A reader writes:
Tatum saying “I’d have sex with [Clooney]” has been a sort of macho way for younger straight men to indicate they’re comfortably and confidently hetero for over a decade now. I, at least, remember starting to hear it in college at the end of the ’90s. It might date to this classic scene from the Tarantino-penned movie True Romance. It’s sort of a hyperbolic way of re-affirming straightness: “I can express my admiration for that man’s good looks and charm without compromising my own straight, masculine self-image only by doing it in this over-the-top way.” We “self-confident” straight men no longer feel the need to add Clarence’s qualifier from the movie: “I ain’t no fag, but…”. We obviously aren’t that insecure.
Update from two readers:
There is a movie scene that predates True Romance’s by 14 years, in the 1979 musical Hair.
One of the characters is asked by an Army recruiter if he is attracted to men and answeres, “Well, I wouldn’t kick Mick Jagger out of bed, but I’m not a homosexual, no”, which then leads to the hit song “Hair” being performed. Here’s the scene on YouTube.
So give credit where it is due; it started with the ’60s freedoms, where men chose to grow their hair long while still being masculine, at a time when much of the general population could mistake you for being a female if you wore your hair long.
I actually used that Mick Jagger line myself for a few years afterwards, when I was living in a smaller Midwest college town. It was more to throw a curve into other’s persons assumptions that most everyone was straight. It allowed me to be part trickster, playing with their minds a bit, and suggesting and planting the seed in their mind for a few seconds that I might actually be gay – or that others might be gay. The effectiveness of this declined as more and more people actually came out as being gay.
While Hair is a good earlier example of the phenomenon, it goes deeper. To me the classic expression of male-on-male adulation comes from 1942’s Casablanca. Claude Raines’s Inspector Renault explains to Ingrid Berman’s Ilasa Lund that “He (Bogart’s Rick) is the kind of man that – well, if I were a woman and I were not around, I should be in love with Rick”. Maybe it just serves as characterization of Vichy French turpitude, but the character of Renault is portrayed as an inveterate skirt chaser whose real kinship rests with Rick Blaine.