|Star News caption|
Over the past few weeks, a Virgin media ad featuring Usain Bolt has been creating quite a stir among Jamaicans. In the ad Bolt plays, his infant son, a teenager, his grandfather, himself and his wife. Personally, I find the ad funny and it delivers the message about the product he is selling – super fast broadband.
If there is any fault it could be that Bolt’s powerful brand to a great extent overwhelms the product he is selling but some Jamaicans would not have picked up the humor or that Bolt eclipses the broadband because they have been unable to get past the dress.
I shared the ad on my Facebook page and initially people responded by saying it was funny. To some it was funnier than it was to others who responded. Later on there were others who added a whole new dimension. To them the ad emasculates Bolt. How so? Because he wore a dress.
As the days passed, a video of an old interview done by Oprah with comedian Dave Chapelle surfaced. In it, the comic postulates that there is a plan afoot to emasculate black men who have become famous by putting them in dresses. He even told the queen of talk show hosts that they even tried it with him once and he refused. Good for him. That video was now being used to demonstrate why the Virgin ad was an attempt to emasculate Bolt. To others, it was a sign that Bolt was secretly gay. I had to laugh because it is a twisted view of how we define masculinity.
Back in September 1995 Amblin Entertainment released a film called To Wong Foo. In the film that was distributed by Universal Pictures and made US$47 million at the box office, Patrick Swayze, John Leguizamo and Wesley Snipes played three drag queens who embark on a road trip. In the almost 20 years since that film was released, I can’t recall a soul accusing the late Patrick Swayze, one of the most masculine white men in modern Hollywood of being gay, nor did they describe Wesley “Blade” Snipes, one of the most masculine men period, of being gay or being emasculated because he wore a dress and make up for the role. He also had to raise the pitch of his voice several octaves.
I must admit that didn’t like the film much but it was not because the men were dressed as women. I just thought the story was weak and to be truthful I am more of an action buff. There have been other instances in the history of entertainment when men have played women in film and not just black men. Dustin Hoffman, for example, a respected white male actor played a woman in the film Tootsie back in 1982. Did that role emasculate him? I don’t think so as not only did it raise over US$177 million at the box office, it also earned 10 Academy Award nominations including Hoffman’s nomination for Best Actor in a leading role.
What is different about Bolt’s role in the commercial and the roles played by Swayze, Snipes, Leguizamo, and Hoffman ? It’s all make believe. But for some of us, Bolt in a dress is a bit too much so there has to be some sinister motive behind his decision to do so. What I have found is that there is a lot of insecurity among us as a people. The ‘grandpa’ Bolt is portrayed as a dirty old man with many girlfriends, yet we hear nothing about that. Instead we focus on the dress as if to suggest that Bolt in a dress defines who he is.
To the contrary, Bolt’s masculinity is not so fragile so as to be shattered just by him putting on a dress, even if it was done electronically via CGI. A strong man does not or should not feel the need to prove his manhood every time he steps out of this house but in this country where men, shave their eyebrows, bleach their skin and wear super-tight pastel-coloured pants that hang below their buttocks, we surely have a strange way of defining masculinity.
But as a letter writer recently pointed out, it may be time for us to put our house in order. In the letter titled’ ‘Bolt man enough to strut his stuff” published by the Daily Gleaner the writer in reference to the furore created over the ad, states ‘beating up our women, hiding from our children and dodging our responsibilities are what we are known for. And nowhere is masculinity to be found in all that.”
also see: Jamaica, where the sun sets in the east: Bitcoin, drag queens, voting rights