Thursday, 5 February 2009
221: Terry Southern - “The Moon-Shot Scandal”
“The Moon-Shot Scandal”
By Terry Southern in “The Realist” November 1962
A significant difference between Soviet and American space efforts has been the constant spotlight of public attention focused on the latter, while our antagonist's program has been carried forward in relative secrecy. This has presented tremen¬dous disadvantages, especially in its psychological effect on the national-mind, and it harbors a dangerous potential indeed. If, for example, in climax to the usual fanfare.. and nationally televised countdown, the spacecraft simply explodes, veers out crazily into the crowd, or burrows deep into the earth at the foot of the launching-pad, it can be fairly embarrassing to all concerned. On the other hand, it is generally presumed, because of this apparent and completely above-board policy, that everything which occurs in regard to these American spaceshots is immediately known by the entire public. Yet can anyone really be naive enough to believe that in matters so extraordinarily important an attitude of such simple¬minded candor could obtain? Surely not. And the facts behind the initial moon-shot, of August 17, 1961, make it a classic case in point, now that the true story may at last be told.
Readers will recall that the spacecraft, after a dramatic count¬down, blazed up from its pad on full camera; the camera followed its ascent briefly, then cut to the tracking-station where a graph described the arc of its ill-fated flight. In due time it became evident that the rocket was seriously off course, and in the end it was announced quite simply that the craft had "missed the moon" by about two-hundred thousand miles-by a wider mark, in fact, than the distance of the shot itself. What was not announced-either before, during, or after the shot-was that the craft was manned by five astronauts. Hoping for a total coup, the Space Authority ¬ highest echelon of the Agency-had arranged for a fully crewed flight, one which if successful (and there was considerable reason to believe that it would be) would then be dramatically announced to an astonished world: "Americans on the Moon!" Whereas, if not successful, it would merely remain undisclosed that the craft had been manned. The crew, of course, was composed of carefully screened volunteers who had no dependents, or living relatives.
So, in one room of the tracking-station-a room which was not being televised-communications were maintained throughout this historic interlude. Fragmented transcripts, in the form of both video and acoustic tapes, as well as personal accounts of those present, have now enabled us to piece together the story - the story, namely, of how the moon-bound spaceship, "Cutie-Pie II," was caused to careen off into outer space, beyond the moon itself, when some kind of "insane faggot hassle," as it has since been described, developed aboard the craft during early flight stage.
According to available information, Lt. Col. P. D. Slattery, a "retired" British colonial officer, co-captained the flight in hand with Major Ralph L. Doll (better known to his friends, it was later learned, as "Baby" Doll); the balance of the crew consisted of Capt. J. Walker, Lt. Fred Hanson, and CpI. "Felix" Mendelssohn. (There is certain evidence suggesting that CpI. Mendelssohn may have, in actual fact, been a woman.) The initial phase of the existing transcript is comprised entirely of routine operational data and reports of instrument readings. It was near the end of Stage One, however, when the craft was some 68,000 miles from earth, and still holding true course, that the first untoward incident occurred; this was in the form of an exchange between Lt. Hanson and Maj. Doll, which resounded over the tracking-station inter-corn, as clear as a bell on a winter's morn:
Lt. Ranson: "Will you stop it! Just stop it!"
Maj. Doll: "Stop what? I was only calibrating my altimeter¬ for heaven's sake, Freddie!"
Lt. Hanson: "I'm not talking about that and you know it! I'm talking about your infernal camping! Now just stop it! Right now!"
The astonishment this caused at tracking-station H.Q. could hardly be exaggerated. Head-phones were adjusted, frequencies were checked; the voice of a Lt. General spoke tersely: "Cutie-Pie II-give us yuur reading-over."
"Reading thpeeding," was Cpl. Mendelssohn's slyly lisped reply, followed by a cunning snicker. At this point a scene of fantastic bedlam broke loose on the video inter-corn. Col. Slattery raged out from his forward quarters, like the protagonist of Psycho - in outlandish feminine attire of the nineties, replete with a dozen petticoats and high-button shoes. He pranced with wild imperiousness about the control room, interfering with all operational activity, and then spun into a provocative and feverish combination of tarantella and can-can at the navigation panel, saucily flicking at the controls there, cleverly integrating these movements into the tempo of his dervish, amidst peals of laughter and shrieks of delight and petulant annoyance.
"Mary, you silly old fraud," someone cried gaily, "this isn't Pirandello!"
It was then that the video system of the inter-corn blacked out, as though suddenly shattered, as did the audio-system shortly after¬ward. There is reason to believe, however, that the sound communi¬cation system was eventually restored, and, according to some accounts, occasional reports (of an almost incredible nature) con¬tinue to be received, as the craft-which was heavily fueled for its return trip to earth-still blazes through the farther reaches of space.
Surely, despite the negative and rather disappointing aspects of the flight, there are at least two profitable lessons to be learned from it: (1) that the antiquated, intolerant attitude of the Agency, and of Government generally, towards sexual freedom, can only cause individual repression which may at any time-and especially under the terrific tensions of space-B.ight-have a boomerang effect to the great disadvantage of all concerned, and (2) that there may well be, after all, an ancient wisdom in the old adage, "Five's a crowd."
Wholly inappropriate homosexuals comically disgracing some bastion of all-American masculine pride? Check
Well if nothing else this is pretty comprehensive in enumaterating many of the mannerisms and comedic set-ups that would obtain for the better part of the next 20 or so years. I am however absolutely entranced by the phrase “insane faggot hassle”. If ever there were a perfect title for some queer ‘zine then it must be “Insane Faggot Hassle”. Of course this piece is mostly written in a deliberately conservative style appropriate to a report, to set a contrasting background for the sudden eruption of queaniness, so there’s little else to rise to that kind of word-juggling, which is a shame.
The illustration is from a reprint in the short-lived late ‘60s English humour magazine “Private Collection”.
There is a recurrence of comedy homosexuals in Southern’s works, his writing and his films. If there is a sudden sprinkling of cameo comedy queers in the more daring films appearing in the later ‘60s then it is not merely because there is a new license in sexual matters in society but because the films are often either written by Southern, adapted from his works, or else the film-makers are trying to capture the same tone.
From “An Impolite Interview with Terry Southern" in “The Realist” May 1964
Q. Some readers have felt that, in a couple of things you've written for "The Realist", that there was an underlying hostility toward homosexuals. Do you have an underlying hostility toward homosexuals?
A. No, I do not, Paul, but def! Some of my best friends, in fact, are absolutely insanely raving gay. "Prancing gay," it's sometimes called - that's the gayest there is. My notion of homosexuality, by the way- I mean the area of interest it holds for me - is in the manner, speech, and implicit outlook, and has nothing to do with the person's sex-life.
I know guys, for example, who are actually married to boys, but they wouldn't be homosexual in my mind because their manner and so on is non-gay. On the other hand, there does exist a very definite gay-syndrome, and anyone who has not observed this is simply too busy playing the fool. Now if you want to say that the very awareness of the syndrome is hostility, I could not argue that-though I hasten to add that by no means do I find it an unpleasant syndrome. As for its significance, I would certainly say that persons who are quite openly and freely gay have more in common, or believe they have, than persons who say they are Catholic or Jewish have.
In fact, if you were to compile a list of group-identifications which have any internal strength left, I would say the gay would rank fairly high. The highest of course, would be the junkies - they have a sense of togetherness, a common frame of reference, and so on, that surpasseth all. Jewish is finished, Negro is rapidly falling to pieces. The Gurdjieff people, Actors Studio people- I think they're fairly tight, but of course they're both tiny groups.
But you take the gay-well, I don't want to go too far out on a limb here, prediction-wise, but by God, I'll just bet that if someone, a smart politician, really used his head - no pun intended there, Paul, har, har - and made a strong, very direct bid for the huge gay vote. . . well!
Q. As a matter of fact, there is a gay politician who, when a reporter asked him off the record if he thought his homosexuality would affect the election, he replied that he was hoping for the latent vote.
A. Anyway, if I may return to your question, I say no, I am not anti-gay, and, in fact, I say moreover that only a non-gay could have interpreted my articles as such.