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Sexy, Gay and French on YouTube

Wed 21 Feb 2007 In: Television View at NDHA

The French, as if we need to be told, do things differently from the rest of us - especially in the world of sex. They created the concept and the conduct of the 'affair'. French Presidents always seem to have mistresses - and the wife and the mistress have, in recent times, stood together at the state funeral. Homosexuality has been legal in France since 1791 - even during the Nazi Occupation, the age of gay sexual consent was simply raised from 15 to 21. French rugby teams and star-players pose annually, full-frontally naked, for best-selling books and calendars. And French TV commercials and public service announcements have a certain sexual flair to which the rest of the world is unaccustomed. There is something about this video that takes it up there into any imaginable top ten HIV/AIDS safe-sex messages. It is a tightly plotted, sexy, 48-second drama - with a message you didn't see coming. There is the locked and occupied aircraft toilet. Then there is an exact sexual positioning - you can tell exactly who is doing what to whom - but instead of being satisfied with the explicitness as in so many other HIV/AIDS messages where the 'shock of gay' is used and reused to the same dull effect as a weekend of cheap porn DVDs, here there is an overlay of passion and emotion that renders the whole thing human. It's the cutaways to the hands holding grips or pressed one on top of the other that probably does it. It's an intimate pair of close-ups that are just as revealing and explicit as the shot of the male pair coupling. And when we load this over with that French aesthetic of cheeks and stubble where even old acne scars are given a rugged individual sexuality, and when we have that tenderness and care of dressing between the two men (button, zip, belt, tie, collar) we are suddenly presented with a relationship that is not just sexual gymnastics. It's a relationship in which we are somehow involved. We care. Then we have the entry of wit - and just when was the last time you saw a witty HIV/AIDS message? We suddenly discover, item by item, that the two men aren't just bored travelers in an aircraft toilet with an itch for a bit of cock, but are in fact the aircraft's pilots. It's a wry and unexpected revelation. But then the door-handle comes off, they're trapped, and we close on that memorable, crewless, dipping cockpit with the overlaid words that are the single reference to HIV in the whole production: 'This is the least of your worries, if you are having unprotected sex'. It is a superb and effective piece of work. But then the French have always done commercials in ways that other nations find disturbing. There were the controversial Perrier ads of the late 1970s where Perrier bottles were erectile, were jerked off, or came into the faces of tennis players. The French ads for the PS2 game-playing system in 2006 were morphed orgies deemed inappropriate for other nations. You'll find lots of French television ad-spots filed under categories like 'Banned Commercials' by Americans who cannot comprehend such explicitness could go free to air. Here is a recent French cell-phone commercial. It is impossible to imagine this script being produced or going to air in any other country. Primarily, and again, there is a passion here that comes across strongly. It's all about desire and that headlong rush to a much-fantasised about climactic engagement on a honeymoon bed. He's cute. She's sexy. But, uh-oh, she's really a boy and what we've been watching, what we've been lured into, is not an authorized, legal heterosexual engagement but enjoyment of a transgendered encounter. It is ultimately subversive. Obese Americans on couches would not like their sureties thus shaken. Other cultures would also make the commercial differently - the English and New Zealanders would turn the transgendered person a cartoon frump, make the bed scene into a clumsy and frustrated coupling, and turn it all into a Bennie Hillish comedy. How does the commercial connect with cellphones? The end slogans read, in translation, 'Think before getting yourself engaged/contracted' and then 'Nomad, the cellphone without engagement/contract'. The implication of which, reading between the lines, is that Nomad users can freely, happily, and one presumes satisfyingly, fuck transvestites because they've been bright enough not to marry them. Nomad users are cool cocksmen and if she/he looks like Catherine Deneuvre, why not fuck her/him? Vive le difference! One of the ultimate expressions of French gay sexuality, strangely, is an animated short. It comes from another public service announcement by AIDES, the same French non-governmental organisation that produced 'Pilots'. Directed by Wilfred Brimo, the ad is the second in a series designed as internet virals in 2006. To The Rubette's 1970's 'Sugar Baby Love', this is as perfect a story of a gay life as you'll get. From the finger-pointing moment of social-realisation of our lead character's sexual identity, to that series of sexual encounters that make up those of bad teenage sex years filled with wrong choices and heartbreaking rejections, this animation is a often more accurate depiction of gay life than any number of 'real' movies. Note especially the 'professional gay sex' encounter which is cringingly accurate. Brimo has also used the viral's psychedelic 1960's style to great effect. The condom-clad penis-roller-coaster is a delight. The virtual camera moves are a joy. Yes, the French are different but it is their honesty in sexual depiction that is more fascinating. It isn't pornographic and even its explicitness is tempered by acknowledgement of things like passion and an experienced knowing sexual humour. And when all of this is coupled with wit, you have truly effective messages, New Zealand ad agencies and our own HIV/AIDS public service announcement makers could well take note. Meanwhile, just search for 'French commercials' on YouTube or Google and you'll never need to watch another local product again. David Herkt - 21st February 2007    

Credit: David Herkt

First published: Wednesday, 21st February 2007 - 12:00pm

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