I'll admit to a dorktastic obsession with Top Gun. I still love the movie as much as I did 25 years ago, and I don't care if you think that's lame.
Kayla Webley's recent TIME magazine piece about Top Gun has started some interesting conversations for me lately. She has 10 reasons to share about why Top Gun is "still awesome." I'd have to agree with her.
Bring up Top Gun, and everyone over 30 has an opinion. I say over 30 because my wife had no opinion on it and hadn't even seen it until I insisted that she give it a chance a year or two ago, and she just turned 30 a few months ago. Now she just rolls her eyes when I mention it.
In 1986, when I was 10 years old, I was visiting my Grandmother in Hawaii and saw Top Gun in the theater. It exploded onto the screen with a velocity of sheer awesomeness I could never have imagined. I didn't think it was possible for anything to approach the level of awe that the Star Wars trilogy had already inspired, no, stamped upon my impressionable young brain, and until I walked out of that theater as a pre-pubescent aspiring naval aviator, Star Wars was it, period.
Yet somehow, going Mach 2 with my hair on fire in an F-14 seemed like the best way to spend my future adulthood. Sadly, my nascent dream was soon crushed by a guy my mom used to date who referred to me as "Piss Ant." Dick pointed out that I was "too tall to be a pilot" and "not good enough at math."
I imagined my neck snapping like Goose's did while ejecting after being caught in a jet-wash (Goose was taller than those other pilots, I worried), and so I gave up on my dreams of being a fighter pilot. I even ceased my pathetic attempts to emulate Ice Man by trying to comb my wavy hair straight up from my forehead. And yet still, my love for Top Gun endured.
Obviously, when I saw the film, I didn't have much of a concept of sexuality, hetero or otherwise. I only began to understand the sexual undertones of the film years later, as a cynical teenager, and man, was it macho. It celebrated dudes and jocks and machismo to the fullest extent of the word.
I was something of an outsider in high school. I got along with most people but hung around with the artists, musicians and misanthropes. The jocks, macho men and prom queen types were not really a part of my group. Or maybe I was not part of their group. Either way, I always found the outsiders to be a lot more interesting. Despite its unabashed celebration of everything jock, even in high school, I still loved Top Gun.
Yes, the movie is undeniably jingoistic and could still be described fairly as a Reagan-era military recruiting video, and years later in high school I was listening to heavy metal, growing my hair out, discovering punk rock, skateboarding and turning into an angry teenage liberal, eager to expose the evils of the system...but I still loved Top Gun.
Yes, Top Gun was a product of late-stage cold-war paranoia and flag-waving patriotism, but even if I didn't sing its praises and was quick to point out its problems, I knew how lucky I was to live in America, and despite my teen angst and rage against the machine, I still loved Top Gun.
Even though Tom Cruise had literally been an Outsider, as Maverick he tried to be captain cool, mister macho, the ultimate lady killer...a jock type that was not the kind of dude I was hanging around in high school. I never aspired to be a lady-killing douchebag, yet despite his tough-guy posturing, even Maverick was actually a vulnerable outsider among the other pilots until he proved himself in battle and won the respect of his peers. It was supreme entertainment.
After reading Webley's article, I passed it along to several friends and family members, most of whom responded positively, agreeing with me that the movie is definitely "still awesome" as she claims. I found the "homoerotic subtext" bit an amusing way to read the film.
I'd never thought of the character as gay, but Tarantino's rant in some unnamed movie about Maverick "coming to terms with his homosexuality," along with the re-cut trailer that turns the movie into a romance between Maverick and Ice Man were just creative and funny, I thought. I discovered that a lot of people have written about the movie in this way.
Just Google Top Gun and "gay" and see what you get. Even though I minored in film studies in college and grad school, I had somehow missed the homoerotic subtext in one of my favorite movies. I can remember a certain drunken event in my freshman dorm room involving about eight male friends, arm in arm, in white tank tops, singing along with the Top Gun soundtrack at the top of our lungs, but hey, uh...that's not gay, is it?
Of course, teasing macho men with their macho-to-the-point-of-homo antics is nothing new, and is often funny, not because there is anything wrong with being gay, but because ultra macho men are often super homophobic, and homophobia is easy to make fun of and laugh at, if you ask me.
Top Gun isn't the first ultra-macho movie to be called gay. It's not hard to find similar claims about 300, Batman and Robin (not just the crappy movie--the canonical relationship itself) and several films involving Sylvester Stallone. There is a continuum wherein a bad movie is so bad that it travels full-circle and becomes good. In a similar way, I suppose, an ultra-macho movie can try so hard to be macho that it becomes gay.
A respected family friend and ex-marine who is at least 30 years my senior didn't agree with me at all about the amusing nature of Webley's article and responded with an unexpected homophobic tirade that really caught me off guard when I emailed it to him.
He is also a fan of the film and bristled at Webley's suggestion that there could be any trace of homosexual subtext in the film. He found the notion insulting to the "military ethos" and was eager to let me know that the "marketing of homosexuality as normal" really pissed him off. I told him to lighten up. He went on to call Webley's article "evidence of our society's ever-increasing rate of descent into depravity, marketed as 'sophistication' to suck (no pun intended) in the unwary."
Wow. I can't expect to change my friend's viewpoint, but I responded honestly, telling him that I respect the men and women willing to wear the uniform immensely, straight or gay. I find his homophobia disgusting and extremely disappointing, but for many other reasons, I also respect this man and call him a friend. His stance troubles me still, but I we don't have to agree on everything.
When speaking of this episode and how to deal with it with my mom, she found it ironic that I had once used gay slurs as a teen, and she reminded me of how she had sat me down at the time and firmly instructed me that I was not to be critical of or insulting to people who live their lives differently from the way I live mine.
I don't think I meant whatever I had said in a hateful way but had probably just used teenage slang in a casual and ignorant way without realizing how hurtful it could be. I guess I learned the lesson because I don't remember ever saying those things, and I am vehemently opposed to anything less than absolute equality when it comes to gay rights, including marriage equality and everything else.
I didn't expect the backlash. I just thought Webley's article was entertaining, and let's not forget that the "homoerotic subtext" was only one of her TEN reasons why the movie is STILL AWESOME.
I saw Top Gun in the theater at least six times. I watched it on TV. I watched it on VHS and DVD and have yet to watch my blu-ray copy, but hell, it's the 25th anniversary this summer, so I probably should.
Happy birthday, Top Gun. I'm starting to feel the need for speed, so let's see if I can get my lovely wife to take one more trip back to Miramar. Show me the way home, baby.