Thursday, 6 August 2009
281: The Beatles - John Hughes / Eric Idle
“National Lampoon” October 1977
Written by John Hughes
Art by Ernie Chan
Well, this is rather “qu’est-ce que fuck?”
From an issue of “National Lampoon” devoted to the Beatles.
By the later 70s the history of the Beatles had been worked over, and reworked over, and turned over yet again, so that every tittle of fact relating to their careers had been brought to light. This also included Brian Epstein’s homosexuality, which gets worked into the grand unifying history.
Eric Idle’s “The Rutles” (1978) has a piece which also plays on the idea that Epstein (Leggy Mountbatten in the alternative fantasy world of “The Rutles”) was not wholly attracted to the Beatles’ simply because of their musical talents.
Mrs. Mountbatten: "Leggy told me he'd been to see these young men in a dark cellar. He was always very interested in young men-- youth clubs, boy scouts , that sort of thing. But these he said were different."
Brian Fowl: "In what way?"
Mrs. Mountbatten: "Well, their hair, their music, their presence.
Brian Fowl: He liked it?.
Mrs. Mountbatten: "No, he hated it.
Brian Fowl: What did he like?
Mrs. Mountbatten: "Well......their trousers.
Brian Fowl: What about their trousers?
Mrs. Mountbatten: "Well they were very.......tight.
Brian Fowl: Tight?
Mrs. Mountbatten: "Yes, you could see quite clearly. . .
Brian Fowl: Oh I see.
Mrs. Mountbatten: "Everything. Outlines. The lot.
Brian Fowl: Oh. Yes thank you.
Mrs. Mountbatten: "Clear as day.
Brian Fowl: Thank you very much.
Mrs. Mountbatten: "Nothing left to the imagination.
Brian Fowl: Yes thank you very much indeed, Mrs. Mountbatten.
Mrs. Mountbatten: "Not at all.
It doesn’t spell everything out. Coy is maybe even the word. But it’s evident, in an Alan Bennettish sort of a way.
Quite what the fuck Hughes is after is rather more up for grabs. But then everything’s up for grabs in this comic parody, as long as it’s offensive. It’s one thing to offer stereotypes of predatory homosexuals, its then rather working the odds in your favour to write other characters abusing them for that homosexuality. There’s also a little racism and anti-Semitism , from a supposed Nazi to boot. And even if you like the Beatles Hughes is offensive about them too, beside suggesting they might have murdered this fictional Epstein. And that’s beside the incidentals of evisceration and rape, which don't normally make for comedy. A rather "Deliverance" style gay anxiety there. At best you can say this piece is the comedic equivalent of somebody deliberately working themselves up to vomit in their host’s face. The plot makes no sense, and what sensibilities Hughes thinks he is offending for laughs is unclear either. I suppose he’s offending my sensibilities. The unpleasantness about homosexuals, but then I’m offended even more by the fact that it’s just a stinking pile of shit. The only thing I can compare it to is the Nazi atrocity “Meng and Ecker” comics brought out by Savoy Books.
Honestly, for all the talk of the last few days that’s cropped up about the absence of gay characters in Hughes movies, homosexuals and gay Hughes fans in particular are better off for it. If Hughes had featured any they would almost certainly have been of a piece with The Donger.
The casual throwing around of “fag” and “homo” is par for high school life. So when Hughes characters do the same, it’s just verisimilitude for the audience, and I don’t blame Hughes. It’s when you see the stuff he wrote for the “National Lampoon” in the late 70s that you realise what a lucky escape gay fans had. Between the two of them Hughes and P.J.O’Rourke filled dozens of pages of every issue, and you can see them staking their territory of conventional, middle America, it’s styles, mores and prejudices. Indeed quite a few bits in Hughes films started off in the “National Lampoon”.
But when Hughes wrote about fags and homos for NL, it was the same deliberate lack of concern that he wrote about funny foreigners. That’s not to suggest that Hughes was some rampant homophobe, but I don’t think that the man who wrote those sort of “screw you” style pieces was the man who was going to write an accepting study of gay teenage life. At best his pieces are animated by slight irritation at homosexuals and finds their encroaching lifestyles a little amusing (like “Private Eye” at the same period). At worst it’s a torrent of bizarre offence such as the above.