In the early ‘80s, the USA had a minor collective shitfit about blurred gender divisions. The subject emerged into the mass consciousness almost out of nowhere—all of a sudden, three mainstream movies had cross dressing as their central themes, and Michael Jackson and other androgyny-friendly musicians were experiencing huge pop chart success. Obviously, genderfuck had been a part of rock culture for a long time—it was a decade earlier that David Bowie and Lou Reed made career moves of conspicuous bisexual posturing, and then of course there were the New York Dolls—but MTV pumping Duran Duran, Haysi Fantayzee, and the Belle Stars into millions of Midwestern living rooms newly wired for cable was an altogether different level of cultural penetration.
The appearance of artists like Annie Lennox, Dee Snider and Pete Burns definitely startled a lot of normals, but the figure who, all by himself, racked up by far the high score of shat Middle-American underpants was Boy George of Culture Club. He was such a harmless and goofy figure, but 30 years ago, a lot of people found him genuinely threatening. DM’s Martin Schneider recently made a well-deserved poke at the Midwestern response to Culture Club’s Colour By Numbers tour. As I was a teenaged Clevelander at the time, I can personally vouch for the truth of that piece. A lot of “grownups” fully lost their shit about Boy George.
I still don’t get what the big deal was.
Of course, the national news media had to explore the issue for baffled masses in grave danger of seeing the totally artificial social construct to which they were accustomed fall slightly apart on a superficial level. Leslie Stahl, for one, explored “The Feminization of America” on Face the Nation in 1984.
I love how “the feminizing of society” is illustrated with clips of men doing laundry and caring for infants. Who, WHO I ASK YOU, will save this degenerate civilization from the horror of fathers acting like parents? But as the segment continued, I found myself astonished that the discussion was civil, adult, and not completely trivializing. Megatrends author John Naisbitt offers some perfectly sensible if perhaps simplified insights, and then JERRY FALWELL of all people is genial, respectful, and, though obviously faaaaaaaar from progressive in his views, he’s not totally insane and hateful. The way he was towards the end of his life, I honestly expected him to do some bonkers shit like blame a tornado on Yentl. Imagine a similar conversation as it would happen on Hannity, McLaughlin, or The Five today, and weep for what we’ve lost in just 30 years.
Apologies, by the way, for the huge glitch in the middle of Falwell’s comments. Not that it’s likely they were illuminating or anything, but I did try to locate an alternate video, and turned up nothing. It’s probably not that great of a loss—in part three, Falwell predictably, and in scripturally unconvincing terms, goes on to defend the American post-WWII gender status quo as God’s eternal and ineffable will, and is called out on his blatant cultural and class biases by co-panelist/actual smartest person in the room Benjamin DeMott. But the most intelligent and moving comments in the whole segment come from Boy George himself. The insights he proffers in his one-on-one interview with Stahl remain relevant today, and fully make up for my disappointment that he and Falwell weren’t on the live panel together. I generally dislike the Internet’s abuse of the adjective “epic,” but god damn, THAT would have been a valid use.