Monday, 7 May 2012

400: Gay Bar 1: Shel Silverstein

Gay bars and discos are an opportunity to show a whole load of homosexuals in one place. What do they do? How do they behave together? What do they drink and how do they dress? If one homosexual is funny, then surely a whole mass of them should be a scream. Bearing in mind that for the longest time a gay bar was a barely legal venue, only operating under sufferance because of organised crime backhanders, with the patrons still subject to sudden arrest by cops and prosecution resulting in loss of their jobs and social shame. Fun times.

from “Silverstein in Greenwich Village”
Shel Silverstein
“Playboy”, September 1960

So here are some contemporary denizens who huddle together in the modern metropolis. Like knows like because they have overly styled, lengthy hair, expressive eyes with long lashes or eyebrows for men. Sensitive features and postures. An earring on the bartender. At least one patron looks as though he’s eying up another across the bar.

The gag in the cartoon is a reverse with the unexpected interposition of heterosexuality.

The psychiatrist is also a 1960s touch, particularly since it seems almost every, or at least every other, gay man of the time was seeing a shrink to try and deal with his sexuality.

To put this bar in some sort of context: “The New York Times” ran a lengthy feature , “Life on W. 42d St. A Study in Decay.” by Milton Bracker on 14 March, 1960. A large part of this “decay” is devoted to the homosexual presence on Times Square and 42nd Street. The reporter details encountering such homosexuals as “a Negro who wore fluffed up hair and heavy black make-up on his brows and lashes” and a "a white youth with thick blond hair and handsome features who wore makeup on his eyebrows" who "spoke effeminately and shifted his hips and legs as he spoke." Disgraceful. Worse may be a heterosexual “youth in a black jacket and tapered trousers” who listened to “‘nothing but rock’n’roll’” and considered “homosexuals … ‘nice people.’” He should know better. Amidst all the sex cinemas there’s also the Jewel Box Review – with "25 Boys and 1 girl – Astounding Deception!!!" it was a drag show. Drag will play a big part in the forthcoming depictions of gay bars in the 60s and 70s.

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