11:12 AM | Labels: gender |
My organizing impulse is the belief that it is not enough for feminist thought that specifically lesbian texts exist. Any theory or cultural/political creation that treats lesbian existence as a marginal or less "natural" phenomenon, as mere "sexual preference," or as the mirror image of either heterosexual or male homosexual relations is profoundly weakened thereby, whatever its other contributions. Feminist theory can no longer afford merely to voice a toleration of "lesbianism" as an "alternative life-style," or make token allusion to lesbians. A feminist critique of compulsory heterosexual orientation for women is long overdue.
--Adrienne Rich, Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence
The representation of homosexuality on American television has been a powerful force in creating the ways in which Americans see and think of homosexuals. While no longer depicted exclusively as a demonic threat to traditional heterosexual existence, American television has stayed consistent in keeping homosexuality in the periphery of the American public’s view. In the summer of 2004 HBO premiered its now highly successful series Entourage. The show follows Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) through his rise to stardom as a Hollywood star and his life spent with his four best friends. Centering on the lives of five white, heterosexual men, Entourage tells a story of fraternal bonding through heterosexual conquest. The role of
homosexuality is almost never seriously discussed among the characters. Within their lifestyle consumed with a pursuit of wealth and sex, homosexuality is considered a radical and humorous alternative to the lives they lead. Entourage does not stand alone, but it is an important site toexamine the ways in which the nature of homophobia in American television is now coded as playful and harmless. Entourage, while it is a satirical fantasy of the Hollywood lifestyle, succeeds in drawing a traditional representation of homosexuality that is hypersexualized, gendered, and almost hypothetical (as homosexuality is almost invisible).
In an interview with USA Today, Entourage creator and writer Doug Ellin notes that “Ultimately, the show’s theme is friendship and family…The characters may have the bling, but they’re grounded guys who look out for each other. That’s the backbone of the show. If it was just about fantasy lifestyles, it wouldn’t be relatable” (USA Today). Ellin’s reflection on the show is quite interesting, as he gets to the heart of the difficulty of reading the show. Entourage falls into a unique semi-reality television genre where it tells a fictional story but is put in a real-life context where Hollywood actors make cameos playing themselves. Ellin makes it clear how the viewer is able to escape into a fantasy lifestyle while staying grounded and connected to the
text through its value of friendship. Each episode is a variation of the following of Vince’s career as well as the heterosexual pursuits of the men. The definition of loyalty and friendship in Entourage is inseparable from the group’s consistent activity of finding women for sex. While the world depicted in Entourage encompasses both fantasy and reality, it offers a similar
representation of women to the images displayed in contemporary Pop and Hip-Hop music videos where women are often seen as the objects present for men’s sexual desire. Whether for mere fantasy or reality, Entourage creates a description of heterosexuality that is normalized, and an image of homosexuality that is almost invisible, and when it is seen it is confrontational and extremely troubling for the characters.
In the seventh episode of Entourage’s first season, entitled “The Scene,” the entire group is distraught after finding out that in Vince’s newest movie script he is supposed to receive a blowjob from another man. Over lunch, discussion breaks out amongst the men and Drama (Kevin Dillon) tries to ease the group’s concerns by listing the number of high-profile actors who
have played homosexual roles in films. Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) stays consistent in his rejection of this idea and notes that he doesn’t want to see “Vince running around Queens with a silk shirt knotted around the bellybutton.” Understanding Drama’s perspective and recognizing the harshness of Turtle’s words, Vince speaks up and questions the group’s homophobia. Turtle
defends himself claiming that he is not homophobic, stating “No, I’m not, look if you were gay, I’d accept that, but you’re not, so why you gonna pretend you are?” Drama responds saying, “’Cause the guys an actor you fuckin’ idiot, that’s what he does.” Without skipping a beat, Turtle fires back, “No, its what you do you ass-fuck loser.”
Despite his denial, Turtle reveals his homophobia by the way he rejects the notion of Vince engaging in homosexual activity and his use of homosexual references when insulting Drama. While Turtle attempts to rationalize his discomfort with Vince playing a homosexual by noting that he does not see it as Vince’s natural orientation, Turtle loses voice by criticizing
Drama on the basis of perceived homosexuality. When homosexuality is the negative quality used to insult others, it cannot be masked as neutral or indiscriminating. Entourage reflects a sort of homophobia within the media that has come to reflect that of the wider society. The use of blatant, unapologetic homophobia within everyday speech or in media texts is becoming
increasingly taboo. Like Vince, the media seems to stop its homophobic narrative once it has reached a certain point, but nevertheless homophobia is still allowed to pass when put in a joking or ‘fun-loving’ way.
Throughout Entourage, characters use words such as “fag,” “pussy,” and “bitch” to undermine an individual’s masculinity. Whenever a character shows any sort of vulnerability or ‘softness,’ theses are the words used against them. Asserting another’s potential homosexuality is the most frequently used insult by they characters, yet it is important to focus our attention towards the reality that when an individual is ridiculed as having engaged in or desiring homosexual sex,
they are almost always referred to as being the penetrated individual in the sex act. For example, Turtle makes fun of Drama stating, “You’d take it in the ass for a guest spot on the Hughleys.” In another instance Vince’s agent Ari (Jeremy Piven) refers to E (Kevin Connolly) as a “cocksucker.” The element of masculine power expressed through penetration and control within
heterosexual sex is completely undermined when it is a man that is the one being penetrated sexually. E is consistently ridiculed as being “soft” or a “bitch,” reaffirming traditional notions of femininity, which is traditionally associated with homosexuality, as what is most despised by the men. When looking at the patterns present in the ways the men insult one another, it becomes clear that it is the reversal of power and the acceptance of roles coded ‘feminine’ that are the most rejected elements of homosexuality. Understanding the misogynistic patterns in their use of homophobic language, Vince and
his guys maintain a strong link between their sense of masculinity and heterosexuality. After having their one and only actual discussion of homophobia, the men leave their lunch table and head to a strip club to discuss “the scene” with the director. Discussing their discomfort with the blowjob scene, E and Vince do not lose sight of their masculine heterosexuality as they hold their meeting while receiving lap dances from half-nude women.
In Adrienne Rich’s essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” Rich discusses the problems of creating a discussion around homosexuality that only seeks to tolerate homosexuality and maintain its position in the margins. The role of heterosexuality is pervasive within Entourage, where not a single recurring homosexual character is present until the second season with Ari’s new assistant Lloyd (Rex Lee). Each episode discusses or follows the heterosexual encounters of the characters, such as the second episode where the guys go to an exclusive Hollywood party hosted by Jessica Alba. Alba welcomes them saying, “Bars here, bars there, girls everywhere, bathroom over there,” acknowledging what has been placed around them for their consumption and use. The women presented in this context are present to create a sort of heterosexual dream world where there is no doubt by the characters that these women seek heterosexual sex. In another moment, the guys comment about being invited to a party with the characters of the L Word, and how the actors in this show are definitely acting (implying that the lesbianism depicted in the L Word is entirely performed and unreal). By constantly placing women around them for their use, and eliminating lesbian existence, Vince and his entourage can maintain their heterosexual identity without question. Not only do women play a role in asserting the male characters’ heterosexuality, Entourage’s elimination of gay characters (until Lloyd) creates a world in which the boys from Queens are seen as ‘normal’ and in a world free from homosexuality.
In Kylo-Patrick R. Hart’s article “Representing Gay Men on American Television Hart notes:
…The phenomenon of symbolic annihilation pertains to the historical nonrepresentation or underrepresentation of specific groups by the media—and/or to the trivialization of those groups when and if they infrequently appear—as a result of decision by the powers-that-be at media outlets regarding what sorts of groups will and will not be represented in American media offerings and how they will be represented.
Entourage functions within this framework to erase almost any existence of homosexuality. In season two of Entourage, Ari introduces Lloyd (Rex Lee) as his new “Gaysian” assistant who fulfills “two quotas” for him. The joke in this statement addresses the reality that not only in Ari’s talent agency but in Entourage itself; Lloyd is the first gay or Asian recurring character.
Early in the second season, anxieties of having a homosexual man within the heterosexual men’s space are resolved by jokes such as Ari’s; “If I was twenty five and liked cock, maybe we could be something.” In another instance Lloyd asks Ari that he no longer comment on his race or sexual orientation. A request that Ari cannot keep, he promises that he will always apologize
afterwards. Keeping a joking attitude towards homosexuality, even in the face of an actual homosexual individual, stands as a device for the heterosexual male characters to distance themselves from the possibility of having their sexuality questioned. The more an individual makes jokes framing homosexuality as negative and undesirable, the more they can assert their heterosexual preference. This sort of joking which continually places Lloyd’s sexual identity as a source of humor can only function within a patriarchal, hegemonic, system that places heterosexuality in a privileged position over homosexuality.
James Lull defines hegemony as, “the power of dominance that one social group holds over others…But hegemony is more than social power itself; it is a method for gaining and maintaining power” (Lull, 61). This concept is necessary when addressing discrimination expressed through the media. A hegemonic relationship is perpetuated both in the creation and consumption of Entourage. The character’s use of homophobic and misogynistic jokes towards one another, and their trivialization of gay characters such as Lloyd, serves as a method by which the heterosexual men can maintain heterosexual privilege by constantly casting homosexuality into a bad light. Likewise, noncritical readings of Entourage allow viewers to enter into a world where homosexuality is not only marginalized it is almost invisible. The production of Entourage, which depicts a sort of heterosexual fantasy world and value on fraternal friendship, sells the notion that pleasure can be found in a world rid of homosexuality.
As bell hooks discussed in her book “Black Looks;” a function of white privilege is to create a sense of “sameness” or “we are all just people” ideology (hooks, 167). This sort of ideology may seem as a humanitarian framework of thought but is in fact the basis of a hegemonic, homophobic, patriarchal society. The heterosexual characters in Entourage use homosexuality as the basis of ridicule, and focus on Lloyd’s sexuality as a source of comic relief. The act of using humor to annihilate homosexuality is a sort of shared identity amongst Vince and his entourage. Framing homosexuality as a source of humor entirely separated from real-life social inequalities is similar to the ideology of white “non-racists” who invest in the “sameness” myth. The heterosexual characters in Entourage, when questioned insist that they are not homophobic and often treat homosexuals as if systemic cultural oppression against homosexuals does not exist. Entourage depicts a sort of heterosexual masculinity that does not claim to be homophobic but is ignorant to the actual systemic oppression enforced on homosexual persons.
The example of Entourage as a site to explore heterosexual masculinity and homophobia is a unique text because it focuses on a monolithic heterosexual identity that constantly seeks power and privilege over the homosexual ‘Other.’ Entourage is a prime site to examine the changing form of attitudes towards homosexuals in the media. The media has indeed come a far way from the 1967 CBS documentary “The Homosexuals;” but a narrative that only seeks to define homosexuals through a hypersexual identity reflects a persistent hegemonic device that keeps homosexuality in an unprivileged position in the media. Amidst a generation that seems to hold an unprecedented amount of public acceptance or tolerance and recognition of homosexuality, there is much need for change within the media to correlate with these more progressive attitudes. American television shows such as Entourage present a unique brand of homophobia; one that is fun-loving, humor-centered, and uniformly focused away from any systemic oppression experienced in the everyday lives of homosexual persons. Reading this ‘light-hearted’ expressions of homophobia in Entourage as humorous, keeps homosexuals in unprivileged positions and keeps the ‘heterosexual moderate’ or ‘heterosexual ally’ in a state of inaction. Entourage creates a world that is not only heteronormative, but one that seeks to eliminate any notion of homosexual lack of privilege in our society. If this is the sort of media and entertainment that the American continues to enjoy and seek pleasure from, the status of the homosexual in America has a long way to go.
Hart, Kylo-Patrick R. "Representing Gay Men on American Television." Gender, Race, and
Class in Media 2 (2003): 597-607.
Hooks, Bell. Black Looks : Race and Representation. New York: South End P, 1992.
Lull, James. "Hegemony." Gender, Race, and Class in Media 2 (2003): 61-66.
Rich, Adrienne. Blood, Bread and Poetry. Boston: W. W. Norton & Company, Incorporated,
Strauss, Gary. "'Entourage' men hug it out in a manly way." USA Today 5 Apr. 2007.
October 12, 2008: My time here in Rome has been both academically and individually fruitful. As a Women's and Gender Studies student I have been able to reflect and theorize both in and outside of the classroom. I am loving my time here being able to study, travel, and have a lot of fun.
Tonight was a very interesting and exciting night here in Rome. Along with the Community of Sant'Egidio (a Catholic lay movement focused on prayer, friendship and social justice) I participated in a candle light vigil that brought thousands of Jews and Christians together to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the the Nazi deportation of Jews from Rome to concentration camps. This event was falling at a very interesting moment after a week filled with a significant buzz around Pope Benedict XVI's support of the beatification of Pope Pius XII (a debated player during the Holocaust). Beginningoutside of the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trestevere, one of the oldest Christian churches in all of Rome, we walked across the city until we arrived in the Jewish ghetto.
Streets were filled to hear the voices of religious leaders and politicians speak about peace, ecumenism, and living every day lives of compassion across religious boundaries. I was able to experience this event from a unique perspective, having been askedalong with individuals from each continent to carry candles leading the procession There was a unique sense of community and family among the people. This event was of particular significance because a government leader, who had once aligned with a fascist Roman party, spoke about unity and creating bonds. While these speeches were significant the moment was made beautiful by a collective energy and hope towards the future. The spirit of remembrance was strong, but the hope and belief in tomorrow rang even louder.
As I walked home I reflected on the evening and when in my life I have been a part of something that has sought this sort of peace. Thinking back on what each speaker had said I realized that every speaker was male. Had any one else noticed this? Was it a problem, and is it worth noting? Was everyone who was affected by this event adequately represented by an all-male speaking panel? Tonight was about human rights, about not letting religious identity create boundaries, and only men spoke on behalf of those affected these horrific historical events.I am left wondering when and where men's voices are the only ones allowed to speak on behalf of everyone.
I have a curiosity reflecting in how men and women are allowed (or not) to speak for all people. Are female voices heard as being universal in the ways that men's often are? Along with many feminist scholars, I have recognized that we live in a androcentric society. In many avenues, from pop-culture to politics, men are viewed as representatives of all people, while women often are only able to be representatives of other women.Tonight was a special night indeed, it was a beautiful night of community, but a moment to think about how history is written and whose voices are heard.
11:48 AM | Labels: gender |