“This guy fucks.” This joke from the TV show Silicon Valley has made its way into the wider culture or, more likely, I’m losing my handle on what the wider culture is. I love this joke—and the context in which it can be used—so very much because of its naughty wink towards some truths about the straight male psyche and its conditioning.
“It is just something to say when you want to mess with somebody. Meaningless.” reads the online Silicon Valley Encyclopedia. There is a level on which this joke works as a non-sequitur (it’s incredible how “fuck” becomes vulgar again when it’s used as a verb and not an ejaculation!), but to dismiss it as meaningless misses much of the humor.
In the scene, the hyper-heterosexual Russ Haneman (it wouldn’t work from a character that actually fucks guys) says it to the sweet, neurotic, and likely deeply broken Jared. Like everything about Russ, it’s a cultural ideal taken to a grotesque extreme. The taboo it dances on is the same one that keeps straight men from referring to another man as sexy (unless it’s in a context like humor that rewards it by showing How Secure They Are In Their Masculinity). Or, more subtly, straight men’s conditioning about their appearance: an unreasonable, soul-killing expectation to be sexually attractive but never ever acknowledge that there are more and less attractive men, that they have put any effort into their appearance, or that they even know how to or why you would try.
It’s a ludicrous mass delusion! Of course when we are sexually attracted to people, we think about them as sexual partners, and we also think about how people are attractive to other people, and what they might think about their sexual potential. Of course straight men do too. Of course straight men think about which guy fucks.
When you step on that taboo, you open the door to other culturally inappropriate thoughts like “Women can choose their own mates” and “I should put more effort into my appearance” and “I should probably have an informed idea of what women’s preferences are.” This, in turn, could lead to disturbing questions about the value of the Patriarchy to men who don’t conform to its ideals. It’s much easier to just pretend we don’t see all this, a school uniform in a district with high inequality. In fact, anything else would be Gay.
Gay is the great magic spell that has the power to expel from the patriarchy. And it eventually comes for all straight men, and the style movements they participate in, who celebrate their own appearance. Look at the punks and the mods, grunge and hair metal, the retro- and metrosexual, the beatnik and the men in the gray suits, new jack swing and gangsta rap, hipster fashion and athleisure. It all turns Gay in the end.