Thursday, April 14, 2011

April 19--Falsetto Men



Reading:

  • Alice Echols (2010) “The Homo Superiors: Disco and the Rise of Gay Macho,” Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture


Listening:

  • Tracks by Sylvester and Disco Tex & His Sexolettes on Blackboard


Viewing:

  • Sylvester "You Make Me Feel" video above

8 comments:

Emily Chang said...

Discussion Question:
What are other ways in which a man can vocally sound feminine besides falsetto, which imitates the sound of a woman’s voice?

Artifact Discussion:
The Alice Echols article talks about how the image of homosexuals moved from that of being “young, effeminate, and strange,” accompanied with the rise of disco music (Echols 124). I do agree that a more “macho” gay image did become more prevalent in the relevant time period, but the physical appearance of homosexual men at that time did not correspond to their music. Especially without watching any videos of disco dance scenes, it is hard to connect masculine homosexuality with disco songs. There are many elements that make such music feminine, one of which is of course the use of falsetto voices.
Although falsetto is associated with heterosexual men trying to seduce women with such sexual tones, it nevertheless involves a feminine voice range – Sylvester demonstrates such a vocal range in the three songs on Blackboard. Even in some of the lower notes in “Dance (Disco Heat)” are sung with falsetto so that Sylvester’s voice can easily be mistaken as that of a woman if the listener did not know who he was while listening to the song. Once one watches one of his music videos, such as “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” his “drag”-like appearance is apparent, and his feminine look combines with his falsetto voice to create a “womanly” persona.
Although the two songs by Disco Tex & His Sex-O-Lettes does involve falsetto-esque singing, there are another more prominent non-visual element. Their music employs Latin-like beats and the interspersing of Spanish in their music, and Latin music is often associated with (heterosexual) romance and talented dancing. To put the use of falsetto and even sexual, drawn-out sounds (such as around 1:33 in “Get Dancin’”) in the Disco Tex music along with the “romantic” connotations of Latin dance music creates an atmosphere that is not typically labeled masculine.

Angela said...

Question:
Do you think gay macho was a parody or sincere emulation of heterosexual masculinity?

Artifact:
I found most interesting the music video to “You make me feel (mighty real)” by Sylvester. He definitely matched, both in appearance and his music, the article’s description of him as a disco diva. I noticed in the video that he was wearing bracelets, earrings, necklaces, and lipstick. In the first part of the video, he has long hair and is wearing what could appear to be a black dress. Later on, he has a manly, short haircut and is wearing a suit that is clearly masculine. Right after that, at around 1:29 in the video, we see Sylvester in a glittery costume with a matching head garb, and he is waving a fan in a very feminine manner. The fact that Sylvester is a “shapeshifter, appearing in two very different kinds of drag” allows him to be sexually provocative to the maximum number of people, whatever their preferences in gay men may be.

In the video, we see many gay, macho men dancing. They are often shirtless, and they are frequently dancing with other men. At one point (around 5:00), a muscular gay man with long hair is dancing and pulls his hair back, making a face of intense ecstasy and appearing to be having an orgasm or to at least be enjoying himself greatly. At 4:31, a muscular black, gay man in a green speedo thong dances femininely and turns around so that we see his butt as he is dancing. Furthermore, the brightly colored disco balls throughout the video and the bright colors of the people dancing add to the notion that this is indeed a gay performance.

The use of falsetto throughout the song also indicates Sylvester’s queerness and the intent to appeal to a queer audience. As the article notes, “there is nothing intrinsically strange about falsetto vocalizing, especially in African American culture where it traditionally carried no connotations of effeminacy. But Sylvester’s falsetto had the sibilant lisp of a sissy and the defiant shrillness of a don’t-mess-with-me queen.” I definitely could hear this in Sylvester’s voice.

Athira said...

Question: What are the ethical ramnifications of policing "homosexual" identity, "heterosexual identity," "masculinity," and "femininity"? By policing, I mean constructing a set of norms that people must adhere to in order to be assigned a normative identity. Is it ok to construct a framework of identities that normalizes and supports some identities while marginalizing and disrespecting others?

Artifact Discussion:
In "The Homo Superiors: Disco and the Rise of Gay Macho," Alice Echols suggests that Sylvester "could not have been more out of step with the new gay macho" (Echols 144). In the video of "You Make Me Feel," Sylvester certainly seems to be out of sync with what Echols describes as "gay macho." When he first appears, he's in a leather jacket, a little black dress, and a pantyhose. This along with his jewelry fits Echols' description of him typically appearing in drag. Sylvester also switches costumes a bunch of times which is in keeping with Echols' assertion that Sylvester is a "shapeshifter" (Echols 144). Because Sylvester rejected embodying butch masculinity though he was consciously living "under the regime of gay macho" (Echols 144), he could be considered transgressive.

On the other hand, there was a lot of sexual objectification of the female in this video. Not only were there lots of women dancing around in bikinis, but there were a lot of close-up shots focusing on the lower half of the female body. At 5:29, a man is pressing his face into a bikini-clad woman's stomach and licking it. It seems like is something the straight world would largely register as "standard-issue masculinity," although it doesn't seem to be in sync with the gay macho necessarily. Accordingly, the video seemingly alludes to a variety of masculinities.

Matt Circle said...

Question:
Were homosexual men really the predominance of disco scenes? I have never viewed it this way, and I feel that popular media such as films do not represent it that way. Do you agree? I was personally shocked by this aspect of the article.

Artifact Discussion:
Echol's article discussed the rise of the macho, hyper masculine homosexual man in the disco era. After watching the music video, "You Make Me Feel," I do not fully agree with Echol's argument. I don't feel that this music video well represented the article's constructed version of the disco gay man. For example, there is a clip in the music video when a man starts kissing a woman's stomach. I believe that this music video sexualizes the disco scene, but not necessarily in a fully homoerotic way. More specifically, the drug ambience is certainly stressed upon, as evident among people's style of dancing, energy, and the intensified rave atmosphere. However, that is not to say that homosexuality is not portrayed at all in the video. I just do not think that the macho aspect of gay men was accentuated. While I agree that their bodies are certainly fit and they have "disco tits", as the article mentions, I do not tend to relate the vibrant clothes and cross dressing that is displayed in the video to macho.

Sylvester's appearance was also very shocking to me. No matter how many times or how closely I look at him in the music video, I cannot come close to seeing any resemblance to a man. His cross dressing skills are flawless. However, the selling factor is definitely his voice. This falsetto, to me, is to a much greater extent than Jeff Buckley's case, when we studied him. Buckley's vocals make him seem as if he is experimenting with femininity. Sylvester's voice, on the other hand, replicates perfectly a high female voice. What is ironic, though, is that the falsetto takes away from this supposed macho gay image, as well.

Matt Circle said...

Question:
Were homosexual men really the predominance of disco scenes? I have never viewed it this way, and I feel that popular media such as films do not represent it that way. Do you agree? I was personally shocked by this aspect of the article.

Artifact Discussion:
Echol's article discussed the rise of the macho, hyper masculine homosexual man in the disco era. After watching the music video, "You Make Me Feel," I do not fully agree with Echol's argument. I don't feel that this music video well represented the article's constructed version of the disco gay man. For example, there is a clip in the music video when a man starts kissing a woman's stomach. I believe that this music video sexualizes the disco scene, but not necessarily in a fully homoerotic way. More specifically, the drug ambience is certainly stressed upon, as evident among people's style of dancing, energy, and the intensified rave atmosphere. However, that is not to say that homosexuality is not portrayed at all in the video. I just do not think that the macho aspect of gay men was accentuated. While I agree that their bodies are certainly fit and they have "disco tits", as the article mentions, I do not tend to relate the vibrant clothes and cross dressing that is displayed in the video to macho.

Sylvester's appearance was also very shocking to me. No matter how many times or how closely I look at him in the music video, I cannot come close to seeing any resemblance to a man. His cross dressing skills are flawless. However, the selling factor is definitely his voice. This falsetto, to me, is to a much greater extent than Jeff Buckley's case, when we studied him. Buckley's vocals make him seem as if he is experimenting with femininity. Sylvester's voice, on the other hand, replicates perfectly a high female voice. What is ironic, though, is that the falsetto takes away from this supposed macho gay image, as well.

Jessica said...

Question:
Why would the popularization of the ‘gay macho’ style be considered the “homosexualization of America” (122) if it was based on what was stereotypically considered heterosexual culture? Wouldn’t this indicate a shift towards all men wanting to look straight regardless of their sexuality rather than all men wanting to look gay? It seems like the purpose of the movement was to show that gay males can still be manly, rather than to make homosexuality a fashion statement.

Artifact Discussion
I agree with my classmates above that Sylvester’s video for “You Make Me Feel” doesn’t really show a strictly ‘gay macho’ style. Instead, it seems to keep things ambiguous. For one, Sylvester switches outfits a few times, going from a fairly unisex black outfit to a man’s white suit to a glittery dress-type thing with a matching hat. Given the predominant fashion sense during this time period, it’s difficult to say that any of these outfits were feminine (a lot of men were wearing glitter and silk at the time). The same goes for the white outfit, as it can’t be called fully masculine since Sylvester is also holding a dainty little fan. Another aspect that adds to the ambiguity is the dancers in the video. Sylvester is surrounded by men and women, many of them dancing around shirtless or in bikinis (respectively). The camera zooms in on dancing hips of both genders, sometimes showing rear ends in thongs that could belong to either a man or woman (I was actually fooled by one butt in a green thong which I thought belonged to a woman, until the dancer turned around later in the video, and it was obvious then that he was a man).

The music is also a bit ambiguous, as though Sylvester is singing in falsetto, he’s not being particularly emotional or dramatic in his use of dynamics. Therefore, there are aspects of both masculinity and femininity in his voice. Plus, by now we’ve studied enough straight male singers who used falsetto for us to connect it immediately with homosexuality. This was different from what I heard in Disco Tex’s voice. Disco Tex reminded me of James Brown, since he did use falsetto but also had moments when he used a very raspy voice and a lower range. There were also a lot of points when he wasn’t quite singing, but sounded more like he was talking; breaking the melody/rules isn’t typically associated with femininity. He also incorporated Spanish, which instantly branded him as somewhat foreign (regardless of where he’s actually from); this then makes it more ‘forgivable’ that he used falsetto, and makes his moments of ‘femininity’ seem less indicative of homosexuality.

Spence said...

Question:
One man argues that the conformist muscular style was a "ghettoization" of homosexuality. Are they are already not "ghettoized" by congregating mostly in New York and San Francisco? Do the positives of this transformation outweigh the negatives?

Artifact Discussion:
"I wanna dance wit choo" seems like the epitome of this homosexual transformation. From the very beginning an intense masculine (almost muscular) scream is overlaid with high pitched falsetto. There is a chorus of women or kids or maybe really really high-pitched men singing in the background too. The contrast reflects the change from effeminate gay men to the men who acted in a hyper masculine way. The song is very cheery and the voice sounds almost like a young Michael Jackson. The repetitive train noise (chakawoo) invites you to dance cheerfully and jump around. There is no somber or calm moment in the song. There are always horns, people singing or a drum line plodding along. At 2:25 the multiple voices further this idea of multiple gay identities. Although drag queens did not seem to go to the same clubs as the masculine gay men, the song sounds like they are singing together in the same club.
They Sylvester video seems like a mockery of other music videos. He walks around in drag amongst attractive women, and pays no attention to him. Unlike in other music videos where the camera focuses on the artist’s penis or the attractive women around him, Sylvester’s face is the center of the first 1:50 of this video. The video then switches between images of men and women dancing in a sexual fashion. It asks the viewer to accept the idea that anyone can dance in a sexy seductive way and have a great time.

Harold said...

Question: It seemed like the use of gay macho in disco was a revival of virility and the potency of the male figure. Can this gay macho scene be likened to neoclassicism or is there some intrinsic quality that separates the two movements?

Artifact discussion:
Both the Echols article and the listenings depicted a new aspect of disco that I had never considered much before. I was under the impression that disco was a genre that owed a lot of its validity to the idea of lowered inhibitions and dancing. The idea of hedonism and gay macho was one that I thought was confined to clubs like Studio 54. Interestingly enough, Sylvester’s song, “You Make Me Feel,” was particularly telling of this gay sub-culture that was arising in disco. First of all, Sylvester’s voice is impressive enough in his exclusive use of falsetto. The talent and control displayed in the voice is remarkable, but it also supports the claim that falsetto is inherently effeminate and often associated with homosexuality. Coupled with the fact that Sylvester was alternating between male and female fashions during the entire music video, the audience is forced to wonder about Sylvester’s sexual orientation, given his voice and style.

On the other hand, Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes seemed more to rely on effects and the music itself, rather the way of singing. I am fairly certain if I were to see a live performance of the Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes, I would see a show that relied heavily on the effects of light, clothing, and dancing, rather than falsetto. It is still shocking to me that this sub-genre of disco is so heavily contrasted with one of the heaviest ideas of disco in popular culture – the Bee Gees in Saturday Night Fever. The two ideas of disco have two different followings and are also characterized by different sounds in the music. Though the Bee Gees employ falsetto, it seems like it is more subdued than say Sylvester. The Bee Gees seem to use more funk elements than Sylvester would.