Years ago, Quentin Tarantino infamously claimed that Top Gun was really a movie about two gay guys struggling with their sexual identity. Many people who’ve seen the clip think that Tarantino was just goofing around. But having seen Top Gun before I had even known about the clip, I can tell you for a fact that he wasn’t making stuff up just to be outrageous and funny. He was saying what everyone who’s ever seen the movie had been saying and thinking for decades. Top Gun is a homoerotic gayfest. In fact, it might be the gayest mainstream movie of all time–
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Understandably, a lot of people get angry when they hear this. In an age where everyone’s now ascribing modern day sensibilities to older movies, people are getting sick and tired of hearing others claim that movies that were made a long time ago had a subtext to them that they couldn’t have had. While it’s true that people tend to go overboard with this stuff, that’s not true of Top Gun. This movie definitely has always had major homoerotic overtones, something many people noticed long before Tarantino joked about it or it became trendy to claim any movies with two male leads is rife with homoerotic tension. But I can’t just say that, I have to explain why I feel this way. So here goes nothing:
The Male Gaze Theory
The best way I feel I can argue in favor of Top Gun being homoerotic is, ironically, bringing up the biggest argument posed by people who are against the idea that it has gay overtones. It’s called the Male Gaze Theory.
The Male Gaze Theory goes something like this: because we live in a male dominated society, we immediately assume that they’re the target audience for anything that we watch. So, unless there’s some kind of cue explicitly showing us that something is for a female audience, we’re going to assume it’s for a male audience.
In the case of Top Gun, we assume that the sexually charged scenes of men walking around half naked are for guys, because there are no cues that it’s for women. For example, in the infamous volleyball scene, there are no shots of young women flirting with any of the guys. It’s just shot after shot after shot of men all sweaty and bare chested embracing and hugging each other.
Initially, when you hear the Male Gaze Theory, it’s very easy to get sucked in by it. It sounds as ironclad a theory as you can get. But there’s a small wrinkle. The theory rests on the hidden assumption that the necessary “female cues” had been left out of the movie by accident. In other words, it assumes that Tony Scott could’ve placed those cues but just plain forgot or didn’t care enough to put them in there. So, if he failed to put them in by accident or carelessness, the theory goes, we can’t accuse Top Gun of being homoerotic. We’re only seeing it that way because Scott neglected to put in certain cues.
Maybe so. But how likely is it that a slick, accomplished director like Tony Scott wouldn’t have been conscious enough of the Male Gaze issue to not put cues in Top Gun? Slim to none. If anything, it’s just as more likely that Scott, fully aware of the Male Gaze issue, could’ve knowingly dropped those cues on purpose as a sly, subtle way of injecting homo-eroticism into his film without being overt about it.
So the Male Gaze Theory doesn’t at all argue against Top Gun being homoerotic. If anything, it raises the possibility that the movie was deliberately made homoerotic and explains how it was done.
Top Gun is Awash in Homoerotic Imagery and Fetishes
Even if you could say for the sake of argument that Tony Scott “accidentally” left cues out of Top Gun, this doesn’t explain why so much of the movie is not only rooted in homo-erotica, it’s based around a fetish that appears in homo-erotica going back at least a century.
What do I mean by firmly rooted? Sexually suggestive imagery of nude or scantily clad males is 100% exclusive to gay erotica, period, end of story, finito. Not female erotica. Female erotica has always been literary, because women are turned on by mental pictures (like erotic fantasies), not erotic or sexually explicit images of the human body.
Yes, I know. You’re going to ask, “But what about those beefcake calendars? What about Playgirl? What about Chippendale’s? Those are geared towards women.” Things like that exist, but they didn’t spring organically out of any real female demand for sexually explicit imagery. These were artificially created in the 1970s as a response to Women’s Lib. People, many of them just opportunists trying to cash in on the movement, said, “With all things being equal now, if men can have erotic nudes, let’s give liberated females the equivalent. Let’s have sexually explicit images of men for them to masturbate to, let’s also sexually objectify them.” So that’s how we got stuff like the infamous Burt Reynolds Cosmopolitan spread, Chippendale’s and beefcake calendars.
But did this become female erotica in its own right? Hell to the no. In fact, the nude male has become such an inextricable part of homo-erotica that when publishers came out with Playgirl, their plan to create a highly profitable pornographic magazine for women completely backfired. It became profitable, alright, but not because of straight women. Because of gay men, who wound up being its biggest readers.
The fact that the nude or semi-nude male figure equals homoerotic goes a long way in explaining why Top Gun has such a homoerotic vibe to it. Just by virtue of having so many sexually-charged scenes of semi-dressed males, the movie was homoerotic.
Not only is the movie steeped with scenes of semi-clad males, so much of it seems based on a fetish that frequently appeared in old school gay erotica. I can’t speak about modern day erotica but the “hot young men in military uniform” was a major fetish for at least a century.
Probably the most famous artist who exploited this fetish to the fullest was Tom of Finland, and if you watch many of the scenes in Top Gun–especially the one where an entire room of hot young males in white uniform serenade Kelly McGillis–you can’t help get a Tom of Finland vibe from it all even though, ironically, it’s supposed to be a romantic love scene involving a straight man and a straight woman.
There are Clues, People!
Enough pretentious justifications for why I feel Top Gun is homoerotic. Let’s just get to the blatantly obvious. The movie drops so many clues that it’s homoerotic that it’s not even funny. I mean, c’mon–in the infamous volleyball scene consisting of nothing but sweaty, young, shirtless males, what song is in the background? Kenny Loggins’ “Playing with the Boys.” Not “hanging” with the boys. Not “chilling” with the boys. But playing with the boys. And check out these lyrics:
After chasing sunsets
One of life’s simple joys
Is playing with the boys
Playing with the boys
Wow, that’s not homoerotic at all!
And then there are these classic lines of dialogue that no amount of spin can dismiss:
“Giving me a hard-on!” “Don’t tease me!”
“I want butts! Give me butts!”
I know that some people are going to argue that language and culture shifts over time and because of this, it’s not fair to claim that something that was said 20, 30 or more years ago must have meant X or Y. That’s certainly true, but c’mon, this was pretty gay, even for the 1980s.
The best argument anyone could make against the theory that Top Gun is homoerotic is the question of what purpose it could possibly serve, especially since director Tony Scott wasn’t gay and would have no reason to make the film that way out of proclivities. If Joel Schumacher had directed it, the homoeroticism would’ve been a no brainer, but with Scott, you have to wonder…why?
Well, I have two theories.
Top Gun wasn’t just a typical Hollywood action film; it was also meant to be a thinly veiled recruitment movie for the US military. Scott, perhaps finding the movie’s agenda off-putting, might have sneakily slipped in the homo-eroticism as a sly act of subversion. Or he might’ve done this to point out the irony of Americans seeing the military as an expression of heterosexual male machismo, when the reality is that so much of it was steeped in activities that most would find “gay” in a completely different context.
Another theory I have is that Scott may have injected this homo-eroticism to fly in the face of 1980s homophobia. At the time, there was a huge amount of hysteria, paranoia and hostility surrounding gay males because of the AIDs crisis. People either seemed to see gays as having “cooties” or as being justifiably punished for the sin of being gay. So the homo-eroticism could’ve been a way of Scott sneaking in some gay subtext as a joke. After all, what could be funnier than slipping in some homoerotic context in a movie geared towards an American audience that couldn’t have been more paranoid about gay men?
Whatever the case may be, there’s no doubt in my mind that whatever homo-eroticism people are perceiving in Top Gun isn’t a case of overactive imaginations or dropped cues or anything else of the sort. It was intentional. Of course, the subject will always be up for debate, but unless someone definitively states otherwise, I’m going to assume Top Gun is a sly, homoerotic gayfest and one of the most clever acts of subversion ever put on film.