Friday, May 22, 2009

Smell my cheese!

After one Alan Partridge moment too many, Jonathan Ross is losing his "live radio show" status and will now have the suffer the indignity of being recorded and then having any offensive bits taken out before the show is aired. Last year it was the business with Russell Brand, and a couple of weeks ago he said that boys who ask for a Hannah Montana MP3 should be adopted before they brought their gay partner home. The BBC simply can't trust him.

I sort of like Ross - in the late 1980s he did a series about cult films which influenced me a lot. I remember he interviewed people like John Waters, Russ Meyer and Herschell Gordon Lewis. He was even on the set of Hairspray when it was being filmed. I listen to his radio 2 program occasionally, and often like the eclectic mix of music.

One thing that does make me cringe about Ross's tv show is his house band - 4 Poofs and a Piano.

"Puff" was the only word for homosexuality that I knew until I was about 12. My father would sometimes talk about people he worked with, saying "He's a puff." He was always quite friendly to these people, but there was something about the way he said "He's a puff", that wasn't very nice. It was the 1970s and almost everyone was homphobic. But part of me takes a spiteful glee in the fact that his own son ended up as one, and eventually he found the "puff" comments of his workmates so hurtful that he had to tell them to shut up. I love helping people to learn to improve, especially if they get to suffer a bit in doing so.

Here are the Poofs in action.



I guess there are a number of reactions to them. You could say that they're unashamedly camp and have "reclaimed" the "poof" identity. This might be a good thing - the internalised homphobia of many gay men who claim to be "straight-acting" and not interested in "fems" is so dreary. The 4 puffs are unapologetic about their effeminacy, and show that they are good sports by using the word on themselves. They use it first, and perhaps that takes away some of its power to wound.

On the other hand, some would argue that they are "Uncle Toms" - simply pandering to existing prejudice, and being complicit with homophobia in order to obtain a small amount of power from it. Their "poofiness" is their gimmick - and it's the reason why Ross has them on the show. They're not going to threaten his masculinity. And while some people may view them as brave or engaging in a reclaiming project, there are bound to be television viewers who do not "get" the potentially post-modern or ironic reading of the group. Instead, they will engage with the band in a much more straightforward way, having their own prejudices validated. The media doesn't really go out of its way to show representations of gay people who are NOT camp, funny, harmless etc, and the four Puffs contribute towards that stereotype. In the context of Ross's Hannah Montana comments, they start to appear a bit more like something to be laughed at rather than laughed with. Would the BBC countenance Four Pakis and a Piano?

So.... I don't know where I stand on the Puffs and Ross. I want to give Ross the benefit of the doubt, but he's starting to push it. It's for the best that his show goes to recorded status rather than live. As for the Puffs- maybe it's time they rebranded. Maybe they could call themselves "Jonathan Ross's Dildoes" or something like that.

1 comment:

Lost Boy said...

"I love helping people to learn to improve, especially if they get to suffer a bit in doing so." Haha, I love that line and greatly enjoyed the post.

I think we've moved away from the stereotypes of the '70s with Mr Humphries and Larry Grayson 'representing' the lavender brigade. In soaps, the UK's most-watched TV shows, gay storylines ahve mainyl seen two 'straight-acting' types getting it on, usually behind a hapless girl's back. While I suppose some found this refreshing, I began to wonder if mainstream were trying to deny that the camp gay exists. I know that a lot of gay men moan about gays being seen as camp as knickers and obsessed with Kylie, shoes and Gaydar, but there are men like that, just as there are gruff builders who fall madly in love with their young, butch apprentices or football-loving teens who have girlfriends but jerk each other off (Hollyoaks, a storyline which felt like a bizarre, improbable fantasy). I think we've come so full circle that it felt like a breath of fresh air when Corrie introduced the effeminate Sean.

But yes, Four Poofs and a Piano are dreadful.