It’s not that gay

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Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime show reminds us that the world is run by straight men

Can't Think Straight
Jonathan Petrychyn
A&C Editor

Madonna said she wanted to “bring gay to the Super Bowl.” According to more than a handful of writers, bloggers, and colleagues, that’s exactly what she did.

But I’m not that convinced.

I mean, sure, the half-naked Adonises that brought Madonna is arguably just the homoeroticism of 300 condensed and amplified. And sure, everything Madonna has ever stood for is shocking and sexual and loud. Let’s not forget her video “Justify My Love,” which MTV was only allowed to show in the midnight hours due to its explicit content.

But at 53 years old, is Madonna really the subversive firecracker she was in the ’80s or has she softened with age?

Look, it’s no secret that through the weeks I’ve been writing this column I’ve been rallying for more radical and subversive queer tactics. I’m sure that you’ve already determined my opinion on the halftime show: like everything else in American culture that tries to be “gay friendly,” it ends up just sanitizing queerness into a form that’s easy to be consumed and appropriated by the masses, which is at odds with its ability to “queer” and “shake up” the established order.

I’m tired of making this argument. Let’s just all go from here in agreement that, yes, Madonna’s half time show was kind of gay, and yes, though it was gay, it was kind of tame.

The question that really needs to be asked in regards to Madonna’s halftime show, and the rest of the Super Bowl, is when did hypermasculinity become homoerotic?

We’re really quick to say that whenever we see a half-naked man, like the Gerard Butler wannabes in Madonna’s act, or a provocatively posed half-naked man, like David Beckham in that H&M Super Bowl ad, that it’s “gay” or “homoerotic.”

Why?

A tweet from CNN’s Roland Martin really gets at the heart of the matter. Martin was in hot water for suggesting that “if a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham’s H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him,” an obvious homophobic slur that led the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to call for his firing from CNN. Martin’s tweet reminds us about not only the kind of audience that watches the Super Bowl, but the kind of audience that watches most of America’s television programming.

I think the suggestion that any excitement over male sexuality is just indicative of how far North American culture still needs to go in understanding “alternative” forms of sexuality and sexual identity. We’re so used to seeing half-naked women on our television screens that it doesn’t phase us. We see a half-naked woman and we’re like, “Oh, well, isn’t that oppressive to women,” and then continue to go about our days unfazed.

Not to knock feminists. Feminine objectification still permeates our society unchecked and is still a problem that needs to be dealt with. But when we see a male body objectified, instead of proclaiming that it’s “oppressive to men,” or whatever the parallel statement would be since it’s kind of ridiculous to suggest the oppression of men, we go with “that’s gay.”

I think we still revert to “that’s gay” or “homoerotic” because we don’t have a way of making sense of male sexuality outside of the constraints of female sexuality. When the heterosexual male gazes at the female, or so the theory goes, the male makes the female the sexual object of his gaze.

So if that’s the only formula we have to make sense of sexualized looking, then so it goes that whenever we see a sexualized male body, he’s the object of our collective male look. As the theory goes, only the male has the power to look, especially when, at least in 2011, two-thirds of Super Bowl viewers were male.

This is a problematic way of looking for exactly the same reasons looking at a woman as only a sexualized object is problematic: we’re just making men into sex objects.

Which brings us back to Madonna’s half time show. Why do we consider Madonna’s show gay, even though the only representation of sexuality is just the same kinds of representations of sexuality America has been peddling for at least half a century? Because we’re still a continent dominated by heterosexual men. It’s homoerotic, because the majority of those looking at the men are men.

How does that make you feel now, Roland Martin?

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