October 24, 2009

She Cursed Cole Porter Too...

Should you gently sift through your memories of early summer, you might recall some talk about a politician and his affair with a woman from South America. I never wrote about it, although the particulars of that episode were not devoid of humor-- largely unintended, to be sure, but then politicians as a class are remarkable asses, approaching frighteningly close to perfect incompetence and total blindness as to how they are perceived by grubby commoners. In any case, whatever needed to be said on that subject had been expressed decades before, and in an especially delightful way -- as you can see for yourself.

I draw your attention to the fact that this performance is but one sequence from a live, 90-minute television broadcast dating from October 1955. As delicious as the song (of course, one of Mr. Coward's own), and as scintillating as the performance, is the contemplation of Mr. Coward's particular wit and style beaming into homes across the land of Eisenhower and Donna Reed. (Although Ms. Reed's television show didn't premiere until a few years later, let's not quibble over insignificant details, my darlings.) But denial was the order of the day, so audiences could revel in Mr. Coward's entertainments (and they did) while thinking of him affectionately in the manner they regarded that charming uncle. Everyone knew he was a confirmed bachelor, and he certainly appeared to be very close to several male friends. But then, boys will be boys! Too true, my dears, too true. You could only imagine -- but then, that was precisely what no one cared to do.

For the most part, Coward went along with the game. That's how almost everyone lived then, an issue I discussed over six years ago (even mentioning Coward as one example of the pervasive denial), when I recalled my attempts to deal with being a gay teenager in the 1960s, efforts which failed miserably for a long time and with some genuinely awful episodes along the way. Despite Coward's unremitting decorum and propriety, it was common knowledge that he was "that way" -- just as it was common knowledge that it was that fact which denied him a knighthood until close to the end of his life, even while most people acknowledged he had deserved one long before.

Although much has thankfully changed since those hellishly halcyon bygone days, much has not. That has to do not only with our foundational conviction that sex is inherently evil and "dirty" (see the first part of this essay), but with the still widespread view that gay sex is especially "icky" (discussed here and, from a broader perspective, in "We Are Not Freaks"). As those essays demonstrate, it's not only conservatives who display this limitation; many liberals suffer from it as well, although they go to great pains to convince everyone (most especially themselves) that they don't actually think that way about people who are "that way." But many of them do, you see.

Ah, well. Enjoy Mr. Coward. He can't be tormented by such nonsense any longer. "She cursed Cole Porter too..." Absolutely delicious.