Sunday, 26 April 2009

255: Classical Attitudes 2

There are really only two significant observations I have to make about the following pieces in the next couple of instalments”.

Observation the first:
Most of them cut straight to the sexual chase. In each instance the gag works by addressing sodomy in a surprisingly direct or even explicit fashion. Most of the pieces here have nothing to do with effeminate stereotypes. The sudden shift to a completely different historical period with sexual norms (which is what suggests the jokes in the first places) seems to mean the writers and cartoonists are able to dispense with homosexuality’s usual sissy associations.

While Woody Allen’s routine in “Love and Death” undermines logical philosophical discourse by following a befuddled byway about classical philosopher’s private lives and what possible bearing that has on the Woody Allen character's private actions and his larger task of assassinating Napoleon, the Plato parody in "National Lampoon" is about the unnecessary insertion of pornography into classical literature. And if you're going to do it with ancient Greeks then what other choice is there?

In the Roth comic, note the two figures in the far bottom tight corner, one of whom clasping his sore arse. About which I have harbour rather dubious feelings about Mr Roth's intentions. However, it is a sexualised development on the usual lisping, bitching sissies with pursed lips and fluttery eyelashes in the last panel. Dildo swords for mannish lesbians is a new one.

Observation the second:
These pieces are are all largely American. Nice young English humorists and satirists educated at public schools are quite familiar with classical culture and “Romantic Friendships” (vide Cyril Connolly, Simon Raven, Stephen Fry, et al) and therefore don’t seem to have a need to draw on the homosexual import of classical culture. Americans do. Possibly because it is such an alien set of cultural references. The respect for the intellectual ideals of classical antiquity played off against an acceptance of sexual perversity.

"Greek Culture Insert" from “National Lampoon”, February 1974

by Guerrier in “Evergreen Review” May 1971

from “Illustrated History of Sex” by Arnold Roth, in “Playboy” January 1975

from “Obligatory Sex Scenes” in “National Lampoon”, August 1976
by Plato

I do not understand how that can be so," replied Thrasymachus.
"Perhaps we should take an example," said Socrates, "to see if what I maintain is true in common nature."
"Very well."
"We have said that Love cannot be purely physical, and therefore mortal, for it is eternal and cannot die. Look at those birds over there. Their parents are doubtless dead, and yet they themselves, the embodiment of their parents' love, live on, and fly beautifully against the sunset, do they not?"
"They do, I agree," answered Thrasymachus.
"Just so. Then we must also agree that Love itself is Eternal, Beautiful, and True, must we not?"
"We must," agreed the chastened boy.
"Fine," continued Socrates, gathering his robes up before him. "Now bend over, and I'll drive you home."

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