Why we yearn for a life of manly adventure - and leather chaps

By Mark Simpson
Sunday 15 December 2002 01:00

Funny how the symbol of innocence can become its opposite in less time than it takes to jump under your pardner's blanket on a cold night out on the prairie.

The Rawhide Kid isn't the first comic book hero to be outed, of course, though until recently it tended to be done by moral crusaders worried about "deviancy" in kids rather than the comics companies themselves.

Back in the Fifties, Batman and Robin were attacked by an influential shrink called Frederic Wertham, alarmed that Bruce and Robin lived in a house with no females and that Robin was "devoted" to Bruce. Wertham was especially exercised by the fact that the Boy Wonder's legs were "usually bare and wide apart".

An elderly aunt was promptly moved into the Bruce Wayne mansion.

However, it was the out-gay director Joel Schumacher in 1995 who came up with the final solution to Batman and Robin's latent homosexuality: by making a film so unbearably and overtly campy that no one was the slightest bit interested in them any more.

Mind you, perversity is anything but out of fashion and quite what makes a "straight" comic hero is very unclear, as this summer's blockbuster Spider-Man movie showed.

Apparently injected with steroids and ecstasy by a gay spider, Peter Parker admires his new buffed body in the mirror with widening eyes, dresses up in a tight Lycra gimp suit and runs around a lot on all fours with his arse in the air – when he isn't swinging between the billboards and skyscrapers.

Initially devoted to his gal, he ultimately decides to dump her and swing off into the sunset with his gimp suit.

Wertham was right, you see. Or as Ren put it in the sado-masochistic 1990s lovefest that was The Ren & Stimpy Show: "Cartoons will ruin your mind!!"

Even good old Rawhide, it turns out, was never that innocent. A cover of The Rawhide Kid from 1969 shows a strapping young cowboy shooting his "hot rod" at Rawhide's feet, while our hero, clenching his fists and shutting his eyes, thinks: "I can't draw against him! Not HIM!"

The new Rawhide apparently has a thing for the Lone Ranger, but then this was ever the lure of the Great American Story itself – men fleeing women, domesticity, responsibility and normality for a life of manly adventure – and leather chaps.

Mark Simpson, gay commentator, is the author of 'Sex Terror: Erotic Misadventures in Pop Culture' (Harrington Park Press)

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