With the next wave of the Gay Civil Rights Movement cresting, the debate over the Gay — how it happens and how to cure (or at least contain) it — that I once thought was pretty much settled is back again in a big way.
Political candidates are in serious consideration because they’ve had gay incubi exorcised from their pure Christian souls or still have their hymens, and to even qualify for the GOP these days requires some stridently anti-queer platform. You’d think actually being gay would make us the experts, but somebody always thinks they’ve nailed just what got us there. Whenever I hear the God Wads and their huggy quacks assert that no one is born gay, four words appear in my mind:
The. Dukes. Of. Hazzard.
That’s the power of sense memory. The Dukes of Hazzard is one of those series that was a smash in its heyday but whose popularity years down the line is harder to articulate when removed from its era. It debuted the year after I was born and was a ubiquitous presence during my childhood — I had the General Lee, the Duke Boys decal ringer T-, and the tie-in lunchbox — but its real significance for me extends beyond mere pointless nostalgia. Candidly, I’m convinced that this show marked my very first realization that I was gay — this coming at a very young age when it was way too early for me to even superficially grasp my sex drive or for some failure in my socialization to have put me off chicks forever.
In the ’80s, every show that had a hot piece on it went out of its way to objectify him either through plot pretexts or by getting him to pose for a shirtless pin-up. Lou Ferrigno‘s Incredible Hulk was constantly tearing out of his threads, Tom Selleck was always snorkeling, and even animated characters were buffed out; in retrospect, I never really stood a chance with heterosexuality, which is no big disappointment for me. It’s like never having skied.
Anyway, before True Blood blessed us with naked rednecks running hither and yon through the hills — I don’t think Sam Trammell and Jim Parrack get enough credit for their more accessible hotness, but my eye automatically focuses on big lips and a great rack — there was Dukes with its hot-ass color-coded cousins and their trusty Dodge Charger.
Luke (the brunet) and and Bo (the blond) were basically on permanent probation for trafficking moonshine, and with the aid of their kindly uncle and leggy cousin — a pioneer of denim bar tramp wear — were forever running afoul of the local bigwig county commissioner. Hazzard County was a Teabagger fantasy holler: the cars were freakin’ gigantic, law and government were inept and corrupt, country music superstars were always getting speed trapped, gun rights were in danger of being curtailed (when deprived of boomsticks, hillbillies will improvise with dynamite-tipped arrows) and the reality of a man being named Cooter was made manifest.
Outside of elaborate car chases and ensuing airborne stunts, the series’s second great mission statement was to get the two male leads out of their shirts with regular frequency as they skinny-dipped, chopped wood, gathered hay, or draped themselves over car engines. Bumpkin TV wasn’t all that novel by the time the ’80s rolled around; bucolic-themed comedies were everywhere during the ’60s, so much so that CBS intentionally axed its highly-rated backwoods lineup because it wanted to class up its image. Dukes altered the formula by really sexing up its cast, and surely babe-like Tom Wopat and John Schneider were responsible for much of the show’s success.
Schneider in particular — prone to sprouting some obvious wood apparent through his jeans — is a vivid sexual signifier for me to this day. He was the first man that I not only was attracted to, but that I had aspirations of being. Girls had Charlie’s Angels — cementing the physical/spiritual female triad of power — to emulate and project their sexual identities onto, and the Dukes were in many respects their male variations. “Tall, dark, and handsome” is the template for classical male appeal, one I can sexually appreciate but not embody. I lucked out on the tall part, but I’m just a few translucent shades shy of albino and veer more towards pretty than rugged. Bo Duke had baby blond locks, was the less macho-looking of the duo, and had the same general facial features as me, so I found him especially easy to relate to. Sometimes I still don faded jeans and a cream-toned button-down over a blue T-shirt just for the hell of it.
Cars have long been venerated and humanized (often given proper names) for the freedom and power they represent to us, and the image of that foxy blond behind the wheel is potent. I think kids took to the series because it essentially was a live-action cartoon. Hazzard was largely cut off from the real and complicated world, every episode followed the same plot trajectory, characters never really changed or developed, and actors wore the same ensembles in every episode (few series fetishized clothing as being so integral to sexual identity as Dukes did). Like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Speed Buggy, the General Lee was so indispensable to the plot that it was a character in its own right. It was almost gilding the lily when the animated spin-off arrived.
It’s a given that there will be gay subtext whenever you feature sexy actors as an inseparable duo, and cousin-fucking is an antic well-associated with the Deep South, so certainly Luke and Bo are a favorite go-to incest fantasy (it’s unclear just how shallow the Duke gene pool was or how many times removed the boys were). I like when there’s a marked physical contrast to couples — I shake my head in bemusement when I see men dating virtual clones of themselves — and the Duke Boys’ faces flash into my mind anytime I encounter brunet-on-blond brother/boyfriend/whatever pairings. I sincerely hope I’ll meet my own sultry brunet complement with whom I can color-coordinate flannel shirts.
Hilariously, a still-notorious move on the part of producers during the show’s fifth season only raises more questions than it answers when it comes to the Duke kin’s family dynamic. Wopat’s and Schneider’s united walk-off contract dispute had the writing staff scrambling to replace them with another pair of color-swatched cousins — the even more gay-seeming Coy (!) and Vance (!!), presumably from the West Hollywood branch of the clan — for much of that year.
Just how many other Yin/Yang cousins ran in the family, and who is offing all of their parents? Do they all have porn-ready first names? Is there an evil pair with Boston accents who drive a hybrid and mule prescription drugs?
And most pressing of all: Can I pull off sideburns?