Thursday, January 14, 2010

Playing Village People

In class the other day, Corey mentioned that he was thinking about our class while he was at gym.  Specifically, he was thinking about the Village People, whose group members all wore costumes, including that of a cowboy and an Indian.  It's a wonderful connection, and one I hadn't though of, so I was especially glad he brought it up.  I've been thinking about it ever since.

The Village People were one of the first openly gay bands to gain widespread acceptance.  Being "out of the closet" is very much a part of their group's identity, and their openness contributed greatly to the growing acceptance of a wrongly hated and valuable portion of American culture.  Yet at the same time they were publicly out of the closet, they were also wearing the closet.  Why the costumes?  Why these costumes?

If Philip Deloria is right that non-Native American "play Indian" to try to access a set of values that they're assumed to have (rebellion, dignity, environmentalism, etc, etc, etc), then what does this particular grouping enact and why?  Why cop?  Why biker?  Why soldier?  Why construction worker?  Are these collectively our most manly figures?  Is there a conscious attempt to make these guys opposite to one another--the biker and the cop in opposition, like the cowboy and Indian?  Is there an attempt to choose figures who are traditional enemies so that they might bring them into unity?

I honestly don't know enough about the Village People to begin to answer, but I'm betting there are others who do and might comment here.  Their website offers this tidbit of history into the groups start: "Producer/Composer Jacques Morali, with partner Henri Belolo, found Felipe dancing in his Indian costume in a crowd in NY's Greenwich Village. Felipe's special visual attraction brought the idea to mind to put together a group of Village icons from various American social groups." (Note that they started with the Indian costume.)  They say nothing, though, about why they selected the other iconic figures.  Curiouser and curiouser.

One layer more, though: the Village People fansite contains a link to photos of fans dressing up as the band. Now, not only are we playing Indian, but we're playing musicians who are playing Indian.  What do we do with that?

1 comment:

  1. I think you make a good point. I agree that the costumes are not a coincedence. They more than likely chose these costumes to offset one another and show a sense of unity. The fact that they are an openly gay group probably helps this, because gay and straight alike know the lyrics to YMCA... whether we admit it or not.