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February 18, 2004

Gay Ad Aesthetic

Dear Friedrich --

In a long-ago posting I can't seem to retrieve, I made passing reference to the way gay aesthetics have conquered a lot of pop culture. When a visitor, who seemed startled, challenged me to prove my assertion, I was a bit nonplused. I mean, where not to point? Who not to cite as a source? The way that gay styles, tastes, and fashions have conquered mid-America is one of the most striking and -- in my media-centric neck of the woods, anyway -- one of the most openly-discussed developments in pop culture in the last couple of decades.

But I'm reminded of how un-clued-in some people can be whenever I visit flyover country, which I did recently. It's really amazing, the way so many mid-Americans ... well, just don't have a clue. Not only do they not have gaydar, they don't even know such a thing exists.

Perhaps this article by Robin Finn for the NYTimes, here -- a brief visit with Sam Shahid, the advertising art director behind the notorious Abercrombie & Fitch catalogues -- will open a few eyes out there in Squaresville. Yes, there were indeed some bare boobies on display in those sexy catalogues; yes, there were indeed photos of boys and girls exchanging sultry looks with each other -- but the basic aesthetic behind the whole thing was gay. Gay, do you hear me? Everyone knows it!!! Wise up!!! Get a clue!!! Gay gay gay gay gay!!!!

Not that my beloved fellow mid-Americans occasionally make me impatient or anything.



UPDATE: A propos of not a lot, but very interesting anyway: here's Alan Sullivan on the A&F catalog and much more. And here's an amusing onscene report from a Swarthmore College online publication describing what it was like when the A&F gang visited campus for a photo shoot.

posted by Michael at February 18, 2004


I agree with the guy that didn't agree with you. You use gay as in feminine. Which I think is both wrong. Using perfume and wanting to look good and fresh and clean is not gay. It was pretty much Italian macho Rudolph Valentino who introduced the "fine" aspects of grooming and living that you might think are gay or new and introduced by Queer Eye. He was the one who introduced the what was before the "feminine" wrist watch for men. What passes for gay is actually dandyism from the late 1800's imported from Europe. Also think of Elvis. He made dressing up look macho. There is a difference between gay and wanting to smell nice, fresh and looking good, putting nice stuff in your house. I think gays are trying to tell all men "you see you are a bit gay too, so there is nothing wrong with being gay". Nonsense. There is nothing wrong with being gay, but that doesn't mean I have to be one.

Posted by: Ricky Vandal on February 18, 2004 3:23 PM

Ricky, you've made my day, you really did.
Please hold me, I am falling off the chair, reading this
Allow me to direct your attention to this particular sentense:
...The great love of Valentino's life was Paul Ivano....

Posted by: Tatyana on February 18, 2004 3:51 PM

Gay? Y'mean really happy? Being from flyover country, I'm jest tryin' to keep up with you folks from NEW YORK CITY. So those Abbey--crabbie and Finch cat'logs models were jest really, really happy?

Posted by: annette on February 18, 2004 4:30 PM

Yes, there were indeed some bare boobies on display in those sexy catalogues; yes, there were indeed photos of boys and girls exchanging sultry looks with each other -- but the basic aesthetic behind the whole thing was gay. Gay, do you hear me? Everyone knows it!!! Wise up!!! Get a clue!!! Gay gay gay gay gay!!!!

WOW, Michael. If I wrote a passage like this, people would think I'd gone off my meds.

I think most "red-state" Americans have noticed the new aesthetic in advertising -- heck, the entire Christian fundamentalist movement is a reaction to just that thing. These people tend to view it not as "homosexual," but as "oversexed."

Now, there's a certain chicken-and-egg dilemma between sexual openness and the emergence of what you'd a "Gay" aesthetic; each makes it possible for the other to flourish. At this point, it's impossible to tell whether our advertising is a creation of urban Gay men (it clearly didn't start that way), or whether urban Gay men are creations of our advertising. Most likely, there's a self-perpetuating cycle involved, involving socialization, form, targeted audiences, and so forth, all of which becomes a P2C2E ("process too complicated to explain") very quickly.

But since Gays are associated primarily with sex (according to the social axiom that Gays have sex, while Straights have families), it's easy to see sexual openness as primarily a Gay thing. Fair enough, I suppose, but unlike Michael, I've visited Gay bars from coast to coast, and I can testify from firsthand experience that Gays and Lesbians who live in Alabama -- even urban Alabama -- look, think and act very differently from those who live in New York City.

Also, I think we could perhaps accuse Michael of obtaining a biased sample with regard to the advertising he's encountered. Single heterosexuals and childless married couples also opt to have sex rather than families, and they tend to live in large urban areas -- like, say, New York City, where Michael Blowhard also lives. But if he were to go to Charleston WV and see that large billboard for "Focus on the Family" hovering over downtown, he might be led to question whether this "homosexual aesthetic" is dominant everywhere, or whether it might be a more localized phenomenon, targeted to a specific audience.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on February 18, 2004 6:11 PM


cutting edge must-haves like underwear, perfume and Abercrombie & Fitch's randy quarterly magazine

Well, that's one out of three right in the first paragraph...that's pretty good for the NYT.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on February 19, 2004 2:14 AM

Flyover country talks back to their "betters" out there on the east coast. :-)

No offense intended. Just the view from the other side.

Posted by: Lynn S on February 19, 2004 11:12 AM

Ricky -- You're kidding, right?

Tatyana -- He's kidding, isn't he?

Annette -- LOL! I may live in Greenwich Village, but I'll always have the soul of a Flyover Country person myself. Do you find that many of your friends and acquaintances get how gay the basis of much popcult is these days? I'd expect that a fair number would. On the other hand, I remember being shocked once. I was gabbing about "Sex in the City" with some young professional women from mid-America -- on-the-ball-seeming types. And when I mentioned that some of the show's basis is gay (at least it was in the early seasons) -- the Kim Cattrall character is clearly patterned more on some gay men than it is on women -- some of these gals expressed surprise. It had apparently never occurred to them that this might be the case ... Mid-America's certainly much hipper and savvier than it was when I grew up there. But how much more?

Tim -- Fascinating sociology, thanks. But I'm puzzled -- why would anyone take it amiss (am I understanding you right?) if you, rather than I, had written this posting?

Scott -- You read the article? You deserve a medal for above-and-beyond-etc. Awful piece of writing, no?

Lynn -- I wouldn't think of taking offence, largely because I agree with your posting completely.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 19, 2004 11:31 AM

If he was, I'll hang my being so thick to old "no understanding no English" hook; but I don't think he was, really.
But actually he gets into interesting variation of the topic (male fashions, society norms and morals in different historic periods), on which there are toms after dusty tomes written, I'm sure, but the ones I find an interesting read are my reprint of the "Illustrated history of sexual habits in European Society" in 4 volumes, by old Satirikon (with hilariously funny attempts of Marxsist "class" theoretical explanations).

Posted by: Tatyana on February 19, 2004 12:34 PM

One observation I read about "Gay Infiltration" was the shift from "Tall Dark Handsome" as the dominant male aesthetic ideal (think Marlboro man) towards "Blond / Blue / Femme Softy" (think Leonardo Di Caprio; or any dude in an A&F ad)

Posted by: vinod on February 19, 2004 1:28 PM

Actually, I'd have to agree with you. I don't think most of middle America thinks that way. But they acknowledge it if it is pointed out to them. And larger metropolitan areas probably are hipper to it than smaller towns. I have a friend from college (who lives in a small midwestern town) and I heard a brother of a mutual friend talk and said , my gosh, is he gay? She said, "Well, I just think of him as 'affected'." You can think of him that way...I think the rest of us think he's gay!

Posted by: annette on February 19, 2004 2:38 PM

Wise up! Get a clue! I dont care!!!!!

Posted by: Deb on February 19, 2004 6:52 PM

But I'm puzzled -- why would anyone take it amiss (am I understanding you right?) if you, rather than I, had written this posting?

Well, this passage was pretty much why:

... but the basic aesthetic behind the whole thing was gay. Gay, do you hear me? Everyone knows it!!! Wise up!!! Get a clue!!! Gay gay gay gay gay!!!!

The rhetoric goes way over the top here -- not "Dennis Miller" over-the-top, but "raving homeless guy" over-the-top. Think Kevin McCarthy in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

BTW, doesn't it seem weird when some people use the G-word the way other people drop F-bombs?

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on February 20, 2004 6:09 PM

Tim -- Right, it's called "mock exasperation," and it was directed at mid-America.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 20, 2004 11:07 PM



Posted by: GIORGIO CRUZ on March 29, 2004 2:18 AM

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