As Alice Echols argues in her book “Hot Stuff”, the rise of American disco was intertwined with the rise of the masculine queer subculture that was arising in New York and San Francisco. Echols also claims that the popular disco group Village People served as ambassadors of gay macho to the rest of the world. However, because of society’s misconceptions about what a gay man stereotypically looks like, many heterosexual men failed to realize that the disco culture was actually promoting a queer subculture, believing instead that these disco groups were a new representation of masculinity in America.
This misperception of the disco movement led to an interesting intersection between the disco movement and the United States military. In 1978, Village People released a song entitled “Y.M.C.A.” that became extremely popular in the United States, and served as an excellent advertising tool for the YMCA. Once the United States Navy realized that disco music could potentially be an extremely powerful recruiting tool, they decided to reach out to Village People to see if they would be willing to create and perform a song that the Navy could use to recruit more potential troops.
The different perceptions of disco between the gay and straight cultures are extremely important in this particular case, because at this point in time, openly gay individuals were not allowed to serve in the United States military. While this particular military policy did not actually receive the name “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” until 1993, the military had effectively operated under this policy for almost two hundred years prior to Village People performing the song “In the Navy”. Because of this, the song could possibly have two different interpretations depending on the background of the person listening. Members of the United States Navy who sponsored this production would likely view it as promoting the Navy as being hyper masculine group, simultaneously stroking their own egos, and hopefully incentivizing other young men to join their ranks. However, queer men who saw this advertisement during this time period may have viewed it as a work of satire, mocking the fact that the armed forces are unknowingly utilizing the rising hyper-masculine gay subculture as a recruiting tool, while the target audience for this type of performance would not have been allowed to join.
While in this particular scenario, the music itself was not censored, it highlights one of the many ways in which queer voices have been silenced over the course of American history, particularly in regard to them participating in the armed forces. However, the disco movement certainly seemed to take the appropriate steps to challenge society’s views on homosexuality, which began the process of allowing homosexuals to be fully integrated into all facets of American life without having to hide their true personalities.
Echols, Alice. “Homo Superiors.” Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture. New York: W.W. Norton, 2011. N. pag. Print.