May 14, 2013

Indiana Jones: White Heterosexual Male Adventure

During the famous summer of 1981, when I went to an Italian Film Festival, moved into my own apartment, and learned about  gay German literatureThe Canterbury Tales, and the Beat Generation, I saw a dozen movies with gay subtexts, including  Clash of the Titans, American Werewolf in LondonHell Night, and The Chosen.  

Raiders of the Lost Ark was not among them. It hit  #1 at the box office that year by playing into Reagan-era conservative anxieties about gay people and gender roles (and race and imperialism).

You know the plot:

1.  Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), whip-wielding archaeologist, is trying to steal a valuable artifact from a lost temple in Peru.  He seems to be buddy-bonding with his guide, Satipo (Alfred Molina), and even grabs his crotch to pull him out of a dangerous situation. But then Satipo betrays him and leaves him to die.

It's not just Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Indy is betrayed by Walter Donovan in the sequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and by Mac in Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.  Men are duplitious, underhanded; male friendships not to be trusted.

As a consequence, Indy has allies but no buddies.  He has an 11-year old ward, Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan), in Temple, and in Crystal, he mentors young greaser Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), who turns out to be his son.

One of his allies, the Egyptian Sallah (Jonathan Rhys-Davies) could be read as gay-vague, as he dislikes receiving a gratitude-kiss from The Girl, and spends a lot of time hugging, kissing, and fondling men. But the gay reading is minimized by making him a heterosexual father with about a dozen kids.

2. After bringing the artifact back home, Indy teaches a class in archaeology to a classroom full of female students mooning over him.  Apparently he's incredibly dreamy, swoon-worthy to the max -- but only to girls.  Heterosexism in full force.

3. Indy gets a new assignment: to track down the Ark of the Covenant that the ancient Hebrews used to destroy the Egyptian army.  (Wait -- didn't the Egyptians destroy them?).  So it's off to the Middle East, or in Temple, to India; or in The Last Crusade, Italy; or in Crystal Skull, Peru.  Unlike most archaeologists, Indy doesn't specialize in one geographic region, and he's fluent in every language ever spoken, even the Mayan language spoken 3,000 years ago in Peru!  Not heterosexist, just stupid.

4. En route  to the Middle East, Indy stops in Tibet (yeah, that's on the way) to look up Marian, a girl that he broke up with, ostensibly to get an amulet that shows the location of the Ark, but actually to get back together with her.  The most hackneyed trick in the book for getting The Girl into the plot. Indy also hooks up with The Girl in Temple (a nightclub performer who accidentally tags along) and in Last Crusade (a Nazi who falls for him and changes alliances); in Crystal Skull, Marian returns so they can reconcile. Fade out kiss. Yawn.

5. After a few more betrayals by male friends, Indy and Marian run up against the creepy, foppish Nazi Arnold Toht (Ronald Lacey), who always carries a specially-designed hanger in a black case to keep his coat from getting wrinkled.  Gay vague villains abound in the series.  Perhaps the most egregious is the swaying, jewelry-encrusted young boy, Maharaja Salim Singh (Raj Singh), who tortures Indy with a voodoo doll in Temple (yes, a Hindu with a Sikh name uses an Afro-Caribbean device).

Or maybe the butch lesbian stereotype, Nazi. .. um, I mean Commie. . .Irina Spalko (Kate Blanchette) in Crystal Skull.

6.  Turns out the the Ark of the Covenant contains spirits, who kill the evil Nazis but spare Indy and his friends.  Same thing happens in each of the sequels; the spiritual world, the laws of the universe side with Truth, Right, Masculinity, and Heterosexism.  The gay-vague, the gender-transgressive, the Nazi/Commie must perish.

Harrison Ford is not exactly a gay ally, although he seems ok on gay marriage. Still, I'll stick with the Die Hard series.