“Boys Beware”: How to spot a homo – Visual Propaganda in the 1960s

The other day I saw a video called “Boys Beware” in a class.  No, this isn’t some film warning the happy homo about the perils of too much lip gloss, or alerting you to the dangers of one too many nights down the disco, but a rather nasty movie from 1961 about male homosexuals and how evil they are.  I post about it here because it’s an interesting visual piece that still seems uncomfortably topical as well.  Its an interesting foray into the sorts of propaganda movies that were being peddled by governments of the time about all sorts of “social evils”, but it’s of particular relevance to this blog with its bent towards LGBTQ issues.  Also, with all the rhetoric about homosexuality in the news it does seems that these kind of things are always relevant.  Here’s the movie.  Grab a glass of wine and prepared to be horrified.

So what are some of the issues then with a movie like this?  Well, there are clearly many and probably too many to list here but how about we start with the whole issue of presenting homosexuality as some sort of sickness and the fact that the movie states this in a pejorative way.  Ralph, our first offender, suffers from this sickness, we are told.  Yes, I’m aware that homosexuality was declassified (if that’s an appropriate term) as a mental illness in around 1973, but this movie puts it across in a such a specific and dangerous way here.  If you have watched the  film you’ll remember Ralph and know what I mean.  He’s portrayed as the creepy dude with the receding hair and the porn ‘stache, who told off colour jokes and showed the kid porno playing cards.  Get my drift?  This movie sets up the negative stereotypes right from the get go.  Ralph has a sickness of the mind, you see.  A sickness that makes him “demand” intimate relationship with members of their own sex.  Don’t you just love the use of the word demand in this context?

Once the police get wind of all this and Ralph is (presumably) sent off to the slammer, Jimmy gets probation.  Why Jimmy gets punished isn’t clear in the video.  Maybe as some sort of terror tactic I guess.  But no matter.  Next up is MURDER in our little cautionary tale.  Murder by a homo in a bow tie no less.  The bow tie crops up a couple of times and is clearly some sort of signifier, obviously an easy way to spot your local queer if you are in the know.  We see it in the next scene when a homosexual lures a newspaper boy into his car.  Off he goes, saved only by a quick witted friend and a lady who is watering her garden in an outstanding outfit and glorious heels.

And so it goes on.  We get the warnings about strangers, which I don’t think anyone would disagree with, but it’s quickly followed up with a comment about how you never know when the “homosexual may be about, and that he may appear normal”. This is finally finished up with another quick jab about mental illness.  Because their aren’t any crazy straight people out there, are there?  Yes, there have clearly been awful cases of nut job homosexuals kidnapping and killing kids.  But there have been plenty of straight people doing that too, but the police weren’t making hatchet job propaganda movies like these about Auntie Ethel nabbing kids from the park.

It’s of course easy to poke holes in a movie like this.  Propaganda movies are pieces of their time and one would hope that the world might just be a little more enlightened now.  A quick look at the comments on the YouTube page that this is pulled from though suggests that this may not be that case, and that visual propaganda like this is having the same effect as before.  That’s a little worrying to say the least.  The message of taking care of kids is always a good one of course, but there is a huge difference between sexual predators, pedophilia, and homosexuality a difference that this film intentionally and misleadingly chooses to, at best, blur or, at worst, conceal.  That’s one of the many reasons why movies like this were, and still are, so problematic.  It also goes to show why these movies were so successful in their day.

These so called “educational movies” are designed to deliver short, concise, and to the point messages.  Despite my feelings about content and the icky messaging, one can’t argue with the fact that it does its job well, however unsavoury the concept and execution may be.  It’s certainly effective and no doubt scared the shit out of lots of kids who were made to watch it.  It probably also created a whole new breed of homophobes and, most likely, sadly caused the victimization of many gay men as well.  But clearly the people who made this piece didn’t care about that at all.

So, dear reader, I turn this one over to you.  Have something to say about this?  If so, then feel free to sound off in the comments section below.

Big love,

DMx

Queering the Olympics: Graphic Designers & Illustrators go “Gay for Russia”

Continuing on with my exploration of visual culture and politics is taking me all over the place.  This time it has led me into the world of frank-flothmann-ASLTW-coaster2013sports.  What, I hear you cry?  Is David going to be writing about Gareth the Rugby Player once more?  Alas no, dear readers….sorry to disappoint you!  Instead we are taking a little trip to the Olympics.

The Winter Olympics and Russia to be precise.  You see, in case you have been living under a rock, the Winter Olympics are coming up in a few months time and they are taking place in Russia (in Sochi to be precise, official website here) where there has been a bit of jump-highercontroversy over those gay folk.   The Olympic Games are supposed to be all about peace, love, harmony, and sports (and the Spice Girls reforming of course (video in the link :-)) etc.  But lately the Russians have had this little thing going on about gay people.  In short they have passed a couple of laws that make it illegal to have pride parades, speak out in support of homosexuality, and are also in the process of passing laws against adoption by gay people too.  All of this has come to the attention of the press and media worldwide in a new way because of the Olympic association.  Even Cher has been in on the act with her very public refusal to be involved in the opening ceremony.

So what does all this have to do with visual culture and politics?  Graphic designers and illustrators, dear reader, that’s what.  While looking through the Advocate website I came across an interesting article about how Anna Goodson, head of the Anna Goodson Illustration Agency was so disturbed by the treatment of LGBTQ people in Russia that she asked all the illustrators in her agency if they would be interested in coming up with some artwork that dealt with the issue.  Another great example of how politics and visual culture come together to respond to ancoaster_marilynfaucher issue at hand.  It seems like everyone in her agency jumped at the chance (she’s the boss after all) and the results are quite interesting to see.  I’ve included a couple here and you can visit this link to see the rest of them.

What’s different about this project is that it uses illustration and the language of marketing, branding, and advertising to tackle the issue.  Graphic designers and illustrators are a fun bunch of people to be around and, as you can see, they are clever too.  They take aspects of current culture, visual design, and in this case politics and meld them together to put a message across in a way that is (in most cases) very successful and highly accessible.  It’s a form of branding propaganda in a way.  Obviously these are a little different from the kinds of things that they would be using for soap powder adverts, but you get the idea.  It’s also interesting to see how some of them have used examples of Soviet era art to put their point across as well.  Harking back to a previous age to put their point forward about a current regime.

Whether this will have any long-term influence on the politics that are surrounding the whole issue in Russia is debatable.  But what it does do is continue to raise the issues in a visible way.  In a world where often people have very little time to sit and read anymore, images like these can be very useful in getting a message across quickly.  Another example of how the visual world and paulblow_90political world can unexpectedly, but also intentionally collide.

Let’s hope that those two chaps with the moustaches don’t suddenly step apart from each other too quickly though.  That could be nasty….

Big love,

DMx

 

Letter Bomb: Visual politics in the mail.

Since I started this blog back up again with a new direction it’s got me thinking a lot about images, culture, and politics.  I obviously think a lot about that stuff anyway in my own fine art photography practice which tends to focus on those things, but I had never really examined it in great detail in outside of that.  I’m finding all sorts of ways that the image becomes a political tool or object, either deliberately or accidentally.  It’s also interesting the subtle ways that images are present in our culture too.

This post is one that looks at how an image is going to potentially cause a political upset.  Does David have a crystal ball, I hear you ask?  No, dear reader, he does not.  He just knows that people have a tendency to get a little upset when certain things collide.  Some of those things are sexuality, the government, the public, and pictures.  How are these things going to collide this time?  Through something that millions of people are going to see, that millions of people are going to receive (whether they want it or not), and through untitled (2)something over which they have absolutely no control over whatsoever.  This is a thing that will be used as a tool to wind people up, to debate the use of public funds, and that will please some people and drive others totally up the pole.  What is it, I hear you cry?

It’s a postage stamp.  Due to be released in 2014 by the United States Postal Service, it will feature Harvey Milk, probably the most famous gay rights campaigner in US history and the first openly gay politician to be elected in the US (I think).  Yesterday the USPS announced that the stamp will be released next year.  They didn’t give a date but it was confirmed in a posting via the Harvey Milk Foundation.  I should stress that the image here is NOT the actual stamp; this is just a mockup from a blog.  Hopefully he won’t look like a cheesy country-western singer as in this example…..

Here we have almost the ultimate combination of visual culture and politics for this blog.  We have the image of Harvey.  That’s bound to create some discussion to start with.  Visually what will they use?  Will it be a drawing, a photograph, a painting?  People can never agree on these things anyway and I am sure that this will no different.  Culturally he is important to LGBTQ people everywhere as he is someone who people look to as relevant in their history, whether they agree with him politically or not.  He was the first gay elected official in California, regardless of political position so he instantly becomes a cultural symbol for many.  Politically this has the potential to become a (heated) discussion point as we have an independent agency of the United States government producing a stamp of a figure that represents a very current and controversial political and social battle taking place.  Three points that are hugely relevant to this blog coming together.

The practical aspects of this are interesting.  People will use this stamp as a tool.  You can be sure that LGBTQ organizations will buy it in droves for use in their mailings.  People will use it to send letters to people who they KNOW are against LGBTQ issues just to wind them up.  Some people will go in to the post office and will ask for stamps that contain anything BUT Harvey Milk.  People will object to the USPS printing a picture of Harvey Milk on a stamp, even though there have been countless dead heterosexual politicians on stamps in the past.  You can bet that this will come up in church as well.  Conservatives will scowl at their mail and Liberals will rejoice at theirs.  People will pay more attention to the stamps on the envelope than the contents.  It will be fascinating to watch.

The media love a good controversy.  It sells advertising space and generates clicks on webpages for both sides of the debate so you can be sure that this will dominate the airwaves.  Just like in the Pasta Wars talked about earlier you can be sure that this will be whipped up into a frenzy online.  .  All over an image of a dead person.  People will imbue this image with so much stuff and baggage that it will fill days and weeks of time.

Harvey would have loved it.

Big love,

DMx

Pasta Wars: Visual politics and culture at web speed.

A couple of weeks ago there was an unlikely entrant into the visual culture and politics discussion.  Pasta.  Yep, that humble stuff that is usually found dried in boxes or GUIDO-BARILLAcellophane packets in the supermarket.  The stuff that you take home and smoother in tomato sauce, or cream, bacon, cheese, vegetables, and then twirl around forks and eat.  The stuff that is eaten the world over and as kids we used to glue onto pieces of paper to make “art” (clever visual culture reference eh?)  The very same stuff that makes carbohydrate phobic people recoil with terror and Italians scream with joy.  Yes, humble pasta became the centre of the visual culture debate.  Why?  Because of the largest pasta maker in the world, Barilla. and their Chief Executive Officer, Guido Barilla.

Guido Bariilla made a number of comments back at the end of September where he said things that angered a number of people in the LGBTQ community and a lot of straight people too.  The first was that he wouldn’t ever feature gay people in his adverts.  The second thing was that he felt that gay adoption was unfair on children.  The third was that gay people should go and eat a different brand of pasta if they didn’t like this.  This predictably caused a bit of a firestorm against Guido and Barilla.  The internet took off like lightning and before we knew where we were Facebook and Twitter were on fire with people ranting and raving about the whole situation (on both sides).  The whole thing was quickly hotter that the water needed to boil the pasta in and Guido and Barilla were in a jam.  Guido released the predictable apology the next day, which actually made things worse, due to it having not been properly vetted by his marketing folks.  This was swiftly followed up by a video thebertolli day after with a contrite Guido looking appropriately sheepish and promising to meet with homos the world over to solve world hunger, kiss babies, cure cancer, and end world wars.

So what’s the visual culture and politics link to all of this then?  The politics link is easy; LGBTQ issues of course.  It’s always a firestorm and regardless of the rights and wrongs or your beliefs on all of this, Guido Barilla should know better.  His shareholders don’t care about who is right or wrong in the debate about LGBTQ rights.  They just care about people eating bucket loads of pasta, something that his comments put in jeopardy one way or another.  The visual culture side of things though comes in the way that the other pasta companies reacted and how swiftly too.

First off the blocks was Bertolli.  They came out with this image almost immediately that flew around the web like wild-fire.  It’s a testament to their marketing department that they were off the blocks so quickly and it’s an amazing example of the power of social butonimedia.  The images spread almost as quickly as Guido’s faux pas.  They also took care to spread the story through other channels that they had featured television commercials with gay couples in before.  You can see one of them here.

Hotly in pursuit was Buitoni with their effort, also designed to show their inclusivity and to further take advantage of Barillas stumble.  I have no idea what the Butoni position actually is on same-sex equality but at that point in the game it didn’t really matter; they were just another footprint on the back of Barilla who were lying facedown in the dirt as everyone raced over them to declare themselves “Friends of Dorothy”.  The image that they created, as you can see, were direct and to the point.  They didn’t pull any punches at all and stated their position clearly with no room for misinterpretation.  Butoni took a slightly riskier approach perhaps compared to the fun approach of Bertolli but they were both powerful and tapped into the explosive issue that had been kicked off by Guido and they used it for their own ends.

The point of all of this is that the quickest way of “showing solidarity” with the LGBTQ community (and their money) while stealing market share from Barilla was with images and the web.  They recognized the impact of visual images to communicate a message and they took the shortest way to activate it; people and the web.  It took advantage of the fact that a major part of our culture is visual and that it is now also based on accessibility and speed.

Guido and his company didn’t stand a chance.  By the time they got around to doing the video two days 1380825_10151946696603033_2044411317_nlater food banks all over the place were filled  with Barilla pasta and newspapers all across the world had well and truly done a number on Guido and the gang.  It’s only now, two weeks later, that the Facebook page for Barilla in the US has started to post recipes again after a hiatus.  The speed with which it all happened and the way it played out through the visual mediums of pictures and videos was staggering.  The fact that it happened globally was equally incredible.  It’s the first time I can ever recall something like this happening.  Yes, there was an incident with Chik-Fil-A last year, but as a company they are pretty inconsequential compared to a company the size and scale of Barilla.  There was also nowhere near the scale of visual response to the affair as there was this time either.  People were even creating HRC equality signs out of pasta shapes for their Facebook icons!

PASTA_MEMEX400My favourite image that come out of it all was this one.  I saw it online a few minutes after the whole affair happened.  It’s plain, simple, and to the point.  Another example of how visuals work and it communicates its message perfectly, regardless of whether you agree with it or not.  On a more humourous note though I did think to myself that pasta is a funny thing.  Pasta is always a plate or bowl of the same thing.  So it’s “homo” not “hetero” anyway.  “Homopasta” is something we have all grown up with and is entirely natural.  So what’s the big deal?

Big love,

DMx

Sex Box: The Visual Culture of Hidden Sex.

This blog is proving to be interesting. The last post didn’t really contain an image to discuss (other than a cute one of me and my husband) but talked more about the issues around making or not making art a certain kind of art.  I was quite surprised as to how many people clicked the “like” button on the post on Facebook and who found it on WordPress.  This post also follows in a similar vein and also draws its inspiration from a news article that I found.

Here’s a link to the news article that was on Pink News, a web site in the UK that follows LGBTQ news issues in the UK. Basically we have here a show that invites people to have sex, in a box, on TV.  The people who have sex then get to talk about with others on the TV show including Mariella Frostrup from the Observer Newspaper, a panel of experts including relationship adviser Tracey Cox, sex columnist Dan Savage and the author Phillip Hodson.  Not for the faint of heart it seems.  It’s part of Channel Four in England’s “Real Sex” series and is all about reclaiming sex from pornography.  Here is a link to the Channel Four website about the show.  So why is this showing up in my visual culture and politics blog?  Well, there are a number of key points here to think about.article-2429812-1832D13100000578-567_634x417

It’s on television to start with so that makes it about images and video.  It’s about something we either do, want to do. think about doing, and is about something that shows up in other aspects of visual culture.  Sex is in adverts, in magazines, in films, books, and in music too,  So sex is very much about the visual culture of today in my mind.  One only has to think of the flap around Miley Cyrus a few weeks ago at the MTV awards to see that sex and the visual portrayal of it is something that gets people all hot and bothered, even if they dress it up as being about someone’s singing ability instead.

Returning to the TV program then. The part of the article that originally caught my eye was the fact that the show, naughtily called “Sex Box”, will feature three couples, one of which is a gay male couple.  This did surprise me,  We’ve only just got to the point where we can show same-sex couples having a kiss on TV, let alone discuss the fact that they might “do it”.  So this is quite a big step.  Not that anyone is going to see anything anyway.  When the couples enter the “Sex Box”, which is an opaque box in the studio, the TV cameras will be turned off for 20 minutes while the couples “have it off” as it were.  Then, when they exit the box, the cameras start-up again and they engage in a period of conversation with the panel and the TV audience.  Who knows what they will talk about.  For that I guess we will have to wait and see the show itself.  But the idea is that they will talk about the ins and outs of their sex lives (pardon the pun).

Now I am a liberal-minded chap and am into all sorts of telly, when I get time to watch it.  But I’m having a hard time understanding the value of having the box in the studio and then people actually having sex in the box during the recording of the show.  If the conversation was to be about the sex they JUST had, that would be one thing.  But it doesn’t seem to be the case.  The mission is about reclaiming sex from pornography, something that this seems to be skating very close toward.  It’s probably the closest any TV show has come to bringing actual real sex to the audience on a mainstream, free to air channel.  You don’t get to SEE it, but you can bet the tension of it will be in the air, either real or imagined, both in the studio and in the viewers homes.  That’s an interesting new twist on sex and visual imagery, don’t you think?  The ultimate in suggestion, perhaps.  Almost hidden sex.