Thursday, October 20, 2011

Controversy about Guy Fieri and the Gays: Reflections on the Butching Up of the Foodie World

This story illustrates why I go on periodic rants* about the increasing domination of the world of foodie stardom by macho men who, to my mind, want to send strong signals of disdain for the gay men (and the women) who have made and who sustain the world of culinary creation and culinary appreciation out of which today's slow-food movement has developed.  As the HuffPo article to which I link at the start of the preceding sentence notes, there's a big stink now developing over disdainful remarks that Food Network star Guy Fieri has allegedly made about gay folks in the food biz.

Granted, it seems that David Page, who is making these allegations about Fieri, has a history of contention with him, and this could well be some kind of set-up for Fieri.  I certainly want to be fair to him.

Even so, there's a clearly discernible (and growing) tendency on the big food shows to shove gay men (and women) to the margins, and put macho heterosexual men front and center in the foodie movement--a movement waxing in cultural (and economic) power, so that those who become the face of the movement become the beneficiaries of its power.

I suspect two things may be going on with this attempt to claim the world of culinary creation and food appreciation for heterosexual men.  One is a psychodynamic that seems particularly powerful in any cultural field in which gay men and women predominate, but where straight men also seek representation as the field begins to be lucrative and to provide power to those who enter it.  This is the strong need of those straight men who enter a "feminine" or "gay" venue to hyper-demonstrate their masculinity.

I saw a clip from a recent "Ellen Degeneres" show this week, in which one of the men now competing on "Dancing with the Stars" appeared with his female partner, and I was struck (and amused and irritated) by the man's need to go beyond beyond in butching it up.  Because, you know, he's a dancer.  And good at it.  Graceful, lithe, well-muscled, popping with rhythm.

But to prove to us that none of that has anything to do with the gays, he spent the entire time in the limelight Ellen's interview provided for him smirking at and hitting on his female dance partner (who seemed singularly unimpressed by this shtick), and slouching spread-eagled on the sofa with his huge hands (man's hands, don't you know) dangling on prominent display between his open legs.

Because he's a dancer, you know.  Not gay.  Nothing finicky or polite about him in the least.  A real man.

The other dynamic that I suspect is feeding the need of men who now want to dominate the foodie world to butch it up is the obvious, irrefutable fact that the great cuisines of the world, with which any contemporary culinary star can only tinker (because they've long since been established), were all invented by women.  Not by men.

Women had to invent the world's great cuisines because in almost every culture of the globe throughout history, women have been expected to do the cooking.  While men lounged around the fire, legs spread wide and big manly hands dangling between their spread legs, waiting for the little woman stirring pots and shaking skillets to bring food to them.

You may have gotten the feeling I don't like the attempt of hyper-macho straight men to try to steal the show now that interest in things foodish is on the rise?  You'd be right.  I don't like this development because it's fundamentally dishonest.  It tries to invisibilize the very folks who have historically done most to make cooking and eating as interesting, healthy, and spirit-sustaining as possible.

While placing front and center the very folks who, throughout history, have always and predictably sought to take credit for anything of importance that happens in the world.  And who have always and predictably reaped the primary benefits, when a new trend or new creation begins to produce profit and to provide power.

* See also here, but note Kallisti's response, which I have taken seriously as a welcome challenge to my assessment of Bourdain.  Because I value Kallisti's insights.

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