Macho Men

Nicole Pasulka delves into the history of the Village People and the YMCA:

At the Y, a spiritual man was a well-built, muscular man. The organization’s leadership positioned the regional branches as destinations that could protect newcomers from “negative” influences. It was here that many young guys had their first homosexual experiences. So [Village People members] Jacques Morali and Randy Jones were part of a history that included both diligent Christian bodybuilders and men cruising for “trade”—straight-identified, masculine men. According to John Donald Gustav-Wrathall’s meticulous history of male-male relationships within the organization, homosexual cruising and weight lifting went hand in hand. Though the organization condemned homosexual sex as “immorality” or “perversion,” by emphasizing fitness, the Y didn’t just make sex between men possible, it “shaped same-sex sexual desire.”

The astonishing scene above is from one of my favorite bad movies of all time: Can’t Stop The Music. Steve Guttenberg’s neck veins and Bruce Jenner’s exposed midriff – combined with absurd disco choreography and manically coked up acting – it’s a classic. Back to Pasulka, on the 1978 hit single “Macho Man”:

[Producer Henri] Belolo says the title track was meant to appeal to “the ego of all the people… going to the health club building muscles.” Somewhere along the way, that came to include millions of straight people.

In 1979, [musician Jacques] Morali told Rolling Stone, “When Macho Man came out, I did it believing that the gay audiences were going to like it very much. But the straight audiences liked the song much more, because straight guys in America want to get the macho look.” As the producers were learning, they didn’t have to specify their target. “Macho Man” made it to number twenty-five on 1978’s Billboard Hot 100 chart and hit platinum. Either the Village People had found an audience beyond the gay discos or a lot of people were pumping up their disco tits.

In fact, both were kind of true. While gay men in the Village had been bulking up, slowly trading angora for ripped T-shirts and pegged pants for Levi’s, straight men had registered that the “macho” look was en vogue in stylish cities like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Some straight men even started wearing bandannas in their back pockets—a method gay men used to signal their preference for different kinds of sex. Though they were oblivious to the code, straight men had figured out this was the “in” look.