Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cycling through symbolism: Nitpicking the Rick Perry ad mockery

AKA The post about Rick Perry's jacket.

If you somehow have missed seeing Rick Perry's recent campaign ad, now one of the least liked videos on Youtube, here it is:

Yes, that is a real ad produced by a real candidate for president of the United States and long-time governor of the state where I live. It might seem like self-parody, but that didn't stop a number of mocking videos from cropping up all over the place, including this satire which I quite like:

Another which is currently making the rounds:

Upon first seeing this, my reaction was basically "" I still haven't seen Brokeback Mountain, but am pretty sure I've heard every joke about it ever made, because if there's one eternal truth of the universe it is this: People love joking about Brokeback Mountain. And oftentimes when they're doing it, they're using the reference to bring down something else by comparing it to the movie, which is hard to interpret as an endorsement of Brokeback specifically or support of homosexuality in general.

Take this example: Rick Perry is shown in his campaign ad bashing gays while wearing the same jacket as a gay character in a movie. Heehee, homophobe displaying unconscious homoeroticism! But is it, really? Perry is shown doing the George Bush thing, speaking to the heartland while outside enjoying the wilderness...or something...wearing a Carhartt jacket. Carhartt makes sturdy outerwear for sturdy people, and as Michael Heath explains it's not at all an uncommon thing to see worn by pretty much anyone in the area Perry is addressing:
The Brokeback jacket wasn’t a Carhatt. And Carhartt clothing is associated with people who work outside in inclement weather, along with politicians who pander to them (e.g., Sarah Palin, and now Rick Perry). Their line has nothing to do with gays. It’s like politicians wearing John Deere hats or sporting Pabst Blue Ribbon decals . . . 
This clothing line is not defined by one mere movie about gays, where it wasn’t even featured. Carhartt is instead defined by its large popularity amongst those who Perry, Palin, Kid Rock, and Hank Williams direct their marketing efforts. I know of no other clothing line which can compete with their market share for outdoor work clothes you’re OK with getting dirty. They’re insulated overalls are especially dominant in my area since we have harsh winters here. 
You can make a good argument Perry’s pandering to rural populists by wearing work clothes which he’s never done a lick of work in himself. Most of us who wear this line of clothes are not worried about getting them dirty in a way you can’t launder out – as ZZ Top sang about their blue jeans, “you can tell by the oil and gasoline”. But you only embarrass yourself by pointing to one character in one movie and claiming Perry’s out of touch when in fact it’s those comparing this coat to a similar one worn in a movie who are out of touch, precisely because they validate their ignorance regarding its authentic popularity. This is not a close call.
I would add three comments to this:
  1. Heath Ledger's character in Brokeback Mountain didn't wear that jacket because he's gay, but because he's a cowboy. Duh, right? But this is important because cowboys are conceived as being rugged, tough, traditionally masculine, which is what Perry was going for.
  2. Suggesting that because this style of jacket was worn by a gay character in a movie, we should associate homosexuality with it when it's worn by a political candidate really smacks of a kind of sympathetic magic. When any item of clothing is worn by a gay character, it becomes gay!  No straight man should wear it ever again if he doesn't want people to giggle and call him a queer! Is that really the leap that we want to make?  
  3. It's true that over the top masculinity is often construed as homoerotic. But Perry isn't dressed as a Tom of Finland illustration here. He's just a guy wearing an outdoorsy jacket. As more and more movies are made featuring gay characters, those characters are eventually going to wear every item of clothing under the sun. Heath Ledger also wore jeans in that movie, but we're not saying "OMG jeans are gay!" because jeans are ubiquitous for most of us. Carhartt jackets are ubiquitous in certain parts of the U.S., and as Heath points out that makes the people who are unaware of that and pointing to Brokeback Mountain look rather ignorant. 
One final point, which I alluded to before-- attacking homophobes by suggesting that they're gay is not a compliment to actual gay people. Generally speaking, when people use an attribute that describes you as an insult to others, it doesn't feel that great. There has been some speculation about Perry's sexuality in the past, but if the future contains some revelation that he is actually bi or homosexual, two things will be certain: 1) any ensuing mockery should be for his hypocrisy, not his sexuality, and 2) having worn Carhartt outerwear in a campaign ad sure wasn't a tip-off.  

Sometimes, a jacket is just a jacket.

ETA: Two more comments on the topic....

From scorinth:
“why are you all so sure that all liberal think Carhartts are gay jacket?” 
Because that’s what the joke is: “Doesn’t Rick Perry look like that gay guy?” 
Sure. Maybe. Possibly, he looks like that one gay character from a movie. Why? Because he’s wearing a tan Carhartt jacket in an outdoor setting. I dare you to give me some other reason somebody would make that connection. So what people who make that joke are saying is that Perry looks like that one gay guy from the movie, because of the jacket. So, the jacket makes the faggot, so to speak. 
PROTIP: The majority of people who work outdoors in the central and western US wear clothing that’s very similar to that same jacket. That’s not a small number. I’m talking hundreds of thousands. Probably millions. To completely gloss over their existence and jump straight to the gay character is offensive to me both as a gay man and as a Kansan.
From James Hanley:
Conservatives tend to think liberals are out-of-touch with rural American, and lord how liberals are demonstrating it here.  
Look, my liberal friends, Rick Perry is a Texas farmer. You might be hard pressed to find a farm in Texas that doesn’t have a Carhartt’s jacket hanging in the mudroom. One Hollywood movie just ain’t sufficient to make Carhartt’s a symbol of gay culture in America.  
Grow up. Deal with the offensive content of Perry’s ad. But stop making yourselves look like effete urban pansies to whom flyover country is a foreign land, a place where you need a passport and a series of shots before you travel there. If you want to win America, you’d do well not to openly show your disdain for such a large part of it.

1 comment:

  1. scorinth here.
    I'm flattered to be quoted in your blog. I'd better be careful not to let it go to my head. ;) Thanks, anyway!


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