“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,