Saturday, 19 July 2008

153: Christopher Browne

in “National Lampoon” May 1977

Well, here's a rather genial take on the gay bath house scene. By 1977 it’s a little late in the day though. Apparently the earlier 70s were the real heyday for the bathhouses, but then again people weren’t paying that much attention to gay lifestyles then. Though 1972-73 did see a lot of articles about Bette Midler with references to her career-making shows at the Continental Baths. And if the “Colonial Baths” in this cartoon are inspired by anything in particular it’s the actual “Continental Baths”.

That the lead character is a Soviet visitor layers a certain irony over the whole encounter, and also allows for an endearing naivety – like a rather more explicitly homoerotic version of the sitcom “Perfect Strangers”. If he weren’t from some insulated foreign territory it’s hard to see how the lead character wouldn’t immediately identify everything that was going on and make good his escape.

The use of the construction worker as the friendly gay guide is a bit of a twist. From the early 70s on, politicised blue collar/construction workers had been stereotyped as reactionary conservatives, known as “hard hats”.

I could be wrong but it does look like all the homosexuals have rather more protuberant and inviting bottoms. That the lead character has nipples when topless is an interesting additional detail too. And am I alone in thinking that the drag queen looks like a combination of Bette Midler and Barry Manilow? As in Dragula, “Merv” is a reference to the closeted talk show host Merv Griffin.

Unlike “Little Annie Fanny”, sex is happening in and out-of-sight in this cartoon. Suggestions of real sex need to evident if this cartoon is going to work, and give a real and comprehensiveimpression of the bath house scene. Since this cartoon relies more on the humour in the situation than on a torrent of gags, it needs the reality of sex to give its events some weight and consequence. Although as far as comedic rapes go, this cartoon ends quite innocently.

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