I remember watching DVDs of Margaret Cho and Eddie Izzard perform stand up as a baby-gay in Birmingham, AL, surrounded by other baby-gays in a friend’s apartment. That experience, laughing with others who were “in” at someone else who was not only “in” but was a fully functional, successful, openly queer adult, led me to where I am today. (For those who don’t know, I’m an openly queer doctoral student who makes a living studying humor in American culture!) As a result I’m not only a firm believer in the unique role of humor in queer culture, but in the unique power that it yields for queers as a tool for the movement towards equality.
Just as I’m starting to doubt if my own bias is tainting my research, Rick Perry comes along with some fresh, hot air to inflate my confidence balloon. I could almost kiss him for that. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign ad entitled simply, “Strong,” is the most homophobic piece of… well, just watch it.
See what I mean?
Memes parodying or undermining Perry’s sentiments have exploded within the last few days. Many of them have addressed the flagrant use of religion to advance a political agenda, and many more have directly addressed his heterosexism. I’d like to share several of them not only in order to revel in the glories of queer humor, but also to highlight some of the specifically “queer” ways humor is used to subvert Perry’s hyper masculine performance. I shall informally deem these tropes, “camp,” “cooties,” and “acerbity” (if you can think of a synonym that begins with a “C,” please contact me).
First, an example of “cooties.” Below, you can see that Rick Perry donned the “Brokeback jacket” for his commercial appearance.
Both Perry and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) are pictured wearing jackets reminiscent of the Carhartt brand, an outerwear company which is known for marketing its product to the working class. No doubt this is the reason why both directors chose this particular piece of outerwear for their lead men. In case you haven’t seen it, Brokeback Mountain (2005) follows two cowboys’ lives as they struggle to keep their homosexual affair a secret. This juxtaposition of images is clearly meant to emasculate Perry’s painstakingly crafted appearance as the hardworking, regular-Jo type that was so harkened upon in the 2008 McCain presidential campaign. But putting Rick Perry in a gay cowboy’s jacket as he espouses the immorality of homosexuality? Like the meme says, you “can’t make this shit up.” The discomfort that this discrepancy would likely cause Perry produces the “cootie” factor, where gays use same-sex or gender bending situations to cause anxiety for an adamantly positioned heterosexual.
Needless to say, this trope doesn’t always act alone. Sometimes the cootie factor can act in tandem with “camp,” the exaggerated or ironic presentation of self (see Camp: Queer Aesthetics and Performing the Subject for more about camp in queer culture). This trope can be seen in the meme variation which places queer-infused images in Perry’s background.
Once again meant to undermine Perry’s masculine and (dare I say it?) self-righteous presentation, are two queerly coded images: Richard Simmons and the purple teletubby (whose name Google tells me is Tinky Winky). They distract from Perry’s message and image. Not only this, the creator of the doctored image is clearly communicating his or her awareness of the cultural resonance of these images while banking on the viewer’s knowledge as well.
Finally, we have the acerbic, which, again, can be conflated with the other two tropes. We can see this well in the following videos, where the responses to Perry’s message are tinted with the bitterness of those who feel they’ve gotten the short end of society’s stick, to say the very least.
Unfortunately none of these are safe for work (including the one posted), so I’ll leave you to venture over to YouTube, FunnyorDie, and National Lampoon to view some examples on your own time. I recommend that you do this outside the workplace and without any children present, especially this one. The video posted below shows The Partisans’ response to Perry’s ad.
The embittered references to crimes of war and the recent debt crisis challenge the assumed morality and sanctity of the current power-holders in American society. While the air of humor is certainly present here and in all of the above videos, there are times when the humor gives way to reveal a much more serious grievance against people who subscribe to Rick Perry’s message.
Not only have people organized around flagging Perry’s “Strong” as inappropriate and offensive to YouTube (see below), but multitudinous responses from queers and allies of different races, classes, and orientations have created humorous videos targeting Perry’s ad. The internet provided a democratic way for citizens to enact creative, humorous license on “approved” messages, further adding to the rich culture of humor created by queers. I’m proud of the response I’ve seen to this video. With every new meme posted, the hegemony embodied by Perry’s video subsides. Consider flagging the video or adding your own meme to Rick Perry’s Unpopular Opinions. Chip away!