“SQUAD!… CAMP IT– UP!”
Randy Shilts’ books about the misery and deaths of early AIDS sufferers (And the Band Played On) and the persecution of homosexuals in the US military (Conduct Unbecoming) are for the most part pretty grim, as one might expect. Before “don’t ask, don’t tell” the policy was “don’t even think about it.” Many innocent men and women were made to suffer because bigots were allowed to waste taxpayers’ money on harassing people whose sexuality had absolutely no bearing upon their ability to do their jobs, or on the USA’s security. And then we discover (in Conduct Unbecoming) this nugget of hilarious and positively Pythonesque absurdity, from the late 1970s/early 1980s:
“In the course of their investigation, NIS [Naval Investigative Service] agents made a startling discovery– that homosexuals sometimes referred to themselves as “friends of Dorothy.” This code term had originated in the 1940s and 1950s and referred to Judy Garland’s character in the film The Wizard Of Oz. Ever since, gay men had identified themselves as “Friends of Dorothy.” The NIS, however, did not know the phrase’s history and so believed that a woman named Dorothy was the hub of an enormous ring of military homosexuals in the Chicago area. The NIS prepared to hunt Dorothy down and convince her to give them the names of homosexuals.
[In gay bars frequented by military personnel] NIS agents were asking pointed questions about someone named Dorothy. When one unfortunate sailor acknowledged he was gay in order to get out of the Navy, NIS agents sat him down and told him that they knew all about Dorothy. What they wanted to know from him was how to find her. The sailor, who was too young to know the code, was baffled.”
This is the point where Graham Chapman should come in and tell them he’s ending the sketch because it got too silly. Rest assured that Shilts doesn’t miss his golden opportunity to use SURRENDER DOROTHY as a chapter title.
I’m pretty sure that even the most au fait user of gay slang would be baffled by somebody who seriously thought homosexuals were all in cahoots with each other merely by virtue of being gay, and that they were all receiving orders from some kind of underground lesbian linchpin of closet logistics. Presumably Dorothy would also be the chairwoman who ticked off items on the Gay Agenda, and set the exchange rate for the Pink Dollar, Pink Pound, etc. Not that this kind of ridiculous stupidity and ignorance has disappeared: far from it, as is proved by the continued prevalence of “you’d like her/him, s/he’s gay” and “you’re gay, what do gay people think?” type comments.
Right, now let’s see something decent and military. Some precision drilling.
Or: What the captions say on Hokusai’s ‘Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife’
Warning: sexiness. Well, in my view totally hilarious rather than sexy. The two things can of course coexist, but in this case I’m declaring my personal preference for the hilarious interpretation. I think James Joyce’s letters to his Mrs are also lurking somewhere in that particular no (wo)man’s land. My article regarding old Jim’s fat mickey and what he’d like to do with it is still one of the most popular posts I’ve ever done here, along with the one about Japanese manga onomatopoeia, so when I was inspired to research the book that this famous print comes from it immediately became clear that I should share my findings with the perverts who visit this site. Edo sex onomatopeia! Bizarre erotic material! Japanese stuff! It hits all the blogging G spots.
The print generally known in English as The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife is in Japanese simply 蛸と海女, Tako no ama (Octopus and Shell Diver). I’m a long way from being Mr Politically Correct, but right there we’ve got what seems to be a glaring piece of casual Western imperialist sexism, since she might well be somebody’s wife but the most salient fact is that she’s actually a fisherwoman in her own right. It’s not even an accurate description because the fisherman isn’t part of this scenario. Presumably his presence would impede this young lady’s hook ups with such fine specimens of cephalopod manhood as are shown here. It’s the kind of a work-related fling that happens when your colleagues are mainly molluscs.
Katsushika Hokusai, he of the iconic The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, also worked openly and to equal acclaim, popularity and prestige on erotic prints (春画 shunga) like the one under discussion here. This particular print is from the novel Kinoe no Komatsu (Young Pines, 1814), a title which is probably as euphemistic as calling the whole thing a novel; I should imagine if it has any novelistic qualities at all it would still be the kind of novel you’d read with one hand. For those who don’t know already, the print depicts a naked woman in a consensual sexual encounter with sea creatures. If you’re on the front page, clicking READ MORE (or whatever it says above the break) will show it to you. Don’t click the link if you or your employer are not inclined towards enjoying things like that. It’s visible on the wall in the background of my current profile picture on my own website, among other places, to the outrage and disgust of absolutely nobody. You’ll probably see worse by accident when you Google something you’d previously thought was innocent (I know I have)… but whatever, those who need warning should consider yourselves warned.
"Shi Shi Shi Shi Shi" (Photograph ©Alistair Gentry)
When I lived in China I often heard Chinese people claiming that their language is the most difficult in the world and expressing serious doubt that any foreigner could speak it. As is frequently the case with erroneous beliefs in China, the firmness of this delusion led them to refute the evidence of their own eyes and ears, in particular when they heard foreigners speaking Chinese well. I’m definitely not in the “speaking Chinese well” category, not even close. Nonetheless, even I often found that most people are China were happiest when I pretended that I couldn’t understand what they were saying in Chinese and I answered them in English, then they would pretend that they couldn’t understand what I’d said in English and reply in Chinese, and so forth.
Impertinent attempts by myself or other foreigners to actually converse in the impossible language would invariably be met with passive-aggressive hostility or outright mockery, and the better the foreigner was at Chinese the more they could expect to be derided and thwarted. I’ve never experienced anything like it, anywhere in the world. Not even in France. Continue Reading