Wednesday, 21 November 2007

8 - Berke Breathed

"Bloom County", 11 July 1984
by Berke Breathed
collected in "Penguin Dreams and Stranger Things", 1985

I suspect that this strip probably didn't appear in quite a few newspapers. The comics pages in American newspapers are quite bland. Anything which might cause the slightest disquiet over the morning Special-K and coffee has a tendency to never even appear. The possibility of angry letters to the editor because Johnny was asking Mommy what this meant would probably result in quite a few editors pre-emptively roundfiling it.

I saw this strip when I was 11. It suddenly added a whole new aspect to what I thought it meant to be a homosexual. Lightfooted, limpwristed Larry Grayson and Mr Humphries were about the extent of my awareness when I'd been in England. Whatever San Francisco and Castro Street meant passed me by. But the two guys, with the one in some odd motorcycle uniform and the laughing references to what, thanks to Tom Lehrer a couple of months later, I would discover to be masochism, opened weird new vistas.
And really that's the point of all this.
When you're a child, avenues of finding out about gayness are more restricted. Even if there are documentaries and dramas about homosexuality, your parents aren't going to let you, 8 or 9 years old, watch them. Even if you had the slightest inkling of what they were about, or what relevance they might actually have for you. Not least, because these aren't the sort of programmes your parents are going to watch in the first place.
So if you see homosexuals, it's more likely going to be as fleeting appearances in comedy programmes which you all watch as a family or cartoons and comic strips which are lying around.
So the first way you ever see gays is as jokes. Something to be laughed at. It's not necessarily cruel or vindictive, because everything gets laughed at in these programmes. But it does mean that you only see gay people in a weird distorting mirror as innately ridiculous things, and everyone else is seeing them that same way too.

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