Metal Yarmulke
Thursday, November 20, 2003
 

Getting to the bottom of things....



Mark Simpson, writing in Salon yesterday, compares the current scandal about Prince Charles and his valet with the classic British "Carry On" comedies. I don't subscribe to Salon, but a friend who does forwarded me the article, and my reply ended up being so long and involved that I figured I might as well blog it.

The timing is kind of funny. Not long ago, I won on eBay a video that was labeled Caligula's Home Movies. I was much disappointed to find out that it wasn't two hours of serious debauchery à la the notorious Guccione flick, but a "Carry On" film, specifically Carry On Cleo. I'd never heard of the genre before. I owe my friend Storvik a hearty thank-you for forwarding me the Simpson piece, as selected quotations implying a brand-new relevance to British current
<cough> affairs may help me re-sell the video successfully. :-)

You can't understand anything about the British psyche until you've seen a "Carry On" movie.

Well, as Simpson adds, having seen Are You Being Served? and/or any of the Austin Powers movies (especially vis-à-vis Dr. Evil) suffices as a key to such understanding.

Incidentally, Yanks may not know that the phrase "up the Khyber," as in Carry On up the Khyber, is Cockney rhyming slang. "Khyber" = "Khyber pass" (the latter word spoken with a broad English a, of course) = "arse." Although some of the more, um, homophobic undertones of Kipling probably helped the association along. There's a song out there that goes something like, "Up the Khyber, up the Khyber, up the bloody Khyber/You've never had it 'til you've had it up the Khyber," and if I weren't so bloody lazy, I'd Google on it to see if it's an actual marching song or just another piece of clever filk.

...sodomy-saturated royal sex farce...

Reminds me somewhat of one of Storvik's own bits of filk (not safe for work).

Speaking of which, anyone with a penchant for tastelessness simply must see Meet the Feebles, a sort of anti-Muppet movie done by Peter Jackson of relatively new-found LOTR fame. The song "Sodomy" is a show-stopping number rivaling anything in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. In fact, I could easily see Tim Curry (JEEZ! Almost typed "Tim Robbins"! Paging Dr. Freud!) singing it...

talked excitedly about "smears" and "gags"

Huh, huh, huh. They said "smear." They said "gag." Huh, huh...

imposed by a royal valet with the name of Fawcett

<snort>

and a judge with the name of Tugendhat.

Actually, Tugend is German for "virtue" (as in the German adage Jugend hat keine Tugend — "youth has no morals; boys will be boys"), so I'm guessing that the "English" (Huegenot ancestry, perhaps?) name is a corruption of something like Tugendheit (which may or may not be an actual German word), or "virtuousness." Good name for a judge.

(As long as we're (kind of) on the subject, a few decades ago, National Lampoon reprinted a news clipping about the trial of a British man who'd allegedly strangled a prostitute. The proceedings involved the prosecutor attempting to demonstrate the strangulation on a blow-up doll, which became punctured and deflated slowly and noisily in the courtroom. I mention this because the judge's last name was Pain.)

There's even a "now you see it, now you don't" guest appearance by the late Princess Diana and her "crown jewels" (kept, of course, in her locked "box").

In the animated short "Jean-Jean and Ze Evil Cat do Washington" (seen at Spike & Mike's Sick & Twisted Animation Festival and probably on one of these videos/DVDs), made during the Clinton Administration, there was a special room in the White House filled with walnuts, peanuts, etc. It was the room in which Hillary kept Bill's "nuts."

...with a heavy-handed archness that even Kenneth Williams would have found difficult to execute...

I guess the "Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more!" skit in The Meaning of Life is Monty Python's tribute to this sort of "humour."

Of course, in the U.S., the tone is pure locker-room. Perhaps we <heh> come off like a bunch of crude colonials to the Brits, but as "homophobic" as we might sound in comparison, it strikes me as, at the very least, more honest homophobia.

Thing is, we Brits don't really want to know.

Suuuuuuuuuuuuuuure.

....there is a Web site offering a hardcore 3-D computer-generated simulation of the act

Google is your friend, Mark...and ours.

We'd rather leave it to our overactive imaginations and...

<ahem>

wagging tongues, thank you very much.

British libel laws, much stricter than those in the United States, are not so much the cause of our love of tittle-tattle and innuendo as the function of it. Free speech is all very well, but it isn't a patch on the pleasure of gossiping over your garden fence, or reading tabloid newspapers.


Another advantage of the First Amendment, IMHFO.

Besides, we'd hate it if we discovered that the allegation turned out to merely involve polite heavy petting rather than full-on rear-entry conjugation.

See, that's where "scepticism" comes in handy (ouch!). The solution would be to say, "Yeah, right, I'm sure we're being told the truth about THAT one."

We Brits love our buggery jokes and won't let anyone take them away from us. There's nothing for the British quite so satisfying as talking, gossiping and sniggering about buggery. Except possibly buggery itself.

With sodomy and the lash close behind (OUCH!).

No, actually, thinking about it, even buggery itself has to "come behind" buggery jokes.

Now that's pretty sad. :-)

Of course, buggery jokes that manage to involve royalty are the nearest thing to sexual satisfaction the British can experience.

.SIG!

The British attitude toward sex is much the same as their attitude toward class: So long as you are seen to suffer for it, and consider it some kind of duty, then you'll be left unmolested.

No pun intended, I'm sure.

...George Michael's Beverly Hills arrest for cottaging (as we Brits like, in our "Carry On" way, to call cruising public lavatories)

Does this explain something about the association of little ivy-covered "cottages" with quintessential Britishness, or am I reaching?

Obvious gays who so clearly know their place — or should that be their "position" — have always been very popular in the U.K.

While this is less so in the U.S. due to the higher value placed on machismo, it still pertains somewhat. Actors like Charles Nelson Reilly and Paul Lynde pre-date(d) Stonewall, I believe, but as long as their actual sexuality was never discussed, it was a non-issue.

Ironically, because they know their place they get ahead:

<cough>

They are all over TV — Graham Norton, a sweaty,

Tsk. Horses sweat, men perspire, "poofters" glow.

reanimated, more explicit but much less funny Irish version of the sadly long-deceased Williams, is probably the most popular TV presenter in the country (and is apparently headed to the United States).

Christopher Lowell must be sharpening his fingernails in preparation for battle.

But why do the British love buggery jokes so much? Partly because in their Rabelaisian, excremental way they bring the high low and make a joke of all human sexuality.

Well, it's not limited to sodomy. There was Charles' phone call to Camilla in which he slavered about being her tampon. Then there are shows like Black Adder that are replete with toilet humor.

Now I like bathroom humor as much as anyone else, but it's kind of interesting that for all the vaunted British "sophistication" and absence of FCC-mandated "prudery," the Limey obsession with bodily-function humor outpaces anything seen on Beavis and Butt-head or South Park.

After all, sodomy is a great prank to play on the body, this alien, rather ridiculous veil of rebellious flesh we all inhabit

Most bathroom and sexual humor has at its root the human fear of vulnerability. When an animal is mating or excreting, not only is it impaired in its ability to defend itself against predators, but, if it is a human animal that has been enculturated to feel shame at its own nakedness, it is emotionally vulnerable. Considered in this light, smutty jokes serve a purpose similar to that of sick humor.

Mrs. Slocombe's pussy (a running gag on "Are You Being Served?") is as terrifying a prospect as it is amusing.

I wonder if she dyes it a different color every night, too.

But mostly, and this is something that seems to have been forgotten, because the English are a martial race. The original Angles/Anglos were rough foreign mercenaries who were hired cash-in-hand to scare off the beastly Vikings

Uh, that's not quite true, IIRC. The first invaders from the Continent were Angles, true, and they had no trouble driving the Celts back into Wales and Scotland. But then they started having trouble with newer invaders whence they themselves came, so they themselves called on the Vikings, to their long-lasting regret. Of course, when the Normans sailed over in 1066, the distinctions between the different Germanic sub-ethnicities were lost (but then again, the Normans were essentially jumped-up Vikings with a Gaulish/Frankish patina due to a few generations of rapine that settled down into intermarriage).

The Normans who arrived later were even more warlike, and fond of their young male pages. Masculine warrior homosexuality, as exemplified by Richard the Lion-Hearted and Gordon of Khartoum, is even more a part of our history than camp followers like Williams and Norton.

The Dark Ages were quite misogynistic not only because of the early Church fathers, but because obviously, in an anarchic, desperately poor society, the "masculine" virtues are most highly valued. Not to mention that for most warriors, Christianity was but a veneer on martial pagan traditions, in some ways even centuries after their ancestors were first baptized, if one believes William Manchester's controversial book A World Lit Only By Fire.

Of course, ancient Greece (especially Sparta, as the writer notes) was the original homoerotic military culture hostile to women, and it didn't have the excuses of poverty and lawlessness, not to mention that it did honor (at least by lip service) various goddesses. The late Randy Shilts, in his book Conduct Unbecoming, several times mentions Greek troops that "fraternized" openly whose motto was, "Against an army of lovers, no foe can stand."

Buggery, or at least the ticklish thought of it, permeates barracks, messes and boarding schools

And this certainly isn't limited to Great Britain. Conduct Unbecoming at times makes the American military sound like an even better place than the local leather bar to meet other guys (or gals).

Waterloo

Not to be confused with "Tearoom."

was won not just on the playing fields of England but also in her dormitories. In the 18th and 19th centuries, "effeminacy" in England — the "fop," for example — was a function of being too interested in the ladies. Or just of being French.

Yep, and even today and even in the U.S., a "ladies' man" is considered not quite as masculine as a "man's man."

Years ago I read a mystery novel in which the Boston-area protagonist, visiting a newly-made friend in Texas, noted how at the dinner table the men didn't deign to include the wife or daughter in the conversation; the women seemed to exist simply for child-bearing purposes. This attitude is also reflected in the ideal of men as "strong and silent"...and I believe it was Maryland whose state motto, until recently, was the Latin for "womanly words, manly deeds." Articulateness is suspect.

I think this has something to do with the cultural divide between those who supported Clinton and those who support Bush. On the one side, you've got people who sneer at anyone whose speech is less than fully polished; on the other side, you've got people who distrust "smooth talkers" and the "book-learnt". Both attitudes, in my opinion, are extreme, but their influences on, respectively, "Old World" and "New World" cultures are immense.

Winston Churchill, a former First Sea Lord (so he should know)

And, as a Sea Lord, Churchill would have been intimately familiar with seamen. <rimshot>

famously described the Royal Navy's traditions as being nothing more than "rum, sodomy and the lash"

As alluded to above. I've read, though, that Sir Winston enjoyed a bit of cross-dressing. Which doesn't diminish my respect for him one bit, any more than does what today would be classified as his "alcoholism." (Thank $DEITY no one attempted to force him into a 12-step program in which he would have been pressured into abdicating all control to a "higher power." The world map might look very different today had that happened.)

It began life as a "penal" colony

<giggle>

and as late as 1821 men outnumbered women 15 to 1 in New South Wales. The records are full of lashings handed out to men caught carrying on behind, a futile attempt to discourage the unnatural vice.

I wonder if that's one reason that sheep were imported in such great numbers...and that part of the new country was named after part of Wales, reputed among the English to be full of "sheep-shaggers."

Australia, you see, really was the arsehole of the world.

Well, now they've projected that status onto the poor Kiwis. :-)

The transportation of convicts to Australia was eventually ended in large part because of the loud and bitter complaints from clerics and respectable Australians — there were some, apparently —

It may take a few generations, but inevitably the human desire for class-based hierarchy will assert itself.

about how widespread the sin of sodomy was among prisoners

Plus ça change...

and how this was lowering the tone of the continent.

Yeah, I imagine the incessant Broadway musicals were getting a little hard to take.

Perhaps because of an Australian guilty conscience, or ancestral sore arse, today it is a well-known Australian-born media magnate who is most keen to use the "Carry On up the Valet" scandal to ridicule the British in general and bring down the monarchy in particular by lashing them in his newspapers around the world. The New York Post recently ran the puerile headline "PRINCESS CHARLES."

Of course, Murdoch's right-wing attitude toward gays probably has something to do with it...

I'd like to see him tell those Outback sheep shearers there's something essentially effeminate about a spot of situational sodomy.

"Bend over, city boy. Hand me a spot of lanolin, mate!"

Of course, being British we don't need Australians to whip us — we like to punish ourselves for our favorite pleasures. Not only with lashes; the occasional hanging was also handed out for carrying on behind. Oscar Wilde, of course, was famously given two years' hard labor for "gross indecency" with a member of the lower orders

If Wilde had consorted with a well-born, wealthy buggerer, would all have been forgiven?

Field Marshal Montgomery, the famous empire homo of El Alamein

Now THERE'S a title to put on a business card.

In other words, much of the sodomy going on in the United Kingdom remained completely illegal and therefore still rather enjoyable.

Heh.

These days Britain no longer has an empire. Its army and navy have shriveled

Is there a double entendre left in the English language that Simpson hasn't yet worked into this article?

Consequently, in place of the noble lash we now mix our pleasure in buggery jokes with hypocrisy, phony moralism and faux-seriousness.

Sad to say, this tone in public discourse throughout the West has increased over the last three or so decades with the ascent of women into political and economic power. Not that I'm saying the clock should be turned back, but just as men bring certain foibles common among their sex to the table, so do women, and among the latter is a sort of preachiness that's less common among males. Women like me with a rather coarse sense of humor who've ever tried to crack a joke among either fervently religious women or militant feminists will understand what I mean.

"the worst crisis since the death of Diana"

Diana's death was a "crisis"? Oh, I'm sure it was for her immediate family, and many undoubtedly saw it as tragic, sad, untimely, etc. But a crisis? On a par with...what, the Third Reich's strafing of London?

that seriously "threatens to bring down the House of Windsor."

...to its KNEES!!

So the uncorroborated allegation, by an alcoholic ex-servant with a documented penchant for uncorroborated sightings of homosexual acts —

Is that the Limey version of seeing Elvis in the Waffle House or being abducted and anally probed by aliens?

Regardless of the truth or falsehood of the allegations (which no one has gone on record as saying they believe)

Or disbelieve.

the truly shocking thing would be if a member of the royal family, former public schoolboy, and former serving officer in the British Army had never had sexual encounters of any kind with other males. What kind of bloody pansy would that be?

With all due respect to British slang, I'm not sure "bloody" is the right adjective here.

A life of pristine heterosexuality might be suitable for the delicate sons of the suburban middle classes — and contemporary Australians — but hardly for a future king of England.

I wonder what certain American conservatives would make of that statement.

But the press in England today, even the popular press, is irredeemably suburban and middle-class

Another function of women rising to power. It's not even close to a bad thing overall — the more education and economic freedom women get, the better their families tend to do financially, it's been shown, and this correlates with a rise in class. But there is a negative side, as was seen in the Victorian era, and it's an increase in prudery.

Even the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, a professionally politically correct figure, saw fit to talk about this "revolting and sordid gossip," although if the gossip revolved around an allegation of royal naughtiness with, say, a willing black female servant instead of a white male one, he would be admonishing himself for his own rash choice of words.

I'm not making light of slavery or sexual harassment here, but the existence of a Sally Hemings figure in Buckingham Palace would be food for thought indeed...

Some have prissily suggested that if there is any truth to the rumor it means that a) Charles is gay or at least bisexual

Because this is supposedly my "tasteful" political blog, I'll only paraphrase her, but a late and beloved member of alt.tasteless once observed that lots of married and thus ostensibly "heterosexual" men have had more male members in their mouths than has the average public toilet.

b) this will cause major constitutional problems for the heir to the throne, as the English monarch is also the head of the Church of England.

Gah. I think the class of the valet presents more of an obstacle, legalistically speaking, than does the actual type of sex (allegedly) involved.

...most of our buggery jokes lately have revolved around the "split," "rupture" and "schism" that the "big issue" of homosexuality is threatening to cause in the Anglican "base."

Well, it's true, but Great Britain isn't where the schism would be most felt. The fervent heart of Christianity of all sects is no longer in the First World, but in the Third, where opposition to homosexuality runs so deep that "homophobia" isn't even yet a concept.

...the Anglican Church should get down on its knees and thank the Lord for buggery, since without it half the church would have nothing to do on Saturday night

Another .sig, even more priceless than the last one!

we find men in frocks on telly talking about sodomy a real hoot.

So do we, although the frock fashions are a bit different. Considering this national obsession with anal sex, maybe Henry VIII was a good thing for England. 
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