lot in my graduate history courses, only in the form of the LGBT movement and how it developed out of Second Wave feminism. When I started my current degree program, they sky opened up and let loose, especially when my nightmare-inducing lit crit presentation was due.

But not long ago I started becoming really interested in pre-code Hollywood. It started, of course, with my adoration for Clark Gable, and I was trying to find some of his earliest films to watch.

 Isn’t he dreamy?!

I ended up ordering Night Nurse from Netflix, and the DVD included a documentary about pre-code movies and all the awesome stuff they had in them. . .all the awesome stuff that the Hayes Office demanded be removed from films post 1934. Aside from references to drugs, pre-marital sex, child abuse, and some men punching women (awesome in movies for action and drama, but not awesome in real life obviously) there were references to gay culture and lifestyles.

Now, these movies weren’t celebrating it- it is true that they used it as a form of comic relief. For example, a man and a woman are dancing. A handsome man approaches the couple, and asks if he may cut in. Then, he dances away in the arms of the man and the woman is left standing there, befuddled.

It was not a deep examination of gender or sexuality, it was a cheap laugh. But when the Hayes office began censoring films in the mid 1930’s, there weren’t references like that allowed anymore. And I am left wondering which one is worse- using it a source of humor, or refusing to acknowledge that it exists? I don’t have an answer- I am actually wondering.

The Hollywood censorship ended up crumbling in the late 1960’s- or did it?

Last week, I was watching one of my favorite ‘90’s childhood’ movies Now and Then. (Devon Sawa was OK, but I still prefer Clark Gable.) I went to Internet Movie Database to look up trivia on it, since I cannot watch any movie anymore w/o doing that, and I read that Rosie O’Donnell was upset with how her character was treated. Supposedly, the character of Roberta was supposed to be portrayed as a lesbian, but at the last minute a line was looped in that says “she lives in sin with her boyfriend”. First of all, I disagree that living with a boyfriend is a “sin”- am I going to end up in Hell because I share my life and home with my beloved E? But getting back to the main point- this is an example of how we still censor children from anything that’s not “normal” – whatever normal means.

I had always assumed that because I didn’t know what Queer Theory was that I had never been exposed to it before- and it turns out that it’s all around, I just never recognized it.

**By the way, I am fully aware that my long-time crush on Clark is strange. I am lusting after the same man my grandmother did when she saw Gone with the Wind seven times in the theater. And yes, he was dead for 22 years before I was even born- that is a minor inconvenience, but it does not detract from my devotion.

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