The Nelly Menace

In A Galaxy Far, Far Away, A Fretful People Ponder the Fateful Question: Is Jar Jar Gay?

To boys who came of age in the '70s, when Star Wars first appeared, this scenario spoke to the yearning for a world of alpha men and devoted betas. After all, this was the first generation of white boys that couldn't take its skin and dick privileges for granted. They desperately needed the Jedi gestalt, and apparently they still do. All the more reason why the Brotherhood of the Modem must rise against this latest incursion on their temple: the Nelly Menace.

"he's long and he's strong, but he's not gay," Ahmed Best, the actor who plays Jar Jar, told one interviewer. Best has been trotted out to quell all the nasty rumors. The studio itself is so reluctant to get involved that, when a Fox spokesperson was asked whether Jar Jar is gay, she replied that the entire publicity department at Lucasfilm was on vacation and therefore unable to comment. (As the glitzy Gungan himself might say: "How wude!")

Though there's no evidence in the film that Jar Jar hits on chicks, Best insists, "He's very much swinging straight." As for the allegation that his character is a coward (which certainly would make him gay), Best says, "Didn't you see how he faced those Battle Droids?" In fact, Jar Jar does things no Jedi would, such as tossing an exploding sphere at the enemy the way you'd expect a sissy to throw a softball— i.e., the wrong way. So the fateful question remains: Is he a homo?

Well, let's see:

He has warm and expressive eyes.
He smiles a lot.
He walks with a gentle sway.
He says silly things like "Exqueeze me!"
He's easily rattled and emotionally unguarded.
He can't handle machinery.
He cries at the hero's funeral.
He tells the Jedi who rescues him: "I wuv you."

Compare that to the way a real man acts in Star Wars:

His eyes are fixed and unrevealing.
He only smiles when he kills.
He walks like he's carrying 50 pounds of rocks in his pockets.
He says noble things like "He is the chosen one!"
He's unflappable in the face of evil, and his emotions are as coiled as his lightsaber (which becomes erect at a touch).
He can fix anything and make it fly.
He never cries.
He does not declare his love for another guy.

Dude— Jar Jar is definitelygay!

Now that we've got that straight, what's the problem? After all, he doesn't accost young Anakin Skywalker (as any real homo would) or diddle Obi-Wan Kenobi in the shower. In fact, Jar Jar doesn't do anything sexual. Clearly, he's a plaything meant to induct the youngest viewers into Star Wars, as loveable as Barney and a lot more limber. There's the rub.

If Anakin is the perfect Jedi boy— willful, resourceful, and raring to fight— Jar Jar is a genuinely futuristic child: open, loving, and at ease with his sensitivity. What's more, his attributes are natural to juveniles of his species, not the result of failure. If there's something free-to-be-you-and-me about all this, it's no accident. Lucas was obviously hoping to tap the New Age demographic by creating a flouncy alien who, for all the comic relief he provides, ends up being honored as a hero. It's a great fantasy for every boy who worries about his image, but it violates the first commandment of trad masculinity: Thou shalt not be a pussy.

Is Jar Jar male? Only in the sense that every living thing is a "he" until proven otherwise. Can he possibly be gay, since he isn't equipped to commit sodomy? Only in the sense that gayness is a stand-in for the larger issue of effeminacy. Back when Star Warsmade its debut in 1977, real men didn't swish— and they still don't. But in the age of Bill, guys can bite their lower lip and still get a blowjob. Hey, you can't even spit on a sissy these days without getting hauled into fucking court. How fitting that, in cultivating the post-macho market, Lucas should alienate his core constituency: the very guys who were raised on the Jedi saga and still see it as a refuge from real life. Men like these are easily unhinged by change, as we learned from the recent panic over a purple doll who carries a purse.

By now, Tinky Winky phobia has entered the annals of wacky American history, right up there with black helicopters and alien abductions. But there's a real connection between Jerry Falwell's fuming and the imprecations being hurled at Jar Jar. Both are responses to a significant shift in the way children are inducted into gender. We are moving toward a time when boys can carry purses and girls can wield swords without endangering their identities. But when something as fundamental as masculin-ity begins to evolve, there is bound to be a backlash. Which is why Tinky Winky is rarely put on display with the other Teletubbies. No toy store wants to be accused of promoting homosexuality. Not that Tinky Winky has a sexual orientation— unless it's polyester perverse— but he's become a gay icon because he stands for something that threatens the manly code.

Get used to it, guys. Preachers may rant and knights of the Net may rave, but the culture has spoken. The force is with the Nelly Menace.

Research: Steph Watts

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